A robust auto industry is about as difficult to achieve as nuclear fission. It takes a pretty large economy to support one (even countries like the UK now lack an indigenous auto industry), so the number of smaller economies that have over the years taken a stab at building cars is indeed surprising. Even the most hardcore gearheads would be hard pressed to name a car from Turkey, for example. Here are five of our favorite obscure cars from unlikely places:
- 1966-82 IKA Torino (Argentina): IKA was the Argentine remnant of WWII ship builder Henry J. Kaiser’s automotive empire. In conjunction with American Motors, Kaiser set out to build a car uniquely suited to the Argentine automotive market. Although based on the humble but rugged Rambler Classic, the Argentines enlisted Italian design firm Pininfarina to spruce up the interior and exterior of the car that became the Torino. The result looked quite Italian, and with firmer suspension and an available floor-shifted manual transmission, it was quite sporty. They’re not common in the U.S., but they can make a cheap, distinctive and easy-to-live-with collectible, if you can pry one out of Argentina, where they have a cult following. Around $15,000 buys a good one.
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- 1962-64 Sabra Sport (Israel): During the brief lull between the 1959 and 1967 wars, Israelis embraced the idea of a locally produced sports car. Designed and built with the help of tiny Reliant Cars of the UK, the Sabra was a not-bad-looking fiberglass sports car that came in roadster and coupe form. Performance from small displacement Ford four-cylinder engines was modest and eventual production didn’t amount to much more than 100 cars, but the Haifa-built Sabra retains the distinction of being the only Israeli sports car.
- 1962-64 GSM Flamingo (South Africa): South Africa has never had the auto industry that fellow Commonwealth country Australia does. But it’s full of gearheads who naturally looked to England’s sports car cottage industry for inspiration. Glassport Motors was formed in Cape Town to build an indigenous South African sports car. The Flamingo coupe was quite pretty, looking not unlike an Alfa Romeo of the day. Power was again by a small displacement English Ford four-cylinder. Proud South African Gordon Murray (designer of the legendary McLaren F1) owns a GSM Flamingo.
- 1973-75 Anadol STC-16 (Turkey): The STC-16 was the first Turkish-designed sports car and it was surprisingly nice-looking and competent. Like several of the other cars on the list, it was powered by a 1600cc Ford four-cylinder engine, and it was made of fiberglass. Its high price and limited market in Turkey meant that only 176 were built over the two-year run. Very few ever left Turkey, where they’re quite prized and the survivorship rate is quite high.
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- 1969 Monteverdi 375 (Switzerland): The 375 was a big and elegant grand tourer powered by a 383 or a 440 Chrysler V-8. Beautifully built and with elegant Italian styling, it was a real rival to Aston Martin. The fuel crisis put an end to the GT car effort. Monteverdis remain exceedingly rare but some have migrated to the U.S. Outspoken car guy Bob Lutz is reputed to be a fan and Monteverdi owner.