By on August 28, 2019

We’ve had four different Questions of the Day focused on design over the past few months. Starting with good and bad Nineties design in general, we soon proceeded to the good and bad aspects of Nineties truck design.

Commenter theflyersfan feels we should have a discussion about Nineties sports car styling in particular. So here we are, setting off on a voyage for Nineties sports car bliss. America’s up first.

We’ll use the same three rules as we have in past for stylish submissions:

  1. All selections must be model years 1990 to 1999.
  2. Picks must be from an American manufacturer, even if sourced from an import (eg. Geo Storm).
  3. Any body style is eligible as long as it’s sporty.

My pick today is one that slides in under rule two above. Have a look at this extra sporty coupe.

It’s the Dodge Stealth, which was the downmarket cousin of the Mitsubishi 3000GT, née GTO in other markets. Introduced for model year 1991, the Stealth was mechanically identical to its Mitsubishi cousin, as was Chrysler SOP at the time. All Stealth and GTO examples hailed from Japan, the automaker’s answer to sports cars like the Mazda RX-7, Toyota Supra, and Nissan 300ZX. Unfortunately, Mitsubishi’s sports car response was rather poor when viewed against the competition. Built on the Diamante sedan platform, front-drive, transverse underpinnings were hidden well by a stylish body. The 3.0-liter engine was available in three Stealthy guises depending on trim. The base front-drive model had 164 horsepower (just buy a Sebring). An R/T Turbo model upped the ante to 222 hp, but big power numbers came from an R/T Turbo AWD model that offered an even 300 horses.

The Stealth did without the complicated active aero of the GTO, but did offer an electronic suspension and four-wheel steering. The original design was reworked for 1994, offering updated styling paired with a new six-speed manual transmission. All models were hefty pigs, but the R/T Turbo AWD was particularly portly at 3,796 pounds. Though the GTO lived on through 2000 (and was continually cost-cut), the Stealth was cancelled after the ’97 model year due to poor sales. Not the most obvious sports style choice, but it’s aged well and has a nice heckblende.

What’s your pick for an excellently aged American sports car from the Nineties?

[Images: General Motors, Chrysler]

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107 Comments on “QOTD: Stunning Nineties Sports Car Design From America?...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Well, my first and second pick were the Pontiac Fiero and Saturn Sky. Guess what? Neither were built in the 90s, so my third choice would be the first gen Viper, classically beautiful and timeless

    https://consumerguide.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/92103411000104.jpg

  • avatar
    FThorn

    I think they could do a great, new take on the Fiero now. Small displacement engines, light weighting, and I’d like them to retain plastic body.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    I always had a thing for the Mazda MX-6, it was quite the looker.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    For all those who pan GM in particular, I have to say the Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird from about ’95 up were nice looking, sporty cars. Even with the V6 and only 200 horses under the hood, it was a surprisingly lively car, if a bit of a transmission hog on the automatics due to the 8″ low-stall torque converter. People constantly confused that V6 for a V8 because of how quick it was while the fuel economy in real-world driving saw 32mpg at a time when the others were barely pushing 25mpg.

    • 0 avatar
      ScarecrowRepair

      Ahh, the fat one, which looked like its belly was hanging over its beltline.

      No thanks.

    • 0 avatar
      jamespdx

      I actually bought one of these and I agree that they were good looking cars. The thing I didn’t like about mine (besides all of its CONSTANT gremlins) was the front overhang was unbelievable and judging how close to get to a curb when parking it was a challenge. Mine was the Firebird – and that ENORMOUS plastic nose was sorta RIDICULOUS.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    Eagle Talon TSi AWD – I lusted over them.
    Why Ford didn’t put the a blue oval on, and a SHO engine in an RX-7 variant is beyond me.

    • 0 avatar
      dividebytube

      I did a short test drive of an Eagle Talon TSi AWD – oh in 2001 – and really liked it. $$ was short at the time so I ended up with a Buick Park Avenue as my beater car instead. Would coulda shoulda!

  • avatar
    gtem

    Designed in the 80s I guess, but the Chevy Beretta, especially in higher trims (Z26) looks better and better to me as we go deeper and deeper down the creased/flame surfaced/ huge grill/tiny window rabbit hole.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      I’ll second that. By the time they ended the run they were very attractive. The last wheels they put on them were pretty neat.

      And along those lines I’ll go back to my preference for the 92-95 Pontiac Grand Am GT coupes. Essentially the same car as the Beretta.

      While we’re at it I still and have always loved teal.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @Land Ark: “While we’re at it I still and have always loved teal.”

        — I’ll give you dozens of thumbs up on that. I had a teal Camaro that was a near perfect balance between blue and green (slightly more green). Drove that car for 160,000 miles before finally replacing it.

        • 0 avatar
          TMA1

          Vulpine, you might like this teal ’95 Z28. Only 2600 original miles:

          washingtondc.craigslist.org/nva/cto/d/woodstock-1995-camaro-z28-2-door-coupe/6945138782.html

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Love it. But that asking price is pure acid trip, even in that condition.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Heh. $10K more than I paid for my ’96 brand-new.

            Nope. That’s a ‘cracked pipe’ if you ask me.

            Maybe if he cuts the price by about $16K I might consider it.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I’ve toyed with the idea of a mid-’90s Z28 as a weekend plaything. I’d say “no” to a T/A, though – ugly schnozz.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            The 4th gen F-bodies are definitely better cars than the 3rd gen, but they’re so much uglier. One of the few car designs the ’90s made worse IMO.

            Of course a big part of that is that I think the 3rd gen Camaro in particular is one of the prettiest designs to come out of the malaise era, particularly in ’85-’88 IROC form.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            HEY!!! That thing’s within pretty easy driving distance of me. Only about 150 miles as the crow flies (200 miles if I want to avoid the DC area.)

    • 0 avatar
      dividebytube

      Ah the Chevy Burrito – as we jokingly called it – was not a car I liked in the 90s but miss now. It’s a clean design compared to the busy-ness of today’s cars.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Lincoln Mark VIII

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      It’s certainly the biggest sports car

    • 0 avatar
      jamespdx

      LOVE MINE!!!! SLEEPER HOT ROD with a GREAT interior and fun to drive in an American Hot Rod sorta way from years past. Too bad Ford didn’t do a better job marketing them – I was a devotee of Acura when they were new, I think if I’d been snagged into a test drive with the Lincoln the Acura I was driving would have been left on the used car lot!! I own a 1966 Lincoln and consider myself to be something of a “Lincoln-guy” but by the late 80s I had shut the door on buying another American car due to poor quality. I bought the Mark VIII as weekend “fun” car after seeing one with 50K on the odometer and $2K on the window – it’s been GREAT FUN and I LOVE blowing the doors off a kid in his rice burner or BMW. Had a couple 20 somethings pass me on the freeway when I was cruising along at a speed somewhat north of what’s legal – in VERY short order I was on their ass and they were freaking out looking behind them at whatever that was that could keep up with them like GLUE. It’s really a great car!

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    The final generation of the Probe GT still makes my head turn.

    • 0 avatar
      dividebytube

      The Probe used to be everywhere – had an intern here with one that got totaled (as I watched from my office window!) when he lost control of it on a icy day and got hit by another car.

      My second Probe story – I was off to go camping with a bunch of buddies. We were piled together in a rather ratty and overloaded GMC Jimmy when a Ford Probe GT pulls up next to us. The guy driving revs the engine, takes off hard, and then there was a gigantic puff of dark smoke shooting out of the exhaust. He ended up having to pull off on the side of the road. We drive by pointing and laughing as 20-somethings do.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Failed automatic transmissions or failed weather sealing with no possible replacement has killed them off. So many Probes with completely rusted out cargo floors, rear strut towers, and everything from the back seats to rear taillights covered in toxic black mold.

    • 0 avatar
      cbrworm

      Yes, with a manual transmission, they were fun cars. Also, with a manual transmission, they were more Mazda than ford, so the mechanical bits held up pretty well. With the auto, all bets were off.

  • avatar
    MarionCobretti

    I have two suggestions.

    One is a 1980’s carryover, updated for the 1990’s. The 1991-1992 Pontiac Firebird Formula. It had a sleeker, updated nose, and none of the body cladding that cluttered up other trims. Here’s a really nice example: https://www.barrett-jackson.com/Events/Event/Details/1992-PONTIAC-FIREBIRD-FORMULA-1-COUPE-75054

    The other? The second-gen Ford Probe GT. I actually lusted after this car as a young man just out of high school, but in the long term, paying for my education was likely the better call (although I probably wouldn’t *still* be making payments on the Probe…)

  • avatar
    progressiveluddite

    “QOTD: Stunning Nineties Sports Car Design From America?” and Rule 2
    “Picks must be from an American manufacturer, even if sourced from an import (eg. Geo Storm).”

    So badge salesmanship counts as “Design from America”? Please.

    Dodge Stealth- MANUFACTURED in…Nagoya Japan
    Mitsubishi Eclipse – MANUFACTURED in … Normal Illinois
    Geo Storm – Manufactured in … Fujisawa Japan
    Mazda MX-6 – Manufactured in … Flat Rock, MI
    90-92 Pontiac Firebird – Manufactured in … Van Nuys, Republic of California
    93-02 Pontiac Firebird – Manufactured in … Ste Therese, Canada

    Badge salemanship isn’t design from America, even if thats how you choose to include the Mitsu GTO under the “American” label. The Storm has a lesson too, GEO was create as SALES channel, for the multiple not-made-in-an-honest-to-God-UAW-GM-plant vehicle.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’m gonna get hate for this, but I don’t care…

    ’95 Chevy Cavalier Z24 coupe. Pretty shape, with a minimum of froufrou. With the twincam engine and a manual, it was a darn good driver. I sold them at the time, and considered buying one.

  • avatar

    Talon and Stealth are great suggestions. But the greatest 90’s sports car has to be the

    VIPER.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I thought the Stealth looked a lot better than the 3000GT, personally.

    • 0 avatar
      SilverCoupe

      I always loved the look of the Stealth RT/Turbo AWD, with its high taillamps, forward mounted spoiler, and blackout headlamps, but each time I drove one I just found it too heavy and ponderous. In ’91 I drove one of the first ones to come out, but they did not have a manual transmission car available, so I bought a Supra Turbo.
      Ten years later I drove a Mitsubishi GT VR-4, and while it was faster than the Audi TT I eventually purchased, it still felt too ponderous.

    • 0 avatar
      StudeDude

      Agree regarding the Stealth. I always liked the C pillar treatment and the high mounted rear spoiler better than the 3000GT. That probably explains why I currently own 2, a 1991 base model and a 1994 R/T FWD.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    Sorry, but any answer other than the 96 Viper GTS is simply wrong.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    The Dodge Vipers of the ’90s were quite distinctive.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    “From America”?

    Oh well.

    I always thought that the Saturn SC2 Coupes loaded up with the bigger of the two engines and manual trans were solidly executed design.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      I was thinking the Saturn coupes also. Another one that is somewhat forgotten (and maybe late 90’s extending into the 00’s) is the Mercury Cougar FWD liftback of european Ford Mondeo origin. I always though the styling was solid. A remember an article about it where the design lead said the design came about by him doodling sketches of his cat in his apartment or something. It makes sense when you see it.

      • 0 avatar
        King of Eldorado

        The Cougar is a good choice, except I never liked that slash down near the rocker panel. It looked like an afterthought, or maybe like someone caught a high curb just right.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        If I had NEW CAR money in the late 90s (when I was a broke college kid) I really wanted a Saturn SW2 wagon with manual and all the options.

        Given that I had nothing to haul at that time – yes my wagon madness knows no bounds.

        A female cousin of mine had a one of those final Cougars but only because it was a heavily depreciated used car when it became hers. I thinks she was pretty indifferent to the whole thing other than having transportation.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Nice mention on the Cougar… I remember the build-up to its release and very seriously considered one to replace my Camaro… until, like the new Ranger since, they only offered a single engine choice and was NOT the engine I would have chosen. I ended up buying a Saturn instead.

        • 0 avatar
          Maymar

          Didn’t the New Edge Cougars have the choice of a 2.0L I4 or a 2.5L V6? Or was it a single choice at the time you were buying?

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            My local dealerships had only one option and told me that was all they could get.

          • 0 avatar
            dtremit

            @Maymar

            You could only buy the V6 with an automatic. The I4 was manual only. They didn’t feel the I4 + auto combo performed well enough.

            Oddly, this was a last minute decision on Ford’s part — so last minute, in fact, that they had already built a bunch of auto I4 models. Those were never sold new, but were offered as special-deal second lease cars to Ford employees at a very attractive price.

            My sister got her driver’s license almost exactly at the moment they announced the special, and so my dad (one of those employees) ended up leasing one for her. I was none too happy about it at the time, having chipped in for my own, used car a couple of years earlier — but in retrospect I’m glad to have had what I did (an ’89 MN12 Thunderbird).

            Edited to add: I think three of the four cars in the household at that time were American coupes — her Cougar, my Thunderbird, and my stepmother’s ’93 Probe — two of which fit this category, and one of which just misses.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    As folks have been throwing up cars like the Z24 Cavalier and the Beretta, I’ll nominate the Saturn SC2 (91-96) for a “sporty” car. I always liked the Probe GT as well.

    Straight up on looks alone I’ll roll with the Plymouth Prowler, though it was let down by its automatic only driveline.

    I wouldn’t kick a Buick Reatta out of bed either.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      Oh, I hadn’t even thought of the Prowler.

      Want to be startled? It was only available in purple the first year. PURPLE! Man I miss colors.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Big thumbs up there. I wonder how much longer it will take before the OEMs realize that monochrome is dying.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          It’s the dealers who are forcing non-color colors on us, not the OEMs. They want inventory that doesn’t offend anyone.

          Eventually I’ll comment with the story of how my local Chevy dealer accidentally ended up with nearly 50 Shock (fluorescent chartreuse) Bolts.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            They may want inventory that doesn’t offend anyone but as a result, they’re offending more and more people who refuse to buy if they can’t get what they want.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      My first thought was Reatta, but it originated in the 80’s (although sold into the 90’s) and I didn’t think of it as “sporty.”

  • avatar
    TheDutchGun

    Viper specifically GTS. Not the biggest RT/10 fan.

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    Final years of the Mustang Fox body, in LX 5.0 trim. The GT’s body cladding looked overwrought, but the LX body was a clean design. Even though this chassis was actually a late 70s design, the final Fox bodies were sold into the early nineties. If you pick a Saleen version, you get American design (Steve Saleen) on top of American design (Ford)- do I get bonus points for that?

    Here is a 1991 Saleen Mustang: https://performanceautosport.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/91sc1312-762×456.jpg

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    We’re talking a very loose definition of “Sports cars” (and “American”).

    I wouldn’t consider Mustangs sports cars, but the up to ’93 “notch” LX 5-speed stripper gets my pick, especially when crank windows and radio delete.

    It’s now the Holy Grail of Fox Mustangs (except Terminators, depending on your definitions of “Fox”).

    It was overlooked by the car mags/rags, but was a high 13 second car, right out of the box, when 3.08 gear equipped.

    They’re the HG because about none were hoarded. They were all beat on, cut up, or totaled. And or ex police.

    Except mid ’90s Mustang GTs are growing on me. Fast. The New Edge is ’99 and up. But despite not a lot of HP, they’re surprisingly small, light and fast.

    • 0 avatar
      cognoscenti

      LOL @ Denver Mike, we both posted about the LX 5.0 at the same time!

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        I wish we could still get cars like that. Zero “forced” options BS and gadgetry, just the stuff to go fast (plus turn and stop) for crazy cheap.

        With the 5.0 package (all the GT hard-parts, brakes, suspension), it started at around $10K while the GT started at about $14K.

    • 0 avatar
      TheDutchGun

      Second the LX fox body. GT styling had some unfortunate inclusions like the cheese grater taillight covers and the “dump” style exhaust. Loved the more open rear body work and exhaust on the LX.

      Anything from 94 to 04 is a dark period for Mustangs, besides terminators of course.

  • avatar
    Dale Houston

    Someone mentioned the Saturn SC (later the SC2). I had a black one and I thought it looked a lot better than the other sporty cars of the day. And it was fun to drive.

  • avatar
    warrant242

    I always honestly liked the looks of the FWD 1999 Cougar.

    I acknowledge that everything other than the looks was pretty bad.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    Chevy Camaro: attractive and modern.

    Saturn SC2: a tidy doorstop with rear seat access.

    Chevy Cavalier Z24: clean clean clean.

    Some favorites really came out in the 80s but were sold in the 90s, so if that counts, Pontiac Fiero and Chevy Beretta and Lincoln Mark VII LSC.

    Honorable mention to the Eagle Talon and second-gen Ford Probe and (don’t laugh) Pontiac LeMans GSE.

    With molded plastic parts, new steel stamping techniques, computer optimization, etc. car companies were making clean, smooth, dramatic aero designs. And powertrains had finally gotten modern enough to motivate them with gusto without bringing on a gas crisis or a pollution apocalypse. It was a good time for cars, and a huge relief after the hot Chinatown garbage of the 1970s and 80s.

    • 0 avatar
      paxman356

      I liked the looks of the Lemans. I even test drove one, came aaway meh about it. Saw a ton of them in Europe (Opels there) and liked them, too. But it was a good ecobox design thwarted by bad manufacture here in the US.

  • avatar
    RangerM

    If an “American Brand” is the only qualifier.

    Acura NSX.

    Pick any year of the 1990s

    And yes, “Acura” was launched in America, so it’s American.

  • avatar
    brettucks

    Just squeaking in with this one ;

    1990 Pontiac Grand Am turbo ASC-Mclaren

    I have always loved the looks, it had a respectabe 205 horsepower , and even heads up display.

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    I don’t think this is even close.

    Corvette ZR-1.

    I’ll take mine in Polo Green, with Saddle interior.

    Unless you would call that a 1980s design … but the ZR-1 did have some styling tweaks, and it came out in 1990.

    If that’s disqualified, then I would have to say the 1996 Viper GTS.

  • avatar
    cprescott

    A Honduh Civic. Seriously. Their owners think that their vehicle is the end all of products and considering how the drivers of these things impersonate NASCAR drivers with their noses almost touching my back bumper, I’d say they qualify as sports cars and the best since they are Honduhs. (sarcasm based on real world daily situations). And all in the slow lane of a three lane interstate. Go figure.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      “And all in the slow lane of a three lane interstate. Go figure.”

      cprescott I’d argue you yourself are perpetually stuck in the slow lane of a three lane interstate in a much broader, metaphorical sense.

  • avatar
    TheDutchGun

    That one 90s Impala SS is another solid choice in my opinion.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    Most of my choices have already been mentioned, but one outstanding one is the Thunderbird Super Coupe – sort of BMW by way of Ford’s wind tunnel (which makes sense, since they benchmarked the E24 6-series, I believe).

    Also, just to test Corey’s limits, the Opel Calibra (you know, GM offspring) was quite pretty.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Circa 1998 Trans Am would probably be my pick, even with the cladding. Them again I guess I have a soft spot for the screaming chicken from Smokey and The Bandit (yes, I know, completely different cars, but they share a name).

  • avatar
    STS_Endeavour

    My favorite is the Mark VIII. Swoopy if not conventional styling that dared to be more radical than its Lexus contemporary. It even eked out a little more performance than the Lexus, too. Jatech doors would complete the package of COOL.

  • avatar
    ryanwm80

    1) Dodge Viper
    2) Ford Probe GT (2nd gen)
    3) 97-99 Lincoln Continental Mark VIII

  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    Not much stunning and sporty in the 90’s except Viper and perhaps Allante.


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