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Car Brands You've Never Heard Of

Classic Cars / 23 Comments

If you've heard of even half of these, you get an internet cookie.

We spend an awful lot of time covering the biggest brands on the planet, and the smaller brands that tend to be owned by the big brands. We also delve a lot into history but, generally, the most important cars have been built by the big brands. Off the beaten path though, there are and have been some weird and wonderful small names it's worth knowing about.

Tramontana

Tramontana is a Spanish supercar builder operating out of Barcelona that builds what it describes as bespoke supercars. No two cars built are the same and each car requires more than 4,000 working hours to build. The company was built to break with convention, and the result is Formula 1 based machines designed by and for the driver. That driver is chosen based on the pots of money he has to spend and then his or her actual quality as a customer.

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The highlights from the Spanish automaker so far are the Tramontana GT and the XTR. Both are fitted with a mid-mounted 5.5-liter V12 Mercedes-Benz engine that’s been rebuilt and modified by engineers that specialize in race engines. Other models are fitted with V10 engines, but the result is always cars that stick to the ground and make 0-60 mph in under 3 seconds.

Ultima Sports

Ultima Sports is a UK-based company that builds a car you may have heard of for breaking records, the Ultima GTR. If you want one of its phenomenally quick cars outside of the UK, you’re going to have to build it yourself from a giant box of parts. What it will come with though, whether you get a turnkey solution in the UK or a kit car elsewhere, is an engine from American Speed based on a Chevrolet small-block V8. The Ultima claimed a 0–100–0 mph record for getting up to speed and back down again in an eyeball mashing 9.4 seconds.

Fornasari Automobilia

Fornasari Automobilia was founded in 1999 by the son of a fifties-era Alfa and Maserati racer called Gigi Fornasari. It’s hard to describe a Fornasari car without using the words "mish-mash” and "heavily-influenced by.” There’s an argument though for Fornasari being ahead of the curve by also producing GT cars with extra ground clearance and an abundance of power. That power usually comes from a Chevrolet V8.

Yulon

While there are plenty of Asian automakers that have become household names, the Taiwanese automotive industry tends to stay local. Yulon is a big deal in Japan as well, and part of that is down to its cooperative partnership with Nissan that's been in place since 1957. The company is well known for building Nissan cars under license and is aided and protected by the Taiwanese government. Curiously though, Yulon’s first vehicle came about when the American company Willys agreed to share technology, and Yulon built a version of the Jeep in 1956.

Donkervoort

Potent cars are not something we typically associate with the Dutch, but Joop Donkervoor has been building his souped-up and stylized take on Caterham 7 sports cars since 1978 and is still going strong. The cars are light in weight and hand-built, and the Donkervoort D8 GTO is the latest and greatest. It weighs around 1,500 lbs and makes 0-62 mph in 2.8 seconds and will hit 124 mph in 8.6 seconds.

Sungri

While a couple of South Korean automakers have gone global and built themselves into proper world-class automakers, the story for North Korea is as sad as Kim Jong-Un’s baggy trousers. Sungri was established in 1950 and is the largest and oldest North Korean automaker. Creativity is rarely a part of any industry when a country’s official name features the words "People’s Republic,” and Sungri is no exception. Most Sungri vehicles are badly made copies of more successful cars.

Pictures of cars from North Korea aren't the easiest to come by unless it's a black Mercedes that Dear Leader managed to get past embargoes, so please forgive the quality.

Panoz

Back in 1988, American pharmaceutical company founder Donald Panoz bought an Irish racing car chassis design and started development of the Panoz Roadster. It went on the market in 1990 being promoted as: ”Brute strength and raw power built for the absolute pleasure of high-speed driving.” Panoz went on to build more cars as well as race them at Le Mans. He also started the American Le Mans Series and opened driving schools as he bought up race tracks.

Via Motors

Via is another American brand we’re sure to start hearing more and more about. It’s an electric vehicle development and manufacturing company that will soon start replacing most of the utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric's 13,000-strong fleet of vehicles with all-electric work trucks, vans, and SUVs. If it sounds like a flash in the pan, bear in mind that former General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz joined the company as chairman of Via Motors in 2011.

Bristol Cars

Those that know their British airplane and automotive history will recognize the name Bristol. What’s little known is that the company isn’t dead, it’s merely resting. Bristol Cars reformed in 2011 directly after the original company, first formed in 1945, went into administration. Bristol has been low-key supplying wealthy clientele by restoring and selling cars from its one showroom on Kensington High Street in London. In 2015, Bristol Cars announced a new car called the Bullet. It showed up at Goodwood in 2016, but nothing has been seen since and there’s been reports of sales and marketing team members leaving the company.

Sabra

The word Sabra translates as both ”born in Israel” and cactus - which explains where the brand was based and the cactus logo the company used for its badge. Sabra was a brand from Israel’s first car manufacturer, Autocars Co Ltd, and Israel’s only sports car manufacturer to this day.

The owner, Yitzhak Shubinsky, kicked of Sabra by buying the rights to a fiberglass body made by British company Ashley on a chassis by the British Engineer Leslie Bellamy. He then made a deal with the Reliant car company to turn the body and chassis into a sports car powered by a Ford 1.7-liter engine. 379 cars were built, with 144 going to America and 81 to Belgium. Only about 100 of those cars are still traceable.

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