Fraternal twins are an open secret in the automotive world. This is especially true in the modern age, where platform sharing is needed to help defray the huge costs of bringing a new vehicle to market. Want a certain luxury SUV, but not sure you can afford it? Well, a more affordable brand may offer a vehicle with the same bones.
Despite the ubiquity of this practice, platform sharing can come as a surprise to anyone looking for a good performing bargain that has seen its value plummet simply because it has the wrong badge.
It’s a story of vehicular superheroes and their secret identities. Here are our picks for suit cars that give you more bang for your buck than vehicles already considered modern classics, or allow you access to more rarefied air than the rest of the pack craves.
The superhero: Nissan 350Z Coupe 2003-2008
When the Nissan 350Z first arrived for the 2003 model year, it represented a return to form for an automaker that had been out of the pure sports car game in North America for half a decade. The two-seat 350Z was a stark contrast to the 300ZX that preceded it, eschewing the big turbo power and bulky grand touring dimensions for a return to the (relatively) lightweight chassis and naturally aspirated six-cylinder engine that had initially defined the model.
Power output started at 287 horsepower in early models, with a revised “Rev-Up” engine introduced for the 2005 35th Anniversary Edition cars (and fitted by all 2006 and later models) pushing that figure to 306 hp for some trim levels. These numbers apply to six-speed manual cars, as the automatics are stuck with the least aggressive engine setting.
The Secret Identity: 2003-2007 Infiniti G35 Coupe
Nissan’s luxury division has its own version of the 350Z, the G35 Coupe. Rolling on the same FM platform and benefiting from a very similar drivetrain, the G35 coupe added a rear seat to the equation with a bit less aggressive styling that has aged well in the years since. With 280 horsepower on tap for 2003 and 2004, and up to 306 ponies available thereafter (again, for six-speed manual cars), the G35 was a solid straight-line performer, and with only a few hundred pounds of extra mass over the Z, it also held its own in the corners.
Why do you want it
The Nissan 350Z sees its values rise, with first-year cars fetching just under $32,000 for museum-quality examples and special-edition NISMO models hitting the $55,000 mark. Even cars in “excellent” condition are now trading above $20,000 as the drifting scene continues to chew up the most affordable survivors left in the used-car market.
The G35 has seen far less impact from would-be vagabonds, and as such it’s still very affordable. Prices for manual-equipped editions hover around $10,000, and if you pay a few thousand more, you might end up driving home the finest Infiniti of that particular model year. The car also shares spare parts availability with the 350Z, meaning you can take full advantage of the range of high-performance equipment offered for the Nissan. While it may lack the Z car heritage, from a driving perspective the G35 Coupe is an almost identical twin with a much nicer interior, all at a great value.
The Superhero: 2008-2010 Dodge Challenger SRT8
When Dodge revived the Challenger muscle car, it kicked things off with the SRT8 model. Featuring a 425-hp 6.1-liter V8, and suspension and brakes that did their best to cope with the coupe’s admittedly bulky curb weight, it was a smash through the door. front of the Ford Mustang GT, which couldn’t match its release. A five-speed automatic gearbox was standard with the car, which blasted its way to 60mph from a standing start in just 4.7 seconds, en route to a top speed of just over 170 mph.
The Secret Identity: 2006-2008 Dodge Magnum SRT8
Sitting on the other side of the showroom was a much weirder implementation of the same big V8 formula, and one that had actually appeared a few years before the Challenger was unveiled. The Dodge Magnum SRT8 featured the same 6.1-liter V8 in a wagon body style, making it the fastest family longtop to ever leave Detroit (later eclipsed by the Cadillac CTS-V wagon) . Only a tick or two slower due to the weight of its extra steel and glass, the Magnum SRT8 was a fierce street machine that had few direct competitors in its day.
Why do you want it
This time it’s not a price difference that makes the Magnum SRT8 more desirable than the Challenger SRT8, as the former is actually neck and neck with the latter when comparing well-maintained examples, which are found usually between $35,000 and $40,000. range.
why is this the case? Simply put, the Magnum SRT8 is the rarest of Dodge’s high-performance special models, having sold 4,182 examples over its lifetime. That’s a third less than the Challenger SRT8’s first model year alone. High-horsepower wagons are among the most intriguing slices of automotive Americana, and the Magnum SRT8 turns heads to this day with its combination of scarcity and tire-shredding capability.
The Superhero: 1987-1993 Ford Mustang LX/GT
The Ford Mustang received a facelift in 1987 that went well with its fuel-injected 5.0-liter V8 that appeared the year before. It was the dawn of the famous 5.0 Fox bodies that dominated the world of cheap muscle until the early 90s thanks to their combination of a simple push rod engine, a solid rear axle and a construction lightweight (which was aided and abetted by the LX coupes that appeared alongside the GT sedans in 1987). With output hovering around 225 horsepower and 280 lb-ft, the second half of the Fox Mustang coachbuilder’s nearly 15-year reign was the most memorable.
The Secret Identity: 1987-1992 Lincoln Mark VII LSC
The Lincoln Mark VII represented a somewhat larger and significantly more comfortable version of the Mustang’s Fox platform. The 1987 Mark VII LSC version followed the GT/LX cars into the future by hooking up the same “high-output” 5.0 V8. Although the Mark VII was limited to a four-speed automatic transmission (compared to the five-speed manual available with the Mustang), it was a strong rival to much more expensive import coupes like the BMW 6 Series and the Mercedes-Benz SLC-Class, each featured similar levels of power and handling (although supported by sleeker cabins).
Why do you want it
Let’s put that aside: everyone has a Mustang. One of the most popular classic muscle cars in the world, it’s really hard to stand out driving a Fox body unless you’re absolutely crazy about customization or retrofitting.
The Lincoln, however, works largely in the dark (and at an affordable price), making it the perfect platform for anyone looking for ’80s V8 power in a comfortable rear-drive package. Since it shares the Fox platform, the Mark VII has access to much of the Mustang aftermarket, and certainly all of its available engine mods. This big coupe lets you dare to be different without having to worry about hunting for rare parts (or paying the price for rare parts).
The superhero: Mercedes-Benz SLK 32 AMG 2002-2004
The first-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class reached its peak with the SLK 32 AMG, a high-performance version of the small-sized roadster that was intended to compete with the BMW Z3 M as well as the Porsche Boxster S. Balancing speed and luxury, the SLK 32 AMG featured a supercharged 3.2-liter V6 that was good for a surprising 349 horsepower, making it the most muscular offering in its peer group. The roadster was electronically limited to 155 miles per hour and came exclusively with a five-speed automatic transmission.
The Secret Identity: Chrysler Crossfire SRT-6 2005-2006
Things got weird for Chrysler in the mid-2000s when cross-pollination between the automaker and its parent company Daimler began to bear unusual fruit. A perfect example was the Chrysler Crossfire SRT-6, the Hulked-up edition of the standard Crossfire coupe/convertible pair that was for all intents and purposes an SLK 32 AMG in disguise. Snagging the platform and drivetrain of its transoceanic cousin, the SRT-6 delivered a somewhat more modest 330 horsepower, swapping its AMG valve covers for SRT-branded gear.
Why do you want it
The SLK 32 AMG might have the snobby appeal of having a Silver Star on its hood, but remarkably, the price delta between the Mercedes-Benz and the Chrysler has remained remarkably tight. It’s possible to pick up a well-presented example of either car for between $16,000 and $24,000.
With only around 4,000 versions of each built in total, there are two main reasons to choose the SRT-6 over the AMG. Chrysler’s pocket rocket was available in coupe form, which is a bonus for the large quotient of customers who don’t want to deal with the hassle of the convertible-only SLK 32.
Then there’s the fact that of all the cultural sharing that’s happened between Detroit and Stuttgart, the Crossfire is by far the least disguised result, a vehicle that owes almost its entire existence to the Mercedes-Benz R170 platform. Benz he relies on. for everything except its interior and sheet metal. Chrysler never came close to building anything like the Crossfire, which is likely due in large part to the fact that they, uh, never built it in the first place – all of its assembly was under- treated to the German Karmann.
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