It wasn’t long after the automobile was mass produced in the early 20th century that enthusiasts began thinking of ways to maximize their performance. Though it took a few decades to perfect the design of sports cars to the point where they weren’t rolling death traps, sports cars have always been the objects of desire and fascination for people who are into cars. Even people who claim not to care about car models will take an extra look when a gorgeous little red sports car rolls past. Aesthetics are a close second to engine power where sports cars are concerned.
Generally speaking, a sports car is low to the ground, relatively light weight, and has a powerful engine. Typically, sports cars have had rear wheel drive and two seats and are made for intricate handling on narrow, winding roads. Even as traditional cars adopted front wheel drive en masse, most sports models retained their rear wheel, front engine design. One notable exception is the Porsche, which has rear wheel drive with a rear mounted engine.
The ideal sports car has great road handling, superior braking and maneuverability, light weight, and lots of power under the hood. Comfort is not a high priority with sports cars, and neither is practicality or cost. They are expensive to buy and maintain, and even if they boast 2+2 seating, they can be terribly cramped for more than two passengers. But sports car fanatics usually don’t mind. It’s the thrill that they want. After all, a sports car isn’t so much a mode of transportation as it is a status symbol.
The history of sports car racing is dangerous and enticing. In 1953, the World Sports Car Championship began under the auspices of the FIA, or Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, also known as the International Automobile Federation.
As people began racing sports cars at higher speeds, some of the early design flaws became apparent. Once engines grew too powerful for the frames’ ability to handle them, other design tweaks worked their way into the mix. Designers started making sports cars sleek and aerodynamic to reduce drag and to lower the amount of horsepower required. But sometimes those sleek designed produced lift underneath the front axle, which was very dangerous.
It was only after World War II that sports cars began being produced at lower prices, making them more accessible to average consumers. They still were expensive, however.
During the 1960s, sports cars increased in popularity again. The Ford Mustang came out in 1964 and quickly gained thousands of fans, many of whom are still Mustang enthusiasts today. The newer cars are quite popular to modify as the aftermarket 2011 Ford Mustang parts selection is very large.
The 1960s also saw the offshoot of the sports car, the muscle car, one of which was the Pontiac GTO. Another 1960s introduction was Chevrolet’s Corvette Stingray. While some purists might not consider the GTO and the Stingray to be true sports cars, these models certainly came from the sports car design mentality of muscle under the hood and hot looks.
By the time the 1970s rolled around, sports cars took on a slightly lower, meaner look. Big sports models of the 70s include the Nissan 240Z, The Porsche Carrera RS, and the Mazda RX-7. Sporty looks also spilled over into the growing compact car model, with models like the sharp little Toyota Celica looking cool while saving gas.
While the 70s weren’t exactly great times for sports cars, the 80s started out even worse. The MGB, Triumph TR, the MG Midget, and the Triumph Spitfire all went away, not to be replaced by other British roadsters. But by the mid 80s, the gas crisis abated, and people began enjoying cars once again, and sports cars by Porsche, Alfa Romeo, and Fiat brightened up America’s roads. Additionally, Americans took to economical little “pocket rockets” like the Toyota MR2 and the Honda CRX.
If you had to name one “star” sports vehicle of the 1990s, you could do worse than the Mazda Miata. These little sprites were cute, fast, and fun to drive. Not only that, average people could afford them. They’re still made today, in a slightly larger body type. The late 1990s economic boom caused some carmakers to merge sportiness with luxury, hence cars like the Mercedes Benz SLR McLaren and the Porsche Boxster.
It’s hard to predict what the next decade will bring to the evolution of the sports car. Much will depend on the economy and the price of oil. But sports car makers are nothing if not inventive, and no doubt they will continue to create models that will be sought after and appreciated by loyal sports car enthusiasts for decades to come.