The 1990s are now a grand 20 years in the past, and an incredible swathe of cars is up for historic plates in the next few years. From JDM wonders to kooky Swedes, cars of the ’90s represent the Goldilocks recipe to enthusiasts. They're new enough to posses the modern technologies that ensured stout reliability and top-tier performance, but old enough to lack electronic nannies that kvetch and whine at us when we attack the twisties. So we decided to put our resident ’90s experts in a livestream for an hour and pick their 10 favorite cars.
While Brad Phillip's official title is Hagerty's Director of Automotive Lifestyle Business Development, you may know him as Brad the Sunbeam Tiger King. Joining him is our Marketplace Editor Colin Comer. While some cars qualify for the top 10 list through Phillip's or Comer's personal experience, the pair discussed others as the pinnacle of their performance genre.
From the humble Mazda Miata to the world-beating McLaren F1, there's something for everyone in this list.
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What about the 1992-2000 Lexus SC 300/400? These legendary coupes are still around, some with more than 300,000 miles and still going strong. The 300 came with a six-cylinder engine and, for 1992-97, a five-speed option. The 400 had a four-liter V8 and automatic transmission. I have a 1997 SC400 with 90,000 miles on it and it feels like it's still in the break-in period.
Porsche 968! Best looking front-engined car Porsche has ever made. Surprisingly quick with the 3.0L 4-cylinder pushing ~240bhp, a sweet 6-speed manual and sub-3000lb. 50:50 weight balance makes the twisties a blast. Tons of parts straight out of the 911 parts bin and Legendary Porsche engineering. 968s are rare and definitely under-appreciated!
Your Information on the 1993 Cobra R is incorrect I'm sorry to say.... Marshall Mize had 2 new 1993 Cobra R's in early 1994.. I took my Black 93 Cobra there in March of 94 because of an issue with the throw-out bearing & i had this salesman hounding me to trade my Cobra for 1 of the 2 R's as soon as i pulled on the lot.. Both had identical window sticker $ and they were just under $26,000 a piece.. Neither one had a backseat, no AC, no radio.. Just a heater panel.. They had the new 94 GT wheels painted Gloss black ( Which i didn't care for ) At least mine had unique wheels ( even if they were 4 lug.. Lol ) And they could not give those cars away... Nobody around Chattanooga wanted a new Cobra with no AC, no radio and minus a backseat that had loose fitting carpet covering another gloss black 94 GT wheel ( The spare ) He didn't convince me to part ways with mine that day but it wasn't for a lack of trying.. so the part about having to have a current SCCA competition license is inaccurate unless the person that ordered them at Marshall Mize had one but honestly it's not that kind of a dealership.. I didn't buy my Cobra from them because they didn't have one at the time so i believe the 2 R's were passed along until they landed at Mize because people were not interested in the old Mustang when GM had just released the new 93 F-Body twins that had a base price of $16,999 with the 275HP LT1.. People thought i was touched in the head for paying just under $23,000 for a 235HP Mustang.. Lack of public interest is supposedly why a 5,000 limited run ( That was the salesman's big pitch for the one i purchased " You'll be 1 of just 5,000 people to own this version of the 1993 Mustang.. Funny enough State Farm gave me that same speech but with a more ominous tone when i insured it ) Cobra stopped at 4,993 units.. So it didn't matter if it was a Cobra R, Cobra, GT, LX-5.0 or just an LX none of those models were flying off the shelves in 93 because the people that didn't jump to GM were waiting for the all new under-powered over-priced 1994 mustang line-up...
I've got your back Brad. I had a '96 9000 CS turbo. It drove like it had a V6 even though it was an auto. Best driving car I ever had, it felt like it was carved from a block of metal it was so solid. and to top it off, the audio (with a cassette and disc player) was about the best sounding I've ever heard.
I would pick the Mazda Rx7 as the best sports car of the 90's for all the reasons it was picked for the list. It and the Boxster are both extremely advanced sports cars without trying to be supercars. The Maranello is a wonderful car, as its pricing would demand. The McLaren is more a collectible or investment as one of the most iconic supercars of any period. The Miata is nice, but just too simple, although it adheres to the Lotus Elan formula.
Where is the 94 -96 Impala SS? Really? How can you talk 90s without this Police Package Beast as well as the C4 Corvette! You need to visit Motor Trends take on a Great performance B Body for the Baby Boomers!! Buy the way, after Motor Trends test of this Classic, a staff member went out and bought one! That's a Great endorsement!
Thanks, The PORZ
I imagine that Colin does not even know what a Mercedes 124 is, so I'll educate him here. It should be on the list because it was absolutely the best designed and best executed production car during the '90s.
The car was available as the satisfying sedan, the discreet but useful wagon, the sublime coupe and of course the always impressive cabriolet that awes at the country club and still gets the best parking spot from the valet. Impeccable cars but below the radar of the snobs who wrote the above.
I'll also add and agree with the Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon, the Corvette C4 FRC coupe, the Mercedes R129 roadster, the Lexus SC300/400, its twin turbo six JDM companion the Toyota Soarer and the simple and overlooked (fox body) Ford Mustang LX convertible.
The above list is not for Hagerty customers but for swells hoping to impress at B-J next January.
One caution on the BMW 540I 6 speed. It eats BMW -only cat converters with the stick (not so, auto). And don't even try to replace either of them with aftermarket; got to be the real deal (about $1500 each as I recall, after about 60K miles). Otherwise it was a wonderful car. The 545 6-spd got even softer. After that,I moved to Porsche Panamera.
Dates are wrong for the E39, which did not come out until 97 or 98. I test drove both the E34 540i 6 speed and the E39 when I bought my 95 E34. While the E39 was definitely faster, I loved the stying of the E34 more and bought it. Both are great with the 6 speed, which was only available in 95 as a bridge to the new model and a new M5 slated to come out in a couple of years. The earlier 5 series has retained it's value better, I believe and given its production run into the mid 90s is more representative of this list than the later 5's.
You left off what many Ferrari and automobile experts consider one of the very best Ferrari of all time, the F355. This was the car credited with turning Ferrari's fortunes and reputation around. 5 Valves per cylinder. The highest horsepower per liter normally aspired motor ever at that time, 8500 RPMs, 0-60 comparable to the 550 that came after it and faster around the racetrack than the 12 cylinder 512TR and a car many people say is the the best looking modern era Ferrari.
Re the authors "nannies" comment. When programmed and built correctly, the nannies are a life saver which enhances the ability to drive fast. My LS3 Corvette has an outstanding sport setting. It allows just the right amount of drift through the twisties, while protecting the driver from losing control. A professional driver did laps using each of the 3 settings. Normal setting was a bit over protective and perfect for most of the owners who have limited skills. Turning it off allowed him to get too squirlley when pushing it to the limit. His fastest lap times were in sport mode. He said, "You can't win a race after spinning out off a corner. Sport setting lets me wring every bit out of the car without crossing into uncontrolled moments needing big corrections which scrub off speed. My fastest laps were in sport setting." He also said, "Why would you EVER turn it off?"