To most of us car people, knowing every make and model of car out on the street is pretty easy. Sure, we might be a bit obsessive about it, but then, we live for cars, especially interesting and unique ones. Of course, we also understand that there are people who don’t pay much attention to the automotive landscape.
These are the guys that see a red sports car, with scoops and spoilers and an engine in the back and immediately pull out their phone to capture a proper supercar. However, not every low and wedge-shaped vehicle is an Italian exotic, and over the years, numerous manufacturers have created cars that look fast but in fact, had pretty modest performance.
DeLorean DMC 12
You probably remember this iconic car from the classic “Back to the Future” movie series. The DMC 12 was thought to be the next big thing when it was first released in the early `80s, and it had a lot going for it. Gullwing doors, stainless steel body, mid-engine layout, and fresh looks.
However, with a 2.8-litre V8 and a measly 130 horsepower, it was actually pretty slow. In fact, at 8.8 seconds from 0 to 60 mph, you could probably beat it in a diesel family hatchback which is pretty embarrassing for a car once considered to be a competitor to the Porsche 911. You can get one for around $40,000, but you should do it only if you are a real die-hard fan of “Back To The Future” movies. If you are looking for performance to match the cool looks, you might be disappointed.
Toyota MR2 W20
Produced for ten years from 1989-1999, the second-generation Toyota MR2 is the perfect definition of “supercar lookalike”. If painted red and with some aftermarket wheels, it could be easily mistaken for a mid-`90s Ferrari. On some markets, it was even called “poor man`s Ferrari” since it featured a mid-engine layout, pop-up headlights, rear spoiler and lively performance from its 2 or 2.2-litre four-cylinder. Although considered a great driver`s car from the period, it was never even close to being considered a supercar. The closest the MR2 came to being an exotic machine was when it was used for building Ferrari replicas and covered in an aftermarket plastic body closely resembling a Ferrari 355 or Ferrari 360.
Alfa Romeo 4C
The Alfa Romeo 4C is an extremely controversial car. Everybody wanted to see a sports car from Alfa after the failure with the Brera, but nobody expected the legendary factory from Milan to go all out. On the one hand, it is a proper sports car with a carbon chassis, aggressive design, sharp handling, turbocharged mid-engine layout and pretty damn good performance. It is also quite exclusive, as less than 2000 examples have been built so far.
On the other hand, it cannot be considered a supercar; simply, it has a 1.75-litre four-cylinder, which is also shared with other economy cars from Fiat. With 245 HP on tap, it is certainly not slow, but it’s still well below supercar standards. The 4C is also somewhat affordable at around $55,000, and even though it may fool some people into thinking it’s one, it most certainly isn’t!
When the Elise was released in 1996, the automotive world crowned it as king of the driver`s cars. The Elise was lightweight, agile, precise, and extremely fun to toss around in tight corners. With a mid-engine layout, fibreglass body, low silhouette, and dynamic stance, it looked like a real exotic supercar, especially by mid-`90s standards.
Of course, if you know anything about Lotus, you will see that it wasn’t a supercar by any means. Powered by a tiny 1.8-litre Rover engine with just 118 horsepower, the Elise had lively performance due to its very lightweight body but that was it. The interior was Spartan, there were no luxury features and as with all Lotus cars so far, it suffered from fit and finish problems. It may look like a high-prized exotic car, and it drove almost like one, if not better, but it was about as far from a supercar as you could get!
Back in the `80s, everybody expected Pontiac to deliver a new GTO muscle car, but instead, they unveiled a mid-engine, two-seater sports car with rear-wheel drive and a cool-looking wedge design. The Fiero looked like something that Italians would build, and it was even stranger since this was a red-blooded American machine.
Unfortunately, the Fiero was fairly underpowered, and despite looking like a supercar, it never really was one. Interestingly, it did become a part of the supercar industry, sort of, since the Fiero was often used as the basis for Ferrari 308 replicas, due to its similar size and wheelbase. This was a trendy conversion job in the `80s, and even today you can still get Ferrari 308, Testarossa or even Ferrari F40 conversion kits. Of course, a trained eye will spot the differences in a second, but for thousands of non-car guys, if it looks like a supercar, it is a supercar!
From a distance, the Fiat X19 looks like a true `70s supercar and at first glance; it has all the right ingredients. It’s a wedge-shaped two-seat roadster, with the engine behind the driver, pop-up headlights and compact dimensions. It is Italian too, styled by the famous Bertone, which adds to the cool factor.
That said, the Fiat X1/9, although looks cool, is a terribly flawed car. Powered by a 1.3 or 1.5-litre engine, it’s not exactly supercar quick. It was also known to rust, which to be fair, some supercars do as well, but it was largely assembled from parts borrowed from other Fiats of the period. As a classic sports car, the X19 is a great choice, but you’re probably going to get non-car people calling it a supercar all day long!