rags to riches cars

1953 Chevrolet Corvette. Image: Chevrolet.

Top 10: Rags to riches cars

We all have a photo album of forgettable haircuts and bad fashion choices we’d like to forget. The same applies to these rags to riches cars.

rags to riches cars

1953 Chevrolet Corvette. Image: Chevrolet.

10. Renault/Dacia Duster

rags to riches
ARO Duster. Image: ARO.

We bet you don’t know this one, but Renault’s top-selling Duster deserves better than to be named after a gravely off-roader by ropey Romanian manufacturer, ARO, back in the 1980s. But it has been, and now you know, one of the truest rags to riches cars.

9. Porsche 989

rags to riches
Porsche 989 prototype that never saw production. Image: Porsche.

As if the Cayenne SUV wasn’t controversial enough, Porsche conceived the Panamera saloon in the ’00s. Less well known is the fact they did a four-door 989 saloon two decades before that. The stillborn four-door 911 would inspire styling for the 993-model, so it wasn’t a total loss. The car is on display at Porsche Classic.

8. Peugeot Rallye

Peugeot 205 Rallye. Image: Peugeot.

You’ve heard of the 106 and 306 Rallyes, right? What about the 205? Certain right-hand-drive markets got a 56 kW sham that was nothing but a car with snazzy decals. However, the proper left-hand-drive-only version featured a screaming 75 kW competition 1.3-litre, plus GTi seats and arches.

7. Volkswagen K70

rags to riches
Volkswagen K70. Image: Volkswagen.

Many people credit the 1974 Golf with being the first of the water-cooled front-drive peoples’ cars. But way before that there was this hip-to-be-square K70 saloon from Volkswagen. The company talked it up no end, but it all turned out to be hot air.

6. Mitsubishi Lancer

rags to riches
Mitsubishi Lancer 2000 Turbo. Image: Mitsubishi.

WRC driver’s championships for Tommi Mäkinen from 1996-1999 put hot Lancers on the map, as it did all JDM beasts of the ‘90s. But the Evo had actually been on sale since 1992. Perhaps this car’s award-winning lack of charisma inspired the fierce performance in every subsequent Evo model.

5. McLaren M6GT

The road-going McLaren M6GT. Only two were ever built. Image: McLaren.

The McLaren F1 road car pushed the supercar bar so high its nose started to bleed, but McLaren loved to make things go superfast several decades earlier. Bruce McLaren’s rags to riches cars must include the mighty M6GT which he built from a Can-Am race car. Only two M6GTs were built before the great man passed away in a fatal crash at Goodwood.

4. Dodge Charger

rags to riches
The original Dodge Charger you didn’t know about. Image: Chrysler.

The iconic crime film, Bullitt, only came out in 1968, so it was only the stunning Coke-bottle curves that helped Dodge shift 100 000 new Chargers at its launch. Six times the volume versus the mechanically identical, but less sexy, original Charger one year earlier. Nobody remembers that car.

3. Corvette C1

rags to riches
1953 Chevrolet Corvette. Image: Chevrolet.

We can’t even imagine the idea of an all-American ’Vette without a V8. However, Chevy’s legendary small-block banger was still on the drawing board when the original ’53 Corvette was first revealed to the world. Back then the sole drivetrain was a slothful straight-six with a two-speed automatic. A combo unworthy of the astronauts.

2. Ford Capri

rags to riches
1961 Ford Capri, Coupe version of Consul Classic. Image: Ford.

Ah yes, the English Mustang, one of the best rags to riches cars. It first appeared in 1969, but Henry Ford had already used the name eight years earlier on a coupe version of the Consul Classic. Power was almost as anaemic as sales of the car: Ford sold fewer than 20 000 in the early sixties, compared to one-million-plus Capris as we know them.

1. Nissan GT-R

The original Skyline GT-R. Image: Nissan.

Car nuts still talk in hushed tones about the Nissan GT-R as if it parted the Red Sea in between 8-minute laps of the Nurburgring. Thing is, back in 1969, the first GT-Rs, made in collaboration with the Prince Motor Company, were much less sexy.

Sure, they were race-winning and powered by a snarling twin-cam 2.0-litre six-cylinder engine, but that was a far cry from the tech-laden, active all-wheel-drive monster we know the GT-R to be today.

Any rags to riches cars you think we missed out on? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.