By Grant Stoecker
“American automotive manufacturers have made a number of performance cars exclusively for Europe and Australia, but have you ever heard of an African performance car?”
The U.S. and Canada might get a wide variety of unique and exotic cars, but there are a few cars that never made it to our showrooms and appear now only has special imports.
1972 Lancia Stratos HF
The Lancia Stratos HF is a monster of car. In the concept stages, the Stratos was an attempt by Bertone to get its foot in with Lancia, who had previously worked with Pinin Farina for design. The legend states that Bertone re-bodied a Lancia Fulvia and drove it to Lancia’s headquarters. Impressed with the Stratos prototype, Lancia agreed to collaborate with Bertone to create their next generation rally car. The Stratos was built around a Lancia chassis, with a Ferrari Dino engine positioned behind the seats. The rolling chassis was finished off with an aerodynamic body fitted by Bertone. The Lancia would go on to have a legendary career, winning the World Rally Championship from 1974-1976.
1973 Chevrolet Firenza Can Am
American automotive manufacturers have made a number of performance cars exclusively for Europe and Australia, but have you ever heard of an African performance car? Meet the Chevrolet Firenza Can Am, a Euro-American mash-up that was never sold in either of those markets. Built to compete with Ford’s inferior Capri Perana, the Can Am began its existence in Britain as a Vauxhall Firenza frame, which was then shipped straight south to Port Elizabeth, where it was paired with a power train straight out of an American legend — the 1969 Camaro Z/28. With a lightweight body and nearly 300 horsepower, the smell of burning rubber was a no-cost option, and I’m sure there was plenty of that. The car was limited to a run of 100, which were built to satisfy homologation requirements for Argus Production Car series, 30 of which are still known to exist.
1969 Ford Escort RS1600
While the latter part of the 1960s might have been the middle of the Mustang’s heyday, Ford was busy building fast cars all around the world. One of those cars was Ford’s venerable Escort, which was one of the top selling cars in Europe at the time. Of course, Ford engineers weren’t satisfied with a compact coupe with 1.3-litre engine, so they contacted the blokes over at Cosworth and developed the Escort RS1600. While the Cosworth engine may have put out only 113 horsepower, the tiny Escort was barely tipping the scales at 1,800 pounds, making the RS1600 one of the coolest cars cruising the UK at the time.
1969 Nissan Skyline GT-R
The Nissan Skyline GT-R is arguably the most iconic sports car to ever come from the islands of Japan. While the GT-R is most commonly idolized in its mid-’90s guise from the Fast & Furious franchise, our pick is the original — the 1969 Skyline GT-R. Introduced at the 1969 Tokyo Auto Show, the GT-R was a Nissan Skyline sedan that was stripped out and given the special treatment by the boys in the Nissan Skunks Works team. The heart of the GT-R is a Nissan racing V-6 engine putting out 160 horsepower, allowing the GT-R to outrun its European rivals. Other cool upgrades included wide wheel arches, rally wheels, front and rear spoilers, and of course, the now-iconic GT-R badges.
The Porsche 959 is a perfect example of what happens when some German mad scientists in Porsche decide that the 911 Turbo isn’t just quite enough. Built to be the ultimate Group B rally car, Porsche decided to slap an all-wheel drive system and a twin-turbo 2.8-liter boxer engine in a highly modified 911. In order to fulfill the FIA’s homologation rule, Porsche built 337 examples for consumption by the public. Of course, the EPA and Porsche weren’t quite on the same page, and the 959 was never legally sold in the U.S. However, several example of the 959 have made their ways to our shores, most notably the “Gates 959,” which was stored by U.S. Customs for 13 years and was key in the passing of the “Show and Display” law.
Grant Stoecker writes for Hagerty Insurance. Hagerty is the world’s leading specialist provider of classic car and boat insurance. Learn more at hagerty.ca