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The 50 Best Sports Cars of All Time: Cars 40 through 31

Posted in General by Chris | July 28th, 2007 | 4 Responses |



    In 1977 the V8 Vantage was hailed as Britain’s first supercar because of its 170 mph top speed. While it shared an engine with the Lagonda, the Vantage made use of high-performance camshafts, increased compression ratio, larger inlet valves and bigger carburettors mounted on new manifolds for increased output, which allowed a 0-60 mark of 5.3 seconds, one-tenth of a second faster than the Ferrari Daytona. There were many distinct features that set the Vantage model apart from the V8 model, including the bulged hood in place of a hood scoop, as well as driving lights in the grille and a rear spoiler. And, as per any good Aston, a Volonte version of this car appeared in the Bond film The Living Daylights.

  • 39. FORD GT40 MARK I


    After a failed merger between Ferrari and Ford, Henry Ford II demanded a win at Le Mans in ’66 for revenge. After years of development and racing failures, three GT40’s took the top three podium positions at the 1966 Le Mans in a controversial finish. The GT40 went on to win the next three years in Le Mans, giving Ford II the racing dominance he had desired, and giving Enzo Ferrari a tremendous case of post-merger-rejection-remorse. Long, lean, and low (the nomenclature is derived from the 40” roof height) the GT still looks fresh after forty years. While technically 31 street cars were produced to qualify Ford for racing, they were 15x the price of a entry level Anglia, making the GT40 the “most expensive Ford in history” in its day and a relic of the racing circuit–unlike the Ford GT homage which would follow four decades later.



    Steve Saleen is a cult icon of the highest order amongst aftermarket aficionados, especially those with Mustangs. The S7 was the first original Saleen design, and went it appeared in 2002, it was the only mid-engined American exotic and the only car with 500bhp. But in the next few years, with new competitors on the streets stealing his cred, Saleen was unwilling to hold the status quo, so the S7 was upfitted with two jumbo Garrett Turbo chargers which boosted output to 750HP, making the S7 Twin Turbo the fastest car in the world in 2005, with a recorded top speed of 248mph. The S7 has also enjoyed substantial racing success since its inception, winning 50 poles and more than 40 races, including seven GT Championships. Most impressive amongst these is the prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring, setting a new track record at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and posting a victory in round eight of the 2004 FIA GT Championship.



    Based off the Celica platform, the Mark IV Supra was a more performance oriented car than previous versions. Utilizing a Sequential Twin Turbo configuration similar to the RX-7, the Supra was capable of 0-60 runs of 4.6 seconds and a top speed in excess of 170mph, all very impressive stats for the mid-’90s. What was most impressive, though, was the durability of the 3L 2JZ-GTE Inline 6. These cars were capable of pavement-pealing 800 to 1000 horsepower figures without major modifications, and as such the Supra developed its own cult following within the tuner market, and remains one of the most highly sought after Japanese sports cars in history. You want one? Good luck finding one unmolested (though it would probably be worth your time to look).

  • 36. ARIEL ATOM


    The aforementioned rise in the performance thresholds of late-model cars has corresponded with a similar rise in girth. Technology allows us to make heavy cars fast, but at the expense of driving purity. Well, here–here is driving purity in its absolute purest pureness. The Ariel Atom is indeed a street car, sans doors, roof, and body work. By using a super rigid exoskeleton design, the Atom benefits from exceptional chassis rigidity while tipping the scales at a touch over 1000lbs. This featherweight, then, with the help of a supercharged 300HP 2.0L Civic engine, is capable of embarrassing exotics in roll-on and braking tests, and as of now, is the third fastest accelerating car in the world, behind only the Bugatti Veyron and the Ultima GTR.



    This is a car so extreme–it almost killed the Stig! Midway through a lap, the CCX lost control, slid off the track, and crashed into a tire wall. But thanks to its carbon fiber construction, the car survived unscathed (same goes for the Stig, and for the same reason). Later on, at the Stig’s request, Koenigsegg fitted the CCX with a nonproduction spoiler and performed suspension tweaks, both of which helped the CCX become the fastest car around the Top Gear track at the time. The CCX is the Swedish mid-engine successor to the CCR with a twin supercharged V8 capable of an unconfirmed top speed of 259mph, which theoretically makes it potentially the fastest car in the world. Maybe. What can be confirmed is the CCX’s stunning body and “flipping” sweet door hinges. (Watch out for those curbs!) And unlike something Italian, there’s not gonna be one of these sitting in front of every casino and country club. Editor’s Note: Studious reader’s will notice that the picture above is of the ethanol-powered CCXR, voted the 2009 Best Performing Green Exotic by DuPont. Our only explanation is–well–we like carbon fiber. Lots and lots of carbon fiber. Your welcome.

  • 34. PORSCHE 959

    959 (3)

    You are looking at the future of sports cars via 1986. Starting life as a Group B rally car, 200 street cars were produced to comply with FIA homologations. It was one of the first high performance cars to use an all-wheel drive system, and the success of the 959 convinced Porsche to make AWD standard on the 911 Turbo beginning with the 993 model. During its illustrious three year production run, the 959 was the most technologically sophisticated road car ever produced, and was without performance equal during its lifetime. That is, except for the Ferrari F40.



    There was a time when mid-engined cars were not cool. That time was anything before the year 1971, when rising young designer Marcello Gandini (famed for the Lamborghini Miura and Countach) revealed a stunning masterpiece–the Stratos Zero concept–a car that would revolutionize the way we saw mid-engined cars, not to mention the world of rally car racing. The Stratos was the first car designed from scratch specifically for rally competition, and it won three straight FIA rally manufacturer’s championships before Fiat pulled the plug in 1975. Sporting a 190 HP Ferrari Dino V6, the Lancia is a brass-knuckled no-nonsense lone wolf in designer clothes that still looks just as wild and lustworthy as it did nearly forty years ago.

  • 32. HONDA S2000


    There’s a reason why V-TEC has a following. The S2000 sported a high-revving 240 HP 2.0L inline 4 known as the F20C, an engine which was recognized as the International Engine of the Year from 2001 to 2004. In those same years, the rest of the car’s finest attributes, namely its silky smooth six speed tranny, its razor sharp handling, and surprisingly gorgeous aesthetics (I mean, it’s Japanese. Come on!) made its $30,000 price tag seem like a steal. But the cost of ownership was high in everything but maintenance costs, as the roadster’s hyper-aggressive personality and lack of any civilized manners made it a brute on the roads, and with little to no storage space, cramped leg room, and a jarring ride due to the overly stiff suspension set up, the car was bound to wear you down on long jaunts. However, owners of these cars will swear by their prowess and their performance. And like anything else Honda, they were extremely reliable, garnering high satisfaction ratings from their owners as well as J.D. Power and associates year after year.

  • 31. NISSAN 300ZX


    The 300ZX added to Nissan’s performance credibility following the 240Z and 280ZX. The updated Z32 model in 1990 blew the competition away with a strong 222 HP N/A 3.0L V6, and the Twin-Turbo edition churned out an incredible 300 at the crank, making the 300ZX one of the fastest accelerating cars in its day. It managed to combine the brute strength of American Muscle with the sex appeal of an Italian exotic, and the critics just ate it up. The year it was released, Motor Trend named it the Import Car of the Year and Car and Driver placed the car on its “10 Best List” 7 years in a row. And nearly a decade after production had ceased, Automobile showed some serious Z-Car love by listing the 300ZX as one of the “100 Greatest Cars of All Time”, one of the “20 Greatest Cars of the Past 20 Years”, and one of the “25 Most Beautiful Cars in History”.

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    4 Responses

    1. jf says:

      I think the better argument could be made that a true sports car only has 2 doors and two seats, that would make sense for keeping the Shelby off. But of course then many of the other cars you have picked for this list would be out too.

    2. Chris says:

      @ jf:

      To quote that big block of nasty text:

      “A Mustang, an M5, and a Mini are not technically defined as Sports Cars. A Sports Car is a performance focused vehicle with two doors and usually two seats, although 2+2 configurations are acceptable beneath the subcategory of luxury-minded vehicles called GT (Gran Touring) cars. Believe me, we wanted desperately to have a Mustang whoop up classic Ferraris on our list, but it just wasn’t feasible, or fair. And if muscle cars can’t do it, neither can your hot hatches and performance saloons.”

      A sports car IS a two door, but not necessarily only two seats (the 911 has two seats in the academic sense, good for amputees and indians). But a sports car has a singleness of purpose. A Mustang, just because it has a big engine, doesn’t make it a sports car. It makes it a glorified grocery getter, just like the Chevelle and Camaro and Cuda and all the other great Muscle Cars out there.

      Limiting it to two doors takes off awesome performance sedans who make concessions for utility in their design. A sports car does not make concessions (really, those back seats aren’t concessions) for it’s silly pot belly owner.

    3. jf says:

      @ Chris

      So I’m confused…exactly why is the M5 specifically excluded by your “quoted” self-made rules but the M3 INCLUDED? Can’t wait for the justification of that one……

      But in any case, both are usually referred to as Sport Sedans, not sports cars. Is either the Audi Quattro (hatchback, whoops shouldn’t be on this list) or Aston Martin Vantage (V8 saloon, whoops again), a more important Sports Car than a Shelby Mustang in the collective automotive history? God I hope not. We only have performance itself in which to compare these cars and I don’t think anyone would contend that a late ’70s Vantage is worthy of the same status, although it looks alot like a Mustang don’t you think? As Road and Track stated, “Anyone who thinks the Mustang Shelby GT350 is not a real sports car is nuts.” Your padded room is ready.

      Including a car like the Ariel Atom on this list as one of the “50 Best Sports Cars of All Time” (even though it is unknown and barely recognizable as a street legal car) while excluding any of the Shelby Mustang race winning vehicles may be disappointing. But hey, we all know these lists are completely subjective anyway. I realize that many deserving cars had to be left off. So if you want to leave off the Shelby Mustang in favor of the Lancia Stratos that is certainly your choice…

    4. Don says:

      I guess I missed the page with the mid 50’s Mercedes Gull wing coup.