Why The Best Cars Are Underdog Cars

Illustration for article titled Why The Best Cars Are Underdog Cars
Illustration: Erendira Mancias (FMG)
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I’m a sucker for a good underdog story. Give me the person who shows up to the car show with the rusted Plymouth Valiant with a bog-standard slant-six over the guy with the garage queen Ford Mustang any day of the week. Maybe that’s why I love this story so much—a story that pits a lowly base-model four-cylinder 1961 Pontiac Tempest with an almost hapless driver against the muscle cars of the late ‘60s driven by street-racing gearheads.

Of course, every good underdog story has our unlikely hero finding glory. Hickory High School winning the championship in Hoosiers. Rudy sacking the opposing quarterback. A young, fresh-faced Michael Corleone systematically wiping out all the other heads of the five crime families to become the most powerful Mafia figure in America in The Godfather. Ellen Ripley shooting that alien out into space. You know, the truly inspirational stories.


Like those classics, this episode showcases the unlikely rise of the Pontiac Tempest. Of course, real life is rarely as neat and happy as the movies. Will our underdog be the victor? Or does he once again taste the bitterness of the defeat?

This story is a classic one in our family. My father’s been telling it since I was born, and for good reason. And it’s such a great car story, that when I first pitched the idea of this podcast to Jalopnik, I called my father and told him to tell me the story all over again. I recorded it and put together a sort of demo clip. They not only greenlit the show, but they even suggested naming it according to the starring vehicle: a Tempest.


I don’t want to oversell it, but it’s that good. And you can listen to it—Episode 5—right now!

It’s a very funny and somewhat profane (seriously: there’s more than few swears in this one) episode of Tempest. Check it out. Rate it and review it. And let me know what you think in the comments. I want to hear your automotive underdog stories, too.

Tempest is available wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, GooglePlay, iHeart Radio and every week here on Jalopnik, too. And hit us up at tempest@jalopnik.com if you want to learn more.

Tempest is written, hosted, and produced by David Obuchowski. Mandana Mofidi is the Fusion Media Group Executive Director of Audio. Editorial oversight provided by Patrick George and Kristen Lee.

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I drive something that’s not only rare in my own country, it has single digits on the road in the US, AND it has made the top spot of multiple “Worst vehicle in the world” lists - A 1990 Nissan Vanette, a vehicle known pretty much solely for spontaneously self-immolating, and that Nissan recalled all of them in the US and crushed the lot. I’ve never heard of anyone in the US that owns one, despite a lot of searching, I’ve only seen two others in the collective decade plus I’ve owned it(one of which was in a junkyard, the other on the local craigslist equivalent.)

To be perfectly honest? It’s a joy to drive, absolute hilarious fun. Not quick, but manual, responsive, makes good noise, and just kind of throws itself into everything it does with an admirable sort of enthusiasm, if not ability.