2010 was a good year. The venerable Lancia Stratos came back from the grave. Jaguar built a car with two jet engines in it. The Mustang shaved its mullet and proved itself as a more-than-capable sports tourer. Chevy’s long-awaited Volt turned out to be pretty good. And Cadillac made the most bitchin’ station wagon ever. But my favorite cars this year didn’t make the glossy magazines. They won’t end up in posters plastered to 15-year-olds’ walls. They won’t be featured in Forza or GT5. They are, however, spectacular in every way imaginable. Here they are, in no particular order.
The GLCOAT (Greatest LeMons Car of All Time)
The man who built this eight-wheeled monster never finished and sadly didn’t live to see it achieve Internet fame. It’s the GLCOAT, or Greatest LeMons Car of All Time. I like to call it the Octo-Rod, but that’s just me. It was discovered on eBay by curious car buffs, for sale as part of the builder’s estate. It has eight wheels, two Mazda rotaries, and more gumption than Calamity Jane. It was purchased by 24 Hours of LeMons veteran Speedycop, who plans to race it. How could it not be on my list?
University of British Columbia eBeetle
Student engineers from UBC built this electric beetle and drove it clear across Canada. It’s powered by an A/C motor and a lithium-ion-phosphate battery. It’s range is more than 200 miles at 42 miles per hour. It can hit 85, which is batty in a VW Beetle. I love the ingenuity of this thing, the sheer tenacity of the engineering team. And it’s a Beetle, which just makes makes me smile.
That is a Fiero. It’s a painstaking replicar built to exacting specifications. It rocks a Corvette V8, custom-fabricated interior, and a fiberglass body. And you’d be hard pressed to identify its domestic underpinnings. It’s a work of art, every builder’s dream. It was first featured on Buildthreads.com and is now a legend.
Air Prance Citroën DS
In my mind, this car represents the greatest achievement of the 21st century. It’s a 1971 (or ’72?) Citroën DS and it ran, successfully, in several 24 Hours of LeMons races. With its hydraulic suspension system intact. It was ran by Team Prance and it’s still running. In fact, it recently made a trip across the country to run in another race. Brilliant.
Bob Maywell built this 1970-ish Mazda RX-2 for racing. It’s a good thing, too, because he works at Thunderhill Speedway in California. It’s powered by a turbocharged 12A rotary and has a full race cage. The RX-2 is a rare bird in the states, but it’s one sexy little coupe. It’s on my short list of dream cars.
Honda N360 Electric
The guys at Hector’s Chop Shop in Santa Rosa, Ca., are building an electric, rear-drive ’69 Honda N360. The N360 was a Lilliputian Kei car, a 1,100-pound front-wheel-drive hatch with a 30-hoursepower 600cc twin. The thing was barely 10 feet from nose to hatch and only four feet wide. Forrest Koogle and the crew at Hector’s scored a pair of the tiny cars, sold one, and decided to convert the other to an all-electric driver/racer. They picked up a massive 60-horsepower D/C motor with ungodly amounts of torque and, well, things got crazy from there. The build is still not finished, but it’s one of my all-time favorites.
Go green, go fast. It’s Smyth Performance founder Mark Smith’s motto and it means you can have a hyper-efficient car that won’t lull you into a state of suspended animation—and you can build it yourself. Smith is developing a fuel-efficient diesel kit car called the G3F, a true hoon’s alternative to the legions of vapid big-name hybrids. The first prototype is nearly finished now and Smyth is ready to deliver a few kits to brave beta testers early next year. I love the idea behind this car and it looks great, too. If I were to ever build a kit, it would be a G3F.
I used to make fun of the egg-shaped Previa. Now I dream of owning a Previa All-Trac with a modified supercharger and a swapped-in manual transmission. A Stanceworks.com forum member who goes by the handle “shawnthemonster” pimped out his Previa. He slammed the thing within an inch of its life, gave it independent rear suspension to get adjustable camber in the rear, and slathered the whole thing in red and black paint. I love it. It’s the perfect family van and damn sexy.
The Mastretta MXT is a 1,980-pound powerhouse, a mid-engine coupe with a 240-horsepower turbocharged 2.0 liter inline four. The lightweight sports car will be the first car designed, engineered, and manufactured in Mexico. According to Mastretta, the first production units should roll off the assembly line in 2011. It’s one hot little number. And it helps that my favorite color is orange. Hopefully they’ll import the cuddly little thing to the US so I’ll have a chance to drive it.
Buckminster Fuller built the Dymaxion Car way back in the ’30s. It was extremely ahead of its time, a aerodynamically slippery minivan with supreme maneuverability and excellent fuel efficiency. But it was horribly unstable due to it’s single rear-wheel-steering setup. Still, its quite possibly the most spectacular car ever built. British architect Norman Foster had a Dymaxion built from scratch. Dymaxion #4 was built based on analysis of the only remaining Dymaxion Car and Fuller’s drawings. Race car restorers Crosthwaite & Gardiner put it together using Fuller’s original specs: Rear-mounted Ford flathead V-8 driving the front wheels, single rear-wheel steering.
I only wrote one car review last year, and it was of a rented Mazda5. I loved it. The sporty little five-passenger vehicle (okay, minivan) won my heart. So much so, in fact, that I bought a 2011 model with a five-speed manual transmission. It’s a great family hauler and road trip car and, to be honest, the nicest car I’ve ever owned.