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Lexus LF-LC. (Toyota)
Lexus LF-LC. (Toyota)

Stargazing

Four future classics from the golden age of the hybrid Add to ...

The 2014 Canadian International AutoShow is filled with desirable vehicles of all descriptions. The exotic car display alone boasts about $10-million worth of automotive excellence.

One that stands out is the 1970 Plymouth Superbird, on display in Muscle Car Alley, the car raced by “King” Richard Petty for a lone NASCAR season. This audacious vehicle, festooned in STP colours, bearing the famous number 43 and sporting a rear wing more suited to a hovercraft, is notable for a few reasons.

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Powered by a 426 Hemi V8 (7.0 litres) developed specifically for the track, the car was a highly modified version of the Plymouth Road Runner. While the mechanical underpinnings of the Superbird were not that special, the use of aerodynamic body parts definitely was.

The Superbird was an “aero car,” stock cars designed using a wind tunnel to produce greater downforce and to enable higher speeds around the high-banked ovals of Daytona and elsewhere.

The car was an unqualified success on the track, producing speeds in excess of 320 km/h and powering Petty to eight victories that season. In fact, the Superbird was too successful. At the end of the 1970 season, NASCAR rules-makers decided that speeds needed to be controlled, so engine sizes were reduced and aero cars were forced to run with added weight. The Superbird was no more – a car of its time that was shackled for being ahead of its time.

In Chrysler dealerships around North America, the road-going version of the Superbird was also hit-and-miss. Its radical look failed to meet with universal appeal and some models had to be converted back to Road Runner specification in order to be sold. But the rare versions of the car, those fitted with the 426 Hemi, are now garnering up to $500,000 at auction.

The Superbird is a unique piece of automotive history. So which cars at this year’s CIAS could have a similar legacy – which could return to the show in, say, 44 years to create a profound impact? Here are four nominees, all high-powered hybrids with striking exterior design.

 

BMW i8: The BMW has been shown at venues for years, but this year’s CIAS represented the first time the production version appeared in Canada – the car is, arguably, the most futuristic looking of the four. The i8, which employs a turbocharged three-cylinder gas engine linked to a 98-kW electric motor, promises to be both fast and wildly fuel-efficient. An all-electric range of 35 km is predicted, as is a fuel consumption rating of 2.5 litres/100 km. Stunning.

Cadillac ELR.
 

Cadillac ELR: The Cadillac utilizes the same plug-in hybrid technology as the Chevrolet Volt, but it’s significantly more expensive. In fact, there hasn’t been a single piece written about the ELR that hasn’t mentioned its eye-opening starting price of $75,000. This is a beautiful car, but it may struggle to find widespread acceptance.

Lexus LF-LC concept
 

Lexus LF-LC: From a design perspective, the LF-LC is up there with the i8 – it looks futuristic and its name – an acronym for “Lexus Future-Luxury Coupe” – confirms that thought. The massive spindle grille of the LF-LC, which is overwhelming a number of cars in the Lexus line-up, suits this hybrid sport coupe perfectly.

 

McLaren P1: In terms of outright performance, the McLaren P1 sets the pace for this quartet of high-energy hybrids. The car is powered by a 3.8-litre, twin-turbo V-8 gas engine linked to a 131-kW electric motor; output is an astonishing 903 horsepower. The P1 has reportedly already broken the track record for production cars at the notorious Nürburgring Nordschleife, a feat that adds to the car’s bid for status as a future legend.

This really is the golden age of the hybrid. Spurred on by strong engineering and ease of use, the hybrid has become an accepted part of the motoring landscape. The hybrid has also been described as a temporary solution until more advanced ideas are developed.

This is why the hybrid is the perfect vehicle to represent these times – and why any one of these four exciting cars would be well-suited to a return engagement in the year 2058.

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