With exotic cars on the horizon, a select few sport compacts soon fight back.

40. Mercedes-Benz 500 SE

231 PS | 1620 kg | 143 PS/t

Reserving safety for the rich, this Mercedes wore the first seatbelt pretensioners in a production car. Don’t get too excited, airbags were an optional extra. Faster cars from the S-Class model range have come before and since, yet, for the subtlety and presence of the design itself: no car could quite aspire to match it.

39. Mercedes-Benz 500 SEC


231 PS | 1610 kg | 143 PS/t

With a shorter wheelbase, therefore less weight to carry around, the two-door equivalent of the 500 SE strikes a victory punch. Matters of structural rigidity were less defined, primarily due to a lack of door pillars, but that hardly stopped a legion of tuner companies crafting versions with top-mounted gullwing doors.

38. Mazda Cosmo 12A Turbo


165 PS | 1145 kg | 144 PS/t

Rotary Turbo. Those two words etched on the side panels would later come to define an entire generation. Until then, Japan kept her best cars for herself. Powered by triangles and styled with squares, no vehicle was ever as quirky. But while its side windows resembled a Vectrex; this was a serious grand tourer.

37. Renault Alpine A310 V6


150 PS | 1040 kg | 144 PS/t

Essentially a Porsche 911, ever so slightly intoxicated on French wine, the tail-happy Alpine series seemed a world away. Now hosting an engine from the same family as the ill-fated DeLorean, it was similarly immortalised in popular culture; starring in the highly influential Neon Genesis Evangelion anime.

36. Maserati Quattroporte 4900


280 PS | 1940 kg | 144 PS/t

After a venture with Citroën turned into a death pact, Maserati required a means to rise from its grave, thus a new design by Giorgetto Giugiaro led the way out. Notably, this model became the final hand-built Maserati, gorgeous briar wood interiors ended an era. Machine-built Masers were no more reliable either way.

35. Toyota Corolla Levin/Sprinter Trueno 1600


130 PS | 900 kg | 144 PS/t

慣性 ドリフト!! Rev-happy engine and rear-driven layout aside, this can be best held responsible for introducing car culture to an all-new audience, via Initial D. Before drifting into folklore entirely, bear in mind the car earned its reputation in many fields, winning the British Touring Car Championship twice in a row.

34. Volkswagen Scirocco 16V


138 PS | 950 kg | 145 PS/t

Most attribute the GTI hot hatch to be the crowning achievement of the original VW Golf, but its underpinnings also spawned not one, but two generations of stylish Scirocco coupés. Unlike the Golf, there was only enough room inside for two people and their pet goldfish, but even the fish would be in for a treat.

33. Mitsubishi Lancer EX 1800 Turbo Intercooler


160 PS | 1085 kg | 147 PS/t

Imagine cruising down an open road in any of the cars previously showcased. Suddenly, a vehicle much like the above enters your mirror. Its cheesy vinyl graphics serve as mortar to what is otherwise a plain brick trailing behind. All is well until mirror writing on the front bumper reveals itself: too late, it’s gone.

32. Isuzu Florian Aska 2000 Turbo


150 PS | 1010 kg | 149 PS/t

Surprise! Meet one of the unassuming boxes which soared frightfully high in our countdown. To escalate the situation further, it’s a GM J-body, so the car ranks among Cavaliers of the Chevrolet and Vauxhall varieties. Clearly, the right engine can save some of the most depressing automotive platform engineering.

31. Honda City Turbo II


110 PS | 735 kg | 150 PS/t

Pictured is the reason why you will not see a CR-X on this list. Export markets knew it as the Honda Jazz, although in Turbo II guise it never left Japan. Regardless; the car, once famed for being packaged with a motorcycle, left the seismic waves of a turbo whistle. Was this the fastest hot hatch of the year?

Next time, more icons may approach as the saga turns closer to conclusion.

All photos sourced from WheelsAge.org.