Different twins are a secret in the automotive world. This is especially true in today’s era where platform sharing is necessary to help cover the huge costs of bringing a new vehicle to market. Want a luxury SUV but not sure you can afford it? Well, a more affordable brand can offer a car with the same bones.
Despite the ubiquity of the practice, platform sharing can be a source of surprise for anyone buying a high-performing deal that has lost value just because it happens to be wearing the wrong badge.
This is a story about automotive superheroes and their secret identities. Here’s our pick of costumed cars that either give you more bang for your buck than vehicles that are already considered modern classics, or give you access to rarer air than what the rest of the pack is absorbing.
Superhero: 2003-2008 Nissan 350Z Coupe
When the Nissan 350Z first arrived for the 2003 model year, it marked a return to form for the automaker that had been out of the pure sports car game in North America for half a decade. The two-seat 350Z was a stark contrast to the 300ZX that preceded it, eschewing the big turbo power and bulky grand tourer dimensions for a return to the (relatively) lightweight chassis and six-cylinder naturally aspirated engine that originally defined the model. .
Power output started at 287 hp in early models, with a revised Rev-Up engine introduced for the 2005 35th Anniversary Edition cars (and adapted for all 2006 and newer models) increasing that figure to 306 hp. for certain trim levels. These numbers apply to cars with a six-speed manual transmission, as the automatic transmission is left with a less aggressive engine tuning.
Mystery Person: Infiniti G35 Coupe 2003-2007
Nissan’s luxury division got its own version of the 350Z, the G35 Coupe. With the same FM platform and a very similar transmission, the G35 Coupe added a rear seat to the equation along with slightly less aggressive styling that aged well in later years. With 280 horsepower in 2003 and 2004 and up to 306 ponies available after that (again, for cars with a six-speed manual transmission), the G35 was a powerful straight-line performer, and with only a couple of hundred pounds of extra weight over the Z, it also kept in the corners.
Why do you want this?
The Nissan 350Z is on the rise, with first-production cars starting at just under $32,000 for museum-quality examples, and special NISMO models reaching the $55,000 mark. Even cars in “excellent” condition are now going for over $20k as the drift scene continues to chew up the more affordable cars left on the used car market.
The G35 has been much less affected by potential drifters and thus remains very affordable. Prices for manual editions hover around $10,000, and if you pay a few thousand more, you’ll likely drive home in the nicest Infiniti of that particular model year. The car also shares the same parts as the 350Z, meaning you can take full advantage of the range of high-performance equipment that Nissan has to offer. While it may lack the heritage of the Z car, driving-wise the G35 Coupe is a near-identical twin with a much nicer interior, all at a serious discount.
Superhero: Dodge Challenger SRT8 2008-2010
When Dodge revived the Challenger muscle car, it started to develop with the SRT8 model. Powered by a 425-horsepower 6.1-liter V8 and suspension and brakes that did their best to handle the admittedly chunky coupe’s curb weight, it was a shot in the bow of the Ford Mustang GT that couldn’t be matched with its power. . A five-speed automatic transmission was standard on the car, which sprinted to 60 mph from a standstill in just 4.7 seconds and had a top speed of just over 170 mph.
Mystery Person: Dodge Magnum SRT8 2006-2008
On the other side of the showroom sat a much more unusual implementation of the exact same big V8 formula that actually appeared a couple of years before the Challenger was unveiled. The Dodge Magnum SRT8 packed the same 6.1-liter V8 in a wagon body, making it the fastest long-roof family car ever to leave Detroit (later eclipsed by the Cadillac CTS-V wagon). Only a few times slower due to the weight of steel and glass, the Magnum SRT8 was a brutal street machine that had few direct competitors at the time.
Why do you want this?
This time, it’s not the price difference that drives the desirability of the Magnum SRT8 vs. the Challenger SRT8, as the former actually resembles the latter when comparing well-preserved examples, which typically fetch between $35,000 and $40,000.
Why is this so? Simply put, the Magnum SRT8 is the rarest of Dodge’s special high-performance models, with 4,182 sold over its lifetime. That’s a third less than the first model year of only the Challenger SRT8. High-powered wagons are among the most intriguing segments of automotive America, and the Magnum SRT8 continues to command attention to this day with its combination of scarcity and tire-shredding prowess.
Superhero: 1987-1993 Ford Mustang LX/GT
In 1987, the Ford Mustang received a facelift that paired well with its fuel-injected 5.0-liter V8 that had arrived the year before. This is the dawn of the famous 5.0 Fox body cars, which continued to dominate the world of cheap mass until the early 90s thanks to the combination of a simple pusher engine, solid rear axle and lightweight construction (which was helped by the LX coupes that appeared alongside the GT hatchbacks in 1987). The second half of the Fox-bodied Mustang’s nearly 15-year reign is best remembered for output hovering around 225 horsepower and 280 lb-ft.
Secret Person: 1987-1992 Lincoln Mark VII LSC
The Lincoln Mark VII represented a slightly larger and decidedly more comfortable version of the Mustang Fox platform. In 1987, the Mark VII LSC trim followed the GT/LX cars into the future, installing the same “high power” 5.0 V8. Although limited to a four-speed automatic (versus the five-speed manual available on the Mustang), the Mark VII was a strong contender against much more expensive import coupes such as the BMW 6 Series and Mercedes-Benz SLC-Class, each of which had a similar level of power and handling (albeit supported by classier cabins).
Why do you want this?
Let’s just get this out of the way: Everyone has a Mustang. It is one of the most popular classic muscle cars in the world. It’s really hard to stand out behind the wheel of a Fox body unless you’re into customizing or upgrading.
The Lincoln, however, mostly operates in obscurity (and affordability), making it the perfect sleeper platform for anyone craving ’80s V8 power in a convenient rear-wheel-drive package. Because it uses the Fox platform, the Mark VII has access to most of the Mustang aftermarket and, of course, all the engine modifications available. This large coupe allows you to dare to be different without the hassle of finding rare parts (or paying rare parts prices).
Superhero: 2002-2004 Mercedes-Benz SLK 32 AMG
The first generation of the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class reached its peak with the SLK 32 AMG, a high-performance version of the small roadster that was meant to compete with the BMW Z3 M as well as the Porsche Boxster S. Providing a balance of speed and luxury, the SLK 32 AMG is equipped with a 3.2- liter V6 supercharged engine with a capacity of 349 horsepower, which makes it the youngest in its group of analogues. The roadster was electronically limited to 155 mph and came exclusively with a five-speed automatic transmission.
Mystery Person: 2005-2006 Chrysler Crossfire SRT-6
Things got weird for Chrysler in the mid-2000s when the cross-pollination between the automaker and its parent company Daimler began to bear unusual fruit. A prime example was the Chrysler Crossfire SRT-6, a facelifted version of the standard Crossfire coupe/convertible pair that was, to all intents and purposes, an SLK 32 AMG in disguise. Borrowing the platform and drivetrain from its cross-ocean cousin, the SRT-6 produced a slightly more modest 330 horsepower, swapping the AMG valve covers for SRT-branded clothing.
Why do you want this?
The SLK 32 AMG may have snob appeal with a silver star on the hood, but surprisingly, the price difference between Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler remains extremely small. You can pick up a good copy of any car for $16,000 to $24,000.
With only 4,000 versions of each, there are two main reasons to choose the SRT-6 over the AMG. Chrysler’s pocket rocket was available in coupe form, a bonus to the large number of customers who didn’t want to deal with the SLK 32 convertible.
Then there’s the fact that of all the cultural exchange that took place between Detroit and Stuttgart, the Crossfire is by far the most barely-disguised result, a vehicle that owes almost its entire existence to Mercedes-Benz’s R170 platform, which he calculates for everything except the interior and sheet metal. Chrysler never came close to building anything like the Crossfire again, which is probably due in large part to the fact that it, ahem, never actually built one—its entire assembly was outsourced to the German company Karmann.
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