10 insane rides by boutique carmakers

Popular Mechanics
Singer 911
.

View gallery

Singer 911

Today's restomodders, replica builders, and tuners take an obsessive approach to performance. These vehicles are modified to a level of detail so far beyond their original roots that they are better described as brand-new production cars and trucks rather than upgraded versions of the original.

Click for slideshow

Hennessey Performance Venom GT
John Hennessey has been creating a steady stream of high-horsepower four-wheeled insanity since 1991. In 1993, when he turned his attention to Dodge Vipers, a legend was born. Over the last two decades, each generation of Hennessey Viper has produced some very serious numbers and taken down plenty of competitors at track tests. His latest, the Venom 1000 Twin Turbo, makes and astonishing 1120 hp and runs through the quarter-mile in 9.7 seconds.

But perhaps the company's most interesting vehicle is the Venom GT. Here is a widened, stretched, and modified Lotus wearing carbon-fiber bodywork. This featherweight no longer uses a Toyota four-cylinder engine; instead, the Venom draws its power from a twin-turbocharged 7.0-liter, 1244-hp Chevrolet LSX V-8. Woof. That pushes the car to a speed of 265.7 mph and makes it one of the fastest in the world, and one of the world's greatest thrill machines.

Click for slideshow

Icon Thriftmaster Pickup
Icon began as a top-level restoration house for Toyota Land Cruisers back in the late 1990s, and they continue to restore vehicles to original condition. But it is Icon's wildly reimagined Land Cruisers, Broncos, and Chevy pickups that take modified restoration to an obsessive level. Company founder Jonathan Ward upgrades every aspect of these vehicles. If suitably robust and beautiful upgrade parts don't exist, he builds them—expense be damned.

Thriftmaster trucks, based on 1947 to 1953 Chevrolet trucks, are marvelous performers thanks to a modern supercharged (and emissions-legal) GM crate engine, a capable Art Morrison road race-style chassis, and a detailed and luxurious interior. Even the doors of this truck are cool: Icon redesigned the door's latch mechanism as well as all the cranks and pulls, so now this door closes with a solid thunk and the windows power up and down using the original window crank as switches. We particularly like the bison-hide bench seat filled with Tempur-Pedic foam cushions. Ward even re-created the original Chevrolet font for the Icon badging on this vehicle.

Click for slideshow

Singer Vehicle Design Porsche 911
For 50 years Porsche's 911 has been an icon of performance. Though today's 911 is a sophisticated and evolved sports machine, plenty of purists prefer the 911s of the past. Singer Vehicle Design takes some of the best characteristics of these classic 911s and melds them with modern technology and impeccable craftsmanship to create what many have called the ultimate 911.

The chassis comes straight from the early 1990s 964-series 911, the last and most evolved of the air-cooled Porsches. The flat-six cylinder engines come in either a relatively tame 3.6-liter 270-hp version or a wild 360-hp 3.6-liter version, and both are paired to either a five- or six-speed manual.

Beyond the specs, it's Singer's details that are truly breathtaking. Though the body looks just like the classic 911, it's actually a new and subtly flared custom amalgam of different models built from carbon fiber (except for the doors), which saves about 500 pounds. Though the exterior lighting recalls the original small bumper 1964 to 1973 cars, the lamps themselves are modern Bi-Xenon units with polycarbonate lenses. The brightwork around the car isn't just reproduction chrome pieces but special nickel-plated pieces. And those wheels are cool, new 17-inch forged replicas that allow for larger tires.

Click for slideshow

Lingenfelter Performance Engineering Reaper
For more than 40 years GM specialist Lingenfelter has produced some truly potent machines, including stock Corvettes tuned to become monsters, such as a 1000-hp version of today's C7 Stingray. Their latest vehicle, the Reaper, was unveiled recently at the Chicago Auto Show. It's a collaborative effort between Lingenfelter and Southern Comfort Automotive to produce a high-performance off-road truck based on the Chevy Silverado, one aimed to rival Ford's Raptor.

Under the hood is one of two supercharged V-8s, the more potent of which is a 6.2-liter block that's been supercharged to deliver 550 hp. The Reaper's unique look is the result of a 3-inch taller Ride Tech suspension and aggressive new body panels that are flared to make room for 33-inch tires. Reapers can be ordered and delivered to select Chevy dealers and carry a three-year warranty. We're ready to take the Reaper out to some rough terrain to see how it stacks up against the Raptor.

Click for slideshow

Shelby American 50th Anniversary Shelby Cobra 289 FIA
The late Carroll Shelby's legendary Cobra is the granddaddy of small-batch tuner cars, though the term tuner seems a bit flip for such a storied and influential supercar. But at its roots, that's what the Cobra was. Shelby took a big Ford engine and had AC rework the chassis of their Ace sports car to accept it. To mark the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the 289 Cobra, Shelby American will be building just 50 limited-edition continuation Cobras with either a fiberglass body or a more expensive aluminum one.

Plenty of companies have built Cobra replicas over the years. But the most highly prized ones aren't replicas at all, but this kind of "continuation"—small batch production cars built by Shelby American. This anniversary tribute model is one of the coolest the company has ever created.

Click for slideshow

VL Automotive Destino
The Destino is the one car here you can't buy yet. And frankly, we're not sure when or if it will ever hit small-batch production. But the idea behind the car is just too cool. VL wants to repurpose the leftover chassis and bodies of the plug-in hybrid Fisker Karmas (the company's assets are planned for auction on Feb. 12) by installing a new powertrain. Former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz owns half of VL and plans to use his formidable connections to create a Corvette-powered sport sedan with the Fisker's concept car looks.

Should the Destino reach production once Fisker's bankruptcy proceedings are resolved, VL says it will offer the car with either the LT1 V-8 from the current C7 Stingray or a LS9 V-8 with more than 600 hp, made famous in the ZR1 Corvette. Katzkin, an interior-parts supplier would handle the custom leathers and finishes for the Destino. And to give the car a unique look upfront, there's a more traditional grill that replaces Fisker's original.

Our fingers are crossed for this one. A four-door with Corvette power never goes out of style.

Click for slideshow

Superformance Caterham Seven
Superformance is a small-batch builder of replica cars from South Africa whose designs represent the legendary American performance machines of the 1960s. They include Cobras (Superformance calls them Mark IIIs), Daytona Cobra coupes, and GT40s. Superformance cars are accurate and well-built. Their inventory has always been heavy on brawny American V-8 sports cars.

Now, for the first time, Superformance will be the official U.S. distributor for the Caterham Seven. It's based on the Lotus Seven, the definition of a lightweight and rewarding open-air sports car. When production ended, Caterham bought the rights to build these cars from Lotus, and the Seven has been in production more or less uninterrupted since 1957.

Caterham Sevens destined for our shores are available in five models of increasing capability and speed. And like the Superformance cars, the Caterhams will be sold as a rolling chassis with third-part installation of the powertrain. Caterham says a top-level CSR with a 260-hp 2.3-liter four-cylinder Ford engine will hit 60 mph in 3.1 seconds. We can't wait to see these Caterhams on our streets.

Click for slideshow

Legacy Classic Trucks Power Wagon
Save for the Willys MB, no other American 4WD vehicle has a more decorated military history than the WC series Dodge trucks—Power Wagons. Legacy Classic Trucks of Jackson Hole, Wyo., has become one of the premiere restorers and restomodders of these icons. The company offers its Legacy Power Wagons upfitted with heavy-duty hardware, because Legacy intends its customers to use them as real trucks.

Under that domed hood, a buyer can opt for either a modern 425-hp Chrysler Legacy Magnum V-8 or a 3.9-liter Cummins diesel, both backed by a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. Why not the 6.7-liter Cummins from today's Dodge trucks? It just won't fit. In either case, the power gets routed to a tough Atlas transfer case and down to Dana 60 front and Dana 80 rear axles with locking differentials. That's extreme-duty truck stuff. So is the standard 16,500-pound-capacity winch and optional 42-inch tires. We'd have at least one of these in our dream garage.

Click for slideshow

American Expedition Vehicles Brute Double Cab
Jeep hasn't had a pickup truck in its lineup since the Comanche ended production in 1992. But in 2004 Jeep revived the idea with the Gladiator, a name it borrowed from its mid-1960s full-size pickups and applied to a modern concept pickup built on the bones of the modern Wrangler.

Well, it's 10 years later and we still don't have a Jeep pickup. But American Expedition Vehicle (AEV) builds the Brute Double Cab to fill the void. AEV has been building and modifying Jeep Wranglers for 15 years. The Brute Double Cab is based on a 14-inch stretched version of the current Wrangler Unlimited chassis and fitted with a 5-foot composite bed. The DC350 model wears a 3.5-inch suspension lift, 35-inch-tall tires, and a Warn winch for off-road excursions. If you have an older Jeep Wrangler and want the utility of a pickup box, AEV has a Brute conversion for the 1997 to 2006 TJ Wranglers too.

Click for slideshow

Brabus B63S-700 6X6
We've left the wildest small-batch vehicle for last. Legendary German tuner Brabus has taken the insane 500-plus-horsepower, 6-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6X6—already perhaps the most wonderfully looney small-batch production vehicle on the planet—and gone a little further. Are they nuts? Of course. Thanks to new turbos supplying more boost pressure, the 5.5-liter engine pumps out 700 hp. That's enough to move this 9000-pound beast to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds.

There's lots more fun stuff here too, such as the exhaust valve button on the steering wheel for Loud or Quiet. There's plenty of carbon-fiber bodywork to dress this beast up too. Inside, the interior gets retrimmed in Alcantara and (in this case) fire-red leather.

Don't expect to see one of these small-batch machines in the wild—unless you happen to visit Dubai on vacation.

[Related: 50 Cars And Ideas That Will Change The Way You Drive Forever]

Related video: Hennessey Venom GT broke the Guinness World Record for the world's fastest accelerating car
View Comments