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HENRY PAYNE

New classics for the Woodward Dream Cruise

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

It’s time to head back to Woodward for our annual Dream Cruise reunion. This year’s featured class is 1990 which, after 26 years, is eligible for historic plate status under Michigan law. Most states celebrate the quarter-century mark, but we Michiganians are different (or just can’t count).

When I celebrated my 30th college reunion a couple of years back, time had taken its toll: Some classmates were notable for their loss of hair. Still others hadn’t changed a bit, their youthful figures still turning heads.

Some names I didn’t recognize. (We went to school together?) Some had kids who already had graduated from college.

So it is with our 26th-reunion class.

Some names we’ve forgotten. Geo? Who made you again? The Miata family is in its fourth generation. And Corvette ZR-1, dude, you’re as hot as ever.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Class of 1990.

Chevy Corvette ZR-1

This was the class’ star athlete. It made the girls swoon. If cars were barred for performance-enhancing drugs, the ZR-1 never would have made it. With bigger glutes to accommodate huge rear rubber, a performance suspension and a 375-horsepower engine supplied by Lotus, the ZR-1 was all-everything. And at $58,995 is cost double a base ‘Vette.

Lincoln Town Car

The Academy Award-nominated “Driving Miss Daisy” was a cultural phenomenon in 1990, so it’s only appropriate that Lincoln’s best-selling chauffeur-mobile got a major redesign. With sleeker styling, the 181/2-foot-long, V-8 powered land yacht was Motor Trend’s 1990 Car of the Year. Two bench seats! Six-passenger seating! Four-speaker AM/FM stereo with cassette player! Ah, the days when full-size sedans were king. Town Car sold a staggering 120,000 units in 1990 — five times more than today’s lux class-leading Mercedes S-Class.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Here we jump from 221-inch ocean liner to 155-inch skiff. The Miata was made in Japan but made for America. The pet project of American journalist-turned-product-planner Bob Hall, the MX-5 was a throwback to the British roadsters of the 1960s. Nimble and topless, the Miata was an instant hit. Unlike the rest of us oldsters, the Miata hasn’t gained weight over two-and-a-half decades. The fourth-gen car — just 2,332 pounds — weighs nearly the same as the original.

Buick Reatta convertible

A year after the slinky Reatta was introduced, Buick dropped its top. The limited-edition, V-6 powered Reatta was always destined to be a Dream Cruiser classic. The convertible was even rarer with just 2,437 copies sold (65 of them were “Select Sixty” models with white skin and flaming red interiors). It would be the last Buick convertible until this year’s striking, Opel-based Buick Cascada.

Lexus LS400

Toyota’s luxury brand debuted in 1990 with the full-sized LS. This big, juicy, premium steak was prepared just as luxury customers wanted — lush interior, big-cube V-8, air suspension — but for a fraction of the cost of comparable European dishes. It looked a Mercedes, but its customer service was second to none. Attentive service spawned urban legends of dealer agents walking 500 miles over hot coals for their customers. The flagship sedan has since lost its mojo, as the Lexus RX SUV has become the brand’s dominant seller – and signature vehicle.

Infiniti Q45

Like Toyota, Nissan dove into the luxury pool with its own brand. But unlike Lexus’s swan dive, Infiniti did a belly flop. The Q45 was much more daring than Lexus, less derivative in design. Infiniti chose to debut the car with ads never showing the actual automobile. Its antiseptic interior was clean of coveted design elements like wood trim. It’s a pity, because the car was a technical tour de force: It came with a class-leading, 278-horse, 4.5-liter V-6 and innovative details like rear-wheel steering and an active suspension that read the contours of the road for a smoother ride.

Mitsubishi Eclipse/

Plymouth Laser/Eagle Talon

Remember those 1990 class lovebirds, Chrysler and Mitsubishi? Well, the pair got hitched and birthed a Diamond-Star family of identical triplets: Eagle Talon, Mitsubishi Eclipse and Plymouth Laser. Only the Mitsubishi would survive the decade, but the Eagle was the athlete of the litter, winning the SCCA Touring Car championship in 1990 and 1991. Priced affordably (the equivalent of $25K-$35K today), the top-trim, turbocharged Talon/Laser/Eclipse was a rocketship with 195 ponies and all-wheel drive handling.

Nissan 300 ZX

Nissan designers penned one of the sexiest, most revered shapes in the market when they updated the 300ZX for the 1990 model year. The arched rocker panels alone caused grown men’s knees to buckle with desire. Sporting two engine options — 220-horse V-6 or 300-horse twin-turbo — the low-slung coupe was as quick as it was good-looking. Car and Driver gave it high honors with a place on the annual Top 10 list.

VW Corrado

The successor to the sporty Scirocco, the wedge-shaped Corrado coupe was a stunner. Its muscular physique, unique rear spoiler (which deployed at speeds over 50 mph) and peppy, 138-horse supercharged engine made it one spicy heisse wurst. But customers balked at the V-dub’s high price. For the 1992 model year, it was stuffed with a 187-horse V-6, causing Car magazine to call the Corrado of “25 Cars You Must Drive Before You Die.”

Geo Prizm

This wee sardine can is hardly a classic cruiser, but there’s a neat twist if you’ll bear with me. Under pressure to sell small cars profitably in the U.S. market, GM teamed with Toyota in 1990 to produce the Prizm in their joint-venture NUMMI plant in Fremont, California. A quarter-century later, the fuel-sipping Geo badge is gone as Americans still resist small cars. And the NUMMI plant? It’s been converted by Tesla to produce its future-classic Model S electric car.

TVR Griffith

While American cars become eligible for historic plates after 26 years, U.S. law also grants status to American-illegal cars when they turn 25. Cars like the TVR Griffith — which never satisfied America’s onerous federal regulations — are now legal to be driven on U.S. roads. A classic English badge, the lightweight, fiberglass-bodied, 240-horse TVR was a rocket in a straight line, and a handful in the twisties. Look for this outsider crashing the Woodward class party.

Henry Payne is the auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com