The Coolest And Probably The Best 90s Cars
In my close to 15 years of driving experience, I've changed plenty of cars. From a '88 Volvo 740 2.0L turbocharged beast that was so un-aerodynamic, you felt like you were driving a hearse, but oh Lordy me, once the turbo hit, you felt like the king of the road. To a '05 Subaru Legacy (actually, six deadbeat Subarus throughout the 15 years - from Imprezas to Foresters) - an irrational love of mine - most of them were made in the glorious '90s. Now, I might be prone to some irrational nostalgia considering cars from the period, but to me, nothing beats an old stripped-to-basics vehicle that's as predictable as your 10th re-run of The Office.
And boy, did my cars and I go on some adventures! From abandoning my refrigerator-white Volvo v90 stuck to its arches in a bog and wading to the nearest homestead some 5 kilometers through uninhabited fields on an Easter evening to fixing my bugeye Impreza of its ailments by slamming the hood down as hard as I could (it always helped - except for a manifestation of a rusted-out hole in its floor), the '90s cars will always mean adventure to me. Although, in all honesty, I'm so old-school when it comes to cars that the first time I saw an SOS button inside a Volkswagen, I burst into a laughing fit - why would anybody want their vehicle to call for help? You either do it all yourself (yep, including the driving part), or woe is you.
By now, you might be pretty confident of your narrator's stance toward '90s cars, but if my words aren't witness enough, I've prepared a whole list of the best '90s cars for you! From the Audi 100 (lovingly called a herring where I'm from) to such beauties as the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo and a Ford Sierra Rs500 sporting the rare as hen's teeth Cosworth engine, you'll find all of the winter-beaters, whale-sized town cars, rally beasts, and every notable vehicle that came from the '90s. And to make it even better, I talked to the creators and organizers of the Rat Race rally - the whole premise of which is to complete a 1000km race with a car that costs as little as possible (say 500 EUR), so '90s cars are the top choice for most of the contestants. And you don't even have to be a professional to compete! So scroll down below to see what the Rat Race crew has told me about the race, '90s cars, and their adventures!
1990 Acura Legend Coupe
Audi 100 Sedan
1990 Audi 100 Sedan Quattro
The thing I wanted to know is how Rat Race came to be in the first place. It turns out that the premise is an ingeniously simple one: "We've always loved to travel, loved cars, and thrived on adventures. We bought an old Audi 100 "herring" a couple of years ago and went on a trip exploring Lithuania - mainly using uncharted forest roads. Our whole family, including the dog, had so much fun on this adventure that we charted our route then and there and organized the first Rat Race just a couple months after."
"Rat Race is a thoroughly unique event, mainly because the contestants use cheap old vehicles to complete the race," added the founders. "The contestants can examine their vehicle of choice by driving in plenty of different offroad situations - from meadows to forests, and from hills to fields; there aren't many tarmac roads in our routes!". Instead of tarmac and comfort, Rat Race promises "impressive offroad tracks and plenty of adventures." And by checking the photos on their official website - adventure is definitely just around the corner in the Rat Race.
1990 Audi 200 Sedan
1990 Audi 200 Station Wagon Quattro
1990 Audi 80 Coupe
And though it might seem like a fight-for-survival kind of event, the Rat Race founders assure us that "we set up each rig with a GPS tracker monitoring their adherence to official speed limits and tracking their location if they ever need some assistance." So see, it's all about fun and a healthy dose of adrenaline!
Naturally, I wanted to know more about the routes and the tracks that the contestants have to maneuver through, and the Rat Race founders have kindly told me more about it. "The routes are never the same and are different for each race. We either do downloadable maps or set up a roadbook for our contestants to follow. So no Rat Race is ever the same!" For those worried about safety while participating in Rat Race, there are some crucial rules to guarantee that. "Since the contestants use public roads during the race, they have to stick to road traffic regulations and keep right at the speed limit. If a crew is driving faster than that - they get faults, so driving faster doesn't necessarily secure you a better place." Sounds like probably the only genuinely safe car race ever - kudos for that!
Audi 90 Coupe
Audi 80 Sedan
Audi 90 Sedan
In the words of the Rat Race crew, the event isn't about speed; it's solely about finishing the race and testing your driving skills on varied terrains. And it isn't such an easy task when you're driving an old, beaten-down vehicle! Also, there's a fun prize for completing the race - "we buy the winning crew's car at the end of the event for a fixed sum - 1000 euro (around 861 US dollars)." So, the cheaper you purchase it, the more you win.
Audi Coupe Quattro
1990 Audi V8
Buick Century Coupe
Since we're talking about cars, I wanted to know which makes are the top winners and losers. It turns out that "the most popular make among our contestants is definitely Audi, and the least loved - BMW. There has probably been just 2 or 3 BMW's throughout the Rat Race history; maybe it's because they're meant for tarmac and not our offroad tracks." One of the top contestants of the race is an unexpected one - "an old, re-built, raised VW Golf almost came out as the absolute winner of this year's races!" Unsurprisingly though, old Subarus tend to always do pretty well, even without any special preparations. "There's also one team with an ancient Mercedes-Benz vehicle. It's so huge and heavy that it sails like a freight ship through all the mud, bogs, and slough. But, of course, the Mercedes isn't as pretty after the race as it is starting it!"
Buick Century Sedan
Buick Century Station Wagon
Buick Electra Coupé
As you might remember, your narrator has a soft spot for old ‘90s cars, so I wanted to know if it's just some irrational nostalgia or if they genuinely built cars better back then. "I would agree that cars used to be built to be longer-lasting and more durable than the new ones. The carmakers adhered to different philosophies back then - they wanted their cars to last for 20 years or so. So they used better materials, never compromising on the quality of the parts." And you can still find such specimens serving their owners in African or Far East countries, even after their odometers flipped back to zero again. "These days, cars aren't built to last - it's all because of the consumerist culture. And if the builders of a car can save on something, they will." Of course, today's cars have much less negative impact on our environment, but to assure that kind of efficiency, "you have to add in plenty of devices, and everything that works tends to break down sooner or later. Old cars are pretty basic with fewer parts to crash, and that makes them more reliable."
Buick Electra Sedan
Buick Lesabre Coupe
When asked about their own favorite ‘90s car, the Rat Race crew lovingly remember their Audi 100 - "we never had any problems driving it offroad, it looked amazing, and the repairs were indecently cheap." They also noted that if a car built in the ‘90s lives to see our days, it's not without reason. "We really think that the Audis were amazingly durable - close to zero electronics, sturdy chassis, and basic parts made. You could repair such a car with the info given on the owner's manual; that wouldn't be possible with new cars, though!" the Rat Race crew also added that "new cars just don't have any soul." And I agree with that wholeheartedly!
1990 Buick Lesabre Sedan
Buick Reatta Convertible
1990 Buick Reatta Coupe
And lastly, I asked the Rat Race crew about their plans for the future. It turns out they have an exciting trip planned - “We're about to embark on a 5-month-long trip with an ancient VW T4 Caravelle, visiting the Balkans and the Middle East, hopefully celebrating New Year's Eve in Dubai." Not only is it a fascinating adventure, but also a 'work trip' as the Rat Race founders are planning to simultaneously chart new tracks for Rat Race followers spanning Ukraine and the Balkans. We wish them the very best of luck!
So there you have it - ‘90s cars were truly better! Again, I say a huge thank you to the Rat Race crew for talking to us - be sure to check their official and Facebook pages, as well as their Instagram profile for more info, amazing action shots, and entertaining video material straight from the race. And as for you, dear reader - scroll down below to see more of our picks of notable vehicles of the era and vote for the ones you like the most.