The one-of-one Isdera Commendatore 112i hits the auction block in Paris this weekend, and it’s touched off a mini celebration of ’90s supercars on social media. Most of these cars, like the Commendatore, Ford GT90 and Indigo, Italdesign Calà, McLaren F1 and Ferrari F50, are forever linked by their inclusion in Need For Speed II, a game that elevated them to legendary, otherworldly status among players.
These are some of my favorite cars ever and, even today, I’m learning new things about them. Take the GT90, for example. Thanks to the image in this tweet where the car’s rear bodywork has been removed, you can actually see one of the GT90's less-obvious design touches — its custom-treaded tires. What a cool place to put a logo!
Like the Commendatore, there’s only one GT90 in existence, and you’re looking at it right there. Of course, with the poor quality of the car models in NFS II — poor even by 1997 standards, if I’m honest — there’s no way this particular detail could have ever been modeled or visible on the car in gameplay, nor were you likely to notice it in images or the video provided in the game’s Showcase mode.
The GT90 wasn’t the only concept of its era to get special tire treatment. The delightfully funky 1989 Porsche Panamericana concept had the automaker’s crest carved into its tires, and the emphasis on negative space across the bodywork offered great visibility to this aspect of the car’s design.
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The original Toyota FJ Cruiser concept from 2003 also had nifty custom tires, its treads parroting the motif of pill shapes and rectangles repeated at the front end.
While the cool treads slipped by me, there are loads of other details I learned about the GT90 thanks to NFS II’s emphasis on sharing specs and media for all of its cars. This was the ’90s after all, and if you weren’t using all the additional storage capacity afforded by optical media to include audiovisual content, why even make a game to begin with? One fact I’ll always remember is that Ford designers incorporated space shuttle-like ceramic tiles to insulate the exhaust gases produced by the car’s quad-turbocharged 5.9-liter V12. Otherwise, the heat would have supposedly melted the body panels.
NFS II’s developers, Pioneer Productions, and publisher Electronic Arts went to astonishing lengths to include original content for each car in these early NFS titles — when possible, of course. In some cases, like in the GT90 film embedded above, the team seemingly wasn’t allowed to leave the photo booth, so it had to duplicate a ton of blurry panning shots to make a still car look dynamic and aggressive.
For the most part, however, they went all out, staging videos of extremely rare supercars driving out in the world or, in the case of the game’s intro specifically, weaving through traffic. I’m just glad there’s visual evidence out there to prove the Italdesign Calà truly lived for at least 10 minutes before promptly returning to the Italian design house’s showroom, where it’s spent the rest of its days.