We’re all used to the big names like Corvette, Mustang, Viper — even more exclusive monikers like Diablo or Aventador. For any car buff, these are words that immediately conjure up visions of speed, attitude, and incredible feats of engineering. But underneath the first layer of topsoil that is the automotive market, there are small, independent, and more open-minded companies hard at work creating vehicles that don’t often get the attention they deserve, but certainly warrant it.
The rise of microfactories, the Internet, and the dispersing of automotive design and engineering talent has led to a flux of new opportunities for budding entrepreneurs and off-hours craftsmen to get their shot at creating cars of their own. Not only has this opened up the market for all kinds of new creators, but for often far-flung niches of demand to be fulfilled, as well. Want a small SUV with as much horsepower as a Shelby Mustang? Someone can build that for you. How about an all-electric muscle car that has enough power to rip a house right off of its foundation? If you have enough money to spend, it can be a reality.
That said, there are already a number of companies creating cars, trucks, and SUVs that — while not getting the widespread attention they deserve — are being critically acclaimed in their own right. You may have seen some of these vehicles already but they are still flying under the radar, more or less. We’ve assembled a list of six models from small-time automakers that we here at Autos Cheat Sheet feel outshine many others on the market. Read on to check them out.
1. Local Motors Rally Fighter
We’re big fans of Local Motors, and if you’ve been paying attention, you may have seen some of the company’s products showing up in big Hollywood productions and on the news. Local Motors’ flagship vehicle is the Rally Fighter, an off-roading monster that drives like an SUV but incorporates a body style similar to a muscle car. Under the hood, the Rally Fighter sports a 6.2-liter V8 engine, producing 430 horsepower and 424 pound-feet of torque. You can also order yours in a custom skin wrap for the ultimate in custom aesthetics.
2. Fornasari 99
Fornasari is a small-time auto company from Italy that was started in 1999 by Giuseppe Fornasari. Though the company builds a number of gorgeous luxury vehicles, the major standout has to be the 99, which blends the capabilities of an SUV with the performance of a sports car. The 99 comes in a variety of different customization options, topping out with a 750 horsepower 6.2-liter V8 engine. It’s fast, too: The 99 can race from zero to 60 miles per hour in just 3.8 seconds, and although it’s not very well known, it sure is a hell of a vehicle.
3. Equus Bass 770
If there’s one car out there that is the definition of “bad-ass,” it has to be the Equus Bass 770. This muscle car is built by hand in the United States and takes its inspiration from some obvious sources in muscle and pony cars from decades ago. The Bass 770 incorporates other elements of a classic muscle car, as well, including a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 engine and an aluminum-and-carbon-fiber chassis for expert handling and improved performance. As for the numbers, this car can reach a top speed of 200 miles per hour, go from zero to 60 in 3.4 seconds, and produce an insane amount of power: 605 pound-feet of torque and 640 ponies.
4. Renovo Coupe
You wanted an all-electric supercar? You’ve got it. And it comes with classic muscle car styling, similar to the Equus Bass 770, as it’s shelled in a Shelby Daytona skin. The Coupe, built by American company Renovo, is even more powerful, though. The Coupe has an all-electric powertrain that supplies it with 1,000 — that’s right, 1,000 — pound-feet of torque and 500 horsepower. That means a zero to 60 time of 3.4 seconds and a top speed of over 120 miles per hour. The greatest part? You can recharge the car’s battery back to 100% in only half an hour. If there’s one car on this list destined for greatness, it has to be this one.
5. Caterham Motors Seven 620R
If you’re really reaching to recapture some nostalgia, Caterham Motors has the car for you: the Seven 620R. The 620R is the range-topping model in the Caterham lineup, and as you can see, it incorporates design elements from cars not seen since the early days in automotive history. This truly is an automotive purist’s dream. The Seven 620R is incredibly fast — top speed is 155 miles per hour, with zero to 60 in 2.79 seconds — and with the top-down aesthetic, it’s hard to imagine a more authentic driving experience.
6. Eterniti Artemis
Eterniti Motors didn’t last long. The company formulated in 2010 and unveiled its first — and only — vehicle in 2011. That vehicle, the Artemis, wasn’t cheap, either. It sported a price tag of more than $330,000, playing toward luxury car owners who also want considerable performance out of their motor carriages. As for the vehicle’s specifications, it certainly performed like a six-figure SUV. A 4.8-liter twin-turbo V8 engine supplies drivers with 600 horsepower and 750 pound-feet of torque, allowing for top speeds of up to 180 miles per hour. Needless to say, the Artemis is a monster. But with such a high price tag and so much competition in the high-end market, it’s not surprising Eterniti didn’t last very long.