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20 Performance Machines and Driver’s Cars People Can Own

Vukasin HerbezJuly 10, 2019

Even if you’re not a keen automotive enthusiast, you have probably heard the term, “driver’s car.” For those who don’t know, a driver’s car is a particularly composed, well-engineered, designed and executed automobile. Also, it delivers the highest amount of driving pleasure, dynamics and feel possible. This is a kind of car that every gearhead lusts after, and not for the exclusivity or brute power, but for the unique driving feel and excitement.

Driver’s cars are not always high-priced exotics that are unobtainable to the average enthusiast. Sometimes, driver’s cars are quite affordable. So, if you look around, you can purchase one for a reasonable amount. So here are the 20 best driver’s cars and performance machines you can own.

  1. Lancia Stratos

This little two-seater is one of the most recognizable wedge-shaped cars ever and one of the wildest homologation specials. In the mid-70s, Lancia wanted to go rally racing, so they made their first purpose-built rally car in the form of Lancia Stratos.

However, they had the design but not the engine, so the company borrowed a compact V6 from Ferrari. The Lancia powered by a Ferrari created a legend, becoming a world champion in 1977. With its design, special driving feel, exclusivity, and racing success, the Stratos combined several important factors to be the perfect driver’s car.

  1. BMW M3 E46

In October of 2000, BMW presented the E46 M3 featuring an all-new engine, drivetrain and components. And since then, people have regarded it as one of the finest BMW M cars as well as a perfect driving machine. All M cars are a blast to drive, but the E46 M3 was a big improvement over the E36 M3 from the ’90s. Also, it is one of the last analog sports cars you can buy.

With a 343 HP straight six-cylinder engine, almost ideal weight distribution and great chassis, the M3 E46 was a sales success. And with the six-speed manual transmission and respectable performance, the E46 M3 soon won the hearts of car enthusiasts all over the world. But best of all, it is one of the best second-hand performance cars available today.

  1. Shelby Cobra 427

With a 0 to 60 mph time of just 4.3 seconds, the Shelby Cobra 427 was the fastest production car in America in the ’60s. Putting Ford’s biggest engine, the V8 in the lightest roadster body was as equally extreme then as it is today. But there’s one thing you must know.

The Shelby Cobra 427 has a 7.0-liter V8 with around 400 HP in a tiny roadster body weighing around 2,000 pounds. So, with around 400 HP going to the rear wheels in a body so light, the Cobra 427 spelled trouble from the moment it debuted.

  1. Mazda Miata

Small roadsters are among most car enthusiasts’ favorite types of cars and what is better than a classic Miata? The Miata’s secret was simplicity, low weight and balance. But Mazda didn’t try to invent something new. They just copied the basic concept of a classic British roadster and added modern materials and design. And then they made the whole thing reliable and agile.

Although it only produced 116 HP from its twin-cam 1.6-liter engine, in a 2,200 lb car, it’s more than enough. Even though the original Miata has diminutive power and torque numbers, the whole package is perfectly balanced and makes driving a pleasure. This little car just shows that you don’t need a big engine to make a perfect driver’s car.

  1. Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1

In 1975, along with the regular Golf lineup, VW presented the GTI version. The Golf GTI featured three-door hatchback body style and sporty details on the exterior. They equipped it with a 1.6-liter fuel-injected four-cylinder engine delivering 110 to 115 HP power output. With a 0 to 60 time of nine seconds, improved handling and cool looks, the GTI was an immediate hit with the buyers.

And that was especially in the late ’70s when the performance levels were low due to tightening regulations. The power went to the front wheels, so this was one of the first such models that proved front wheel drive cars could be performance models. The lightness of the package, decent power by the standards of the day and innovative concept makes the Golf Mk1 GTI the definitive hot hatch.

  1. Peugeot 205 GTI

When Peugeot introduced their compact 205 models in 1983, a performance GTI version wasn’t in the cards. Soon, they realized that a hopped-up model could have a perspective on the market. So, Peugeot presented the 205 with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder and 115 HP. The combination of a lightweight body, precise steering, rev-happy engine, and lively performance proved extremely popular with global buyers.

Peugeot even considered selling the 205 GTI in America. However, since they pulled out of the market in 1991, U.S. buyers never got the chance to experience one of the best affordable compact performance cars of the ’80s. As all European hot hatches of the day, the 205 GTI had front wheel drive and drivers praised it for its handling and superb driving feel.

  1. Porsche 911 Carrera 4S 993

In 1993, Porsche introduced the next generation of the 911 with internal chassis code 993. This was an improvement over the 964 mostly in terms of design, materials, and equipment. However, the basic components, transmissions, and engines remained more or less the same. The 993 generation was the last air-cooled generation of the 911, so most Porsche enthusiasts think it is the last classic 911 model.

The 993 had several interesting models but the Carrera 4S was one of the best driver`s versions. It featured a Turbo chassis, suspension and braking along with intelligent all-wheel drive. And better yet, they paired it with a naturally aspirated 3.6-liter flat six and 285 to 300 HP.

  1. Audi Quattro

The definition of a boxy sports car is the Audi Quattro. The Audi Quattro Sport was born on rally tracks as a road going model to homologate for racing. The Quattro Sport featured a 2.1-liter straight five-cylinder engine with a turbocharger and 306 HP in street trim.

With a short wheelbase, light body panels, short ratio gearbox, and 306 horses, the road going Quattro Sport goes from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds. But the essence of this car is that it brought Group B performance to the streets. It was an analog rally car that provided immense pleasure to the ones lucky enough to drive it to the limit.

  1. McLaren F1

There is much written about the F1, including the way they designed and produced it. Also, people recognize the way it changed the world of supercars forever. But let’s just repeat the basics. They unveiled the F1 in 1992 and stayed in production until 1998. During that period, McLaren produced 106 cars, including the GT-R versions, which were highly successful racing models.

The F1 featured a bespoke 6.1-liter V12 engine made by BMW Motorsport. It delivered 627 HP and used a six-speed manual transmission. The road versions of the F1 had an interesting, three-seat configuration with the driver’s seat in the middle of the cabin and the steering wheel positioned in the center of the dash. The initial testing, racing success and overall excellence of the package declared the F1 as one of the best if not the best supercar of all times.

  1. Lotus Elise

When they presented the Lotus Elise in 1996, it caught the automotive world by storm. Such a compact, yet beautiful roadster with a lightweight body and precise handling was unique on the market. Soon, it influenced many big manufacturers to produce similar models. The Lotus perfectly captures the essence of sports car dynamics in a sleek, balanced package.

  1. Lancia Aurelia

Introduced in 1950, the Aurelia was a revolutionary car, and not only for its design and performance. Its narrow-angle V6 engine was the first mass-produced V6 engine in the world. Produced as sedan, coupe or convertible, the Aurelia was an exclusive and expensive machine with engine displacement ranging from 1.8-liters to 2.5-liters.

The compact and light V6 unit was fairly powerful and propelled Aurelia to respectable top speeds. The later series were even successful racing cars. When they released the Aurelia, the combination of power, refinement, dynamics made it an instant classic driver’s car.

  1. Ferrari Dino 246 GT

The Dino was a big step for the company even if it was the smallest model Ferrari they ever made. Introduced in the mid-60s as the 206 Dino, it was an entry-level model with a V6 engine. But Ferrari purists were outraged since this was the first sports car they made without the big V12 engine.

The 246 Dino debuted in 1968 and sales picked up, making this little car responsible for the financial stability Ferrari always needed. But most of all, the Dino was a blast to drive, even though it had a smaller engine with fewer cylinders. This car showed that sometimes, less is more.

  1. Triumph TR6

The TR6 was a successor to TR5 and US-market only TR250, which all shared basic construction, dimensions, and design. The TR6 was introduced in 1968 and featured disc brakes all around, an independent suspension and a 2.5-liter straight six engine with 145 HP.

Thanks to the weight of just under 2,200 lbs, the TR6 was agile and among the fastest power roadsters on the market in the late ’60s. They ended production in 1976 after making more than 90,000. Today, the TR6 is a popular choice for classic roadster fans who want old school looks and a sublime feel with a decent performance.

  1. Ferrari F40

Introduced in 1987, the Ferrari F40 was a commemorative model, marking the company’s 40th anniversary. However, it was much more than that. It was and still is one of the greatest sports cars they ever built. Also, it is one of the best Ferraris they ever produced. Most of the chassis and drivetrain came from a 288 GTO.

However, they upgraded the engine to produce almost 450 HP. Contrary to other models in their lineup, Ferrari decided to install a twin turbo V8 with 2.9-liter displacement instead of the naturally-aspirated V12 people commonly associate with the brand.

  1. Mini Cooper S

In 1961, Mini Cooper made its debut featuring a larger engine, disc brakes and close ratio transmission. It produced 55 HP, which was 20 HP more than a standard Mini. And even though the power ratings sound diminutive now, the car weighed just over 1,100 pounds, making it lively and quick.

With its front-wheel-drive handling and precise steering, the Mini Cooper is nimble and easy to drive fast, making it the perfect candidate for racing. During the ’60s, Mini Coopers were extremely successful in rally championships, as well as touring car races all over the world.

  1. Chevrolet Corvette C7 Grand Sport

Chevrolet realized the Z06 was too much to handle for some buyers. And despite the fantastic looks and brutal performance, the car was close to its limits of the front engine/rear-wheel drive configuration with little space for improvement. And that is why they made an interesting hybrid model that proved to be one of the best Corvettes they ever made: the 2017 Grand Sport.

Chevrolet named the car after ill-fated racing ‘Vettes from the early ’60s. The modern Grand Sport has a 460 HP engine from the regular Corvette with a wide body and track from the Z06. This combination proved to be a winning formula since the Grand Sport has handling and driving dynamics the wider stance improved. And it did that while retaining the dramatic looks of the Z06.

  1. Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7

Today, the Carrera is the basic 911, but in 1973, it was the model designation of a special and influential car. The name originated from the famous Carrera Panamericana Mexican road race that Porsche won in the mid-50s. The factory wanted to commemorate this success by naming the new performance version they intended for homologation.

Ever since the late ’60s, the displacement of the 911 engines steadily grew. So, by 1973, the biggest was the 2.7-liter, which in RS trim delivered 210 HP. But that wasn’t all, as the Carrera 2.7 RS was a fully lightweight car with a wider rear track. Also, it had a revised suspension, racing instruments and distinctive rear ducktail spoiler.

  1. Shelby Series 1

Porsche presented the Series 1 in 1999 featuring a gorgeous roadster body and low silhouette. In fact, it had a design most drivers could trace back to mid-60s. However, under the body, everything was new. Also, the car got its power from an Oldsmobile 4.0-liter V8 engine delivering 320 HP. Since the car was light, the performance was great and 0 to 60 mph times were around four seconds, which was fantastic for the late ’90s.

Unfortunately, the U.S. regulations regarding car manufacturing forbade Shelby from producing the Series 1 as a regular model. They only allowed them to build it as a kit car, which they = refused. Unfortunately, due to the limited availability and high price, they only built about 250 of them up until 2005.

  1. BMW M3 E30

When most people think of BMW performance, they think of the “M” class cars. But, among dozens of models that wore the M badge, the M3 E30 is the most iconic. But BMW only produced them from 1985 to 1992. In fact, the E30 M3 was a homologation special they designed to compete in the European Touring Car Championship.

At first, BMW didn’t envision the performance version of their E30 3-Series. However, when Mercedes introduced the 190E 2.3-16 model, BMW quickly reacted and the M3 was born. The heart of the E30 M3 is the S14 straight-four engine with 2.3-liters of displacement, and 195 and later 215 HP. Since the car was light, the performance and road holding was great. Soon, the M3 turned out to be the most successful racing car in touring car racing history.

  1. Honda NSX

When the NSX first appeared in 1989, it revolutionized the supercar market. Basically, buyers got Ferrari performance and looks for supermarket prices. And that came along with Honda’s signature reliability and maintenance costs. The heart of the NSX is a 3.0-liter V6 producing 274 HP and later 3.2-liter V6 with 290 HP.

Since the car is light, the 0 to 60 mph acceleration time is a lightning-quick five seconds with top speeds over 170 mph. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The NSX is an excellent handling car since it is light and precise, making it perfect for driving enthusiasts.

These are the 20 greatest performance machines and driver’s cars you can own today. Did you find your favorite?

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