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Porsche 912E. Take Porsche's reasonably-efficient 2.7L flat-six and chop off a pair of zylinders. Instant 1.8L, 180-horsepower flat-four! Add lightweight seats and remove some of the PCM junk, and the result could be a 3000-pound car priced at around $49,999. Fuel economy would be in the 30+ mpg range. The men from Stuttgart don't like to talk about it, but during the years that the original four-cylinder 912 and six-cylinder 911 were sold together, the 912 far outsold its more famous sibling. When the 912E came back briefly in 1976, the "E" stood for einspritz, or fuel injection. This time, it could mean "efficiency". Performance would be on about the level of the '81 911SC.

Audi A6 2.0T
. In Europe, the four-cylinder A6 variants have traditionally topped the sales charts. The new two-liter turbo is lighter than the V6, more efficient, and not much less powerful. Alternately, Audi could borrow Volkswagen's unloved 2.5L five-cylinder for that real retro Audi experience. It could be called the "5000", and if Audi puts the brake and gas pedal nice and close together the way they used to, it might send a few mommybloggers to an early grave. Good riddance!

Corvette Ecotec Turbo
. This would be one of the easiest drop-ins out there. GM already has the requisite engine mounts from the Solstice GXP. With 260 (or more) horsepower, performance would match the LT1 Vettes of years gone by, and the Corvette could add city-cycle fuel economy to its already excellent highway results. Since all Vettes now have to have some kind of retro badge on them, we'll call this one the "L-82" in memory of the old fuel-crisis Stingrays.

Lexus LS240. Just toss the 2.4L four-cylinder from the Camry into the big Lex and watch your unpredictable stalling turn into unintended acceleration! This is the most profitable four-cylinder changeover of all, because the customers probably won't notice. Ever seen an LS460 doing more than five below the speed limit? Me neither. How about full-throttle starts? Nope. For volume, Lexus could also do an ES240. Frankly, I'm surprised they aren't doing that one now.

Ford F-50.
The folks at Ford know a lot about making plastic truck-bed exterior skins; they've been doing plastic Flaresides and "Splash" models since the Nineties. Why not do the whole bed in plastic and cut the load rating down to five hundred pounds? Aluminum doors and front fenders would cut weight further, as would a switch to five-lug wheels and lighter-duty axles. The frame could be "unboxed" behind the firewall. Tow ratings would drop, but how many people tow with entry-level trucks any more? The goal would be to bring curb weight back below two tons, at which point Ford's EcoBoost four-cylinder would be reasonably effective. I drove a 4.9L six-cylinder '95 F-150 for a long time, and it was fine with just 150hp thanks to the torque. An EcoBoost four would do the same.

This "fab five" would present some interesting solutions to a sudden fuel-price surge, but what will happen if prices stay high enough to drive the country into a serious depression? Very few people will be buying new cars, and the people who can buy them will need spacious, efficient, reasonably comfortable vehicles at a low price. This need was met by the Chevrolet Citation in 1980, but I can't think of any modern five-door hatchbacks with that level of space efficiency. No, wait… there's one out there. It's just a little pricey due to its big-dollar powertrain. Cut that junk out and it would be affordable and usable for American families during tough times. There's only one question: what do you call a Prius if it's not a hybrid?


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