I was dying of frost bite the other day at an ice race and in spite of the large amounts of fun I was having, driving on top of a frozen lake, I still began to day dream about racing in slightly warmer conditions. As I hunkered down, shivering in my car, I had cartoon like thoughts of me and my car, falling through the ice. In one cell would be my car, sitting motionless on an all white background, with a pale blue lake holding firm underneath. The next cell, in place of my car, there is now a geyser of water and an ice cube in the shape of a Nissan, bobbing up and down.
In an attempt to block such thoughts out of my head, I thought of what new cars may appear in the new, warm, spring races. The Hyundai Veloster Turbo or Dodge Dart GT are realistic possibilities but I’m not about to turn my nose up at the new Corvette C7 or SRT Viper, if one were to show up at the track. Then my brain got to thinking about the Ford Focus ST. From the sounds of all the reviews, the Mustang will no longer be the Blue Ovals only car to make you nervously giddy as you throw it into a corner and smash the skinny pedal on your way out. But as quickly as I thought about how fun it would be to watch an ST scratch and claw its way around a track, I couldn’t help but to think, it wouldn’t be as exciting as watching an RS do it.
Luckily, frost bite began to subside as my blood began to boil, thinking of the “higher ups” at Ford making the idiotic decision not to send the Focus RS state side. I then began to think of all the other cars we Americans missed out on, based on our fore fathers decision to escape tyranny.
So in the spirit of being bitter about my country of origin, I give you a small list of some of the cars I wish were sold in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Some are scorchers and some are not but they all are only pipe dreams. Unless of course I decide to trade sides. I hear England is very moist this time of year.
2009 Ford Focus RS
Back in 2002, my dad was working for Ford and I was able to test drive the SVT Focus. Not a bad car, all in all, but nothing too special. For some odd reason, the brakes smelled a little funny after the test drive, so I thought it best that I park it far from the main office on return. Only reading reviews, the new ST sounds very promising and I hope to give that a spirited flogging if given the chance, as well. But in between those two hot hatches, was the Ford Focus RS. The middle child, if you will.
When speaking about “Middle Child Syndrome” it has been said “In extreme cases, middle children even act out with what some would call “psychotic” behavior.” This would fully explain the 2009 Ford Focus RS. With a 2.5 liter 5 cylinder Volvo engine with a Borg Warner K16 turbo delivering up to 20.3-psi of boost, lurking under the hood, the RS generated 300 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque, getting it from 0-62 in 5.9 seconds. If you’ve ever driven a front wheel drive car with a decent amount of power, you’ll know that this is an unusable amount of power. Wheel spin and torque steer would be abundant, to say the least.
Luckily the smart guys at Ford, (not the ones who make the distribution decisions), used a combination of a Quaife torque biasing helical limited slip differential and a “revoknuckle” front suspension set up to help the front wheels stay attached to the car. A 6 speed manual, forged crankshaft, silicon-aluminum pistons, graphite-coated cylinder bores, 8.5:1 compression ratio and only coming in Ultimate Green, Performance Blue and Frozen White, the RS was brash and loud, and unfortunately, an American car not sold in America. Shame on you Ford.
1993 Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evolution II
If you’ve read this blog before, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t, you may have picked up on the fact that I’m a bit of a rally fan. The Lancia Delta HF was the road going homologation of the Group A car that replaced the Delta S4, which became obsolete with the cancellation of the Group B class.
The Delta HF’s 2 liter DOHC four cylinder, force fed by a water cooled Garrett turbo, made 215 hp. The torque boosting center diff split power 53/47, with the 53% going to the rear. The horsepower doesn’t seem too impressive compared the RS we just talked about but with a 0-60 time of 5.7 seconds it was pretty peppy for it’s time. To put it in perspective, a ‘93 Ferrari 348 Spider got to 60 in 5.4 seconds. That work was done by a 3.4 liter V8 putting out 320 hp. Not too shabby, Delta.
Due to to changes in rally regulations the Evolution II received a wider front and rear track causing the fenders to become even more aggressive. Inside the Recaro racing seats were draped in the oh so luxurious Alcantara. Very swanky.
Everything I’ve read on these cars make them sound very finicky and it is suggested that you befriend a bank manager if you plan on owning one. And with only 5000 being produced to meet homologation standards, I’m sure people aren’t giving these away. This being said, I’m still pretty upset that I can’t buy one to find out for myself.
Holden VE Ute SS-V
I’ve never understood the point of a fast pick up truck. The Dodge Ram SRT-10, the Ford Lightning and GMC Syclone were all neat, I guess, but with high centers of gravity (with the exception of the Cyclone) and minimal weight over the driving wheels, it always seemed like your money would be better spent on each brands purpose built sports cars. The only way they make sense is if you were trying to get a sheet of ply wood to the work site in record time.
Australian pick ups are a different animal, though. Smaller and lower in nature, these trucks can be turned up to 11 and make a lot more sense. Holden, GM’s Australian subsidiary, has made a bit of a hooligan out of their ute (Australian for truck) in the guise of the SS-V. Sporting a 6 liter V8, cranking out 362 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque, the Ute makes your dad’s El Camino SS blush.
With sport tuned suspension, a 6 speed manual transmission and big Brembo brakes, you could go down to your local garden shop, pick up a load of perennials and have a bed full of compost by the time you get home. But this is impossible to achieve unless you call girls Sheila’s, think Fosters is garbage beer and think a Joey is a baby kangaroo, not the stupid brother from Blossom.
Ford Falcon GT-R spec
The Ford Falcon last saw American roads back in 1970 (70 and 1/2 technically but who’s counting?) It was a compact car of it’s era that was eventually pushed to the wayside by the Maverick. The Australians, however, didn’t give up on the old girl, it having been in production down under, since 1960. As with a lot of cars in the late 70’s and early 80’s you kind of wish they had given up but Ford Australia, thankfully, kept pushing on.
Before this years changes made to the series, now being more attractive to Nissan and Mercedes, the Falcon made up 50% of the Australian V8 Supercar Series. These 4 door sedans are big, fast, loud and of course nothing like their showroom brethren. But with the GT-R spec, we get a bit closer. The R spec’s all aluminum supercharged 5 liter BOSS 335 produces 450 hp and 420 lb-ft torque. And with the GT R spec’s launch control, modified dampers, stiffer upper control arm bushings and upper strut mounts, its obvious they were trying to get this 4 door to handle like it was on rails.
The R spec isn’t the fastest Falcon you can buy and at almost $83,000 USD, I’m not saying it’s worth the money. But if you saw this thing in a bank parking lot, you would expect to see masked men running towards it while alarm bells rang. Unfortunately, my passport keeps telling me I’m an American citizen, so my next heist will have to be planned around a C-Max.
Opel Kadett C GT/E
When hearing Opel Kadett, car folk may be reminded of the episode of Top Gear when Richard Hammond drove a 1963 Kadett, named Oliver, across the Kalahari Desert without modifying the car in any way. As much as this episode made me want my own Oliver, I am more apt to drool over the Kadett produced from 1973-79.
Opel, being a German marque, was a direct competitor of Volkswagen. Struggling to replace the Beetle for a good 10 years Opel didn’t have much competition until the Volkswagen Golf started gaining some traction. With the release of the Golf GTI, Opel’s counter punch came in the form of the GT/E, upping it’s motor to a 1979 cc inline-4 motor that put out a modest 113 hp. A decent upgrade from the marques 39 hp humble beginnings. The vertically mounted telescopic gas filled Bilstein shock-absorbers gave the Kadett a “sporty” feel and attempted to get as many of those hp’s to the rear wheels as it could.
Now I know none of these features seem too impressive but the Kadett’s stock configuration is not what attracts me to this car. Used in hill climb events across Europe, a modified Kadett is a good looking, beautiful sounding and amazingly well handling beast. And the fact that they are so commonly found in Europe, the Kadett seems like a dream that could fully come true….. you know, if I wore lederhosen and ate Königsberger Klopse on a regular basis.
Technically, the Kadett came to the US in the form of the Isuzu Gemini but were going to pretend that never happened.
Nissan Skyline GT-R
I would get in a heap of trouble if I left the GT-R off of this list. Anyone from tuner crowds to dedicated track guys would probably do some pretty awful things just to get there hands on any generation of this vehicular dynasty. Probably most widely known in the racing world, is the R32. The R32 won 29 out of 29 races in the Japanese Grand Touring Championship in its first season and also won the JGTC 4 years in a row. It also won 3 seasons in a row in the Australian Touring Car Championship and the GT-R , the Skylines little brother, was the first production car to lap the Nürburgring in under 8 minutes. The Skyline more than earned it’s nickname, Godzilla.
It’s fifth and final generation of the Skyline, the R34, had a 2.6 liter inline 6 that advertised 280 hp, which was the gentlemen’s agreement at the time between Japanese auto makers, to keep public roads safer. The twin turbo beast was generating a more accurate 320 hp. With stock features like a rear carbon fiber diffuser, lap timer and gauges giving you exhaust gas temperatures, it was clear the the GT-R was designed to impose it’s superiority on the street or track.
For me personally, I think the first gen coupe, is one of the best looking cars ever made. It would have been decimated by a Mustang of the same year in most performance arenas but the double horizontal headlights, the hood mounted side mirrors and the hood line that always looks mad at you, is a thing of beauty. My brow does a similar scrunch as I think of the fact that I will probably never see one of these cars in real life.
1995 Alfa Romeo 155 GTAZ
Built to replace the Alfa Romeo 75, the 155 was…..well, a car. Nothing too crazy or too fast, from a company with a good amount of history manufacturing sports cars. The major changes came in the form of new styling, making it very aerodynamic for the time, with the added bonus of huge trunk space, and front wheel drive which made the Alfa purists very unhappy, despite the drop in pricing.
Along the years the 155 was given larger motors, factory aero kits, turbos and even all wheel drive which made this family four door a bit more exciting. But for me, the pinnacle of the 155 came with the GTAZ badge. Again, thanks to homologation rules for British Touring Car racing, this car came in a very limited run. The GTAZ came equipped with a turbo charged 2 liter V6 producing 212 hp, the all-wheel drive system borrowed from the Lancia Delta Integrale and more aggressive body styling. In racing form, it did extremely well, winning the Italian Superturismo, German DTM, Spanish Touring and British Touring Car championships from 92-94.
So again, because of the low production numbers, I’m sure I could never get my hands on one of these, even if they were offered in the States. Compared to another, not available in the U.S. car, I think I would have chosen the 155 over the more powerful Impreza WRX, of the time. The 155 was a little lighter, had a wider track width, an adjustable wing and better styling in my opinion. But I now realize I’m arguing with myself over two cars that I can’t own.
So close, yet so far. The TVR 3000M actually made it to North America. It was sold in Canada and even came to the US but a customer reported their lack of proper emissions controls, resulting in the company having to re-export them back to the UK. The front mid-mounted 3 liter Ford V6 produced 138 hp and 174 ft-lb of torque. Not an immense amount of power but this little guy only weighed in a 2094 lbs. You could get the 3000M in a hard top, that had a fancy electric hatch back (i.e. something that is totally going to break) or in a convertible version known as the 3000S.
If the 3000M wasn’t enough and you were one of only 20 lucky people, you could opt for the 3000M Turbo. TVR contracted Ralph Broad, of Broadspeed, to develop a turbo charging system for the 3000M. In lieu of the usual fuel injection set up of the normal cars, the turbo had a carburetor inside of a pressurized box with the turbo charger placed lower in the front engine compartment, requiring the exhaust manifolds to exit forward. The end result was 230 hp and 273 ft-lb of torque. The turbo versions were also fitted with wider tires and Koni dampers to stiffen things up.
TVR has always been a quirky car company. Low weight and high power certainly sound like the ingredients of success but unfortunately being bought, sold and having gone bankrupt on several occasions, TVR has always had a bit of a black cloud of doom hovering over it. But for me, the 3000M is one of the best looking sports cars to have come out of Britain in the 70’s.
AvtoVAZ Lada Niva
It’s not too often that I pine over a Russian made car. The only interesting thing to come out of Mother Russia recently, is the Marussia B1. And, although this mid engined, rear wheel drive car may look interesting and with a claimed 0-62 mph in 3.8 seconds, may be quick, it looms in the shadow that is the Niva.
The Lada Niva (Niva being Russian for “crop field”) is the most sensible and probably the only car that I could realistically own on this list. Packing a carbureted 1.6 liter overhead cam 4 cylinder, producing a whopping 72 hp, the Lada isn’t going to be breaking any land speed records. But with a name like “corn field” I don’t think Lada was too worried about that.
The Lada was a car built for it’s surroundings. The 4 and 5 speed manual transmissions were mated to a full time four wheel drive system. With independent front suspension and a 5 link rear set up, the little Lada was made to go, well, anywhere. Used by militaries, police forces, as ambulances and for use by lifeguards, the Niva was all about utility. The Niva also came stock with a 21 piece tool kit just in case the going got a little too tough.
I was lucky enough to see one of these in real life, on one of my trips to Canada. It was parked at a gas station that was turned into a house. It was a The Hills Have Eyes type of location and as much as I wanted to check the little 4×4 out and inquire about a possible sale, I wanted live slightly more.
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