Found: 5 Incredible Cars From the ’90s That Hide Behind Understated Exteriors

Some of the most excellent cars to come from the same era that gave us grunge rock and a deluge of boy bands were the ones that looked mild-mannered and had real performance bubbling beneath the surface.


Editor’s Note: We love scouring the internet for reasons to spend money we don’t have on cars we daydream about owning, and these are our picks this week. All prices listed are bid amounts at the time of publishing.

If there’s one truism about cars from the ’90s, its that they were an eclectic bunch. From 1990 to 1999 we saw everything from wild-eyed monsters like the Group C racing-bred Mercedes CLK GTR and Dodge Viper to the docile but spunky Mazda Miata. But some of the most excellent cars to come from the same era that gave us grunge rock and a deluge of boy bands were the ones that looked mild-mannered but had real performance bubbling beneath the surface.

1991 Subaru Alcyone SVX LSL

What we like: The SVX was ahead of its time and like most things that are too good for the period, it didn’t sell so well. But a 3.3-liter flat-six engine good for 231 horsepower with 228 lb-ft of torque (when new), coupled to advanced four-wheel steering meant the SVX was at home threading together switchbacks sweepers. Sadly because of the low production numbers, and then-new technology, maintenance will be on the steeper side.
From the seller: This 1991 Subaru Alcyone SVX LSL was imported to the US from Japan in April 2017 under the 25-year exemption rule and is one of fewer than 2,000 Version-L models equipped with four-wheel steering.

Mileage: 29,000
Location: North Port, Florida

Bid Now: $5,555

1991 BMW 318is

What we like: It’s a common misconception that you have to get the top-of-the-line model (in this case the M3) to have any fun. The truth is, when you come across a car that has a platform as good as the E30 3 Series, you can take your pick of any of them, and you’ll have a smile plastered across your face regardless. Since the E30 M3 is now a classic icon, they’re harder to find at lower prices. Save the money, settle for a super clean 318is like this and you won’t be disappointed.
From the seller: The car was placed into storage around 2002 following an oil leak, where it remained until 2016 when the seller set out to restore the car. Various areas of corrosion were addressed during the year-long restoration, and an effort was made to retain original paint where possible.

Mileage: 155,465
Location: Elmhurst, Illinois

Bid Now: $6,000

1998 BMW M3 Sedan

What we like: I’m very aware of what I just said about the M3, but the E36 M3 is a bit of a black sheep. Some say BMW was pinching pennies when they built this one and that it isn’t aggressive looking enough. What that means is that you get the top-of-the-line performance at a discount. Yes, it’s more subdued than every other M3, but it was still a performer for its day.
From the seller: This 1998 BMW M3 is a lifetime Southern California car showing 190,133 miles and was purchased from the original owner’s grandson earlier this year.

Mileage: 190,133
Location: Malibu, California

Bid Now: $4,911

1988 Porsche 944

What we like: Even though the 944 would eventually morph into the mid-engined 718 canyon-carver we know today, it started as a front engine coupe. Don’t let the lose-it-in-a-crowd grey paint fool you — the wider fender flares hint at the performance and near perfect balance for which this car is known.
From the seller: This 1988 Porsche 944 was purchased new in Boulder, Colorado 57k miles ago and is powered by a 2.5 inline-four paired with a five-speed manual transmission. Finished in Stone Grey Metallic with a Burgundy partial leather interior, it has been with the seller three and a half years, in which time he has added 2K miles.

Mileage: 57,467
Location: Parker, Colorado

Bid Now: $5,000

1999 BMW M Roadster

What we like: At the time of its introduction the Z3 was billed as a Miata with a premium. The M Roadster, on the other hand, while it looked nearly identical to its base-level brother, sported the same 240-horsepower engine from the bigger, heavier E36 M3. That meant, at just a touch over 3,000 lbs, the M Roadster was no Miata.
From the seller: The car is one of just 176 North American examples finished in this color combination and was acquired by the seller from the original owner four years ago.

Mileage: 104,483
Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Bid Now: $6,500

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