Special edition cars: the best, worst and weirdest
Take a look at the best and most memorable special edition cars
Just what is a special edition car? Special editions are usually built in limited numbers but that can often be all they have in common with each other. Some offer buyers a way of saving money, some are used to celebrate an occasion and some special edition performance models are just built for homologation purposes. In our list, we have compiled some of the most memorable special edition cars including some of the best, worst and weirdest.
You can often find special editions of the mass-produced cars the majority of us drive, from superminis to SUVs. Their appeal lies in the value for money they offer, often coming with desirable options that buyers would ordinarily have to pay extra for if they were buying the same car in a standard trim.
These special editions can include trim level specification upgrades often at no cost and can rekindle interest in a car that’s soon to be replaced. Volkswagen is known to do this at the end of every generation of the Golf model with the ‘Match’ edition.
Special editions can also celebrate an occasion, tie-in with a sporting event or fashion brand, or even pay tribute to the worlds of film and music. Some past special editions go on to develop a cult following, such as the football-inspired Fiat Panda Italia ‘90, which we’ve included in our list below.
Then there are performance cars, which play an important role in some of the best special editions ever produced. Some performance special editions exist as the most concentrated, uncompromising versions of the car on which they’re based and go on to be highly regarded years later. Others, such as the Renault Clio Williams and, lately, the Toyota GR Yaris, play a vital role in motorsport-related ‘homologation’ requirements.
Read on for our roundup of the best and most memorable special edition cars...
MINI 1499 GT
Both the classic Mini and the ones from the BMW era are well known for their special editions. The MINI 1499 GT is a newer example and if you’re a Mini aficionado, you’ll appreciate its significance. It’s inspired by the 1969 Mini 1275 GT, a model that offered cheaper running costs and less power than the original Mini Cooper S. The 1499 GT copies the 1275 GT in this way, as it’s fitted with a less powerful version of the three-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol engine in the Cooper and features sportier body styling and side decals. While the older car’s 1275 number referred to the engine size, the 1499 in the name of the newer car refers to both the engine size and the number built.
BMW M5 Edition 35 Years
A more recent special edition, BMW built 350 examples of the M5 Edition 35 Years in the summer of 2019, celebrating 35 years of the legendary performance saloon. It’s powered by a 616bhp, twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 engine, which is also used in the M5 Competition, and has an eight-speed automatic gearbox. With four-wheel drive to aid traction, it can reach 0-62mph in 3.3 seconds and go on to a top speed of 155mph. Elsewhere, the usual special edition styling and badging applies, but each example is finished in matte-metallic grey paint and model-specific alloy wheels. Black brake calipers were standard, although BMW gave buyers the option to order carbon ceramic brakes and gold calipers at extra cost.
Subaru Impreza RB320
As the name hints, just 320 examples of the Impreza RB320 were built in 2007. It was the second special edition from Subaru to pay tribute to the late world champion rally driver, Richard Burns. All examples were painted in Obsidian Black paint and were fitted with 18-inch graphite wheels. This was not just a cosmetic makeover however, as the RB320 came with performance tweaks to improve the handling and on road performance courtesy of a Prodrive Performance pack that increased power from the 2.5-litre engine to 320bhp.
BMW M3 CSL
In 2003, BMW brought 422 examples of the BMW M3 CSL to the UK. CSL stood for ‘Coupe Light Weight’, and even though the performance of the E46-generation of M3 could never be regarded as sluggish, BMW still thought there was room for improvement. It did this by reducing the weight by 95kg via the use of carbon fibre on the doors, bonnet, roof panel and bumpers. BMW also used carbon fibre seats and even left the air conditioning and stereo to you to select as no-cost options. The result from the 360bhp 3.2-litre straight-six was a 0-62mph time of 4.9 seconds and top speed of 155mph.
Mazda MX-5 Le Mans
In 1991, Mazda brought out the MX-5 Le Mans special edition to celebrate its Le Mans victory that year with the 787B prototype. Only 24 examples were built but all came with the green and orange livery that was also used on the race-winning car. Each MX-5 was fitted with a 150bhp 1.6-litre twin-cam engine with the extra 36bhp delivered thanks to a BBR turbo. Each car was equipped with OZ alloy wheels, upgraded coil springs and dampers, and all came with a signed certificate from that year’s Le Mans winning driver, Johnny Herbert.
Volkswagen Polo Harlequin
The Volkswagen Polo Harlequin came about due to consumer demand. Volkswagen initially showed the Polo Harlequin at the 1995 London Motor Show to demonstrate the colour palette available for the standard Polo. However, VW found itself with so many order requests for the car that the decision was made to go ahead and build them. Apart from the exterior, the Polo Harlequin wasn’t any different to a standard Polo but years later it has its own cult following in Volkswagen enthusiast circles. VW also applied the Harlequin treatment to the Golf in 1996 but that special edition wasn’t sold in the UK.
Nissan ‘Gold Leaf’
For the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Nissan decided to reward each of its sponsored athletes with an electric Nissan ‘Gold Leaf’ if they won one or more gold medals. Some of the gold medal-winning ambassadors who received Gold Leafs included gymnast Max Whitlock, rower George Nash, and paralympic winners Richard Whitehead MBE and swimmer Matt Wylie. Each Leaf was wrapped with gold vinyl, and displayed ‘Rio 2016 Gold Medallist’ on the front doors and bonnet, along with the sponsorship logos.
Renault Clio Williams
Renault brought out the Clio Williams special edition in 1993 to supersede the ageing but brilliant Peugeot 205 GTI. With an increased engine size of 2.0 litres, the Clio Williams was also a homologation special because Renault Sport had a desire to go into rallying (the Williams F1 name was pure marketing). Exactly 2,500 Clio Williams were built originally, but owing to the car’s success, Renault made two further batches of the model in 1994 and 1995, bringing total production to 12,100 for all markets.
VW Golf GTI Clubsport Edition 40
Volkswagen has routinely brought out a run-out Golf GTI anniversary model every five years since 2001, and in 2016, with the Golf reaching its 40th birthday, they decided to do something a little more special. To celebrate, VW brought out the Golf GTI Clubsport, a model that would sit in between the Golf GTI and the more powerful Golf R and provide a slightly more nimble feel from behind the wheel. The Clubsport used the 2.0-litre petrol engine in the standard Golf GTI but with an added 34bhp so that its overall power output was 261bhp. For short periods on overboost it could produce 286bhp.
Fiat Kung Fu Panda
Fiat is not one to shy away from a zany special edition or two, as you can see with the Kung Fu Panda concept shown at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show, which paid tribute to the Dreamworks animated film Kung Fu Panda 3. The (mainly) white bodywork featured black Panda eyes around the headlamps, a black rear and the main character’s head on the headrests. In fact, the Fiat Kung Fu Panda that you see here was auctioned for charity, with the proceeds going to an environmental group that specialises in preserving the wild habitats of real pandas!
Ford Focus RS500
Some manufacturers aren’t content with producing a ferociously quick hot hatch, so they go and make an even more hardcore version of it. Back in 2010, Ford revealed the special edition Focus RS500. As the name suggests, 500 were built and every model came in matt black paint with 345bhp and featured a plaque inside with the production number. The extra 15% horsepower allowed it to sprint from 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds, which was three-tenths of a second quicker than the standard RS.
Audi R8 RWS
Audi has been using the quattro badge on its performance cars for four decades now, so the announcement of a rear-wheel drive R8 RWS (Rear Wheel Series) in 2018 was a surprise. Audi hadn’t actually built a rear-wheel-drive car since the 1930s. Just 999 examples were built in both coupe and convertible body styles and the R8 RWS ended up 50kg lighter than the standard car because the multiplate clutch centre differential, front driveshafts and propshaft weren’t required. A year later, Audi decided to make the rear-wheel-drive R8 a full-time part of the range and in 2020, the V10 RWD model went on sale.
Land Rover Defender Heritage Edition
The original Land Rover went through minimal changes throughout its 67-year production life. Towards the end, Land Rover brought out three special editions to mark its retirement but it’s the Heritage Edition that will be best remembered. Not only was it modestly priced at £27,800, but it really showcased the spirit of the original Land Rovers. Just 400 examples were built for the UK, and all were painted in a retro Grasmere Green metallic with a white roof. All examples wore colour-coded steel wheels, plus silver bumpers and door hinges for a retro look. Tributes to the oldest surviving Land Rover, known as ‘HUE 166’, were scattered throughout and there were even more retro touches inside, including red and yellow collars wrapped around the gearstick.
Skoda Felicia Fun
For anyone who considered Skoda as a dowdy car brand - consider this: the Felicia Fun was a yellow pick-up special edition concept that made it to production. Based on the Skoda Felicia pick-up of the time, the main difference was that its rear seats could be pulled out into the load bed area, where back seat passengers would be given a complimentary convertible experience in any weather. Skoda called it the Felicia Fun because it was aimed as a lifestyle vehicle, not as a working vehicle as the pick-up bed might suggest. Inside it was just as mad, with frog logos on the upholstery and yellow material covering the gearstick, handbrake, doors cards, instrument dials and steering wheel.
Hyundai Kona Iron Man
In 2019, Hyundai surprised us all with the Kona Iron Man special edition. The South Korean manufacturer teamed up with Marvel to give the Kona SUV an array of Iron Man cosmetic upgrades. This began with two-tone paintwork consisting of ‘Iron Man Matte Grey’ bodywork and a ‘Red Armour’ roof complete with Iron Man emblem. Stark, Marvel and Iron Man branding feature on the outside too and continues inside with branding on the infotainment system to the gauge cluster. Under the bonnet, however, the Kona was conventional. Iron Man was kind enough to fully review the Kona Iron Man for Carbuyer, you can watch here.
Abarth 695 Rivale
Not all hot hatches can combine performance styling along with luxury features, but Abarth shows it can be done. The 2017 695C Rivale was a special edition that sat at the top of the range. It came with the most powerful 178bhp engine under the bonnet and luxury styling inspired by Italian yacht builder Riva. It was the 56 Rivale luxury yacht from which Abarth borrowed its trademark Riva two-tone blue and grey exterior. Every example was treated to blue leather inside and an optional mahogany finish to the dashboard, gearstick and steering wheel. The 695C Rivale could achieve 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds and even with the added Riva luxury features, it still had the power-to-weight ratio of a supercar.
Nissan Rogue One Star Wars
Special editions find favour all over the world, even if they’re fairly ordinary SUVs like the Nissan X-Trail (badged in America as the Nissan Rogue) at their core. To celebrate the launch of the 2016 film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the Japanese car manufacturer used its own Rogue SUV to collaborate with Lucasfilm and support the iconic film franchise. There were 5,400 Nissan Rogue One Star Wars limited editions built for North American markets. There were two paint choices, black or white, and each featured a unique Rogue One badge design on the lower front doors. Every new owner of a Rogue One Star Wars SUV was presented with a collectable full-size Death Trooper helmet.
Volkswagen Beetle Fender Edition
The 2012 VW Beetle Fender Edition pays tribute to the manufacturer of Fender guitars. The connection between VW and Fender became more obvious once you got inside the car. Each example was treated to Fender guitar ‘Sunburst’ wood on the dashboard panel and a 400-Watt Fender sound system, with illuminated front speaker surrounds and a boot-mounted subwoofer. Outside, the Beetle Fender Edition was finished in black and came with 18-inch ‘Discus’ alloy wheels.
Fiat 500 Ron Arad
The Fiat 500 Ron Arad is potentially another candidate for one of the weirdest special editions. Only 200 examples came to the UK, each featuring an outline graphic of the original 1957 Fiat 500 on each side. It was a partnership between Fiat and Ron Arad, a London-based artist, because of his life-long love of the original Fiat 500. It may be somewhat surprising to learn that Arad once had six original Fiat 500s crushed for an art exhibition at Turin’s iconic Lingotto complex, where original 500s were tested.
Hyundai Tucson Walking Dead
Hyundai is another car manufacturer to team up with the producers of film and TV, this time to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Walking Dead’s graphic novel series. The second-generation Tucson SUV (badged as the ix35 in the UK) featured in the TV series and was sold as this special edition in America. Each example featured red zombie hand graphics on top of the black paintwork and was equipped with a zombie survival backpack, which contained tissues, drinking water and light sticks.
Ssangyong Korando Sports DMZ
Special editions aren’t just reserved for sports cars, SUVs and superminis; the pickup segment is also known for them and we’ve found one of the most extreme. The 2016 Ssangyong Korando Sports DMZ was so called because of the Korean Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. It featured camouflaged paintwork and was based on the range-topping model, coming fully equipped for a price tag of just over £23,000. The DMZ even featured multi-link rear suspension with progressive coil springs when rivals still used old-fashioned leaf springs.
Bentley Continental GT Number 9 edition
Bentley reached its centenary in 2019 and to celebrate it produced 100 examples of the Continental GT Number 9 edition, which were handcrafted by Mulliner. The design was inspired by Bentley’s motorsport heritage, namely the iconic supercharged ‘Blower’ Bentley that was raced at the 1930 Le Mans 24 Hours by one of the original ‘Bentley Boys’, Sir Tim Birklin. Each example of the special edition came with a piece of history: a piece of wood from the driver’s seat of Birkin’s race car was set in resin, backlit and placed in the middle of the centre dial of the rotating display.
Range Rover Evoque Special Edition with Victoria Beckham
The Range Rover Evoque Special Edition was a collaboration between Land Rover Design, led by Gerry McGovern, and fashion designer Victoria Beckham over 18 months. The partnership was born ‘because of the credibility and appeal’ of both the British luxury brands. Each example featured a variety of luxurious materials and a bold ‘baseball’ stitch detail on the leather seats, a sporty reference to Victoria’s husband David. The ultra-luxurious mohair floor mats are a personal touch, as they were said to remind Victoria of sinking her feet into the thick carpets of her father’s Rolls-Royce when she was a child.