There are certain cars that become world famous simply because so many of them have been produced. In America, one of the most famous cars ever built is the Ford Model T. In Germany, the Volkswagen Beetle is the car everyone knows. Japan has produced more than 40 million Toyota Corollas worldwide. And over in Spain, the most commonly produced automobile is the SEAT Ibiza.
Most folks in the U.S. have never heard of this car, but SEAT has produced more than 5.4 million of them since 1984. It’s a supermini car, or what we could call a subcompact in the American market. It is sold in Mexico, which is where this one came from. With a base price around $11,000 USD, the Ibiza is similar to the Nissan Versa, another subcompact made for the global market.
The SEAT Ibiza isn’t a terribly interesting car. It’s not limited production, doesn’t have any unique or exclusive features, and it’s not a top performance machine. The only interesting thing about this car was that I saw it driving around in Phoenix, Arizona which is noteworthy because this car is not offered for sale in the United States.
Don’t quote me on this as I am not a lawyer, but I believe that foreign citizens are allowed to bring their cars into the US for personal use for a period of one year. The car must not be sold during that time, and is required to have liability insurance through a US provider. It’s interesting that we don’t see more cars from Mexico and Canada driving around our roads. You never know what you might spot just by keeping your eyes open!
If you want to see people go nuts at a car show, simply bring an Audi R8 supercar and watch as the crowd flocks around it like moths to the proverbial flame. Don’t get me wrong – I like the R8 – but I’ve been to plenty of car shows and seen plenty of them. At the Concours in the Hills car show, I saw an Audi that I had never seen before.
The Audi S1 is a hot hatchback based on the Audi A1 platform. It’s not sold in the United States, but it is sold in Mexico. You can think of it like Audi’s answer to the Ford Focus ST, the Fiat 500 Abarth, or the Mini Cooper John Cooper Works (JCW) edition. Hot Hatchbacks have long been popular in Europe, and are only recently starting to make inroads in the US market, where trucks and SUVs reign supreme.
Under the S1’s hood is a turbocharged 2.0L engine making 228 horsepower. Audi says it will accelerate from 0-60mph in 5.8 seconds and has a top speed of 155 mph – quite impressive for such a small car! It also has Audi’s permanent Quattro all-wheel drive system.
This car is incredibly rare to see in the US compared to the R8, but hardly anyone paid it any interest at the car show. Just goes to show what you might see when you keep your eyes open!
The Ford Thunderbird will go down in history as the car that created an entire market segment: the personal luxury coupe. Since that time, many other auto makers have produced their own version of the Thunderbird. Over time, the segment came to be defined by a few characteristics: an emphasis on luxury and the latest technology, powerful engines with comfortable suspensions, and of course, a 2-door, 4-passenger seating arrangement.
Although the American economy went through a recession in the early 1980s, things turned around and the demand for personal luxury coupes was on the rise by the later end of the decade. General Motors had the Buick Riviera, Ford had the Lincoln Mark VII, and Chrysler had resurrected the Imperial name for their 1981-1983 coupe. The United States wouldn’t see the Lexus SC400 until 1991, but this car was its Japanese predecessor: the Toyota Soarer Z20.
At first glance, I thought this car was a Lamborghini Espada, or some kind of Maserati, or perhaps even a DeTomaso? As it turns out, it is actually a very rare and short-lived car called a Bitter Diplomat coupe.
The idea for this luxury gran tourer came from Erich Bitter, a German racing driver turned entrepreneur. He started Bitter Automotive in the early 1970s and set about manufacturing passenger cars.
In an earlier post about the Lotus Cortina I explained the idea of homologation – whereby manufacturers must build and sell a minimum number of cars to the public in order to qualify as a “production car.” Here we have another example of a factory-built race car that was sold to the public, and this one is even more extreme.
It’s called the Renault 5 Turbo II and like many of the cars I have covered recently, this is another rare specimen from Cars and Coffee. So what’s the deal with this car, and how did it come to be?
Several years ago, there was a small automotive shop by my house in Phoenix called Exklusiv Motorsports that specialized in modifying Volkswagens. They had a pair of these big red trucks outside, so one day I took a picture of them. It wasn’t until recently that I learned how rare these things are!
These double-cab Volkswagens were sold in Northern Europe as very basic work trucks, but the TriStars were top-of-the-line models with full interiors, cruise control, power windows, heated seats, and armrests. Even rarer still, both of these trucks are the Synchro models (4WD)!
There is a gathering in Scottsdale on the first Saturday of each month called Cars and Coffee. This informal car show is open to all makes and models of vehicles, so you never know what might roll in.
It was here that I first spied the Hudson Italia, not knowing how rare or valuable it was. I kicked myself later for not taking more pictures of it. Well, I made the same mistake with this car. Not recognizing it, I foolishly took a single picture and moved on. Now I wish I had taken more!
This huge sedan is an Iso Rivolta S4 Fidia, and its claim to fame is that it briefly held the title of “World’s Fastest Four-Seater” in the late 1960s. Only of these cars 192 were built, so it’s pretty damn rare!
There aren’t many cars on the road that I don’t recognize, but this one totally caught me by surprise at Cars and Coffee. I confess that I don’t know much about mid-century French cars, so I hope you will forgive me for not recognizing this one right away. However, I thought it intriguing enough to take some pictures – and boy, am I glad I did!
As it turns out, this gleaming silver beauty is a Facel Vega HK500. One article I read called it “The best car you’ve never heard of” and after doing some research, I can see why the author made that statement.