One of the most important features of a sports car is not the design, low silhouette or bright paint. It’s the performance, share speed, and driving excitement. The performance is what makes a sports car interesting and desirable. It is not even the big engine or high horsepower ratings. It is the performance, pure and simple.
So, we have already covered lots of sports cars with amazing performance. Lots of cool muscle cars with fire breathing V8 engines and lots of performance models who can catapult you to prohibited speeds in a blink of an eye. But, there is another side of the sports car story. The slow ones. Yes, even in the highly dynamic world of performance machines, there were a dozen models that were just painfully slow. Here they are.
1. Matra Bagheera
French company Matra is one of the most interesting automotive design and development outfits. For decades this firm delivers innovative solutions, new technologies and works with some of the biggest names in the industry. In the early `70s, in cooperation with Simca, Matra decided to produce a small sports car for the European market. Called Bagheera, this cool-looking three-seater was introduced in 1973.
Yes, you read it right, Bagheera had three seats up front and even though it was very compact and small, three people could sit comfortably next to each other. Unfortunately, the power came from quite diminutive 1.2 and 1.4-liter engines which didn’t provide very exhilarating performance. However, with three seats and French charm, little Matra Bagheera was a moderate success.
2. ASA 1000 GT
This little Italian sports car was once considered the next big thing in the car industry when it was introduced in 1962. Called “Ferrarina” (little Ferrari), the ASA 1000 GT was exactly that since it was built on tubular chassis with lightweight body and engine designed by then Ferrari engineer Giotto Bizzarinni. It had four-wheel disc brakes, sports suspension, and nicely trimmed interior. Under the hood was 1.03-liter four cylinder with 93 HP.
However, despite the big initial interest by the customers, production stopped in 1967 after only 95 examples were built. Today, this little car is highly praised by collectors and car historians.
3. Bricklin SV-1
The SV-1 was the brainchild of automotive entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin and it was in fact produced in Canada, from 1974 to 1975 in less than 3000 examples. For a short while, the SV-1 was marketed as the best and most advanced America`s sports car but as soon as the first cars started rolling from assembly line it was clear that the SV-1 is not as good as people expected it to be.
The idea was to produce a safe and fast sports car as the name SV-1 (Safety Vehicle One) suggested. Bricklin designed the car with big bumpers, numerous additional features, warning sensors, power Gullwing doors, no cigarette lighters, and an integrated roll cage and lots of other things making it heavy and not very agile. The power came from 360 AMC V8 engine which wasn’t very powerful and later the company turned to 351 Ford V8 but still couldn’t deliver any real performance.
4. Volkswagen SP2
The biggest car company in Brazil was Volkswagen. The combination of air-cooled quality, usability and low price made Volkswagens the most popular cars in Brazil by far. However, Volkswagen didn’t have any performance credentials or a sports model, and in the early `70s, Volkswagen wanted a piece of the action. So, in order to produce a muscle/performance car, Volkswagen took the Beetle floor pan, 1.7-liter flat four engine and tuned it to 75 HP which wasn’t much but it was far more than stock.
The finished product was called SP2 and it debuted in 1972. It looked pretty modern with a long front end, low profile and sporty silhouette. The car cost more than any other Volkswagen product and it did have some performance but it failed to meet the expectations of performance-oriented car fans. The SP2 was in production for four years, until 1976. During that period Volkswagen made over 11,000 examples.
5. Marcos GT
Produced from 1964 to 1971 and again from 1981 to 1990, Marcos GT was the most popular and interesting model from this company. Basically, a kit car built on custom chassis but with choice of engines, Marcos GT was relatively cheap but capable sports car with aggressive styling, low weight, and decent performance.
The GT could be had with numerous engines, mostly by Ford and lineup started with small 1.5 or 1.6-liter four-cylinders. For a brief period of time, Marcos GT was offered on the American market with Volvo`s straight six but not many cars were sold and performance was pretty poor.
6. SAAB Sonett
Even though SAABs were always known for its sedans or convertibles with turbo engines, during the `60s and early `70s, SAAB did produce sports coupe. As expected, strange, obscure and quirky just like the rest of the range. In fact, there were three generations of SAAB Sonett sports car. First one was a racing prototype from the `50s but second and third were regular production models.
Designed on box chassis and fitted with the fiberglass body, Sonett was initially equipped with tiny SAAB`s three-cylinder two-stroke engine with just 60 HP. As you can expect, customers were disappointed with the poor performance but soon company fitted 1.7-liter V4 borrowed from Ford`s European division.
7. Porsche 914
Porsche 914 was built from 1969 to 1976 as an entry-level model. It was designed and produced in cooperation with Volkswagen and sometimes called VW-Porsche 914. Behind the driver is a Volkswagen derived flat four engine with around 100 hp.
It doesn’t sound much and despite low weight, this Porsche wasn’t really a sports car. It looked like one, it was produced by notable sports car company it had the engine in the back, but unfortunately, you could beat it with V8 family sedan.
8. Toyota Celica
Toyota produced Celica for decades as affordable coupe builds on a regular car platform. This meant that Celica looked different, sporty and fast but it wasn’t much faster than Camry or Corolla from the same model year.
The last generation Celica was a really sharp looking coupe with a wedge shape and low silhouette and suggested big performance but no. It had only 180 HP and 0 to 60 mph time of 10 seconds.
9. Hyundai Tiburon
When it was released, Tiburon was breath of fresh air in affordable coupe class. It was a good-looking, inexpensive and exciting couple to own. At least it was marketed as such. Under the body was regular Hyundai chassis and running gear with 2.0-liter, 140 HP engine and 172 HP engine as an option.
Either way, it wasn’t fast or particularly rewarding to drive and it was a total disappointment as a result.
10. Chevrolet Corvette C3 (1980)
In 1970, the hottest Corvette had 435 hp and in 1980, the hottest Corvette had modest 180 hp. In California, due to more strict emission standards for that state, even 10 hp less. So, what the hell happened in just 10 years and where did all those horses go?
Well, the recession, emission standards, and safety regulations appeared and killed almost all performance from the legendary Corvette. The 1980 Corvette was kind of a dinosaur with old technology under the plastic skin, lazy engines, and outdated interior. It still looked business but the years had caught up with it and the disco era has passed.
11. Porsche 912
In 1965, just after the end of Porsche 356 production, the brand new 912 model was released. It was a 911 but with a 2.0-liter, flat four-cylinder engine, 90 HP and modest performance. The car was also significantly cheaper than the 911 and very fuel efficient with 36 mpg.
Despite the very slow performance, Porsche 912 turned out to be a major hit for the factory, and between 1969 and 1969, more than 32,000 cars were made. In fact, the 912 proved to be a savior of the whole 911 series since it secured the financial stability of the factory until buyers fully accepted the 911.
12. Skoda 110 R
During the `60s, Skoda`s main sedan model was 110, a pretty basic four-door car with a rear-mounted four-cylinder engine. In Eastern Europe in those days, sports cars were almost nonexistent as a category and Skoda wanted to introduce a sports coupe to widen its appeal and export sales. The result was Skoda 110 R, a true sports coupe with a dynamic fastback design and more power.
The 110 R was introduced in 1970 and immediately became very sought after model in whole Eastern Europe. It retained the basic technical layout but had upgraded engine boosting 62 HP. Of course, the performance was diminutive by today`s standards but back in the early `70s in Czechoslovakia, this was a proper sports coupe.
13. Opel GT
Opel needed a sports car, based on its entry-level model – the Kadett, and in the mid-60s, it got approval from GM to introduce such a vehicle. The design was heavily influenced by Corvette and GM`s concepts from the mid-60s. With covered headlights, curvy Coke bottle design, twin round tail lights, and similar silhouette, Opel GT was a scaled-down version of the Corvette and even appeared on the market at the same time as the Vette`s third generation.
Of course, with 1.3 and 1.9-liter four-cylinder engines, Opel GT didn’t have any of the Corvette`s power or performance but it had the looks. It was sold in America through Buick dealership network and, interestingly, it sold well. In fact, more Opel GTs were sold in the US than in Europe during its five-year production run.
14. Ferrari Mondial
Introduced in 1980, the Mondial was the successor of the 308 GT4. It was a compact Grand Turismo sports car with 2+2 seating configuration and mid-engine layout which meant it offered more space than 308 and 328 GTB models which were two-seaters only.
Despite the fact that the Mondial was more practical and somewhat cheaper, it wasn`t particularly popular and today it is one of rare poorly regarded models in the Ferrari community. The design wasn`t very dynamic and its performance figures were much slower than the rest of the Ferrari lineup.
15. Lancia Scorpion
In 1976, Lancia presented the Scorpion, a US-spec version of its Beta Montecarlo model. For the American market, Montecarlo name couldn’t be used since Chevrolet already had Monte Carlo, so Lancia decided to go with the aggressive Scorpion nameplate.
However, despite the car`s modern looks and technical layout, Scorpion wasn’t exactly a great performer since its four-cylinder engine delivered only 81 HP in US spec. The Scorpion was on sale for two years (1976 and 1977) and sold in around 1,800 examples in America.
16. Pontiac Fiero
For the standards of the day, this was the most advanced American production model. The customers were pretty hyped by the appearance of the Fiero and with its cool and modern design and advanced technology; the initial response was more than good.
It was a pretty bold move for Pontiac to introduce a compact, rear wheel drive car with the engine positioned behind the driver and to pair it up with a 5-speed manual transaxle gearbox. But one of the Fiero`s main problem was the fact it was pretty underpowered. With 93 HP and 0 to 60 mph time of over 10 seconds, it was painfully slow.
17. Fiat 128 3P
Based on the economy family sedan called Fiat 128, the Coupe and 3P (Tre Porte – Three Doors) models presented the sporty alternative. Introduced in 1971, 128 Coupe and 3P featured front wheel drive and four-cylinder engines.
Despite it’s cool, almost muscle car looks, 128 Coupe and 3P weren’t exactly fast.
The reason was the engine choice and buyers could choose between 1.1 and 1.3-liter units which delivered 60 and 67 HP. That is why most owners installed more powerful engines.
18. Melkus RS 1000
As you probably know, the sports car market in communist countries was extremely limited and apart from Skoda 110 R, there was no sports car available. However, in East Germany, automotive engineer Heinz Melkus designed a very capable and interesting sports coupe and convinced Wartburg factory of producing a limited number of cars.
Using the Wartburg 353 as a basis, Melkus designed and fabricated independent front and rear suspension, roll-bars and close ratio 5-speed gearbox. The 992 ccm engine was tuned to produce 68 HP and mounted behind the driver sending its power to rear wheels, instead of to front like in the standard Wartburg 353. It looked cool but with 68 HP it was very disappointing.
19. Toyota Sports 800
This was the first Toyota`s sports car which was introduced in 1962. In those days Toyota was a small and totally unknown company, so it is not strange that the sales were limited to Asian markets only.
It had a diminutive 800 ccm engine with 45 HP, but despite extremely modest displacement and power, the Sports 800 had some performance credentials since it was extremely light and agile. However, by today`s standards, the 800`s dynamics are ridiculous. The production stopped in 1969 after over 3,100 examples were built.
20. Fiat X 1/9
Behind this strange name, lies one of the most interesting affordable sports cars of the `70s. Introduced in 1972, Fiat X1/9 was a small two-seater with T-Top, mid-mounted engine and two trunks, one in the front and one in the back. Think of it as Porsche Boxster, just 20 years older.
Despite fantastic looks and technical layout, the X 1/9 was pretty underpowered with just around 60 HP from its small 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine. The performance was not impressive and most owners decided to fit bigger engines.