If you take one quick look at people’s opinions about cars, one thing will become clear. Most of us believe that classic car design was a form of art. From the slick looks of old luxury cars to the rugged aesthetic of the American muscle, there was something for everyone.
For all their greatness, though, one thing bothers me about classics. We always seem to remember the most popular models. Everyone talks about America’s most iconic classics and how great they are. Don’t get me wrong; such models deserve their praise. But what about the hundreds of vehicles that have fallen by the wayside through the decades?
I think we will benefit a lot if we dig deeper into some of the forgotten vintage cars. In fact, they can reveal peculiar insights into why some models have fared better than others. Let’s check out the classics that history has kept out of the spotlight!
Everyday cars that history left behind
When people talk about vintage vehicles, they usually mention high-end models or sports cars. Yet the truth is that the real work gets done by people’s daily drivers. Unfortunately, that makes them less remarkable for most folks, hence, easier to forget with time. With that said, let us take a proper look at the car history’s most populous segment!
Back in the day, the US automotive scene had more players competing for attention. Naturally, some of them, including Studebaker, met their downfall for one reason or another. That still does not mean they were terrible vehicles. In my opinion, the Lark was a perfectly good car for its time. It may not be anything groundbreaking, but as a family car, it was superb.
It is a bit sad that many people don’t even remember the Studebaker marque. The brand has its following, but it remains a niche. Though because of that, you can get a great classic model for quite a low price. Plus, you have three generations of Studebaker Lark, from which to choose!
Here in the States, we are not very familiar with French manufacturers such as Renault, Peugeot, and Citroën. It is likely that whatever French classic I mention, it will still be obscure to you. Nevertheless, the GS has an interestingly sad story that even Europeans don’t remember.
If you look at the stats, you would think the GS would be one of the most popular classics out there. After all, Citroën had 2.5 million of it sold. Not to mention it also won the 1971 European Car of the Year award as everybody liked its comfort and aerodynamics. Why was it forgotten then? Honestly, because by then, Europe was flooded with car models, even more so than the United States. Ultimately, the GS didn’t present anything unique and was just a decent small car amid an ocean of similar vehicles.
After a forgotten European model that used to be successful, it’s only fair to mention a US one. Here the Ford Falcon serves as the perfect example. At the time, it was extremely popular and actually made Ford an even more successful company. However, when people hear about the Falcon today, the most common reaction is, “Oh, yes, I think I remember that.”
Here are a couple of funny bits. Firstly, the Falcon was part of the same trend that the Lark tried to ride. Secondly, the model was inspired by some of Ford’s compact versions in Europe. They had success there a whole 15 years before such vehicles became popular on the US market.
Old-timey sports cars we forgot about
The classic car niche has plenty of variety when it comes to vehicle types. You can get luxury sedans, supercars, and the aforementioned daily drivers. Yet from all of those, I think that sports cars are the most exciting. Just consider this – several decades later, plenty of modern fast cars can lose to their “ancient” predecessors. Talk about the magnificence of old-days car engineering!
So, what are some sports cars that did not make the cut for the world’s finest classics, and why? Here are a few great examples:
Volkswagen Karmann Ghia
One of the most interesting things about this model is that it should not have been forgotten. For a sports car, it was fairly popular at the time. Actually, VW Karmann Ghia was more successful than many Porsche models. What went wrong then? We can only speculate!
Many associate the VW brand with budget cars, not sports models. Having Karman Ghia built on the VW Beetle platform didn’t help that notion either. The company just never aligned itself with the idea of producing sports cars. Though the Ghia had a good run of 20 years with a decent reputation, it failed to stay in people’s minds.
I bet most people have never heard of this car marque. It has British origins, though the Tiger was designed in part by Carroll Shelby of Mustang fame. This model is considered the beefed-up version of Sunbeam Alpine, which is not that hard to find nowadays.
As far as specs go, the Tiger sported a Ford V8 engine with 164 bhp. That gave it some punch and made it faster than a lot of the first-gen Porsche 911 units. However, having a promising model did not help the company all that much. It virtually went extinct as Chrysler took it over in 1967. Though the new management tried to resurrect the model name, it had lost its momentum.
Today, you can find some Sunbeam cars without much trouble. If you are in the market for an interesting, yet affordable classic, you may check the cheaper Sunbeam Alpine.
Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna
When you hear about a vintage Chevy, you most likely think of the classic Corvette that everyone wants. However, throughout the years, the company has come out with plenty of interesting models. I would even say that the Chevelle Laguna may as well be one of the coolest sports or muscle cars ever to hit the market.
With its top V8 engine, it had 245 hp. Although not the most powerful, it was capable of great feats. Cale Yarborough even won two NASCAR championships with it. Partly due to that, the model gained decent popularity and had about 110,000 sales by the end of its production.
Unfortunately, Chevrolet failed to distinguish it from the base Chevelle all that much. Their confusing lineup further messed with any attempt at proper branding. Unsurprisingly, the model was dropped after an almost 4-year run.
In my post on remarkable Japanese classic cars, I mentioned Mazda RX-7 as the poster Japanese sports vehicle. Well, the Starion is Mitsubishi’s attempt to get a cut of the sports car pie. Sadly, it did not go well.
Many people considered the Starion to be too much of a copy of its competitors. The model also came a bit too late to the game, with at least five other marques occupying the niche already. To make things worse, the Starion had so many versions that it became a lineup of its own. However, it ended up selling less than 60 thousand models. Quite the poor numbers, compared to Mazda RX-7’s 800 thousand!
Oddballs that rightly did not make it
While some cars get forgotten because of unfortunate circumstances, others fall into oblivion more because of what they are. Certain models were designed to be so weird, most people never actually cared about them. Let’s see a couple.
Most car enthusiasts today know about Chevrolet El Camino. It is largely regarded as one of the ugliest and weirdest vehicles ever to be designed. Well, at least history remembers it. We cannot say the same about the Sprint.
The two vehicles are pretty much the same, though the GMC Sprint has some slight redesigns. In my opinion, they make the car even weirder. I have no idea why General Motors decided to have a rebadged model of an already badly executed car. Well, at least the Sprint went away only after two generations, unlike the El Camino, which held for five!
General Motor’s infatuation with weird pickups does not end with the Sprint. This time around, we have an even more obscure vehicle with less than 3,000 units produced. GMC Syclone only recently gained its classic status, though it has always had a small fanbase.
We still have to give credit where credit is due. This pickup did become the fastest stock pickup at the time. With its 280 hp V6 engine, it could go from 0 to 60 mph in 4.3s. This is impressive even today, so back in 1991, it deserved the attention car enthusiasts gave it. Regardless of that, nowadays, most people do not even know it exists.
Which forgotten classic ignites your memory?
I have always been drawn to less popular things because, in my mind, they feel more special. However, many of the models mentioned today don’t exactly fit my taste. If I had to pick one, though, I would go with the Chevelle Laguna. It can actually pass as a muscle, so that’s nice. Plus, it has rotating seats. A bit gimmicky, I know, but it’s still a fun feature to try out!
What would you pick out of our list? Or maybe you have your own favorite unknown classic? I know many other models need the spotlight. Be sure to mention it if you have one on your mind!
Ah, the Karmen Ghia, a great car. Really enjoyed driving across country in my 67. Also liked driving at 105 across Nevada to Utah in my 1602 BMW. Then the Saab 99 turbo, it’s no longer here, what a fine car that was. My Kia is very boring but great mileage with a hybrid model.
This article seems to be just the writers personal opinion. Some of the cars listed are far from forgotten and are actually quite popular and sought after and some of the information provided is incorrect. The Chevy ElCamino mentioned in the GMC Sprint post was very very popular, and is sought after today and was not an ugly design. Next, the Chevy Laguna was not only made for 2 years but was built for 4 years with 2 different nose designs and 2 tail designs.
Well said, even though I am not familiar with the BMW you mentioned I agree with you the Kharman Ghia and SAAB 99 were great cars
Hmm. This article seems to be just opinions, which is fine. However certain facts are just omitted.
The Chevy powered Studebaker Lark was equal to the Chevy Nova and had a much better ride.
The Falcon had a more important historical note that is left out. It was the base car for the very first Mustang.
Lastly, El Caminos were not ugly by any stretch and the GMC Sprint was not a hindrance to the style whatsoever. The Sprint version merely changed trims and thr suspension rates were different.
El Caminos and Sprints were just Chevelles with no trunk so you dont appreciate Chevelle SS 454 with a cowl induction hood then.
I am left with the feeling that you prefer European Vintage cars. That’s just fine with us readers. Personally I think that a LS3 Chevy saddled into a 1969 MGBGT would be just fine. Or a Triumph TR8.
Very well said. I agree with you completely. I would also add that the writer needs to do surveys or something to do an article like this instead of basing it on their own personal opinion about such claims about vehicles and should also do fact checks when giving information on the vehicles instead of publishing incorrect information such as saying the Chevy Laguna was only produced for 2 years when it was actually built for 4 years and in the S-3 version it used 2 different nose and different tail designs and the nose designs were used for 2 years each. Tail designs I can’t remember if there were 2 or 3 designs. It also had 2 different rear quarter side window designs and while any Laguna is a scarce sight today, the more rare are the rare Laguna S-3 which were ordered with T-Tops, and of those with T-Tops the rarest of the rare were equipped with the 454 and I am not sure if any of the 454 T-Top cars were built with the optional 4 speed manual transmission, although I have seen one about 25 years ago that the owner claimed was built that way from the factory and was ordered new by his father. Unfortunately a lot of the production information for the Laguna’s is difficult to find.
Definitely an ignorant opinion. The Sunbeam Tiger?!! I can’t believe he mentioned that one. Have you seen the prices of these rare cars. They were only in production 4 years and when Chrysler bought rooted they couldn’t sell a car powered by Ford so they dropped it. A concourse condition Tiger would set you back up to 200k. The Syclone that was a blunder from GM who decided to put out a truck with better performance than their icon corvette. The truck wasn’t a blunder in any way and there was also the typhoons the little blazer. More than half of the classic cars out there today that they are calling muscle cars were not muscle cars in there day in fact a lot of them were more of a luxury car. And all the cars like pintos Vegas and a lot of others that you would avoid like the plague back in the day are now considered class is and collector. When you see a “vintage” car that’s a polite way of saying old and trying to get more money out of you. When I was in high school if you look in the student parking lot all you would see mustang camaro chevrolets 55 56 57 Chevy chargers roadrunner all67 68 69 years that back then you could get a 69 Camaro for a couple grand. I tell you what it blows my mind seeing the prices of these cars today.
…oh, where to begin??…there are so many cars that are either orphans of extinct makers…others that enjoyed large sales numbers during their era; but are unknown nowadays…and then, there are those cars which featured unique styling or features…
…this included one of my family’s cars; a 1963 Plymouth Valiant post sedan…in the era just beyond the Virgil Exner- inspired “Forward Look” of the ’57-’60 models, Chrysler designers produced some exceptionally oddball cars…our Valiant, which in the family was known as ” the scarab beetle” was, indeed, weird-looking….
…the front end featured a grill looking like that of a whale shark in feeding mode…large and gaping…but the true weirdness involved the bustle-like trunk lid…replete with a faux-spare tire ornament ala that on the Imperials…and flanked by canted cat’s eye tail lights…
…I can well remember my Dad’s ( who loved big block Buicks and Pontiacs) silent embarrassment, when one of his “car guy” friends took one look at “Prince”…and started laughing so hard that he nearly fell over…
…that didn’t stop me from very fond memories of this unique car…as at age 8, and sitting in my Dad’s lap…was the first car I ever “drove”…(in a large lot at nearby Frontier Park in Cheyenne)…
…this design lasted precisely 3 model years (’61_’63)…and was then replaced by a much more upright and slab_sided offering in ’64 …