The anniversary and special edition car is a hallowed tradition in the automotive industry; and by “hallowed,” I mean “hollow.” Most of these things are stripes-n'-decals tacky add-on packages that try to charge more just because the years happen to line up. A special colour? A little commemorative badge? Who cares.
However, there are any number of special edition machines where the engineering department snuck a fast one past the marketing bean-counters. These cars are faster, unique, actually deserving of the special edition moniker. Here's a look at a few of the best.
Mustang Boss 302
Even as the new Shelby GT350 prepares to bellow with fury across the nation's racecourses, there's still a lot of love for the pinnacle of the previous-generation Mustang. The Boss 302 might not have had huge power gains over the regular 5.0L, but as a total package, it was a Mustang par excellence.
Hand-built finishing on the 5.0L V8 created 444 hp at 7,400 rpm, but it wasn't just the peak output. Not only did this V8 love to gallop to redline, it hammered out hidden side-exit exhausts and right back to the driver, giving you even more sensation of speed. Add in a jouncy live rear axle to be tamed and a raked suspension, and it's one of the best modern Mustangs ever built.
1994 Canada-only M3 Euro-spec
Rarer by far than the Boss – just 45 examples were ever sold – the '94 M3 Euro-spec was BMW's love letter to its Canadian customers. They never got a car this good in the US; to quote the old Red Rose tea ads... pity.
Essentially, this version of the M3 was exactly the same as the cars you could order in Bavaria: a 286 hp straight-six, proper glass headlights, floating brake rotors, etc. Everyone else would have to wait until 1997 for a slightly watered-down version of the M3 to show up, making these scarce machines collectible.
25th Anniversary Mazda MX-5
With no extra horsepower on paper, the last model of the previous-generation MX-5 begs the question, “Why not simply wait for the new version?”
However, Mazda's hidden some excellence in here and, as is usual with Mazdas, it ain't about peak power. Built with hand-selected parts, this anniversary-edition engine is essentially a blueprinted 2.0L, making it quicker to rev and livelier. Moreover, it's the last car with a power-folding hardtop, and comes with a few suspension goodies like Bilstein shocks.
Chevrolet Corvette 427
If the Z06 is the track-rat, then meet the 'Vette that's a speedboat for the road. With the roof down and your foot poised over the accelerator, you can feel the anticipation building. Under that long, twin-striped carbon-fibre hood, a 7.0L, 505 hp beast begs to be unleashed.
It's the thrust of the top-dog Z06 married to an easier-riding chassis, and with a six-speed manual the only option. Sure, it'll do the track thing too, but the 427 is the kind of old school rocketship the Apollo astronauts would have driven.
10th Anniversary RX-7
There are any number of speciality RX-7s to be found in Japan, but few here. While the third-generation car is bound for classic status – assuming you can find one that hasn't been blown up or modified to heck – how about a little love for an earlier turbo'd RX'7.
The anniversary edition second-gen RX-7 is based on the 1988 Turbo II RX-7, simpler and more robust than the third-gen car. It is pure 1980s, with white 16-inch turbine-look alloys and bronze tinted glass.
20th Anniversary Nissan Maxima
Another affordable maybe-future-classic, this anniversary edition Maxima hearkens back to when Nissan could actually claim their flagship sedan was a four-door sportscar. Built in Japan and backing a jewel of a 3.0L V6 with 227 hp, the Maxima handled and accelerated within spitting distance of a BMW 5 Series.
The Anniversary edition got some aerodynamic add-ons, a power bump from an engine shared with the Infiniti I30, special shifters and pedals, and then the 17-inch alloys and other top-level features of the SE model.
Mitsubishi Evo Tommi Mäkinen
Anyone seeing Tommi Mäkinen behind the wheel of a Subaru STI these days might be excused for suffering a little cognitive dissonance. With four WRC victories behind the wheel of an EVO rally car, this flying Finn is Mr. Mitsubishi.
Thus, the special edition car that wears his name. You'd have to import this one as the Evo VI was never sold in Canada, but painted in the Ralliart team colours and fitted with 17-inch white Enkei wheels, it's pure rally car for the streets.
1 Series M Coupe
I'm not sure this qualifies as a special edition – more a parts-bin special – but I'm including it anyway as it's just so good. In fact, the M Coupe just might be the last true BMW.
Flared out and fitted with a twin-turbo straight-six, the M Coupe is pugnacious, lairy, and prone to wagging its tail. It has proper hydraulic steering, a menacing curbside presence, yet still a friendly demeanour. No wonder they're all still holding their value.
Porsche 911 50th Anniversary
Of all the modern 911s currently available, this might be the one that holds its value best. A throwback fitted with classic touches from the past, this 991-series car is a biggish GT car that still manages to bridge the gap with its lightweight ancestors.
The Fuchs-look alloys, the houndstooth interior, the classic colour palate – it's all retro without actually being retro to drive. That's the 911's calling card.
Mini Cooper John Cooper Works GP
Nothing as simple and pure as the original, modern BMW-built Minis can still thrill. You just have to get the right one.
For the previous-generation car, that'd be the JCW GP: lowered on coilovers, the GP is all about grip more than absolute power. When new, it was horrendously expensive. Now, especially with a new JCW Cooper on the horizon, it's the one to get.
15th Anniversary Toyota Supra Turbo
If one of these things floats up for sale, unmodified, buy it yesterday and stick it in the vault. Bound to skyrocket in value, the twin-turbo Supra was king of the hill in the wild days of Japanese muscle, and this limited-edition version will be a collector's favourite.
There are no real special bits on the 1997 Anniversary Edition Supra Turbos to speak of, apart from the fact that you could get a manual transmission again. Buy that one, and keep it.
Bonus: Worst Special Edition Ever - 10th Anniversary Datsun 280ZX
Yeesh. The famous black-and-gold 280ZX was everything that was wrong with Datsun in the 1980s. Yes, it's collectible, but it's also a complete refutation of the ideals of the original 240Z. It is flashy, it has T-tops, and it's about as sporty as a handlebar moustache.