11 Strange, Wonderful, And Terrible Automotive Special Editions

“Special edition” means a lot of things to a lot of people in the car world. From the Hurst/Olds in the late 1960s to the Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca, special editions can represent the best of the best in performance. However, automotive history—particularly since the beginning of the Malaise Era roughly around 1973—has been full of less-sterling special editions and options packages that tie things together in particularly strange ways. Some are more desirable than others and some may barely exist at all anymore, but here is an abbreviated adventure through 45 years (or so) of automotive special editions.

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1974 AMC Gremlin & Hornet Levi’s

American Motors might have started the designer-edition American cars of the 1970s with the Pierre Cardin AMC Javelin, but few special editions remain as memorable as the Levi’s Editions Hornets and Gremlins. Not all of these cars came with blue paint, but the interiors feature blue fabric—not at all denim but merely a look-alike—with jeans-style stitching and a Levi’s tab on the seats. Levi’s Hornets are pretty rare, but the Gremlins can still be found occasionally. Other than the jeans-style interior, little else was special about these cars.

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1975 Pontiac Astre Lil Wide Track

Few people even remember the Astre, Pontiac’s version of the four-cylinder-only Chevy Vega, let alone recall that it had a special edition version that celebrated Pontiac’s long-running “wide track” marketing campaign. Like most Malaise Era special editions, the Lil Wide Track offered no real performance boost but was mostly a stripes-and-looks package. For a mere $400, the Astre buyer could get a front air dam and a decklid spoiler, plus mag wheels, window louvers, and a chrome exhaust tip. It looked semi-aggressive, but with only the 2.3-liter Vega engine available, there was no performance to match the appearance that Pontiac dared buyers to “love a little.”

1976 Dodge Dart Spirit of ‘76

The “Spirit of ‘76” Dart was an unfortunate double-entendre of its time. While the name commemorated America’s bicentennial, the car itself exemplified American automakers’ dire straits. Backed into a corner by the oil crisis, Chrysler lightened the Dart, now the “Dart Lite,” not to make it faster but instead to improve fuel efficiency and it worked. The extreme lightening coupled with a super-tall 0.73:1 overdrive and 2.94:1 rear axle enabled the six-cylinder Dart Lite to return 36 mpg on the highway while wearing the cool eagle stripes of the Spirit of ‘76 package. With 150 pounds saved from the Dart Sport, you can also bet your behind that people took the Dart Lite racing and, in fact, Roadkill editor Elana Scherr has a former Spirit of ‘76 racer in her inventory (above).

Late 1970s Designer-Edition Lincolns

Lincoln remained one of the last holdouts in the American “Size Matters” luxury battles with some truly titanic late 1970s cars and to capitalize on their peak luxury, the company offered a number of designer editions from fashion designers Givenchy, Pucci, Cartier, and Bill Blass. Like Cadillac, Lincolns tended to come with only the highest engine option, Ford’s Big Block 460 through 1977, and these engines were choked to under 200 horsepower by the time they left production altogether in 1979. With performance chucked out the window, selling personal comfort and style became the go-to for Ford’s prestige brand. Nevermind that late ‘70s style was freaking hideous; you can still find the occasional Givenchy Lincoln for sale to whet your appetite for plush interiors and grandiose proportions.

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1977 Dodge Charger Daytona

Dodge retired the Charger name (for three decades anyway) in 1977 with a bloated and underpowered revision of the B-Body platform. Before they did, however, they offered one final Charger Daytona that was, unfortunately, an appearance package. You could still option a 400 cubic-inch Big Block Mopar V8 in the Charger Daytona, but that was far from a performance option with the extensive emissions controls choking engine output. The slab-sided two-tone color, T-Bar roof, and horizontal grille (which predicted the following year’s name change to “Magnum”) were a far cry from the tall-winged Charger Daytonas built for NASCAR homologation in the late 1960s. 

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1978 Jeep CJ7 Golden Eagle

In the Jeep world, the Golden Eagle is still something sought after by CJ7 enthusiasts. The appearance package gave the unmistakable giant eagle on the Jeep hood along with matching decals, big ol’ tires, and a soft top. You could order it on any mechanical combination and after its initial 1977 offering in disco-era brown, you could order a Golden Eagle in a variety of colors. Since AMC owned Jeep at the time, the top option was an 304 cubic-inch V8. For a lot of people—including this author—the CJ7 represents a real archetype of Jeep and Jeeping; the Golden Eagle drives the point home with looks that are still magnificent 35 years later.

 

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1984 Ford Thunderbird FILA

Ford stuck to their designer editions off and on—You surely remember the myriad of Eddie Bauer-edition Fords—for decades, but the Fox-Body Thunderbird got a particularly galling FILA version in the 1980s. At the time, FILA was an arriving Italian sports equipment and sportswear designer making gains primarily through tennis. Figuring that the typical personal luxury coupe buyer overlapped with tennis audience, Ford made the white-over-white-over-white FILA-edition Thunderbird, which the company even included in its sales brochures.

1984 to 1997 Mercury Cougar City Edition

Not to be left out of the personal luxury coupe special-edition world, Mercury tailored their appeal geographical with their City Edition cars. Details seem scarce on what exactly each city edition meant, but at the very least, they seemed to come with cloth roofs and a badge for the city to which the dealers were appealing. The Bostonian seems most common, but we’ve also run across info that suggests there were also San Antonian, Houstonian, Coloradan, and Pittsburgh editions, to say nothing of the Philadelphia Flyers version made for famous Broad Street Bullies goaltender Ron Hextall. These were likely dealer-created special editions with Mercury’s blessing.

 

2001 Saturn SL2 10th Anniversary

The 10th Anniversary SL2s weren’t anything particularly special: black leather seats with embroidered headrests, special floor mats, black badges, silver gauge faces, silver inlays on the 15-inch alloy wheels, and silver paint for a Silver Anniversary. It was all very understated, which was perfect to commemorate the simplicity with which Saturn had sought in selling cars a decade earlier. Just one year after building this short run of anniversary cars, however, Saturn axed the S-Series—the one car that had set them apart from the rest of General Motors’ offerings—and the brand was shuttered entirely just a few short years later as the marquee’s badge-engineered offerings floundered.

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2001 Land Rover Defender Tomb Raider
2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Tomb Raider

Movie editions of cars are nothing particularly new. James Bond-edition cars are almost ubiquitous and we’d have included the  Thunderbird 007 if we didn’t already have a T-Bird on this list. However, the early 2000s found two companies selling Tomb Raider versions of their products on opposite sides of the pond. The video-game series starring Lara Croft was absolutely huge in the years leading up to the release of the 2001 and 2003 films that starred Angelina Jolie, though it’s likely both movies’ lukewarm reception has probably inhibited the collector value of both offerings from Land Rover and Jeep. Since the Jeep version was basically a raiding of the official Jeep aftermarket parts bin with some diamond plating, Tomb Raider badges, and a serial number, that’s not particularly surprising.

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2008 Ford Expedition Funkmaster Flex

Looking to cash in on the then-growing world of custom truck and custom SUV world, best seen at SEMA for better or worse, Ford unloaded the Funkmaster Flex edition of the 2008 Ford Expedition. Two-tone paint, kickin’ sound system, and custom interior were all part and parcel and, if we’re honest, probably less awful than the Eddie Bauer Everything that Ford offered. The name is just crazy enough to let us know that Ford was into some weird stuff in 2008, including making a Barrett Jackson Edition of the Mustang.

 

Obviously, this list could go on and on. We drew from about 30 special editions on our short list so we may follow this up with a sequel at some point. What kinds of crazy, absurd, or insanely rare special editions have you seen or even owned?

Something to Say?

5 thoughts on “11 Strange, Wonderful, And Terrible Automotive Special Editions

  1. Let’s not kid ourselves: Anything which involves “the Malaise Era” is Going To Suck. So all those “special editions” accomplished was to further embarrass an already-embarrassing auto industry. (I should know — I lived through that [CENSORED].)

    Somewhere, I have a short story where the US auto industry did in the ’70s what it eventually ended up doing a few years back: Declare bankruptcy; tell the unions to Die In A Fire; and start importing rebadged European hatchbacks en-masse. Then the US doesn’t miss out on the whole “hot hatch” era (and the idea of turbo-4 hatches on the oval at Daytona — wow)….

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  2. “Since the Jeep version was basically a raiding of the official Jeep aftermarket parts bin with some diamond plating, Tomb Raider badges, and a serial number, that’s not particularly surprising.”

    That pretty much what the Landrover version was as well (except Landrover parts obv).

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