The streets of America, as it turns out, are an equal opportunity playground. Show up with the right look and hardware that says you mean business and very cool things are possible.
Sixty years ago, it’s doubtful that General Motors could’ve anticipated the long running popularity of it’s 55-57 Chevy or Ford Motor Company its 65-70 Mustang. But the public embraced these mass-produced fountains of youth, and an aftermarket parts industry grew up around them. The same thing happened with the Honda Civics and Accords in the 80s and 90s: simple fun to drive, volume manufactured econo-boxes that with a few bolt on enhancements started the sport compact car movement.
Other car companies kept an eye on the youth market and attempted to tap into that magic. We’re talking about factory tuner cars, offering an integrated package of engine, chassis, and body bits with a warranty , all at a friendly, welcome to the brand price. The were built in relatively small numbers, a couple thousand here and there. Ford’s Special Vehicle Team built the SVT Mustang, SVT Lightning, and SVT Focus. Chrysler’s Performance Vehicle Operations brought the Dodge Viper SRT-10, the Neon based SRT-4. Mazdaspeed was the new clearing house for such fast and furious Mazda’s as the MazdaSpeed Protege and MazdaSpeed6.
Don’t for one minute confuse these offerings with the paint, tape-stripe, and body cladding specials some automakers foisted upon an unsuspecting public, often with few or no enhancements to engine or suspension. These sport compacts were the real deal.