Offbeat Cars That Had a Good Run…and Some That Didn’t

1968 Chevrolet El Camino

Car people, at least the older ones, sometimes ask, “Whatever happened to cars like…?” And for the three dots you can insert vehicles like this ‘68 Chevy El Camino, a very sharp-looking truck which, I think, beat out the competing Ford Ranchero. Both hit home runs with a public tired of cheap, utilitarian pickup trucks.

The El Camino was really a car (the Impala as platform, then the Chevelle, later the Malibu) with a truck body, and was mocked by car conservatives. But production ran through five generations (1959-1987), some were sold abroad, and it had a strong following among the muscle car clan because of its hot engine packages.

VW ThingAs a stripped-down fun vehicle, the Volkswagen Type 181 really had no equal in its time. Produced from 1969 to 1983, this beast was variously called “The Thing,” “Safari” in Mexico (where you still see a few), or “Kübelwagen,” from the World War II Jeep-like vehicle that was its ancestor. The Thing is a bare-bones car: bench seats, painted steel door panels, and parts are available. A dune buggy for the road. People still love ’em, and they command stiff prices when properly restored.

Jaguar XKSSA super-rare car from the 1950s that knocked out sports car fans was the Jaguar XKSS. Only 25 were ever in production, and just 16 of these survived a factory fire in 1957. This car is really a reworked D-Type and is the progenitor of the famous E-Type, which may well be the most beautiful sports car of all time. Shown is a recent gathering of a dozen of these babies at Pebble Beach.

1993 Toyota MR2 TurboMy compadre tgriffith wrote earlier this week about a possible successor to Toyota’s great midengine MR2—to which we can only say, amen. Produced from 1984-2007, the car got much acclaim from press and public, and was in some ways the best small, cheap, midengine sports car ever produced. Styling of the second-generation cars (1990-1999) was much improved; it looked much like a junior Ferrari 348. A 1993 stock turbo version is shown here, but owners loved to modify and race these cars.

Finally, here’s the real ancestor of the MR2, Fiat’s X1/9, with wedge design by Bertone, transverse midengine power (or lack of it in its 1.3-liter engine), and super handling. I bought one of the first of the U.S. cars in 1974 and loved it until the transmission failed three years later. X1/9s had lots of durability problems, but they were beautiful and did attract the ladies, yes.

Would you go for any of these cars today, or have they had their time?

—jgoods

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Used Chevrolet El Camino
Used Toyota MR2

3 Comments

  1. The El camino out here would be called a ‘ute’ an Australian idea begun in 1934 a sedan based pickup.Designed by Lew Brandt originally based on a Ford since then all major car makers in Aussie have had a Utility model available. Only Holden Commodore and Ford Falcons are available now but are available with all the performance options from the sedans.The Holden 6.2V8 ute is faster around TOP GEARs track than a Camaro 6.2 yet underneath they are the same car.

  2. Love the Fiat X1/9.
    Can’t beat the street legal go-cart feeling.
    Still have one,but it doesn’t get out very often.
    It’s definitely had it’s day.

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