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Earth Day special: Can fuel-efficiency and performance really mix?

Earth Day was this week, and billions of people the world over were inspired to take steps to change their less-than-eco-conscious daily habits in order to live more environmentally friendly lifestyles. Some people traded in their old cars for hybrids to lower their carbon footprint, while many of the members here at Cool Rides probably only went so far as to carpool to work in their muscle cars, and maybe let up on the gas pedal a little. That isn't to say that members on this forum don't care about the environment – far from it, actually, although I'm sure everyone here wouldn't mind if global warming extended convertible season a few weeks. We do, however, put our need for speed first, and that generally doesn't mean that we are outfitting our rides with small, fuel efficient engines, or hitting up the Toyota dealership for Prius'.

There have been several attempts over the past century to make cars that appeal to diehard gearheads that also have the highest standards of fuel efficiency, but it doesn't seem like any brand has been able to really get the formula right. Instead, many carmakers have simply made embarrassing attempts to fool the public that only backfired, while other companies flat out lied about actually having the ability to produce such vehicles.

In honor of this month's two biggest holidays, Earth Day and April Fool's Day, let's take a look at a few cars that came close to hitting the mark, were nowhere near the bulls eye or, in one case, never even actually existed.

Scion iQ EV

According to the Department of Energy (DOE), the vehicle with the best fuel efficiency currently on the market is the Scion iQ EV minicompact. While this car is part of the incredibly trendy Scion division – an, at best, odd, youth-oriented subdivision of the Toyota brand – it is hardly a muscle car enthusiast's dream. However, this auto could be worse, as it isn't exactly the ugliest model on the market (that would be all of the other Scions), and any car this small has no choice but to be peppy, although the electric motor under the hood leaves much to be desired. However, for all of the iQ EV's merits, who can realistically get behind a car that has only 4-cubic feet of luggage space?

Tesla Model S

By comparison, the new Tesla Model S features roughly 23-cubic-feet of storage in its trunk, and can actually comfortably fit more than one and a half small children in the cabin. This car, which won the coveted Motor Trend "Car of the Year" award for 2013, is probably the closest thing to attractive an electric vehicle has ever come. In fact, the 362 horsepower electric engine under the hood actually propels this thing past the competition when it comes to acceleration and overall pure street muscle. In the first quarter of 2013, it even outsold every other large luxury sedan in the market – which is surprising, given the fact that the price tag on most Model S's hover near $100,000, although there is a roughly $7,000 federal tax rebate – a drop in the bucket, but still a nice gesture.

1980 Chevrolet Corvette California

This is perhaps the most shameful model of the bunch, as it came during one of the darkest times for the American automotive industry (aside from the recent string of bankruptcies that rocked Detroit). There was a massive gas crisis, and the Golden State was drawing a hard line in the sand when it came to fuel economy. If cars couldn't meet the strictest-in-the-country standards when it came to gas guzzlers, they wouldn't be allowed on dealer's lots. So how was Chevy going to make sure Californians could get behind the wheels of one of America's most prolific models? By ruining the brand's good name, dropping a pitiful 305 V8 big block in the cage and hoping no one noticed. They did, however, and this car is on more than one "worst of all time" lists, and is definitely the black sheep of the already spotty Corvette stable.

The Dale

This is perhaps the strangest model to be highlighted, as it never actually hit the road. In 1974, a brazen businesswoman by the name of Geraldine Carmichael, the widow of a former NASA scientist, introduced the prototype for this three-wheeled sports car that promised it could get 80 miles per gallon – a feat that was unheard of in the 1970s, when most cars got well under 20. After collecting thousands of dollars from investors to actually build the car underneath the banner of the Twentyfirst Century Motor Company, Carmichael abruptly disappeared, and so did her prototype. As it turned out, Carmichael was actually a Mr. Jerry Dean Michael – a criminal in disguise who  was wanted by the FBI for years after being busted in a counterfeiting scheme. It wasn't until years later when an episode of the hit show "Unsolved Mysteries" highlighted the case, and a viewer recognized Michael as the owner of a local flower shop.

While the perfect energy efficient vehicle still seems to be a ways off, these examples at least show that auto companies are making strides in creating a union between energy efficiency and performance – even if our best current option would require winning the lottery to get behind the wheel of. Do you have a favorite fuel efficient model? Leave your thoughts below:

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