QOTD: Best Unheralded Performance Car?

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy

There are plenty of performance cars from the pages of history whose greatness has been recognized — Integra Type R, Focus RS, anything with GTI appended to its name. A few, however, have slipped through the cracks.

Time is kind to some cars, with their stock rising only long after they’ve gone out of production, but a few never get the recognition they deserve. I’ve got two examples right here … and they’re both from Detroit.

Let’s look at them chronologically. When the Dodge Neon appeared in the early ’90s, it was so different from the K-based Shadow it replaced that it was difficult to believe the thing emerged from the same company. A few years into its tenure, some gearheads deep within Chrysler threw some performance parts at it to create the Neon ACR. By the 1997 model year, it was equipped with the likes of Koni adjustables, a shorter final drive, ample sway bars, and DOHC power.

Your author recalls wit being popular with a certain crowd but those not in-the-know back then largely derided it as “just a Neon.” The striped R/T trim of 1998 had most of the ACR’s goodies as well. That’s a ’94 shown above.

Jumping into the 21st century, Chevy binned the Cavalier name and all its baggage when introducing its new small car, the Cobalt. It quickly became laden with equal amounts, if not more, baggage than its forebear. Buried in the product catalog, though, was an SS version.

The company’s first crack at the can was a supercharged version, making just over 200hp. Following the predictable traction complaints — and GM’s divorce from Eaton plus some pesky emissions issues — Chevy bolted a turbocharger onto the Cobalt SS instead. The bloody thing actually had no-lift-shift and launch control. In a Cobalt! You could even get a sedan in 2009 if the whole bankruptcy thing didn’t bother you.

No Sentra SE-R, no Acura ITR, please — they’re well known. What’s your pick for best unrecognized performance car?

[Images: Chrysler, Hemmings]

Matthew Guy
Matthew Guy

Matthew buys, sells, fixes, & races cars. As a human index of auto & auction knowledge, he is fond of making money and offering loud opinions.

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  • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Dec 11, 2018

    Oh, for the old days, when you could have a non-descript sedan and drop some power into it. I bought a 1968 Mercury Montego in 1973 from my mechanic. His kid trashed the 302 so he took it away from him and gave him a 6 cylinder Fairlane. He put a 351 4 barrel and C6 auto in the Montego and sold it to me when he needed money. Best car I ever had.

  • Josh Josh on Sep 07, 2021

    Forgotten cars I remember: Nobody's mentioned this, but the Ford Tempo GLS! (3.0L V6, 135 hp H.O. Vulcan motor with a 5-speed made it a mini-SHO). Problem was, they killed the Tempo just as it was becoming more refined. 6000 STE could do 118-125 mph with the 2.8L V6 and had AWD. Camry All-Trac, also with a 2.5L V6, 153 hp, from about '88 to '91. Ford LTD LX CPI. It wasn't a PFI 5.0, but it was a TBI/CPI 5.0 with 165 hp in a RWD Ford sedan smaller than the Crown Vic. Also known as the Mercury Marquis LS in Canada, VERY RARE! Buick Electra T-Type--it was a 3.8L V6 with the same 165 hp motor as the others but better suspension and blackout trim around the windows, plus amber turn signals. GMC Syclone/Typhoon--S-10/S-15 trucks with larger GN engines. I know people have mentioned the 454SS and Lightning. I think the Syclone was even faster! Mercedes 190E-2.3 and 2.6. Big motors in the tiny W201, plus RWD and great West German quality. There are probably tons more I will remember after I post this!

  • V8fairy Absolutely no, for the same reasons I would not have bought a German car in the late 1930's, and I am glad to see a number of other posters here share my moral scruples. Like EBFlex I try to avoid Chinese made goods as much as possible. The quality may also be iffy, but that is not my primary concern
  • Tsarcasm No, Japan only. Life costs by Rank:#1 - House (150k+)#2 - Education (30k+)#3 - Automobile (30k+) why waste hard earned money in inferior crap => Korean, Chinese, and American cars are trash. a toyota or honda will last twice as long.
  • Tassos In the 90s we hired a former PhD student and friend of mine, who 'worked' at GM "Research" labs, to come work for us as a 'temp' lecturer and get paid extra. He had no objection from GM, came during the day (around 2 PM), two hours drive round trip, plus the 1.5 hour lecture, twice weekly. (basically he goofed off two entire afternoons out of the five) He told me they gave him a different model new car every month, everything (even gas) paid. Instead of him paying parking, I told him to give me the cars and I drove them for those 90 mins, did my shopping etc. Almost ALL sucked, except the Eldo coupe with the Northstar. That was a nice engine with plenty of power (by 90s standards). One time they gave him the accursed Caddy Catera, which was as fun driving as having sex with a fish, AND to make it worse, the driver's door handle broke and my friend told me GM had to pay an arm and a leg to fix it, needed to replace almost the whole damned door!
  • 3-On-The-Tree I only buy Toyota cars. But if the Chinese cars are cheap people will buy them. They don’t care about the above issues that were stated in this forum.
  • Tassos Ford models are like dumb Hollywood movies. The original is far better than their god damned sequels. This was true of the Mustang vs the II, AND the Capri vs its second gen, and their BEV PORKER atrocities many decades later