The first Porsche that gave driving enthusiasts a taste of a “race car for the street” was the tiny-but-significant 356 Speedster. They presented it in the mid-50s as a special model. It came without luxuries and an open-top. In fact, Porsche designed the Speedster to be easy to drive on the track as well as the road (via Porsche).
Although the mechanics were the same as the standard 356, the Speedster came with a flat-four engine with 75 HP on tap. Despite the fact the power was so diminutive, so was the weight. However, 0 to 60 mph figures are around 10 seconds which is ridiculous today. However, the low weight made the 356 Speedster an extremely fun car to drive on the track. Legendary actor and racer Steve McQueen had one too.
The Dino was a big step for the company, even if it was the smallest model Ferrari ever made. They presented it in the mid-60s as the 206 Dino as an entry-level model with a V6 engine. The Ferrari purists were outraged since this was the first sports car Ferrari made without the big V12 engine (via Motor Trend).
The 246 Dino debuted in 1968, and sales picked up, making this little car responsible for the financial stability Ferrari 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, even though any Corvette could beat the Dino.
Even though the M1 was not a commercial success since they only sold 453 copies, this limited production sports car was tremendously important for BMW’s future. It is also one of the best-known wedge-shaped supercars they ever made (via Car And Driver).
The heart of this sports car was BMW’s famous M88 six-cylinder engine with 3.5-liters of displacement. It also had advanced fuel injection and 273 HP, which was a high number for the day’s standards. But today, even the BMW 320 with a diesel engine can match M1’s performance. They positioned the engine longitudinally just behind the driver and the passenger.
The essence of the R5 Turbo was a mid-mounted 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivered 160 HP. They redesigned and reengineered the car to move the engine from the front hood to behind the driver. The rear track was much wider and the side scoops made for better engine cooling (via Top Gear).
However, such an extreme car lost one of the main hot hatch characteristics: practicality. Basically, it was a pure racing car they built for homologation purposes. It still deserves an important place in turbo history as one of the craziest hot hatches and coolest cars of the ’80s. It wasn’t that fast but it was insane.
Despite the fact it’s now irrelevant in the supercar class, in the late ’60s, Alfa produced one of the most interesting supercars ever built, the Tipo 33 Stradale. It was not only the most expensive production car at the moment, it was also the most exclusive. Powered by a screaming race-bred V8, Alfa sold only 15 of them (via Petrolicious).
The 33 Stradale looks gorgeous, but its production and public appearance were so limited people forgot about this car. Under the hood was a 2.0-liter V8 which revved up to 9,000 rpm, which was unheard of in the late ’60s. Despite all of that, the car was pretty disappointing to drive.
The E-Type was the first massively popular sports car, even before the Porsche 911. It is a design and engineering icon that has graced the roads since 1961. It still looks as attractive as ever. The E-Type is a sharp handling, straight-six roaring, two-seater coupe or roadster with a long nose and curved rear end. When it debuted in 1961, the E-Type was a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean (via GQ Magazine).
Despite Jaguar’s long-lasting tradition of building fine sports cars, the E-Type was years ahead of its time. It had a superb design, four-wheel disk brakes, independent rear suspension, and powerful straight-six engines. They derived it from the Le Mans-winning C and D Type racers, making it as fast as any Ferrari or Maserati. The E-Type had a high-priced Italian exotic’s looks, power, and performance, yet it cost a fraction of the price. Even though it looks like million bucks, 0 to 60 mph is just over seven seconds which means some vans can beat it.
The 240Z was the first highly successful Japanese sports car on the American market. It’s a legend even today. The 240Z featured a bigger engine, updated construction, and more power and performance than anything from Japan. Critics say it was a copy of several European designs. Nevertheless, the 240Z managed to create its own fanbase (via Motor Trend).
Datsun introduced the 240Z to America in 1970, and it was the perfect car for the time. The muscle car craze was winding down because safety regulations were killing domestic performance cars. People were searching for alternatives to provide driving excitement with better handling and prices. Most European models were expensive, but the Datsun 240Z got 150 HP from its 2.4-liter six-cylinder, providing decent but not spectacular performance.
The French company, Matra, is one of the most interesting automotive design and development outfits. For decades, this firm has delivered innovative solutions and new technologies. In fact, they work with some of the biggest names in the industry. In the early ’70s, in cooperation with Simca, Matra decided to produce a small sports car for the European market. They called it the Bagheera, introducing this cool-looking three-seater in 1973.
Yes, you read it right, the Bagheera had three seats upfront. So even though it was compact and small, three people could sit comfortably next to each other. Unfortunately, the power came from a diminutive 1.2 or 1.4-liter engine, which didn’t provide an exhilarating performance. However, little Matra Bagheera was a moderate success with three seats and its French charm (via Aronline).
The biggest car company in Brazil was Volkswagen. The combination of air-cooled quality, usability, and low price made Volkswagens the most popular car in Brazil by far. However, Volkswagen didn’t have any performance credentials or a sports model, and in the early ’70s, they wanted a piece of the action (via Silodrome).
So, they took the Beetle floor pan, a 1.7-liter flat-four engine, and tuned it to 75 HP. And although that wasn’t much, it was faster than the stock Beetle. They called the finished product the SP2, and it debuted in 1972. It looked modern with a long front end, low profile, and sporty silhouette.
Even though SAAB was always famous for sedans or convertibles with turbo engines, they produced a sports coupe during the ’60s and early ’70s. And as people expected, it was strange, obscure and quirky just like the rest of the range. In fact, there were three generations of the SAAB Sonett sports car (via Top Gear).
The first one was a racing prototype from the ’50s, but the second and third were regular production models. They designed it on a box chassis and fitted it with a fiberglass body. Initially, they equipped the Sonett with SAAB’s tiny three-cylinder two-stroke engine delivering just 60 HP. As you can expect, their customers were disappointed with the poor performance. But, soon, the company fitted it with a 1.7-liter V4 borrowed from Ford’s European division. Even though that was an improvement, it wasn’t enough to save the model. Due to disappointing sales numbers and the 1973 oil crisis, Saab ceased production in 1974.
In 1970, the hottest Corvette pumped out a whopping 435 HP. But by 1980, the hottest Corvette only produced a modest 180 HP. But in California, due to the stricter emission standards, it was even 10 HP less. So, what happened in only 10 years? Where did all those horses go (via Car and Driver)?
You can blame the recession and the tighter emission standards and safety regulations. In fact, they killed almost all the performances from the legendary Corvette. The 1980 Corvette was a bit of a dinosaur with old technology under its plastic skin. Also, it came with lazy engines and an outdated interior. It still looked like it meant business, but the years caught up with it.
During the ’60s, Skoda’s main sedan model was the 110. It was a basic four-door car with a rear-mounted four-cylinder engine. In Eastern Europe, sports cars were almost nonexistent as a category in those days. So Skoda wanted to introduce a sports coupe to widen its appeal and export sales. The result was the Skoda 110 R, a true sports coupe with a dynamic fastback design and more power (via Skoda).
They presented the 110 R in 1970 and immediately became a highly sought-after model in the whole of Eastern Europe. It retained the basic technical layout but had an upgraded engine producing 62 HP. But even though the performance was diminutive by today’s standards, back in the early ’70s in Czechoslovakia, it was a proper sports coupe.
Debuting in 1980, the Mondial was a successor to the 308 GT4. It was a compact Grand Turismo sports car with a 2+2 seating configuration and a mid-engine layout. And that meant it offered more space than the 308 and 328 GTB models, which were only two-seaters (via Autoexpress).
Even though the Mondial was more practical and somewhat more affordable, it wasn’t particularly popular. Today, it is one of those rare yet poorly regarded models in the Ferrari community. That was because the design wasn’t dynamic. Also the performance figures were much slower than the rest of the Ferrari lineup.
Sunbeam is a classic English brand, long gone from the market and remembered by only a handful of enthusiasts. But the Alpine is a nice-looking car with dependable and conventional mechanicals. Also, it comes with a small 1.5 or 1.7-liter four-cylinder motor. Over the years, Sunbeam built over 60,000 Alpine roadsters, so finding one is easy. For under $20,000, you can find a nice example of this interesting car (via Top Speed).
However, if you are looking for a more serious machine, you might want to look for the Sunbeam Tiger. This model looks identical to the Alpine but packs a 260 or 289 Ford V8 engine under the hood. And that gives it much better performance and soundtrack. However, still not exhilarating. But best of all, the legendary Carroll Shelby designed this model before he worked for Ford.