From the first minivan to a hand-built hypercar and everything in-between.
We know America is a powerhouse when it comes to the automotive industry. But for every monolithic company we see today, there are hundreds of smaller satellite companies that never made it and some that are still plugging along. America has had everything from ambitious engineers starting from scratch to bring their dream car to market on a shoestring budget, to well-funded and thought-out start-ups, to an egotistical billionaire buying a fledgling company and throwing money at it until it goes global. These are the ones you've probably never heard of.
While it might sound like sonar equipment you mount on a boat for the weekend, the Equus BASS770 is a hand-built American muscle car. You could compare it with the Dodge Challenger, but the BASS770 is Detroit muscle built in America and without being hampered by a bean counter department. It's based around a rigid tube and tub chassis with a lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber body. It rides on Magnetic Selective Ride Control dampers, and stops using Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes. The interior is pure sporting luxury, and under the hood is a 6.2-liter supercharged aluminum-block V8 laying down 640 horsepower. It weighs 3,640 pounds and hits 60 mph in 3.4 seconds. Before you go looking to trade in your Dodge Challenger, bear in mind it costs $250,000.
The Lucra LC470 is hand built in San Marcos, California, and is designed to wow you with its looks, then scare the living crap out of you with its performance. But in a good way. It's the brainchild of a Brit that now resides in California named Luke Richards, and melds together the lightweight ethos of British sports cars and the brutality of American V8s. He paired up with car designer Chuck Beck to create what is, essentially, a lightweight tube-framed sports car powered by a 505-horsepower Chevy LS7 V8 engine. It's not a new idea, Richards is just carrying the torch that Carroll Shelby lit.
Designed, engineered, and built in California, the Drakan Spyder is one of the most hardcore sports cars you can buy in America. Former General Motors engineer Shinoo Mapleton wanted to build the ultimate sports car, and he's had one hell of a job at it. The rear-wheel-drive car is built using a tube frame chassis with a mid-rear-mounted 6.2-liter GM Performance Parts LS3 E-Rod engine delivering the power. The Drakan Spyder makes 430 hp and 424 lb-ft of torque and weighs just 2,000 pounds at the curb. That's 1,300 pounds less than the C6 Corvette that shares the same engine. And that makes for a 3.2-second 0-60 mph time. You should probably bring a helmet.
The Beast Alpha X Blackbird sounds like it's named by people that sport tactical beards and post pictures of their EDC on Facebook. In fairness, Rezvani is most famous for its military-styled off-road trucks featuring things like night-vision and ballistic armor. The Irvine, California-based company was founded by Iranian-American entrepreneur Ferris Rezvani, who worked previously with Aston Martin and Ferrari as a designer.
His first Rezvani vehicle wasn't a truck or SUV, though. It was called the Beast and it was based on an Ariel Atom chassis. The Beast is now the base model vehicle, and the current top-end model is the Rezvani Beast Alpha X Blackbird. It's powered by a 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-four engine developed with Cosworth to deliver 700 hp and comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission. A sequential manual transmission is optional. It weighs just 2,150 pounds and will hit 60 mph in 2.9 seconds.
American companies don't just push boundaries with sports cars. The 1934 Stout Scarab is often credited as the first minivan. It was the brainchild of an automotive and aviation engineer and journalist William Bushnell Stout. He formed Stout Motor Car Company in Detroit, and definitively built the first car with a fiberglass body shell and air suspension. With its innovative design and adjustable seating, it was ahead of its time.
The Scarab had independent suspension at both ends, also a rarity at the time, which put it firmly in the luxury bracket. Unfortunately, while Stout had the capacity to build a hundred units a year, the $5,000 price tag was considered exorbitant as something like the Chrysler Imperial Airflow cost around $1,300. As a result of its price being impractical for a family vehicle at the time, only nine were built.
Back to modern Detroit, and a company called Falcon unveiled the F7 in 2014. We firmly place it in the hypercar bracket as the aluminum, carbon fiber, and Kevlar chassis is combined with a Lingenfelter-built twin-turbo V8 delivering 1,100 hp - a number that still manages to astonish in a time where gobs of horsepower has become the norm. Behind the F7 was engineer and designer Jeff Lemke, who dreamed of building his own four-wheel rocket ship after supplying body components for the Dodge Viper. The base model makes 620 hp and delivers 60 mph in 3.3 seconds, while the outlandish twin-turbo version demolishes 60 mph in 2.7 seconds. It's a rarity, but so few have heard of it that a recent auction for car #3 off the production line didn't fetch its reserve price.
Sadly, the Mobility Ventures MV-1 isn't with us anymore. While the MV-1 won't excite most of us, imagine being limited by a wheelchair and discovering that someone got a purpose-built wheelchair-accessible vehicle to the market. The MV-1 also holds the distinction of being the first purpose-built taxicab since the Checker Marathon from 1961, although the new vehicle wasn't sold exclusively as a taxi.
A base model MV-1, leaving out things like cruise control and a radio, was available until 2016 at $40,890, while the mid-range $51,065 had creature comforts and a power ramp. Until someone tries again, some specialized companies modify existing vehicles, mainly minivans, for wheelchair accessibility, such as BraunAbility, Vantage Mobility International (VMI), and Rollx Vans.
You may remember the retro-styled Plymouth Prowler and its disappointing power and handling. You might also remember the automotive media declaring that it's unlike anything we've seen before. Well, the Prowler launched in 1997 with a 3.5-liter V6 engine making 214 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque and getting to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds.
The reality was that we had seen something like the Prowler before, several years earlier. Race car specialist Panoz launched its second-generation roadster in 1996. It was built on an aluminum space frame with a central backbone and sported an all-aluminum Ford 4.6-liter V8 (from the Mustang SVT Cobra) powering the rear wheels. You can still find them in the merchandise part of the Panoz website with an advertised 430 hp and a 0-60 time of 4.3 seconds.
The Rally Fighter is a surprising piece of automotive history purely on its basis as the first car developed using co-creation. The designer Sangho Kim submitted options, and the final one was chosen using a community voting system. Unfortunately, it does look like a vehicle designed by a comments section. The Rally Fighter was manufactured from 2010 to 2016 and street legal in all 50 states. It was powered by a 6.2-liter LS3 V8 from GM, and had serious off-road credibility.
Local Motors is based in Phoenix, Arizona, and has several vehicles to its credit. The Rally Fighter is the most famous, though, and although you may not have heard of it, it featured in Transformers: Age of Extinction and The Fate of the Furious. It also appeared in a string of the Forza racing video games as well as CSR Racing 2 and Racing Rivals. On TV, it was featured in an episode of the American version of Top Gear and an episode of the Discovery channel's show Game Changers.
While the Q1 was a very expensive car you had to build yourself, we adore the story behind it. When the British firm Noble stopped making the absurdly quick M400, Dean Rosen and Ian Grunes of 1G Racing bought the manufacturing rights and created a new car that was luxurious and fast. The Florida-based company designed new bodywork and cleaned up the technical design, but as the car weighed around 100 pounds more now, it needed new suspension tuning. As Rossion didn't have proving grounds, the chassis designer tuned the handling on the "on-ramps of south Florida" and the ride quality on public roads.
As it was a kit car, the drivetrain had to be sold separately or paid for to have it installed. To have the car built and ready to drive, it cost north of $100,000. However, for that $100,000-plus, you do get the fastest car to us on a Floridian I-95 on-ramp.