Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1; photo courtesy BoldRide.com. Click image to enlarge
By Mike Schlee
Icons of the 1990s
The 1990s were strange times. There seemed to be a bit of everything in the 1990s; grunge, epic televised court cases, boy bands, cheating presidents, a championship Toronto sports team, and a female prime minister. Things were no different in the automotive world. The decade began with the market craving a rash of hot new sports cars and morphed priorities towards sport utilities and retro cars by decade’s end. Some of the cars that saw the light of day in 90s are still icons in 2013 and will go down in history as some of the best vehicles ever produced. Below I present my list of 15 vehicles that will forever be associated with the 1990s.
When the NSX arrive on the scene in 1990, it brought along with it one aspect that had been missing from supercars previously: reliability. This mid-engine, perfectly balanced supercar could out-handle vehicles costing several times its price while still being driven to work and back every day. After the introduction of the NSX, the concept of an everyday supercar was a reality and several exotic European manufacturers had to step up their game.
Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1
The 1990–1995 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 was more than just a mighty LT5 V8. Every aspect of the car’s performance was elevated, including the suspension and brakes. Initially offered with 385 hp, it was increased to 405 hp before ending production. The ZR-1 brought the Corvette from sports car to supercar and showed the world Chevrolet could build a serious contender.
Top: Dodge Ram, photo courtesy Tractors.Wiki.com; bottom: Dodge Viper, photo courtesy TheDetroitBureau.com. Click image to enlarge
Before the 1994 Dodge Ram came on the scene, pickup trucks did not offer much in the way of style. Most were rectangular boxes with a cab sticking out the top. Spurred on by poor sales, the Dodge team decided to make a dramatic redesign of their full-size pick-up truck. With styling mirroring that of Big Rig transport trucks, the Ram was an immediate success. Instantly recognizable, the same styling cues are being used to this day and forced all other full size pickups to think outside the box.
Inspired by the original Shelby Cobra, the Viper used the same concept of a very large motor in a small roadster body. When it first appeared at the Detroit Autoshow in 1989, no one thought Dodge would build this monster. But by 1992 the car was available for sale complete with an 8.0L V10—but no windows. There was nothing subtle about this car, including its performance. Thankfully, in 2013 the Viper is set to return to showrooms still wearing a body reminiscent of this original.
Top: Eagle Talon, photo courtesy CarInPicture.com; bottom: Ford Explorer, photo courtesy Wikipedia used IFCAR. Click image to enlarge
Eagle Talon / Mitsubishi Eclipse / Plymouth Laser
These compact hatchback triplets were the kings of the ‘tuner scene’ before the world even knew there was a tuner scene. Before there was ever a Lancer Evolution or WRX STi, these vehicles were running around with 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engines sending power to all four wheels. When they came on the scene in 1990, they could be specified with 195 hp attached their all-wheel-drive system. Unfortunately, these cars also became iconic for the phrase ‘crank-walk’.
The latter half of the 1990’s was dominated by the influx of sport utility vehicles, led by the bestselling Ford Explorer. There was a period of time where it seemed everyone was ditching their minivans and sedans for these body-on-frame brutes. It felt like Explorers, Blazers, Pathfinders and Cherokees were as common as Civics and Cavaliers in the late 1990s. It hasn’t take long for consumers’ tastes to change, though, and the crossover is now the king of the family vehicle. So much so that the Explorer has even become one.
Top: GM EV1, photo courtesy CarInPicture.com; bottom: Honda Prelude, photo courtesy NetCarShow.com. Click image to enlarge
The GM EV1 was the first modern electric car. Available for lease only and in very few places, the EV1 was a glimpse into the automotive future. While many conspiracy theories and hypotheses exist as to why it was cancelled, the EV1 did show a short-range all-electric city car could work in today’s world. Less than 20 years later, we have consumer-ready electric cars. Still unconvinced it was iconic? How many other cars from the 1990’s have award-winning feature-length movies made about them?
Honda Civic/Honda Prelude/Acura Integra
Although it was on sale for a long time before the 1990s, it was this decade when the Civic really came into its own. By the end of the decade it had become Canada’s number one selling car, a crown it has not given up since. The Civic, along with its front-wheel-drive relatives, the Acura Integra and Honda Prelude, was the cornerstone of the import tuner craze that swept through North America in the late 1990s. To this day, mint condition examples of any of these front-wheel-drive Hondas are coveted by enthusiasts.