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The Rarest Cars Ever Produced by American Automakers

Photo by James / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

To cover the costs associated with designing and producing cars, automakers must typically produce and sell thousands of vehicles. Sometimes, however, circumstances conspire to create rare vehicles. Automakers may create a special edition as a marketing ploy, and some combinations of options never catch on with buyers. When production of these vehicles ends, they may become collector’s pieces. In this article, we’ll take a look at some rare vehicles that saw fewer than 20 units produced. Many of these cars are muscle cars; the prohibitively expensive premium engines that were offered for some of these vehicles scared off most buyers, causing manufacturers to limit production on these flashy models. Other cars were prototypes or concept cars that escaped destruction but never made it into mainstream production.

1971 Pontiac GTO Judge Convertible (17 units produced)

Photo by Bryce Womeldurf / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Bryce Womeldurf / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

With its aggressive performance and styling to match, the GTO was an instant hit with drivers of the early 1960s. However, by the 1971 model year, the changing car market would signal the end of the GTO line. The Judge option package, introduced in 1969, gave demanding GTO drivers an extra burst of power for a car that already oozed power. With a musclebound silhouette, generous hood scoops and a wide profile, the GTO cut a distinctive profile on the freeway. The Judge package took the styling up another notch, giving drivers rally wheels, psychedelic Judge decals and an airfoil to grab attention. Plush carpeting, simulated wood trim and rally-style instruments completed the interior package. In 1971, a brand-new GTO Judge convertible cost $4,071 from the dealer; today, you can expect to pay between $75,000 and $250,000 for one of these rare vehicles.

Engine: 7.4 liter V8 engine producing 335 horsepower
Powertrain: Three-speed manual transmission, four-speed manual transmission or three-speed automatic transmission.
Maximum Speed: 124 mph
0-60 mph time: 6.1 seconds

1954 Oldsmobile F-88 (4 units produced)

The 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 was a concept car designed by a group of four designers: Harley Earl, Bill Mitchell, Ken Pickering and Zora Duntov. This car was meant to showcase a dramatic shift from the usual Oldsmobile look and was inspired by the Corvette. It featured swooping, elegant curves, an open-mouthed grille, bullet-shaped taillights and enough style to wow the nation. Unfortunately for the F-88, it was also more powerful than the Corvette, and rumor has it that jealous Chevrolet executives lobbied to have the vehicle scrapped before it could reach production. Only four prototype units were produced, and despite positive feedback from the general public, the F-88 never found its way into dealerships. Today, only one of these cars still exists, and it was recently sold at auction for the cool price of $3.2 million.

Engine: Rocket V8 (concept), producing 250 horsepower
Powertrain: 4-speed automatic
Maximum Speed: Never formally tested
0-60 mph time: Never formally tested

1966 Dodge Coronet Hemi Four Door (4 units produced)

Pictured: 1966 Dodge Coronet 500. Photo by GPS 56 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Pictured: 1966 Dodge Coronet 500. Photo by GPS 56 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The Coronet first appeared on the national auto stage in the 1950s. With its simple, straight lines and flaring rear pillars, the Coronet connected with drivers thanks to its unmatched power, especially when paired with the optional 426 Hemi engine. Between 1964 and 1971, about 11,000 cars with the 426 Hemi option were manufactured, selling for a starting price of $2,766. Most of these cars were two-door vehicles, but a few shoppers asked if the factory could build them a four door version of the popular muscle car. Four of these bold shoppers were rewarded with these most rare Coronets. Two of the cars stayed in the United States; one is in a museum and the other recently sold for $660,000 at an auction.

Engine: 7.0 liter V8 Hemi engine producing 425 horsepower
Powertrain: 4-speed manual transmission, automatic transmission
Maximum Speed: 130 mph
0-60 mph time: 5.3 seconds

1954 Packard Panther (4 units produced)

Packard Panther Daytona showcar (1954). Photo by Tino Rossini / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Packard Panther Daytona showcar (1954). Photo by Tino Rossini / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The 1954 Packard Panther was produced as more of a proof of concept than as a serious commercial design; there were never any plans to mass produce it. Designed by Richard A. Teague, the car’s body was made from fiberglass, a major innovation due to the length of the car and the thickness required to give the body stability; in several parts of the Panther’s 17-foot long body, the fiberglass shell was more than an inch thick. The Panther was a two-seat car created with luxury in mind, but only a single model was ever turned in to a fully functional car. It recently sold at auction for around $700,000.

Engine: 5.9-liter V8 engine producing 275 horsepower
Powertrain: 2-speed automatic transmission
Maximum Speed: 131 mph
0-60 mph time: Never formally tested

1970 Ford Torino King Cobra (3 units produced)

Pictured: 1970 Ford Torino Cobra . Photo by Caprice 96 at English Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0 / GNU FDL 1.2
Pictured: 1970 Ford Torino Cobra . Photo by Caprice 96 at English Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0 / GNU FDL 1.2

The 1970 Ford Torino King Cobra was a prototype vehicle designed to compete with the Dodge Charger Daytona in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. It featured a sleek aerodynamic frame wrapped around a beefy 700 horsepower engine, and its new design gave it fantastic amounts of downforce to help it stick to the race track. Unfortunately for the King Cobra, rule changes at NASCAR made it ineligible for racing, and Ford soon abandoned the ambitious design. Inside, it featured all the creature comforts common to muscle cars of its era, including vinyl surfaces, chrome sliders and a three-spoke steering wheel. As it was designed for the NASCAR circuit, the King Cobra was fully outfitted with race-spec equipment, including a lowered suspension for better grip and power-assisted brakes. The King Cobra never made it to a dealership, but one of the test units was recently sold for $549,900.

Engine: 7.0-liter semi-hemi V8 engine producing 700 horsepower
Powertrain: 4-speed manual transmission
Maximum Speed: 155 mph
0-60 mph time: 5 seconds

1969 Chevrolet Corvette ZL-1 (3 units produced)

Pictured: 1981 Chevrolet C3 Corvette T Top. Photo by Sicnag / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Pictured: 1981 Chevrolet C3 Corvette T Top. Photo by Sicnag / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Anyone with even the slightest familiarity with muscle cars knows all about the Corvette, the quintessential powerful, sleek and expensive supercar that defines what it is to be a supercar. The ZL-1 package, which was only available for the 1969 model year, shared the exaggerated, elongated stylings of the famous Stingray design, but it replaced the already powerful L88 engine with an engine even more powerful. For those who could afford the price tag, this was the most powerful Corvette available, featuring the most powerful engine that Chevrolet ever offered in a production model. Its starting price of $10,048, however, made the ZL-1 a rare find. Most of the ZL-1 engines went into race cars, and only three were confirmed to have made their way into street cars before changing EPA rules spelled the death of the ZL-1. The last time one of these vehicles was sold was in 1991, when it changed hands for $300,000; experts estimate the current value of a Corvette ZL-1 at around $1.4 million.

Engine: 7.0 liter V8 engine producing 585 horsepower
Powertrain: 4-speed manual transmission
Maximum Speed: 193 mph
0-60 mph time: 4 seconds

1967 Dodge Coronet R/T Hemi Convertible (4 units produced)

Pictured: 1968 Dodge Coronet RT. Photo by Sicnag / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Pictured: 1968 Dodge Coronet RT. Photo by Sicnag / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Although the Coronet was one of Dodge’s most popular vehicles throughout the 1960s, only 10 Coronet R/T Hemi convertibles were ever produced; of these, only four were paired with the 4-speed manual transmission, making this one of the rarest production muscle cars in American history. The R/T, which stands for Road and Track, featured mature styling with straight lines and a sloping rear window. As a flagship vehicle, the Coronet R/T featured a number of cutting-edge options, including power windows and a combination tachometer/clock. The interior was handsomely appointed, with leather bucket seats, wood trim and more. It was originally sold for $4,892, but its current estimated value is $800,000.

Engine: 6.9 liter V8 Hemi engine producing 425 horsepower
Powertrain: 4-speed manual transmission
Maximum Speed: 144 mph
0-60 mph time: 5.3 seconds

Auto manufacturers don’t typically set out to produce collector’s pieces, but circumstance and design choice sometimes conspire to produce unique vehicles. What’s the rarest car you’ve ever heard of? Would you be willing to pay several hundred thousand dollars to own a unique piece of automotive history?