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The 50 Best Sports Cars of All Time: Cars 20 – 11

Posted in General by Chris | July 28th, 2007 | 14 Responses |



    The ZR1 name is itself the revival of a long history of souped up ‘Vettes, and this newest version is the most powerful Corvette ever. Using a supercharged version of the base-model LS9, this bow-tie bombshell produces 620 spleen-tingling horsepower, and hauls the carbon fiber and aluminum body around the Nurburgring faster than any other production car in the world to date. Now, we know Detroit has all the design credibility of a 9-year old cosmetology student with scissors, and the interior bears those marks painfully (and odorously, like melting glue), but the rest of the car is so good, it even made Jeremy Clarkson forget those little idiosyncratic flaws and declare the ZR1 the 2009 Performance Car of the Year. And coming from the most notorious critic of the American car, that is probably the biggest compliment that could possibly be paid to the job Chevy did on this car. It is certainly the best sports car statistically America has ever produced, and we doubt we will see its equal for quite some time.



    Since its appearance in 2003 the Gallardo has become Lamborghini’s most popular model in its history, with more Gallardos on the streets than every other Lamborghini model combined. Like most of its predecessors, the car excelled in looks and sound and acceleration, but lagged behind in handling despite its all wheel drive set-up. However, after a major overhaul in 2009, the Gallardo became a world class sports car in addition to a sexy smooth Italian exotic. Upgrades included a larger, more powerful V10, a quicker shifting “E-gear” tranny, Reventon-inspired angular body work, launch control mechanisms, and lighter weight–allowing the new LP-560-4 to beat the Nissan GTR, the Ferrari F430 Scuderia, and Lamborghini’s own Murcielago around the Top Gear track.



    The SLR was the love child of a partnership between two of the best names in the business, and still stands of one of the few successful national partnerships between Britain and Germany. Drawing from the legendary Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, the SLR had a front-mid-engine arrangement, which made it more of a grand tourer, but a grand tourer with a collegiate track and field background. It still wasn’t as nimble as a Murcielago around the track, but there are few cars that can match this car’s feral straight-line acceleration. Mercedes had hoped to sell 500 cars annually, but when production ceased in 2008, less than 600 cars had been made in six years.

  • 17. FERRARI F430


    The F430 replaced the Ferrari 360, and though its chassis is identical to its predecessor and its bodywork is no more slippery–it generates more downforce and is even harder to look at without an embarrassing biological side effect. It is the third quickest Ferrari ever made, behind the Enzo and the 599, and its preternatural handling makes it one of the best driving cars ever built. It is mid-engine (it’s getting a bit redundant this far into the list, I know) and features a nifty E-diff, which varies distribution of torque based on lateral acceleration and steering angle, an industry first, as well as Ferrari’s manettino steering wheel-mounted control nob, which allows the driver to select from five different settings–because apparently, just having a Ferrari isn’t enough. You need a Ferrari that’s a Transformer as well.



    Okay, fun fact of the day: The Murcielago, like most Lamborghinis, is named after a very famous bull, which in this case, refers to a bull by the same name who survived 24 sword strokes in an 1879 bullfight in Cordoba, and showed such spirit that the fighter spared its life. Indeed a rare honor. Another fun fact: If you are a rich football player (of either sort) and think that having a Murcielago will make you cool, or that the permanent four-wheel drive system handed down from the Diablo will save you if when you get in over your head–think again! At best, this car will make you look like a very rich idiot. At worst, you look like a very rich dead idiot. Really, entire websites could be devoted to enshrining the remains of Murcielagos that have fallen into harm’s way or spontaneously burst into flames at the hands of their ignorant owners.



    Generally speaking, one can always tell when they are looking at a Porsche. You just scan across the parking lot for a VW Beetle, then focus, and see if it looks like it’s been to the gym recently. So it may be that when you look at the Carrera, it doesn’t look like a Porsche at all. It’s all flat, and low, and super wide. It has two spinal cords running up its back, and a spoiler that rises up and down like an oversexed Evo. It’s very very expensive as well, coming in at more than $400,000 when it was released in 2004. But for all that, it is certainly a Porsche. Driving this car is like pressing your face against a television screen–putting you so close to the action your gateway neurons in your brain threaten to put you into shock just to provide some relief. But this isn’t the sort of thing you ever want relief from, nor want to get over. The Carrera is Immediacy personified, and for most of us (all but 1200 or so of us to be precise) this fancy sort of linguistic symbolism is as close as we’ll ever get to that epiphany.



    We all know this story. It’s sort of an archetypal one–take a small engine out of a small car and replace it with a big stonking V8, and Voila! performance paradise. That’s the long and short of the AC Cobra, with AC as a British racing car manufacturer and the V8 being the 427ci Ford V8, and the result was a car that made Britain implement national speed limits after Cobras were reportedly running at over 185 mph down the freeway. Carroll Shelby wanted to create a “Corvette-Beater,” and at 500lbs less than a Stingray the Cobra was just that, and the shape of automotive history was changed forever.

  • 13. BMW M3


    Here’s another archetypal story: Take a base model grocery getter and throw a more powerful engine at it, a bunch of suspension upgrades, make it look better, and drive faster around a track, slap a couple of dozen “M” badges on it and Voila! you have the M3. It’s very similar to the Muscle Car archetype, except this one can actually go around corners. The M3 has become to kids in the ’90s and 2000s what the Countach was to kids in the ’70s and ’80s–the wet dream of things to come when high school is over and the dough starts rolling in.

  • 12. FERRARI F40


    By the 1980s, the once prestigious and honored Ferrari name had fallen into disarray. Their cars were no longer the fastest, nor the best looking, and Formula 1 racing was no longer their lady. Enzo Ferrari was 90 years old, and as his final creative act, he produced the F40 to serve as his eulogy. And what a statement it turned out to be. The F40 is one of the purest driving machines ever built, and from 1987-1989 held the title as the fastest street legal production car in the world, and became the first car to break the 200 mph barrier. It was the only car capable of besting the venerable Porsche 959 during its lifetime, and it revived the association of Ferrari with words like “Prestige,” “Excellence,” and “Nah-nah-nah-nah-boo-boo-you-can’t-get-me.”



    No doubt there are two responses right now: those appalled by a Mazda-anything topping an F40 and those appalled that there is an extra 1 in front of its ranking. Well, to the first group, I submit to you the Miata most certainly belongs here, as it single-handedly saved the concept of the “British” sports car in the ’80s at a time when no one was making them, and became the best selling drop top of all time. It was cheap, reliable, and incredibly satisfying to drive, and cars like the Boxster, the SLK, the Z4, the S2000 all owe their very existence to the success of the unassuming Miata here. Now, as for the second group, I appeal to your baser instincts, and ask, “Have you ever lusted after a Miata?” If the answer is yes, I ask you, “Really?” The Miata was significant, and it is fun, but in a lower case ‘f’ sort of way, and in a way that’s way too responsible and way too legal. And honestly, nothing should break the top 10 of a list like this unless it is quite perverse and a bit immoral.

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    14 Responses

    1. jf says:

      Here’s another, a suped up BMW 3-series = M3. So how, pray tell, is the M3 more of a sports car than a Shelby?

    2. Chris says:

      Have you ever driven an M3? Or a Shelby? Have you strapped yourself in an M-car and ascended to that ethereal plane of true handling prowess, of steering feel, precision, and responsiveness? If you have, I could at least appeal to your experiential faculties. Otherwise, I will appeal to your logic.

      NOTE: I own Mustangs. And love them. And I hated to leave them off the list.

      What’s sad is that I even predicted this would arouse controversy, and so I addressed this point very clearly in the article. An M3 is a sports car because of its “ability to go around corners”. In other words, it’s a complete package, possessing the singleness of purpose necessary to call any vehicle a “sports”.

      Now, a case can certainly be made for the latest iteration of the GT-500, undoubtedly the best handling and best driving Mustang of all time, period. Perhaps in a few more years, this new Shelby will be deemed worthy of true “sports” status, but in the mean time, it will take company with the Cobras, the IROCs, the Z28s, and the Hemi-whatevers of the past–cars who make up in emotion and character for what they lack in engineering and outright all-around performance, and who, frankly, lack the pedigree necessary to make their SS badges symbols of true “Super SPORT” status.

      That’s not to say that pedigree is the only consideration. Certainly, a Mazda does not have pedigree comparable to, say, a Ferrari. What I mean by pedigree is that the vehicle upon which the performance version in question is based upon is representational of the family (in the evolutionary sense) to which that car belongs. A highly evolved mammal with wings is still a mammal, and calling it a bird simply because it can fly is misguided.

      As far as the Bimmer is concerned, every BMW possesses a certain superior level of engineering not built into every V6 Mustang (and for good reason). So one could argue that even the base model 3 series is still more refined and athletic and well developed than the Mustang, enough so to garner the “sports” badge all by itself. However, the M3 is the model built specifically for the “sports” segment. And unlike the venerable M5, the M3 meets all the requirements set forth in the introduction for defining a sports car. The 1 series and the M6 are left off because, simply, they are not as good as the M3, and even if they may be better than some other cars on the list, one of the caveats included in the introduction specifies that, in the interest of brevity and including as many vehicles as possible, there’s been an effort to “spread the love around” the autoworld. Otherwise, Ferrari would own half of it. And Germany would own the other half.

      As for your other questions: the V8 Vantage pictured is clearly a coupe, and I intended for the coupe to be on this list, even though a sedan version was available.

      And the Ur-Quattro. Okay, it’s a hatchback. So I need to clarify my terms a bit here. I mean “hot hatches” sort of hatchback, in league with Civics and Focuses and such, cars that are FWD and economy minded. The Ur-Quattro was specifically built for rally competition use, ergo, it meets all the requirements necessary to add it to this list. A Focus, even the ultra cool RS version, is not built specifically for performance. To beat a dead horse, it is a performance version of a common compact grocery getter.

      The line is a very fine–and seemingly arbitrary–one at times, I know, which tries to categorize vehicles. But it must be done, best we can, in order to talk clearly and concisely about those cars. The term “Sports Cars” has been so polluted through misuse that it has lost all meaning, just as the word “Christian” now can mean “born in a Christan nation” rather than “actual follower of Christ” and the word “peruse” which originally meant “to read carefully” now means “to breeze through”.

      I’m not here to argue linguistics, but the fact is that the term “sports car” has been muddled, and this article here was an attempt to retrace those old forgotten lines and correct the atrocious mistakes of the last person who put together a similar list for this site.

      My last point: I based my criteria upon the technical definition of “Sports Car.” But it’s a hard definition to make. As you and I know. And what’s worse is that even Sports Car International, whose findings I consulted in the formation of this list, include a WRX STI in their “Top Cars of the 2000s Segment,” which simply illustrates the fact that it is a very controversial issue, one that even the so called experts are not clear on.

      So I stuck to my guns as it were by nixing muscle cars and hot hatches and performance sedans because, honestly, by including any of these examples, it would widen the potential candidates by so wide a margin that it would decrease the accuracy of the list. Once STI’s start coming up against Civics and Miatas and Trans-Ams and Gullwings, the list (which is admittedly subjective anyway) has abdicated every effort at objectivity and fallen shamelessly into a sort of nepotistic fan boy favorite list.

      Like I said in the beginning, this is not a list of the best performance cars (Oh, hello Shelby, and STI, and Evo), nor of the best muscle cars (Oh, hello SVT, and Z28, and Shelby), nor of the best hot hatches (Oh, hello Focus, and Civic, and Mazda3), nor of the best performance sedans (Oh, hello M5 and Evo and STI).

      These are the best Sports Cars. Period.

      Shall we replay this argument again? Let’s not. You have a point. But I dealt with it best I can.

    3. jf says:

      Whats the difference between the coupe/saloon Vantage and sedan?

    4. jf says:

      Your “it doesn’t handle well-enough” statement rings hollow considering you have E-types, a DB5 for cryin’ out loud and mid-year Corvettes included, which are no better than a Shelby prepared Mustang. (which, as I am sure you know, beat Corvettes in SCCA racing back in those days…but clearly Carroll was known for insisting that he could fit his groceries in the back seat. I wonder what he would think about being known as a performance “compromiser” haha…..) At any rate, I actually agree that Mustangs/muscle cars are different than say, Corvettes, so leaving them off is actually fine by me, but my only REAL complaint Chris is that you apply your rules inconsistently. Even in your previous speech you say,

      “Perhaps in a few more years, this new Shelby will be deemed worthy of true “sports” status, but in the mean time, it will take company with the Cobras, the IROCs, the Z28s, and the Hemi-whatevers of the past–cars who make up in emotion and character for what they lack in engineering and outright all-around performance, and who, frankly, lack the pedigree necessary to make their SS badges symbols of true “Super SPORT” status.”

      (What pedigree the Ariel has Im not sure of)

      But Chris, my dear boy, you INCLUDE the Cobra on your list…so its hard to be completely conviced by your argument.

      Similarly just like the Quattro Audi was made for racing, other AWDs not deemed worthy of the list have similarly dominated Rally racing and certainly with a longevity that far surpasses the Stratos or Audi. I understand that including Mitsub./Sub on the list would open up a whole can of worms, but again, an inconsistently applied rule in this case. And let’s remember it isnt as if the Audi was entirely built from the ground up as a racer, the majority of its parts, can be found in the “grocery getter” Audi 80 (volkswagen platform) series of cars, hence the uncanny resemblance to the Scirroco.

      I’ve said my peace, and you certainly are not completely off-base with your thoughts. That will be enough for me.

    5. Ted says:

      Fastest Car around the Nuremburg Ring is the Viper ACR. Vette was only 7:27 while the Dodge Viper went 7:22. A HUGE 5 seconds faster while missing 3 shifts and overreving 4 times. Even an amateur can win in an American Cub Racer. Ferrari Enzo was beat by a Lamborghini V12. Dodge Viper ‘spanked’ them all. Poor vette boys, lol.


    6. this list is bullshit says:

      wtf is a fucking miata doing on the fucking list placing better than an f40?!?!?!? this is bullshit

    7. LAWRENCE FEARON says:

      THE TRUTH OF 7:22 ?

    8. lol says:

      the acr at the ring wasn’t street legal with the front splitter on

    9. lee illidge says:

      no place for the lancia delta hf intergrale! shameful! the best drivers car ever made bar none!

    10. jeremy says:

      Typical automotive journalist… cant leave a 3 series off of a list. (not that it isnt a fantastic car).

    11. Derrick says:

      I believe the author of this article is rife with BMW fanboyism. How on earth he can consider a 3-series (M3) worthy of being a sports car and not a Mustang GT/GT500 is beyond me. Both are four seat coupes. I know this article was written last year, but looking at the numbers, the 2011 Mustang GT bests the M3 in just about if not all performance categories. There’s a reason no magazine has done a head to head of it and the M3. The rag fanboys don’t want to see their prodigal halo car fall beneath the wheels of a “lowly” Ford Mustang.

    12. K Surakomol says:

      @Montague, we spoke too soon. See #11

    13. Pat says:

      WHERE IS THE____FORD COSWORTH RS 200 ???? or even the ______FORD SIERRA RS 500, they dominated touring car for years till banned.

    14. KK says:

      “Now, as for the second group, I appeal to your baser instincts, and ask, “Have you ever lusted after a Miata?” If the answer is yes, I ask you, “Really?” The Miata was significant, and it is fun, but in a lower case ‘f’ sort of way, and in a way that’s way too responsible and way too legal.”

      Actually yes, on my 2nd one now, you forgot that the speed version does have an understated turbo that can be easily tweaked for the serious “Fun”… nevermind the marginal gaps in performance, id like to see the rest of this list daily in Chicago winter drifting sideways across the interstate at 65mph… i seem to develop a blind spot for anything RWD outside the german clan and miatas every winter… the top 10 is particularly amusing as it contains 3 cars that ive never seen driving above or at speed limit since they’d loose an axle or think there a submarine :)