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Category: Performance

Audi recreates 16-cylinder super-sedan designed in 1930s but never built


Auto Union — one of the companies that Audi traces its roots to — set several world records in the 1930s with a series of race cars grouped under the Silver Arrow label. These cars were designed exclusively for track use, but the brand also envisioned a street-legal version called Type 52 that used the same 16-cylinder engine. The sedan was never built, so Audi dusted off decades-old blueprints to make it a reality.

Type 52 was an internal designation; Audi notes that the model would have likely been launched as the Schnellsportwagen, which means “fast sports car” in German. It’s a fitting name: Ferdinand Porsche’s design office started the project in late 1933 and planned a sedan built around a de-tuned version of the supercharged, 4.4-liter 16-cylinder engine that powered the Type 22 race car. In spite of the lower compression, the engine was projected to develop about 200 horsepower and 322 pound-feet of torque, which was enough for a top speed of 124 mph. Had it gone on sale, the Schnellsportwagen would have stood proud as one of the fastest and most powerful cars of its era.

Visually, the Schnellsportwagen featured an aerodynamic, wing-shaped silhouette characterized by an unusually long wheelbase required to accommodate the massive mid-mounted engine. It had four rear-hinged doors, and the interior layout placed the driver front and center and the two passengers on either side — this layout made the McLaren F1 famous nearly 60 years later. Auto Union even fitted a small trunk.

Auto Union’s plans to build a test car were canned when the project was abandoned in 1935, so the Schnellsportwagen was consigned to the pantheon of automotive history. Recreating it using archive documents and design sketches was easier said than done, especially since none of the people that worked on the project are still alive. Audi commissioned an England-based restoration shop named Crosthwaite & Gardner to tackle the project. Every part of the car had to be built from scratch including the chassis, the engine, and the body panels.

One of the bigger issues that the shop, which worked closely with members of the Audi Tradition department, ran into is that the car never made it off the drawing board. “One insight that came out of our intensive exchange is that the developers in the 1930s would probably have had to adjust some of the technical details in the course of testing,” explained Timo Witt, the head of Audi’s historical vehicle collection.

The wheelbase was consequently extended in order to package the front suspension system, the steering components, the engine, and the transmission. The engine was updated as well: the modern-day Schnellsportwagen uses a version of the 1936 Auto Union Type C’s 6.0-liter 16-cylinder, which is supercharged to 520 horsepower. It runs on a blend of 50% methanol, 40% gasoline and 10% toluene. None of the period documents clarified the car’s color, so Audi painted the car in the same Cellulose Silver that appeared on the Silver Arrow race cars.

Over 90 years after it was designed, the Auto Union Type 52 will make its public debut at the 2024 Goodwood Festival of Speed.

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Junkyard Gem: 1985 Jaguar XJ-S


An American car shopper looking for a new V12-engined coupe in 1985 had two choices: Spend the present-day equivalent of several hundred grand for a Ferrari or Lamborghini … or get a Jaguar XJ-S for about a third that price. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those cars, found in a Denver car graveyard recently.


Jaguar began bolting V12 engines into the E-Type beginning in 1971, then into the XJ12 sedan soon after that. By the time the E-Type was discontinued after 1974, Jaguar had spent the better part of a decade grappling with the near-impossible task of developing a successor that looked just as beautiful.


This ended up being the XJ-S, which was based on the chassis of the XJ sedan and debuted as a 1976 model in the United States. Production continued through 1996.


These cars were mean-looking, powerful and packed with English wood-and-leather luxury, but they were also temperamental and costly to repair. I’ve documented quite a few discarded XJ-Ss during my junkyard travels.


This is a DOHC 5.3-liter engine, known as the HE for its improved combustion chambers and rated at 262 horsepower and 290 pound-feet. This was serious power for a year in which a new Corvette’s engine made 230 horses and the Mercedes-Benz 500 SEC coupe chugged along with a 184hp V8.


A three-speed ZF automatic was the only transmission available in this car.


The MSRP was an even $36,000, which amounts to something like $107,170 in 2024 dollars. That compared favorably to other European luxury coupes; the 1985 BMW 635CSi was $41,315 ($122,993 after inflation), the Mercedes-Benz 500 SEC listed at $57,100 ($169,985 today) and the Porsche 928S cost $50,000 ($18,848 now). Detroit offered the Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz coupe for $24,850 ($73,977) and the Lincoln Mark VII Bill Blass Edition for $26,659 ($79,363).


The XJ-S was notorious for expensive-to-fix electrical and mechanical problems, so it’s a struggle for third or fourth owners to keep theirs in driving condition. Some give up on the V12 and swap in small-block Chevrolet V8s.


The gauge cluster in this one was purchased by a junkyard shopper before I arrived, so I couldn’t get a final odometer reading. It appears to have been reset in 1987, anyway.

Here is V12 power wrapped in soft leather, paneled in rare wood, equipped in complete luxury.

A blending of art and machine.

British Leyland was so proud of the XJ-S that it opened this iconic TV commercial with a mid-1970s Playboy Bunny climbing into one.



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HWA Evo is a modern take on the Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-16 Evo II


In 1989, Mercedes-Benz built 502 units of a very racy sedan called the 190 E 2.5-16 Evo, its homologation car for the 190 E racer in the German Touring Car (DTM) series. This is the same series that convinced BMW to create the M3, which BMW drivers used to win the DTM Driver’s Championship in 1987 and 1989 (there was no manufacturer’s championship at the time), and the first Evo was the car Mercedes used to return to factory motor racing after quitting all such activities in the wake of the Le Mans crash in 1955. (M-B began supplying Peter Sauber with engines for Group C racing in the mid-1980s, though.) Mercedes drivers couldn’t lift the big trophy with the Evo, so in 1990 and 1991, Mercedes turned its first effort into the 190 E 2.5-16 Evo II. Thanks to DTM instituting a manufacturer’s championship by this time, Mercedes driver Klaus Ludwig drove the Evo II to both trophies in 1992, and the 502 roadgoing versions became collector rarities. Whereas Evo I values average somewhere in the low $100s, Evo II sales average around $300,000 according to Classic.com. 

This is one of the reasons a German outfit called HWA chose to create a modernized version of the Evo II on a standard Mercedes 190 E chassis, that of the plain beige four-door that filled taxi fleets in Germany at the time. The other reason is that HWA stands for Hans-Werner Aufrecht, the gentleman who provided the “A” in AMG. When AMG was a separate company, Aufrecht worked with Mercedes on the Evo I and Evo II, and his independent HWA outfit continued never stopped prepping Mercedes race cars even after Mercedes completed its acquisition of AMG.

Based on the sedan’s specs, it’s probably best not to think of the HWA Evo as a restomod, since nothing is restored and everything is a modification. The only pieces that remain from the 190 E shell are cant rails (the structural member running over the doors between the A- and C-pillars), and C-pillar. It’s best to consider this a current imagining of what an Evo III might look like, using modern components. Start with the engine. Instead of the Cosworth-tuned, high-revving 2.5-liter four-cylinder, the HWA Evo is powered by Mercedes’ M276 twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 from cars like the AMG E 43 that Mercedes recently replaced with its twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six. HWA buys the M276 new, disassembles it to balance the rotating assembly, installs a dry sump so the engine can sit lower in the chassis, and plugs in an HWA-programmed ECU. Final output for the standard version is 444 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, an Affalterbach Package raises that to 493 hp, to move a car targeted to weigh about 3,220 pounds. Shorter gearing in the six-speed manual transaxle transmission give the standard car better acceleration but a lower top speed of 168 miles per hour. The longer legs in the Affalterbach Package take top speed to 189 mph.  

Side note: When Motor Trend asked HWA why it went with a six-cylinder when the original made do with a four, we’re told that a V8 would have been too tough to fit into the bay, and HWA chief technical officer Gordian von Schöning said, “In the beginning we were really pushing for a four-cylinder engine because we thought this was something AMG is promoting, and we can probably push it to 500 horsepower. But customers said a four-cylinder engine was not special.”

The body shell is stripped and reinforced with aluminum and high-strength steel for stiffness and improved crash protection. The front axle’s moved forward two inches, the rear axle 1.2 inches, helping deliver a 50:50 weight balance. HWA sourced Evo II-spec glass, thinner and lighter than the regular sedan’s windows. The new carbon fiber body panels are bonded to the shell, and swell so much below the belt line that the HWA Evo is nine inches wider than an Evo II.

KW shocks connect a race-spec multi-link suspension at both ends, the base car offering manual shock adjustment, the Affalterbach Package giving drivers electronic suspension controls in the cockpit. Six-piston front brakes work 15-inch rotors behind 190-inch wheels, while in back, four-piston calipers clamp 14-inch rotors behind 20-inch wheels.

Inside, front passengers sit in Recaro seats looking at digital gauges that mimic the original displays.

HWA’s putting the one car it’s built so far through a year-long testing and development phase. Once completed, HWA will build one car per week, up to 100 units in total, 75 of which have already been sold at €714,000 ($765,000 U.S.) apiece. After that, we hear there are plans for HWA to come up with a modern interpretation of the AMG Hammer.



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Check out the classics that the Bugatti Tourbillon traces its roots to


MOLSHEIM, France — Bugatti unveiled the new, 1,800-horsepower Tourbillon at its historic headquarters in Molsheim, France. While the Chiron’s successor was the uncontested star of the show, the brand displayed an impressive selection of classics to give attendees a glimpse into every facet of its past. The roster included grand prix-winning race cars, ultra-luxurious sedans, elegant coupes, and even a small, city-friendly electric car.

Enthusiasts tend to associate the Bugatti name with hypercars, but there’s more to the brand than four-digit horsepower figures and speed records. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the company made one of the most luxurious cars in the world: the Type 41, which is also known as the Royale. It stretched 252 inches from bumper to bumper in its longest configuration (several body styles were available) and its wheelbase measured nearly 170 inches; I’ve owned cars that were shorter than that. Power came from a 12.8-liter straight-eight engine.

Pictured in our gallery above, the example Bugatti displayed at the Tourbillon unveiling features 24-inch wheels, the famous “Dancing Elephant” hood ornament, and a closed rear cabin with windows made of reinforced glass. The front compartment is always open, and the rear passengers could talk to the driver using an intercom system called a Motor Dictograph. The behemoth of an engine made about 300 horsepower at 1,800 rpm, which was enough to unlock a top speed of about 124 mph — that was a supercar-worthy figure a century ago.

Bugatti has explored the more family-friendly side of its heritage on several occasions over the past few decades, though none of its projects have reached production. In the 1990s, when the brand was owned by Romano Artioli and based in Italy, it experimented with a Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed super-sedan called EB112 and powered by a 6.0-liter V12. In 1999, after joining the Volkswagen Group, Bugatti showed a four-door, W18-powered concept called EB218. Ten years later, the 16C Galibier made its debut as a potential follow-up to the Veyron.

Racing has been part of Bugatti’s DNA for over 100 years; it has won major events like the Targa Florio and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Four vintage race cars illustrated this part of its heritage at the unveiling, including a surprisingly futuristic model from 1923 called Type 23 and nicknamed Tank. Take a look at its bodywork and you’ll immediately understand why. In an era when open-wheel cars dominated the racing scene, the Tank featured a streamlined body that consisted mostly of flat metal panels held together with rivets. It could reach over 110 mph thanks to a 90-horsepower 1.8-liter straight-eight. It wasn’t as successful as Bugatti hoped, but it illustrated an approach to design that was innovative, daring, and unusual. Its successor, the Type 35, became the company’s most successful race car by a significant margin.

Bugatti also displayed more modern cars including the EB110, the Centodieci, the Mistral, and the one-of-a-kind Chiron Profilée that sold for over $10 million at an auction in February 2023. But while most of Bugatti’s past and present models put a big focus on performance, there’s one exception to the rule: the Type 56 that I drove in 2018. It’s electric, it has a tiller instead of a steering wheel, and it maxes out at 20 mph.



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What is the most expensive car in the world?


Highlighting one single vehicle as the most expensive car in the world isn’t as straightforward as you might think. To get a solid answer, we’re going to have to break the question into a couple of parts. First, we’ll discuss the most expensive new car in the world, and second, the most expensive collector car in the world. And by the end of the article, you’ll be armed with the information you’re looking for: What is the most expensive car in the world?

Before we get into the stratospheric numbers, let’s take a step back and put things in perspective. For the last year or so, the average transaction price for a new car has hovered right around $48,000. That’s almost 10 grand more than new cars cost in 2019, before the pandemic. What will that buy you today? Well, you can get a midrange Ford F-150, a Kia Telluride, or a Ford Mustang GT with a few options. Not bad when you consider that these choices are among the best in their respective classes.

At the very bottom of the spectrum is the Nissan Versa, which is available brand new for well under $20,000. Sure, there are a few anomalies such as the Changli Nemica (it’s kinda a car, though not exactly street legal here in America) that can be ordered from Alibaba for about $1,000 to start, but there are a bunch of hidden costs, including shipping.

Most expensive car in 2024: Rolls-Royce Droptail

Price: $30 million

Outside of the classic car market, the most expensive new vehicle in the world is the Rolls-Royce Droptail. So far, three Droptail models have been built, one called the Arcadia Droptail, one in ruby tones called La Rose Noire Droptail and one called the Amethyst Droptail. The latest example, the Arcadia, is painted in a white shade that is infused with aluminum and glass particles for a pearl-like effect that adds depth. Past that, the overall design of all three Droptails remains largely unchanged with an upright grille, thin rear lights, and a rounded back end.

Like other extremely luxurious and expensive nautical-themed cars from Rolls-Royce — see the 2017 Sweptail and the 2021 Boat Tail — the Droptail is a very rare machine. There’s a solid chance the lone remaining version will cost even more than the $30 million-plus cost of the La Rose Noire.

For those keeping track, the Rolls-Royce Boat Tail, which was previously the most expensive car in the world at $28 million, was the first model to emerge from the company’s Coachbuild department that caters to the profanely wealthy. Case in point, the first Boat Tail commission is for a pearl magnate. To put the price in perspective, The Boat Tail’s asking price was equivalent to 1,797 Nissan Sentras.

Other notable cars that cost more than a million dollars in 2024:

  1. McLaren Elva: $1.7 million
  2. Hennessey Venom GT: $1.8 million
  3. Bentley Bacalar: $1.9 million
  4. SSC Tuatara: $2.0 million
  5. Pininfarina Battista: $2.2 Million
  6. Lotus Evija: $2.3 million
  7. Rimac Nevera: $2.4 Million
  8. Lamborghini Sian: $3.7 million
  9. Bugatti Bolide: $4.3 million
  10. Pagani Codalunga: $7.4 million

The most expensive car sold at auction: 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300

Price: $142 million

Let’s start at the top, with the most expensive car ever sold at auction. The 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe Prototype sold for $142 million in 2022. RM Sotheby’s sold it on behalf of Mercedes-Benz at a private auction held at the carmaker’s museum in Stuttgart, Germany. It’s one of two prototypes made, with the other remaining in Mercedes’ keeping. The new owner remains unnamed for the moment, but we do know what Mercedes did with some of the money. Some funds went to establish a scholarship for students in the environmental science and decarbonization fields.

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What is the fastest car in the world in 2024?


It wasn’t that long ago that the notion of reaching 200 miles per hour in a car, on a road, seemed basically impossible. As you likely know by now, that time has passed. And once that threshold was crossed, the automotive world immediately began eying the next triple-digit benchmark: 300 miles per hour. It may have taken a little while, but the 300-mph line has been crossed, and some cars have moved well past that seemingly insane speed number. While some of these speeds have been achieved in simulations (including the fastest car listed below), there’s little doubt that a driver with nerves of steel and a heavy right foot could indeed push several automobiles up to 300 miles per hour and beyond.

Interestingly, it’s not just one car or automaker in the 300-mph club, as a handful of models have earned a place (sometimes claimed but not yet demonstrated) on the leaderboard.

The fastest car in the world is: Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut (330 MPH)

Fastest car in the world 2023

That title goes to the Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut, which recorded a staggering 330 mph top speed earlier in 2023. The car’s twin-turbocharged 5.0-liter V8 lays down 1,600 horsepower and 1,106 pound-feet of torque, which plays a significant role in delivering that speed, but Koenigsegg’s engineers have given the car a lot more than mind-blowing power.

The Jesko Absolut has a super-slippery 0.278 drag coefficient and a nine-speed transmission that shifts so quickly it’s almost imperceptible. Koenigsegg calls it a Light Speed Transmission (LST), saying its shifts happen at almost light speed. While that might be a slight exaggeration, the gearbox is impressive, bringing several wet multi-disc clutches and a super lightweight construction.

As Koenigsegg says, “the Jesko Absolut is destined to achieve higher, more extraordinary speeds than any Koenigsegg or any other fully homologated car before it.”

How expensive is the Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut?

If you were reading that and wondering how much the fastest car in the world costs, the price tag is just another dizzying number on the Jesko Absolut’s spec sheet. All 125 Absolut cars offered sold out at a price of almost $3 million. Of course, being able to afford the Koenigsegg is just the first step in realizing its full potential. There are very few places on the map that can support a 300-plus-mph speed run, and the locations that do are not conveniently located. That said, it’s likely that many people who shelled out the cash for a Jesko Absolut will be happy with the bragging rights instead of using the speed.

So, the Jesko Absolut holds the speed crown and does so with more than a few miles per hour to spare, but the other cars in the 300-mph club are nearly as impressive.

Other cars that drive faster than 300 mph

BUGATTI Bolide 300 mph

The Bugatti Bolide sees 1,847 horsepower and 1,365 pound-feet of torque from a quad-turbo 8.0-liter W16. Its top speed lands at 311 mph, and its styling is just as wild and exaggerated.

However, unlike the Koenigsegg, the Bugatti is a track-only affair. Though it shares an engine and some of its underlying structure with the road-legal Chiron, Bugatti opted to keep the Bolide limited to track duty. While that’s a bummer, especially at the roughly $4.4 million price tag, not having to build a car to meet road car regulations gave Bugatti the freedom to create a brutal car with speed that defies logic. The Bolide is also far more exclusive than the Koenigsegg, as Bugatti produced just 40 of the extreme cars.

The car’s suspension is far stiffer than the Chiron’s, and the car rides on Michelin slicks. It utilizes a revised carbon monocoque and is built using an array of 3D-printed parts. Without the need to worry about curbs, speed bumps, and pedestrians, Bugatti could go wild with aerodynamics and bodywork, resulting in a car that looks like it could cut you.

What goes into creating a car that can go faster than 300 mph?

The Jesko Absolut and Bolide make reaching 300-plus mph sound easy, which you’d expect for their multiple-seven-digit price tags, but there’s a lot that goes into hitting their mind-blowing top speeds. Beyond the fact that it takes miles of glassy-smooth tarmac, the cars have to be exceptionally aerodynamic and be able to consume gobs of air, and fuel consumption at those speeds is immense. Engineers have to shape a car that easily slices through the air while also creating tremendous downforce to keep it on the ground.

Adding thousands of pounds of downforce stresses almost every part of the car, especially the suspension and tires. The dampers have to be able to support the temporarily heavier car while also keeping the tires in contact with the tarmac. At 300 mph, even subtle imperfections in the road surface come faster and much harder, so the car has to be able to cope.

Tires take a particularly brutal beating during the top-speed runs, as their sidewalls get compressed with all the downforce. They’re also subjected to extreme temperatures due to the friction that comes from rubber clawing against the pavement at 300 mph. At that speed, the tires rotate thousands of times per minute, so they must also be sturdy enough to hold their shape through the harsh rotational forces. Finally, high speeds do funny things with the weights of vehicle components, such as the tire pressure monitoring sensors, which can weigh several times their normal amount when rotating at 300 mph and cause wheel imbalances and other issues.

What about the previously fastest cars from Ferrari and Porsche?

1969 Dodge Charger Daytona

While we’re now talking about cars reaching speeds in excess of 300 mph, the first car to cross 200 mph did so more than 50 years ago. The 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona hit 200 mph in March 1970 at Talladega in Alabama. That’s right, the first car to 200 wasn’t wearing an Italian name on its nose, though many of the most well-known cars in the 200 club do. That said, the Charger Daytona, like the Bugatti Bolide today, was not street-legal, and the first road-going car to hit the benchmark was a Ferrari.

Several years after the Dodge’s record-setting run, the Ferrari F40 (below left) reached 200 mph as the first production car with the record. Its twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V8 cranked out 471 horsepower when new, giving it a 0-60 mph time of 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 201 mph. Interestingly, the most impressive Porsche at the time, the 959 (below right), fell just short of the F40’s speed, reaching “just” 197 mph.

Electric power could change everything

As the automotive world moves toward full electrification, there are questions about EVs’ top speed and battery power, but there are at least five models on sale today with a 200-plus mph top speed. The slick Lucid Air Sapphire offers a 200-mph top speed and a 0-60 time of under 2 seconds. It tied the Tesla Model S Plaid’s top speed but did 0-60 quicker, as the Tesla takes 2.1 seconds to do the deed. The Lotus Evija also promises a 200-mph top speed, but the top two cars are helping move the EV performance needle close to the extreme numbers seen from today’s fastest gas cars. The Pininfarina Battista offers a 217-mph top speed and a crazy 1.8-second 0-60 time, and at the tippy-top of the performance hill is the Rimac Nevera, which offers a 258-mph top speed and a 1.9-second 0-60 mph time.

The 5 fastest cars in the world in 2024

  • Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut: 330 MPH (Claimed)
  • Bugatti Bolide: 311 MPH (Claimed)
  • Bugatti Chiron Super Sport: 305 MPH
  • Hennessey Venom F5: 300 MPH (Claimed)
  • SSC Tuatara: 283 MPH



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The Autoblog 20: The most significant new cars of the past two decades


In case you hadn’t heard, Autoblog turns 20 this month. A lot has happened over the past two decades, from the crossover boom to the rise of hybrids and even the first widespread adoption of battery-electric cars. Hyundai and Kia have both exploded into the mainstream, and despite the slow march toward bigger and clumsier cars, we saw the resurgence of American muscle and the pony car supremacy wars. Cars are cleaner than ever before, yet absurdly quick. The future may not be perfect, but if you look at the past, where we’re going is incredibly promising. 

So that’s exactly what we did — took a look at the past.

We were tasked with nominating cars that had a significant impact on the automotive scene over the past 20 years, whether by virtue of success, failure or something else entirely. The list proved extensive, and was shortened to 45 final nominees. We were then told to chose our individual top 10 and rank them, from which we culled the list to 20. Some of our choices are technically a couple of years older than Autoblog itself, but we felt their inclusion was warranted based either on an impact that wouldn’t become apparent until later, or because they’ve had a profound influence on the industry since the turn of the 21st century. Without further ado, here are our picks. 

20 — 2009 Nissan GT-R

The R35 Nissan GT-R’s story has been one of defiance from the get-go. It was crowned the final boss of mainstream performance cars before such a concept even existed and was cast as the rowdy, upstart villain before it even went on sale. And now, 15 years into its run, it has lived long enough to see itself become the hero. Where it was once panned for its too-digital and unengaged driving experience, it’s now among the most analog offerings in the high-performance market. It came in defying the world; it’ll go out defying its own reputation. 

 

19 — 2022 Ford Maverick Hybrid

The Maverick was a big throw of the dice for Ford. Not only was the Blue Oval pitching a new, small, unibody pickup truck, but it did so on the heels of cancelling virtually all of its affordable offerings. On top of that, pickup builders told us for years that smaller models weren’t worth exploring because their customers would always buy as much truck as possible; why leave those profits on the table? Yet, this baby cargo hauler has more DNA in common with a Focus than with an F-150, and shoppers don’t seem to care one bit. Even the front-wheel-drive-only Hybrid model — briefly the least-expensive variant offered — has been so popular that Ford has been unable to meet customer demand since release. Perhaps its full significance is yet to be seen, but early signs point to it featuring prominently the next time we do this little exercise in 10 years. 

 

18 — 2009 Hyundai Genesis

Some of the cars on this list were segment-defining automobiles, while others defied contention and created their own niches, but there aren’t many automobiles one can point to and say, “That was the genesis of an entire brand.” In this case, well, that’s about as literal as it gets. The Genesis lineup now includes eight distinct models, including the descendants of the Genesis and Genesis Coupe themselves, the G80 and G70. Sadly, the latter is unlikely to survive to see another generation. 

 

17 — 2003 Honda Pilot

Remember the world before three-row crossovers? Back when everybody crammed themselves into Explorers and Trailblazers or settled for a minivan? That’s the marketplace that greeted the Pilot back when it debuted (yes it was a year before we launched, but its significance built thereafter). Although it literally wasn’t alone as a three-row crossover, it was the one that established the blueprint of size, layout and family-friendly character that basically every three-row family crossover uses today. In the beginning, there was a Pilot. 

 

2017 Chevy Bolt EV

16 — 2017 Chevy Bolt

The Nissan Leaf may have been the first modern mass-market BEV, but the 2017 Chevy Bolt EV was the first mass-market EV to really do it right. Principally, it was all about the range. While other EVs could barely squeak past the 100-mile mark, the Bolt crested 250. Game changer? You bet. It was also practical and surprisingly fun to drive. The design and body style probably held it back in the marketplace (a mid-cycle update and the introduction of the EUV changed that), but there’s no denying how significant the Bolt was when introduced and to this day.

 

15 — 2008 Dodge Challenger

It says a lot that the Chrysler LX platform (technically LC here) shows up twice on this list. The Challenger proved that a big, snarly muscle car could still sell in a world where conspicuous consumption is falling under increasingly intense scrutiny. From Hemis to Hellcats, Redeyes and Demons, there was a Challenger for every power-hungry customer on the road — one of your authors included. That it has survived, barely changed, for most of the past 20 years and has arguably become even more relevant for enthusiasts also speaks volumes. 

 

14 — 2003 Nissan Murano

If you’re under the age of, say, 30, this one probably won’t make much sense to you. For those of us who had our fingers on the pulse of the market in the very early aughts, the 2003 Nissan Murano was wild. Nothing looked like it — everything was boxy and/or completely anonymous. These days, everything looks like it. Nissan has made many mistakes over the past two decades, but forecasting styling trends was not one of them. And we can’t put this one out there without acknowledging the Infiniti FX, which despite not being mechanically related to the Murano, sported an equally futureproof design.  

 

13 — 2005 Bugatti Veyron

If there was one car that the whole world was talking about right at the start of Autoblog, it was the Bugatti Veyron. It was the superlative automobile: a price tag over $1 million; 1,000 horsepower; a 250-mph top speed; 16 cylinders; 4 turbochargers. This was a car defined by numbers. It was so far beyond any supercar made before it, and it became the benchmark for at least a decade. It set the mold for what a supercar needed to be: a monument of monstrous machinery.

 

12 — 2010 Ford SVT Raptor

Being able to catch big air and come down safely in a completely stock production truck or SUV wasn’t exactly a thing before the Ford F-150 Raptor. Off-roaders were plentiful, but the Raptor with its Trophy Truck-esque, air-defying antics was an alien vehicle when it launched (literally) in 2010. Today, the Raptor name is synonymous with epic off-road capability, and the Raptor R continues to set hilarious standards for others of its ilk. Ram followed years later with the TRX. GM’s put forth its own challengers with the ZR2 line, and the Raptor’s in-your-face styling can be seen throughout the industry. It’s a trailblazer of excess and just plain silly fun, and it’s a type of vehicle we don’t see dying out any time soon.

 

11 — 2011 Nissan Leaf

The Nissan Leaf was the first mass-market EV, and it was a big deal. As one would expect, skepticism surrounded it, and range anxiety was real. It may not have been for everyone, but it was the first step on what has become an industry-wide, even cultural, journey. A bit over a decade on, and we’re still in uncertain terrain when it comes to electrification — the Leaf was like the Sputnik launch, and now we’re shooting for the moon.

 

10 — 2013 Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ

Remember Scion? Toyota’s “youth” brand seemed more popular with baby boomers than anybody else, but we still got some pretty sweet machinery out of the deal. Today’s Toyota GR86 is yesterday’s Scion FR-S, while the BRZ is, well, still the BRZ. Those who grew up with these on the market may not appreciate their significance, but considering just how un-sporty Toyota showrooms were circa 2010, these cars represented a critical inflection point for the brand. Subaru certainly benefited, but one glance at Toyota’s lineup today reveals just how much the FR-S influenced the company’s enthusiast offerings. It’s the only piece of Scion that survives in America today.

 

9 — 2010 Hyundai Sonata/Kia Optima

In 2009, Korean cars were sensible, decently made and delivered tremendous value, but were seemingly styled for the witness protection program. Then the 2010 Hyundai Sonata landed, followed by the 2010 Kia Optima. They were literal game changers, kicking off an onslaught of products that were not only new and greatly improved, but were designed in a way that car buyers really noticed. They weren’t alone: We asked a Toyota designer once if there was a rival car introduced that made his team stop and re-evaluate what they were doing. His answer was quick: the 2010 Hyundai Sonata. Midsize family sedans could no longer be anonymous, boring boxes, and with rare exception, they never were again. While recalls cost Hyundai and Kia quite a bit of goodwill, both cars made undeniable impressions on American buyers and positioned the brands for further upmarket expansion.

 

8 — 2020 Chevrolet Corvette

Rumors of a mid-engine Corvette go back decades longer than Autoblog has existed, and yet it never happened. Until it finally did. And when a multi-generation American automotive icon undergoes such a radical transformation, it sure seems significant to us. Despite its radically different layout, though, at its heart was still a good, old-fashioned American V8. It was just behind the driver now. We’re not sure how significant the mid-engine Corvette will ultimately be in terms of influencing the overall automotive industry as other selections on this list did, but in terms of historical significance and the sheer quantity of enthusiast interest there was when the C8 finally dawned, this was an easy pick. 

 

7 — 2005 Chrysler 300

The Chrysler 300 was a seminal car that went against the grain. When the rest of the industry moved to smaller vehicles with better fuel efficiency — or doubled-down on SUVs — Chrysler dropped a V8 onto a rear-wheel-drive Mercedes chassis and said to hell with all of that. Twenty years later, the 300 remains a high-water mark for American sedans. Its styling is timeless and demonstrated that Chrysler could build an aspirational car. For Chrysler to recapture some of its early 2000s mojo, it needs to look no further than the 300.

 

6 — 2004 Toyota Prius

If you asked a non car person “What was the first hybrid car?” they’d almost certainly say this, the 2004 Toyota Prius. Of course, it wasn’t; it wasn’t even the first Prius. But this was the car that made “Prius” and “hybrid” synonymous with each other as well as household names. Celebrities and other wealthy folks drove them just to make an eco statement, much as they would when inevitably moving on to Teslas thereafter. It’s not hyperbole to say the Prius was a cultural phenomena, but by making hybrids both fashionable and acceptable from an automotive standpoint, it opened the door to electrification. It did so by not only because exponentially more efficient than other cars, but it was a funky in an agreeable way that clearly announced your greenness, while also being surprisingly practical. It wasn’t a dorky eco science project like its predecessor or the Honda Insight. There were those on our staff that argued vehemently for this to be higher on the list. 

 

5 — 2005 Ford Mustang

To understand the 2005 Mustang, look at the years prior. Camaro? Dead. Challenger/Charger? Long dead. For decades, Mustangs had carried a few design cues from the first generation but had no cohesive style — stick a pony badge on a coupe and call it a Mustang. At their nadir, some Mustangs were putting out 88 and 91 horsepower; the second generation was based on the Pinto. But the S-197 Mustang envisioned by Sid Ramnarace, Hau Thai-Tang and J Mays was a clean-sheet redesign, revolutionary and retro. (Chief designer Mays also had a hand in the VW New Beetle and retro baby Thunderbird.) The 2005 Mustang reminded boomers of the car they first fell in love with. It was the automotive equivalent of a romantic gesture. It also really helped that the Mustang GT V8 offered 300 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. Soon, the retro Camaro and Challenger came along, and many formidable Mustangs would follow. Pony cars, muscle cars were back.

 

4 — 2003 Porsche Cayenne

The Boxster may have saved Porsche in the late 1990s, but it’s the Cayenne that’s turned the company into the profit machine it is today (and allowed it to make increasingly amazing performance machines that almost certainly wouldn’t have been possible without that war chest). Purists stuck up their noses in 2003 when the Cayenne launched, but we wouldn’t be surprised if those same naysayers are driving around in performance-focused SUVs now. Of course, they have the Cayenne to thank for kick-starting the trend. Mercedes-AMG, BMW M and Audi Sport SUVs run wild across America now and have ever since those OEMs saw how successful the Cayenne was. Porsche’s effect is still being felt today, as the most reluctant sports car and supercar brands continue to introduce high-performance SUVs – even Ferrari is joining the crowd with the Purosangue.

 

3 — Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

You will note that are two Wranglers shown here: the TJ and JK generations. We had some internal debate on this one as both generations were responsible for introducing the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, a more daily drivable version of America’s iconic off-roader that we’d argue was the genesis of today’s rampant trend of daily drivable off-roaders. We ultimately just said “to hell with it” and put both. The original TJ Unlimited didn’t have rear doors; it was still a two-door Wrangler but with a stretched wheelbase and therefore more back seat room. The idea for a more versatile and even family-friendly Wrangler was there, even though the concept wasn’t fully realized until the four-door JK Unlimited launched for 2007. After that, there was no going back, as Unlimited sales quickly outpaced two-doors while Wrangler sales in general started a consistent, meteoric rise. More importantly, it established a trend that continues today. With rumors swirling of the two-door Wrangler’s days being numbered, it seems wild that just two generations ago, the four-door didn’t exist at all

 

2 — 2011 Chevrolet Volt

Was it a plug-in hybrid? A range-extended EV? Was it a government-backed boondoggle or a genuine effort to advance powertrain technology? Whatever you want to call it, the “Government Motors” Volt was developed under serious duress. These days, a PHEV customer can afford to be a bit picky, but back in 2011, Chevy was blazing a trail. We recognized it at the time, too, as the Volt was a BIG story when it launched. Cars this fundamentally different don’t come along too often. Of course, it wasn’t a runaway sales success and GM never seemed that committed to making the Volt nor its powertrain concept successful, but with the industry and GM in particular shifting back toward hybrid tech, its legacy seems bound to be even more relevant in the coming years. 

 

1 – 2012 Tesla Model S

We’ve had a lot to say about Tesla, and much of it has been critical, but here’s a reality check for you. Of the 45 vehicles nominated, only one received votes from every member of the staff, and not only that, received the maximum possible from every single one of us. 80 points — a perfect score — to the Bolt’s 38. We don’t often agree on much around here, but in this case, no deliberation was necessary. It was the Model S by an absolute landslide. 

Quite simply, what car introduced in the past 20 years has done more to change the automotive industry and even the world? The Model S was not the first electric car, nor even the first Tesla, but it was what made Tesla more than just another pet project of a rich guy with more dollars than sense (although it’s totally still that). It was a real car and a wildly impressive one at that, despite the warts. More importantly, it made electric cars cool … as opposed to the exact opposite of cool considering what had come before. Making them cool and desirable to be seen in by well-heeled and fashion-forward buyers made getting one more than just an eco statement, which was vital to making electric cars viable. Without the existence and success of the Model S, there would be no Tesla today … or at least as we know it. Ergo, we wouldn’t have a car company that has fundamentally and radically changed the automotive industry. We wouldn’t have the current level of electric vehicle adoption nor the prospect of even more in the coming years, in this country and others. Say what you will about Elon Musk and the dubious empire he oversees — and believe us, we’ve said plenty — but without the Model S, the automotive world in which we live would not exist.

Honorable mentions

As noted above, our “short” list included 45 cars, meaning more than half weren’t represented in the list above, including quite a few that received votes. We feel it would be a disservice to leave them out entirely, so here’s a few of those that didn’t survive the cull. It’s a testament to how many impactful new cars have debuted over the past two decades that some of these didn’t merit more than an honorable mention. We suppose that’s a good problem to have, but it’s likely little consolation for fans of some of these rides. Were your picks done dirty? Let us know in the comments. 

  • 2003 Cadillac CTS
  • 2010 Chevy Camaro

These two breakout nameplates for GM performance were nominated but neither made the cut. The C5 Corvette Z06 was deemed juuuuust too old to qualify. Yes, it’s hair-splitting. C’est la vie.

Worth noting that this beast’s electrical successor was not even nominated. 

The thud heard (almost) ’round the world. Volkswagen managed to keep the Phaeton alive in Europe, but its highfalutin’ American aspirations died with this boondoggle. 

Ask us again in 20 years. 

After the Cayenne, Porsche’s first sedan just wasn’t anywhere near as groundbreaking. 

The S550 Mustang was a huge quality-of-life upgrade and much of its fundamental engineering still underpins the pony cars leaving Ford’s Flat Rock facility today. 

Other unibody trucks would eventually join it (see the Maverick above), but it took guts to launch the Ridgeline in a market where body-on-frame Ford Rangers could still be had for pennies by comparison. 

A pioneer in unconventional suspension design, but a bit too niche. 

  • 2013 McLaren P1
  • 2013 Ferrari La Ferrari
  • 2013 Porsche 918

This trio of hyper-hybrids set the tone for a new era of electrification in high performance. 

Ford’s return to the 4×4 space made a massive splash, but this is another one that needs time to marinate. 

Arguably, Kia’s first true breakout success. The Soul walked so Telluride could run. 

  • 2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid, 2022 F-150 Lightning

Both of Ford’s electrified half-tons were nominated, but neither has really had a chance to leave its mark. 



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Junkyard Gem: 1990 Geo Prizm GSi


GM created the Geo brand in order to sell vehicles built and/or designed by its Japanese partners: Suzuki, Isuzu and Toyota. The Geo Prizm was sibling to Toyota’s E90 Sprinter and built at the NUMMI plant in California from the 1990 through 1997 model years (after which it became a Chevrolet through 2002). For 1990 through 1992, a high-performance version of the Prizm called the GSi was available, and I’ve found a rare hatchback version in a Colorado wrecking yard.

Though the Prizm was based on the Corolla-related JDM Toyota Sprinter, it was mechanically identical to same-year Corollas then being sold in the United States (and built on the same assembly line in Fremont). The powertrain in the Prizm GSi is what was bolted into the same-year U.S.-market Corolla GT-S.

In this case, that means a “red top” 4A-GE DOHC 1.6-liter straight-four, rated at 130 horsepower.

A five-speed manual was base equipment, but this car has the optional four-speed automatic.

The hatchback Prizm, which was based on the JDM Sprinter Cielo, was built for just the 1990 and 1991 model years. I’ve found a few Prism GSi notchback sedans during my junkyard travels, but this is the first hatchback version.

NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing Incorporated) in the San Francisco Bay Area was GM’s Fremont Assembly plant from 1963 through 1982 prior to becoming a joint Toyota-GM venture in 1984. NUMMI shut down in 2010 after the final Corolla was built there, after which it became the Tesla Factory. I had a warehouse job during the summer of 1989 that involved delivering paint filters to NUMMI, so perhaps I hauled the filters that strained the paint that went on this very car.

This one is well-equipped, with air conditioning and a decent-for-1990 AM/FM/cassette deck boasting Dolby, digital tuning and auto-reverse.

It traveled just short of 175,000 miles during its career, which is pretty good for a car of its era but not very impressive compared to some of the extreme-high-mile junkyard Toyotas I’ve documented. Members of the Corolla family, being cheaper than Camrys, Avalons, Previas and so forth, tend to get thrown away before reaching 300,000 miles (though I’ve found a 322k-mile 1990 Prizm, a 315k-mile 1991 Corolla wagon and a 311k-mile 1996 Corolla sedan in boneyards).

Starting with the 1993 model year, the Prizm became an E100 Sprinter and the GSi version got the axe.

More power than the Civic, a better warranty than the Corolla, cheaper than the BMW 3 Series.

Oldsmobile hired Leonard Nimoy to pitch its futuristic machinery, but Geo got Harlan Ellison.



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Junkyard Gem: 1999 Mitsubishi Galant GTZ


The Mitsubishi Galant first appeared on American streets as the 1971 Dodge Colt and then a bit later with Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Sapporo badges. Mitsubishi Motors finally began selling Galants from its own U.S. showrooms for the 1985 model year, and Galant sales continued here through four more generations before getting the axe in 2012. We saw some interesting and/or quick Galants along the way, including the Sigma, VR-4, GS-X and Ralliart; today’s Junkyard Gem is a rare example of the sporty eighth-generation Galant GTZ sedan, found in a North Carolina self-service wrecking yard recently.

The final year for the hot-rod all-wheel-drive VR-4 and GS-X Galants in the United States was 1992. By 1998, there were just three levels of new Galant here, all with 141-horse four-cylinder engines driving the front wheels.

Then the 1999 model year arrived, and so did the 6G72 V6 engine under Galant hoods.

This SOHC (yet still 24-valve) engine was rated at 161 horsepower and 205 pound-feet. It was available in the U.S.-market ES-V6, GTZ-V6 and LS-V6 Galants for the ’99.

The GTZ was sporty-looking, but not as loaded with luxury features as the LS.

1999 was the first model year for the eighth-generation Galant in North America, and it had finally become big and powerful enough to be considered a genuine rival for the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord (both of which had been available with V6 power for quite a few years).

The 1999 Galant got a grille that resembled the one on its upscale Diamante big brother, which had five years to live at the time.

The MSRP for this car was $24,300, which comes to about $46,374 in 2024 dollars. The base 1999 Galant DE started at just $16,999, or $32,441 in today’s money.

Those prices were in the ballpark with the Galant’s Camry and Accord rivals; the Camry LE V6 with automatic started at $22,748 ($43,412 now) with automatic transmission, while the Accord LX V6 with automatic was $21,700 ($41,412 today). Both those cars had a lot more power than the Mitsubishi, though: 194 horsepower for the Toyota and 200 for the Honda.

The 1999 Galant sold in the United States was not available with a manual transmission, which made the El Cheapo DE trim level a steal compared to the cost of two-pedal base Accords and Camrys. The Galant DE even came with air conditioning at no extra cost.

The factory wing on the GT-Z is serious.

Collectible today? Hardly, but an interesting bit of automotive history.

The 1999 Galant DE really was a good deal for the price.

As always, the JDM advertising was more fun.



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Indy 500 pace cars: Wouldn’t you really rather have a Viper?


This year’s Indy 500 pace car, the Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray. (Penske Entertainment: Joe Skibinski)

 

Before Rick Mears won his fourth Indianapolis 500 in 1991, he already had his eye one sweet prize.

Mears had become smitten during the month with the Dodge Viper that would pace the race, knowing that besides money and glory for an Indy victory, the winning driver traditionally wins a pace car. To Mears, the Viper would be a trophy as much as a cool car.

The pace cars from Mears’ first three Indy victories didn’t exactly move his needle – 1979 Fox body Ford Mustang, 1984 mid-engine Pontiac Fiero and 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. The Viper, conceived as a modern-day Cobra with a snarling V-10, was a true hot rod.

“I win the race and I’m thinking I’m going to get a Viper,” Mears said.

Instead, he got a Dodge Stealth. Same color as the Viper but clearly not the same, and it began a quest by Mears to obtain a car that became Indy 500 pace car lore.

(Penske Entertainment: Joe Skibinski)

Pace cars are keepsakes for various reasons, whether they’re owned by Indy 500-winning drivers, replicas desired by collectors, or vehicles so rare that they can only be seen in museums. Each has a story, some glorious and some not.

A Stoddard-Dayton roadster in 1911 not only paced the first Indy 500, it was the first pace car in auto racing history. A Dodge Challenger crashed on pit road just after leading the start of the 1971 race, a 2001 Olds Bravada was the first (and only) SUV, and a Chevy SSR two years later was the only pickup truck. This year’s pace car, a Corvette E-Ray 3LZ, is the first hybrid. Mustang, Camaro and Corvette pace cars are among the most popular for collectors.

“You look at the roster of pace cars, and there’s some really heavy-hitting cars that have paced this race,” said Jason Vansickle, vice president of curation and education at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

About that Viper

The Viper was cutting-edge when it came to the speedway in 1991, although it wasn’t supposed to be the pace car. That honor went to the Stealth, which Dodge promoted heavily as its performance model while the Viper was still in its early days as a prototype that wouldn’t be available to the public until 1992.

The Stealth, though, was a re-badged version of the Japanese Mitsubishi 3000GT, and that caused an outcry from many, particularly the United Auto Workers, after it was announced as the 1991 pace car.

“They claimed it wasn’t American and there should be an American car to pace this American race,” Vansickle said. “At the last minute, they pulled the car and put into commission the Dodge Viper.”

It was one of the first pre-production Vipers built, and Dodge rushed it to the speedway even though it contained inconsistent panel gaps and other flaws typical of prototypes if you took a close look.

“Seeing this car 33 years later, you can tell it was made in haste to get it ready,” Vansickle said. “Once you hear the story and the fact that it’s one of the first, if not the first, pre-production Vipers made, it’s a really neat car even with its issues. The thing is fast as all get-out.”

Mears wanted it so badly after he won the 500, he contacted officials with Dodge hoping he could swap the Stealth for a Viper. All he got was a hard “No!”

“I felt like they owed it to me,” Mears said. “Finally, I thought I would buy one. They told me there’s a dealer close to my home that has one, so I called and asked how much. The guy said, ‘Ten over. That’s what we’re charging everyone.’ I said thanks but no thanks. It wasn’t the 10 over that was the problem, it was the idea that I didn’t like.”

Congratulations, here’s your Avanti

So Mears moved on, minus a car he really wanted. He wasn’t the first Indy 500 winner to get a different car.

A Studebaker Lark Daytona convertible paced the 1962 race but Rodger Ward was presented a Studebaker Avanti.

“It was one of the first Avantis built, and I don’t think they were able to get it ready in time to pace the race,” Vansickle said. “But they still had one there to present to the winner.”

The 1969 Chevrolet Camaro pace car replica remains one of the most popular, and most collected, in history. 

“It’s such an iconic color scheme of Dover White and Hugger Orange, and ’69 Camaros in general are just popular,” Vansickle said.

Here’s a little-known story about the 1969 pace car: Because of a tire war that year, Chevrolet prepared two pace cars for the speedway, one shod with Goodyear tires and the other with Firestone. The Firestone Camaro led the field to start the race and the Goodyear car handled post-race duties, including the ceremonial lap around the track and photos with the winner.

That winner, Mario Andretti, had strong ties with Firestone. Not only was his race car fitted with Firestone tires, he owned a Firestone store near the speedway. But history shows him in the pace car with Goodyear rubber as he celebrated the victory.

Unlike the Corvettes of recent years that are high-performance machines out the showroom door, many pace cars needed performance mods to achieve the quick acceleration and speeds of 120 mph or more needed for on-track duties. 

“They would run some of those ’80s cars on methanol,” Vansickle said. “They would really go through them and hop them up.”

Besides performance changes, some were altered cosmetically to handle ceremonial duties or give them a special look by manufacturers.

The pace car version of the 1977 Oldsmobile Delta 88 had streamlined mirrors and a targa top with a removable sunroof. A close look at the car in the speedway museum collection shows slight imperfections where original mirrors had been mounted. Actor James Garner drove it to start the race, and it became one of the most-photographed of all pace cars after A.J. Foyt became the first four-time winner of the 500.

“That C pillar is what Foyt and (speedway owner) Tony Hulman rode on the back in those legendary photos,” Vansickle said. “The back window can come out, too, which was unique to that car.”

That pace car was the first project at General Motors of Ed Welburn, who became GM’s vice president of global design and developed the Olds Aerotech, Cadillac Ciel and Buick Avista concept vehicles.

The 1911 Stoddard-Dayton, left, and 1923 Duesenberg Model A

Origins

The 1911 Stoddard became the first car to pace a flying start in racing history. There were standing starts at Indy in 1909 and 1910, but speedway owner Carl Fisher realized that all the smoke they produced would make the start in the speedway’s first 500-mile race extremely dangerous in 1911.

“Having 40 cars in the first Indianapolis 500, not only would a standing start be a hazard for the drivers, it wouldn’t be that great for the fans,” Vansickle said. “Carl had this three-pronged thought in using a pace car: One, he was an auto dealer, so he could use it to sell cars. Two, it provided a safer start. Three, it started the tradition of one of the most unique things in sports, the three-wide start with 33 cars charging into Turn 1 in the 500. At the time it was four wide, but it all began with the pace car.”

Twelve years later, a Duesenberg Model A paced the 500 about a month after it made a 24-hour endurance run around the speedway that covered more than 3,000 miles.

“It was a big story,” Vansickle said. “They had to fill and service the car while it was running (nonstop for) 24 hours. They bolted two-by-fours down the running boards so they could get another Duesenberg Model A next to it while it was going around the track. It still had those on it (pacing the 500).”

Some pace cars may not have seemed like future collectors’ items at the time but became desirable because of unique features and, of course, the Indy connection. A brown/beige Buick Riviera convertible, with a 410-horsepower twin-turbo V6, paced the race in 1983.

“You would think a two-tone brown Buick V6 is not an attractive car, but being a convertible and being the pace car make it desirable compared to a standard model,” Vansickle said. “The 1980s cars are coming in vogue.”

Eventually a Viper

Mears, one of only four drivers to win the 500 four times, knew right away in 1991 that the Viper was a great car. Despite the initial disappointment in getting the Stealth, his quest for the Viper had a happy ending. Knowing how badly Mears wanted it, his race team owner, Roger Penske, bought one for him.

“I forget how long it was down the road, but I got a call from Roger, and he said, ‘Hey, I got our Vipers!” Mears said.

Mears doesn’t have the other three pace cars he won – the’79 Mustang, ’84 Fiero or ’88 Cutlass – but he cherishes that Viper.

“I’ve still got it,” he said, “and I play with it!”

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