How annoying is it that loads of cool cars are only sold in their domestic markets? There are loads of amazing cars that don’t get exported to other countries, and if you don’t live in those markets you might not have heard of them.
The Gran Turismo franchise opened my eyes to many of the JDM-only cars featured on the game, like the Autech Nissan Stagea, but I’ve recently found a load of cars that might’ve passed you by. Have you ever heard of these?
SUBARU IMPREZA WRX GRAVEL EXPRESS
This first one is indeed a JDM special, and could be the Impreza you never knew you needed. I found out about this one via Matthew Hayward’s brilliant #365daysofJDM hashtag, and the name drew me in. Have you ever heard of many better car names than Gravel Express? It was an Impreza estate with much higher ground clearance, a bull bar on the front and the spare wheel mounted on the tailgate. Oh, and lovely two-tone paint.
The Gravel Express could surely go anywhere you pointed it, given how good the standard Impreza is. Subaru greedily kept this car for its own market, but binned it off after just one generation because of poor sales. If they brought it back now, I’m sure it’d be a fantastic cut-price alternative to the Volvo V90 CC or Audi A6 Allroad.
CHRYSLER IMPERIAL FRANK SINATRA EDITION
You might’ve heard of this car, but it’s unlikely you’ll have ever seen one. Just 271 of these were made in a bid to increase sales. Because nothing improves sales more than a spurious celeb connection, right?
Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca was actually good pals with Sinatra, and wanted to honour his mate with a special edition. All ‘fs’ cars were painted in Glacier Blue – supposedly matching the colour of Sinatra’s eyes – and came with matching velour upholstery and 16 of his cassette tapes.
DODGE L’IL RED EXPRESS
It’s so disappointing when cars are given crap names. That’s why I’ve a soft spot for this Dodge L’il Red Express, because it has an utterly brilliant name. The L’il Red Express might’ve been styled like a fire truck, but it was Chrysler’s way of getting round all the strangling regulations that were being placed on muscle cars in the early 1970s.
The clampdowns were directed at cars, so this pickup could, ahem, dodge them. It could even accelerate quicker than a Ferrari 308 and Porsche 911, despite having room for all of your things or livestock. Perfect, then, for the person who needs to carry a lot but is always late. Special mention also goes to the Dodge-Shelby Omni GLH-S, not only for its manufacturer love-in but those initials. GLH-S apparently stood for ‘Goes Like Hell Some more’. Car names don’t get better than that.
FIAT 500 RON ARAD EDITION
Since going on sale 11 years ago, the Fiat 500 has had fifty zillion special editions and questionable graphic packs. Perhaps the weirdest version was the Ron Arad edition, which only served to show just how fat modern cars have become. The Israeli-born designer, who apparently has been a lifelong fan of the 500, created a version of the car with the outline of the original 500 drawn onto the bodywork.
If you sit in the rear seats, it probably feels like you’re in a bus looking through the advertising plastered onto the windows. The Ron Arad edition also came as standard with a glass sunroof, 16-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, a TFT instrument screen and climate control. Only 200 were produced for the UK, which is probably for the best, really.
MITSUBISHI PAJERO MINI SNOOPY EDITION
Special edition things made exclusively for women are almost never a good idea. Case in point – pink Yorkie bars. The Mitsubishi Pajero Mini Snoopy edition combined the ‘nimbleness’ and ‘easy-to-drive qualities’ of the car with a ‘chic and cute theme’, and I’ve taken those words directly from Mitsubishi’s press release from way back in March 2000.
Mitsubishi developed it partly to introduce a model that would be ‘affectionately received by women in their twenties and thirties’ and partly because of the Pajero’s ‘friendly and cute’ image. That’s not good for either the car or Snoopy. With this car, Mitsu basically castrated him.
I’m sure all these special editions seemed like a good idea at the time but, looking back now, many didn’t quite hit the mark. Perhaps that’s why some of these cars aren’t exactly well known. If you enjoyed this article, I’ll be writing the follow up next week. Are there any cars you think should be included? Light up the comments section below!