When you think of cool cars from the 1990s—the decade of AOL, Seinfeld, and the Macarena dance (not necessarily in that order)—factory hot rods, such as the Dodge Viper and Acura NSX usually come to mind. What you might not remember are the awesome cars that flew under the radar and have subsequently been forgotten over the years.
As we head into the year 2022 (more than two decades after we stopped partying like it was 1999), now seems like the perfect time to reflect on cars that were “da bomb” in the 1990s but might have slipped your mind since.
All That and a Bag of Chips: 10 Forgotten Cool Cars From the ‘90s
For some drivers, it might be tough to believe that cars from the ‘90s are now considered vintage. While some vehicles (e.g., the Ferrari F50 and the Porsche 993) from that period are unforgettable classics, others are often overlooked but deserve recognition.
So, strap on your fanny pack and pop in a Nirvana cassette tape—we’re going to take a look back at ten awesome cars from the ’90s that you might have forgotten.
Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe (SC)
The Thunderbird moniker usually conjures up images of the 1950s classic, with its removable hardtop and wide whitewall tires. By the time the 1990s rolled around, however, the Thunderbird had morphed into a jelly bean-shaped coupe that few drivers paid attention to, even when the car was brand-new.
And that’s a shame because it means they’re missing out on the Thunderbird Super Coupe (SC)—a high-performance ‘bird (built between 1989 and 1995) that shares its powertrain with the Mercury Cougar XR7.
In 1989, Ford introduced the Thunderbird SC as a replacement for the outgoing Turbo Coupe (yet another forgotten classic). The SC model featured a supercharged 3.8L V6 engine, turning out a then-impressive 210 horsepower (230 horsepower in the ’94 and ’95 models). Throughout its production, the SC also came with rear-wheel drive and the choice of either a 5-spd manual or four-speed automatic transmission.
The SC was quite a performer for its day, hustling from 0-60 in 7.5 seconds and completing the quarter-mile in the mid-15-second range.
Pontiac Turbo Grand Prix by ASC-McLaren
The Turbo Grand Prix ASC-McLaren, which debuted in 1989, was a collaboration between Pontiac, a supplier called American Speciality Cars (ASC), and a now-defunct engineering branch of McLaren. Although a joint venture between Pontiac and McLaren might seem surprising, such quirky pairings were often commonplace in the 1990s.
Under the hood, the Grand Prix ASC-McLaren featured a turbocharged version of the 3.1L V6 engine found in many General Motors (GM) cars (Grand Prix, Cavalier, etc.) at the time. The addition of forced induction bumped the 3.1L’s output up from 140 horsepower (hp) to 205 hp. A four-speed automatic transmission was used to transfer power to the front drive wheels.
The ultra-rare Grand Prix also came with flared fender arches, functional hood louvers, an upgraded suspension, and other unique touches. Despite the awesomeness of the Turbo Grand Prix, GM decided to discontinue it after the 1991 model year.
Even though the GMC Syclone pickup and Typhoon SUV have ridiculous-sounding names that could only have passed muster in the ‘90s, both vehicles are engineering marvels. In fact, they’re so awesome that Jay Leno happens to have a Syclone in his personal car collection.
The Syclone and Typhoon were both based on the S-10/S-15 truck chassis. Both vehicles came with a turbocharged version of GM’s 4.3L V6 engine (280 hp), paired with a four-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
For the 1991 model year, the Syclone was the fastest production vehicle of any kind, even beating a Ferrari 328 in a road test by Car and Driver. At the time, GM claimed a 0 to 60 time of 4.6 seconds (13.4 seconds through the quarter-mile) for the Syclone and 5.3 seconds for the Typhoon. Production of both models was very limited and only lasted from 1991 to 1993.
Ford Taurus SHO
The Ford Taurus has a reputation for being a bore-you-to-tears rental car lot special. What many people don’t realize, though, is that Ford built a Super High Output (SHO) variant of the Taurus on and off from 1989 to 2019.
When the first generation SHO debuted, it featured an advanced Yamaha-sourced 3.0L V6 engine (210 hp). A 3.2L V6 engine (with the same power output and slightly less torque) mated to an automatic transmission was introduced in 1993.
In 1996, Ford revealed the vastly different, next-generation SHO. Instead of relying on a V6 engine, like its predecessors, the more modern SHO packed V8 power in the form of a transverse-mounted 3.4L V8 engine, with a bottom-end built by Ford and a top-end primarily engineered by Yamaha.
The V8-powered SHO was quite a performer for its day, with 234 hp on tap. But the 3.4L engine tended to suffer from camshaft sprockets the would come loose, causing substantial internal damage.
Unsurprisingly, the V8-powered SHO was retired in 1999 after only three years of production.
Isuzu Impulse RS Turbo AWD
If you don’t remember the Geo Storm or its chassis-mate, the Isuzu Impulse, don’t feel bad; you’re not alone. Both cars—which share the same R-body platform that GM rolled out back when it owned a significant portion of Isuzu—have been relatively obscure since introduction.
But unlike the Storm, the Impulse was offered as a turbocharged 1991 model-year-only RS variant that came with a viscous-coupling all-wheel-drive system. The engine produced 160 hp at 6600 RPM and was coupled to a 5-speed manual transmission.
When the Impulse RS was first being designed, GM also had a significant stake in Lotus. As such, the British car company played a major role in creating the car’s sport-tuned suspension.
The RS wears “Handling by Lotus” badges on the side and gigantic “All Wheel Drive/Intercooled Turbo” decals in the rear, all of which are designed to tell onlookers that this is no ordinary Impulse.
The brand-new 2022 Ford Lightning is an all-electric pickup truck powered by a lithium-ion battery and dual electric motors—a combination that can produce up to 563 hp. Back in 1993, however, when the first-ever Ford Lightning debuted, the truck was a totally different animal, with a 5.8L V8 engine under the hood and 240 hp on tap.
In addition to the V8 power plant, the first generation Lightning had several other noteworthy features, such as an upgraded four-speed automatic transmission (sending power to the rear wheels), an aluminum driveshaft, and a sport-tuned suspension.
Ford halted production of the first-generation lightning in 1995. The nameplate would not return until 1999, when the second-generation model (1999-2004) debuted, sporting a supercharged 5.4L V8 engine, fresh styling, and many other updates.
Nissan Sentra SE-R
Most people think of the Nissan Sentra as a boring appliance to get you from point A to point B. But what they overlook is that Nissan made a sporty version of the Sentra, called the SE-R, on and off from 1990 to 2012.
The first generation SE-R featured what was at the time a sophisticated 2.0L four-cylinder engine, with a 7,500 rpm redline and an output of 140 hp. What’s more, the car had a viscous limited-slip differential, a slick-shifting five-speed manual transmission, and a curb weight of under 2,500 lbs.
Sadly, when Nissan redesigned the Sentra in 1995, the SE-R trim level was dropped from the lineup, and the nameplate wouldn’t return until the next decade, during the 2002 model year.
Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited
These days, there are many different high-performance SUVs to choose from, ranging from the Lamborghini Urus to the Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat. That wasn’t the case in 1998, though, when Jeep decided to shoehorn a 5.9L V8 engine (245 hp) into the Grand Cherokee Limited, turning it into the fastest production SUV at the time.
During testing by MotorTrend, the Cherokee Limited was able to rush from 0-60 mph in 6.8 seconds and complete the quarter-mile in 15.2 seconds. Those numbers are impressive, especially when you consider that the SUV weighed over 4,000 lbs, had a solid axle suspension, and a full-time four-wheel drive system.
The Cherokee 5.9L Limited was discontinued after just one year of production, with only 14,286 examples being sold.
Dodge Daytona IROC R/T
When Chevrolet dropped out of the International Race of Champions (IROC) series in 1990, Dodge quickly picked up the contract and simultaneously began tacking the IROC nameplate, which had long been linked to the Camaro, onto the Dodge Daytona Coupe.
Known as the Dodge Daytona IROC R/T, the sporty front-wheel drive coupe featured a turbocharged 2.2L four-cylinder engine (224 hp), a 5-speed manual transmission, and a sport-tuned suspension. The combination allowed the car to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in under 7 seconds, which was exceptionally quick back then.
Dodge only produced the Daytona IROC R/T for a short period between 1992 and 1993.
Chevrolet Impala Super Sport (SS)
The Chevrolet Impala Super Sport (SS) is a land yacht that floats along, just as any full-sized sedan from the 1990s should. But what sets the 4,200 lb Impala SS apart from the Caprice and other B-body cars (the platform the Impala rides on) is its upgraded V8 engine, sport-tuned undercarriage, and limited-slip differential. The engine sends all 260 of its ponies through a four-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels.
Despite the Impala’s imposing size, the car was able to sprint from 0 to 60 mph in seven seconds and pass through the quarter-mile in 15.4 seconds. Although those numbers are essentially on par with some modern minivans, the Impala was an impressive performance machine back in its day.
The Impala’s combination of a big V8 engine stuffed into a family sedan is still a winning formula. Unfortunately, Chevrolet only produced the car from 1994 to 1996.
Get Them While You Still Can
Thanks to nostalgic Millennials who are interested in the cars they grew up with (and some older buyers looking for a bargain), cars from the 90s are becoming increasingly popular amongst collectors. Between 2018 and 2020, classic car insurer, Hagerty, received more requests for insurance quotes for ‘90s cars than those built during any other decade.
Because of increased interest, the prices of desirable cars from the 90s are beginning to skyrocket. Now’s the time to make a move if you want to purchase one of the vehicles on this list—or any other car from the ‘90s—before it’s too late.