SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, California — At first, the San Juan Capistrano Rotary Club’s annual celebration of Southern California car culture is a bright-colored gathering of staid American classics—an assembly of the expected Chevrolet Bel Airs and Camaros, first-generation Ford Mustangs, and other muscle car-era icons.
After a few moments of strolling the city’s Sports Park, however, we started to spot interesting gems that included early Japanese imports, a contingent of Britons, and some immaculate American metal. Here are six that caught our eye:
1969 Plymouth Barracuda
See if you can spot something odd about this 1969 Plymouth Barracuda. Find anything? How about the louvered hood? Its owner told us this wasn’t a factory option but was instead an in-period modification. We dig the fastback body style and bright yellow paint, too. The 340-ci V-8 isn’t the hottest in the lineup, but while this Barracuda isn’t the fastest or most hardcore, it’s a confident cruiser fit for a California weekend drive.
1986 Subaru BRAT
It may not have the legendary jumpseats in the bed, but this compact ute is so well-maintained it’s like a time capsule to the mid-1980s, brown interior included. The tiny pickup showed no signs of rust or even signs of significant wear. These four-wheel drive utility coupes were sold worldwide from 1978 to 1994, but sales in the United States ended in 1987, making them uncommon sights over thirty years later.
This one’s on the other side of the size spectrum. We called the USSV Rhino GX a car “for the dictator in all of us” in a previous post. Based on the Ford F-450 Super Duty, the armored beast weighs 10,000 pounds and is almost seven-and-a half-feet tall. It’s one way to get noticed at the cars and coffee crowd—just look at how small the F-150 Lightning parked beside it looks in comparison!
A team of Triumph roadsters
This gathering of Skittle-colored Brits warmed our hearts so much we had to include the whole lot in this list. Triumphs of all types turned out for the show, included a sweet Herald 13/60, a removable hard-topped Stag, and a sinister TR7 Spider with popup headlights. It was a multi-generational gathering of sports cars that shows that the long-gone brand still has a place in enthusiast’s hearts.
1972 Lotus Europa Special
Few exotics made it out to the San Juan Capistrano car show, but that only made this 1972 Lotus Europa Special a more exciting presence. Just over 3,000 of these were made over their production run, and this 1972 model was of the first cars with a “big valve” engine making 126 hp. It could make a 0-60 mph run in under six seconds, an impressive feat for a car in its day. It was also the first year to wear a badge honoring Team Lotus’ 1972 F1 championship win.
1957 Ford Thunderbird
The 1957 Thunderbird was the best Thunderbird. It was the final year of the first generation: a jet-age icon with a long hood, dramatic fins, and the iconic porthole window. This specific model was mint, and we’re not just talking about its Glacier Green color. The bodywork is completely straight, the paint, and the chrome untarnished. I’ll admit this is mostly a personal pick—it may not be as offbeat as others on this list, but it’s a gorgeously preserved American motoring icon.
Take a look through our gallery for a more complete survey of what the show had to offer!