These cars bowed in '95, like the Dream Cruise. Now they're antiques.
The Woodward Dream Cruise is a giant class reunion — a celebration of decades of autos that have defined America. Each year Michigan honors the 26th reunion class as classics deserving antique plates (most folks mark quarter-century as antique, but we’re a little different here in the Mitten State).
This year we honor the great Class of 1995, which bowed the same year as the Cruise itself.
For aging gracefully, Michigan awards you with antique license plates that cost just $30 every 10 years (not to mention the insurance savings) provided you exercise the vehicles lightly in car shows, swap meets, and so on. August excepted, of course, when you can drive it anyplace you want.
Places like Woodward Avenue, where we’ll all gather to ogle your collector's item and reminisce about, well, 1995. That was also the year Michael Jordan returned from his baseball detour to win more NBA titles for the Chicago Bulls (boo, hiss). Steve Fossett was the Lindbergh of hot air balloons with a solo flight across the Pacific. A little higher up, the first American Space Shuttle docked with Russia’s Mir Space Station. The 55 mph speed limit finally bit the dust, Jeff Gordon dominated NASCAR, Toy Story ruled the box office, and Billary ruled the White House.
And here are the new classics from 1995:
Chevy Corvette ZR1. Improbably, the 1995 C4 ’Vette ZR1 would be the last for the storied nameplate for another 14 years (when it reappeared on the ferocious 638-horse C6 ZR1). The 1990-1995 ZR1 made a huge mark. It came at a time when Corvette sales were slumping. ZR1's technical prowess — a track-focused ’Vette! — gave new life to “America’s sports car.”
The ZR1 was visually distinguished by its fatter rear fenders and rounded, square taillights. But what made it special was a unique Lotus-engineered, high-revving dual overhead-cam V-8 married to a 6-speed transmission.
"What we've got here is the Corvette from hell,” raved enthusiast magazine Car and Driver. "It lets out the power with the speed and strength of water through a fire hose.”
By ’95, the power had increased from 375 to 405 horsepower — but so had the price. The uber-Vette stickered for $72,209 — nearly double that of the standard sports car, which had learned many of the performance variant's technical tricks.
As the sticker soared and the base car improved, sales plummeted from 3,049 ZR1s in its debut year to under 500 in 1995. But the halo badge had done its job, upping Corvette’s sales game and keeping competitive pace with market entries like the Dodge Viper, Toyota Supra Turbo and Acura NSX.
Chevy Camaro. The bow-tie brand’s other muscle car got a more modest update for ’95 — gaining, for the first time, a second V-6 engine in addition to the base 3.4-liter six-holer. The so-called 3800 Series II engine upped the power to 200 ponies and eventually became the car’s standard mill. Customers could also option a V-8 with 275 horses.
Ford Mustang GTS. Camaro’s cross-town pony car rival introduced a purist-focused one-year special, the GTS. This stripper model offered all the performance of the V8-powered GT, but without frills like fog lights and rear-deck spoiler. What's more, it was the last year of the 5.0 pushrod engine. Only 6,370 were made — a rare pony indeed.
BMW 5-series. The third-generation 5 capped its run in ’95 as one of the most handsome — and diverse — luxury sedans in the U.S. Today, it is a throwback to a time before SUVs dominated the earth.
The so-called E34 chassis was offed in wagon as well as sedan form with a manual transmission, V-8 engine option and AM/FM cassette player. All those features have gone the way of the dinosaurs 26 years later.
Dodge Viper SR I. Anyone who has ever been at a stoplight next to the original Viper will never forget it. Armed with an 8.0-liter V-10 engine, the snake literally shook the earth before disappearing into the distance.
Inspired by the legendary 427 Cobra, Viper was a raw, gloriously visceral experience. The beast had no exterior-mounted door handles or key locks — entry was negotiated by unzipping a vinyl window to reach the interior door release handle. Exit was more fraught, as you had to step over the red-hot exhaust. Buyers of the final, 1995-model year snake would at least get an air conditioning upgrade before a more refined SR II model arrived in 1996.
Toyota Tacoma. The midsize pickup that launched a legend. Actually, when Taco entered the market in ’95, it paled next to Detroit entries from Ford, Chevy and Dodge. The ’95 was considered underpowered and overpriced.
But Toyota's patience paid off as Motown players exited the segment, leaving the Toyota as sales king — a title it still owns today. The original leaves a lot to be desired in the styling department, but its signature off-road toughness is apparent.
Ferrari F50. This is one of the Prancing Horse's greats. The first production Ferrari built on a carbon-fiber tub architecture, the sleek F50 incorporated Formula One-inspired elements. Chief among them was the screaming mid-mounted, 512-horse 4.7-liter V-12 engine derived from the 1990 F1 race car.
It hit 60 mph in just 3.8 seconds and continued all the way to 202 mph (if you had the space). Priced at $475,000 in 1995, only 349 were produced. By 2017, Mike Tyson’s F50 sold for $2.64 million at auction and today the supercar fetches north of $3 million.
Chrysler Cirrus. The 1995 Cirrus was the first Chrysler built (the Dodge Stratus and Plymouth Breeze would follow) on the new innovative JA platform — a cab-forward architecture that opened up interior space.
The front-wheel-drive Cirrus was powered by a V-6 and standard stick shift — elements that have all but disappeared from mid-size cars today (heck, midsize cars are disappearing).
“Despite its efficient design, the Cirrus is far from a boxy crate. Its metal skin is sleek and stylish — the prettiest in the class,” raved Car and Driver at the time, naming the $9,600 Cirrus one of its Top 10 vehicles of the year. “Underneath, the Cirrus has a sophisticated control-arm suspension to provide a winning combination of precise handling and a smooth ride.”
The charm wouldn’t last long, however. Cirrus was discontinued after 2000.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.