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The 50 Best Sports Cars of All Time

Posted in Sports Cars by Chris | July 31st, 2009 | 9 Responses |


It’s been said before, but for posterity’s sake, let’s say it one more time: We may very well be watching the shades of darkness closing in on the real Golden Age of automobiles.

In times past, a list such as this would feature almost exclusively cars that are long past classic car status, with a few proven new comers thrown in just to keep things interesting. Because an all time list is more than just a list of the podium finishers in the power, acceleration, and lap time segments. There’s the much more difficult challenge of choosing cars deserving for their significance within their historical context as well as our own. Of recognizing cars that broke the mold in their day and yet have retained their charisma through the ages. Of finding cars that have made a real impact on the layman drivers of the world, set a course for a new design language, introduced a new technology, or revised our concept of what is beautiful.

The fact is, though, is that we have lived among the future titans, and never before have so many relatively new cars been so deserving of a place among the all time greats. Obviously, the task of comparing nostalgia to newness is impossibly subjective. So, here are a few caveats to assuage the would-be naysayers out there about our damn good list:

1. This is a list of the best Sports Cars of all time. Not performance cars. Not the most beautiful cars. Not the best selling or most popular cars. Sports Cars.

2. 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.

3. There are many highly deserving cars of such a distinguished pedigree that we could arguably include two or three (or four) specific iterations of the same make and model. But in the interest of including the widest range of cars, and not shamelessly plugging one specific fan-club, we’ve not ranked individual production years. Nor have we included highly successful successors to (all) of our picks, much for the same reason. If we did, let’s just say, every Ferrari between the 250 and the 599 would be on our list.

Finally, each car has two additional links, chocked full of all those numbers you all want, like engine size, horsepower, available performance figures, and enough high-res photos to wet your palates, and your dreams.

And so, without further adieu, we give you, the 50 best sports cars of all time!

50. NOBLE M15


The M12 was a great car in its own right, but it was still just another thinly disguised race car in street trim. And Lee Noble knew it. So when he created the M15, it was with the intention of creating a genuine competitor to Italian and German exotics twice its price by including luxury amenities such as Sat Nav and providing ample storage space for all those groceries every moderately wealthy gear head needs–and needs fast. But despite all the fluff, the M15 is still one of the purest driving cars ever built, powered by a 455bhp 3.0L twin turbo that’s tuned for acceleration–not top speed–to the “tune” of some 3.5 seconds to 60 mph.



    The Audi Quattro is historically significant for its achievements both on and off the race track. It was the first AWD Grand Tourer since the 1966 Jensen FF, and it was created specifically to take advantage of recent changes in rally car rules to allow four wheel drive systems in competition. The combination of a turbocharged engine mated to an AWD system revolutionized the car’s capability in terms of road holding and tractability, and in terms of pure acceleration the car put down impressive stats, boosting its way to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds and a top speed of 140 mph. The official model name was “Quattro,” referring both to the car and the revolutionary AWD system. However, since future Audi’s would pay homage to this all important predecessor by using “quattro” drivetrains, the 1980 version is also called the “Ur-Quattro,” with the “Ur” suffix meaning “first” or “original”. While critics doubted the viability of an AWD platform, due to its increased weight and complexity, the Ur-Quattro was an instant success, winning its racing debut on its way to a two-year domination of the rally car circuit.



    Any petrol head learns that the true beauty of an Alfa is in the intangibles–things besides dependability, build quality, handling, and performance. In terms of performance the 8C is an exception. Making use of a Maserati-sourced V8, the 8C rockets to 60 in 4.2 seconds, and even pulls 1.02G around the skid pad. But the driving dynamics are all off. The steering is numb, there is tremendous oversteer, and the paddle-shifter gear box is quite possible one of the worst ever constructed (to cite Autocar.co.uk). But, as Oscar Wilde said, “All art is quite useless,” and it is for this very reason that the 8C ascends to the status of moving art–more so than even Ferrari–as it is undoubtedly one of the beautiful cars ever constructed.



    This could easily have been called the Gumpert Phlair because its go-fast aesthetics are just that redundant, and in this the Apollo is the exact opposite of the 8C: It is form following function, and at times, following very very far behind indeed. Intended to be a street-legal but track-ready sports car, every inch of the Apollo’s bulbous surface is made for generating downforce or sheeting the air over and under the car as efficiently as possible, enabling the car to allegedly drive upside down when traveling over 190 mph. I say “allegedly” because, surprisingly, no one has been willing to lay their life on the line just to so Gumpert can list another selling feature in their Apollo brochure.



    The 599 is a Grand Touring car from Ferrari that combines svelte looks with superb handling AND outrageous performance in a way none of the previous cars on the list could do. It is also the most powerful street car Ferrari has ever produced, with 612 HP at the flywheel, and features an “F1 Superfast” sequential manual gearbox that changes gears faster than most of us can blink. And while the 599 will no doubt prove to be another classic from Maranello, the car’s technological innovations, at least at this point, make its spec sheet more praiseworthy than the car itself.



    No doubt any car lover who saw Casino Royale will have the image of this car bursting into worthless scrap tattooed to the inside of their eye lids. Yet, this isn’t the first time (nor will it be the last time on our list) that a Bond movie puts an Aston in the spot light. The DBS replaced the outgoing Vanquish as the top of the line model in Aston’s lineup, and also garnered the title of the fastest car ever produced by those Britishmen. Essentially a leaned down version of the DB9 with more power and no back seats, the DBS can run with all but the very best of them, while retaining an immaculate interior and a painfully pretty exterior–which are the hallmarks of every Aston Martin.



    Following the success of the Miura and the Mangusta, and following reports of Ferrari’s production of a similar format car, Maserati proposed the design of their own mid-engined car: the Bora. The Bora played second fiddle to the flamboyant Countach (with the sole exception perhaps being Top Gear’s James May) but presented the public with a more mature and refined alternative to Lamborghini and De Tomaso. Interesting note, the Bora was the first production car to feature adjustable clutch, brake, and accelerator pedals utilizing a hydraulic set up which moves forward or back around 3 inches.



    The Pantera was another MR car that followed on the heels of the Mangusta. Italian for “Panther,” the Pantera got its bite from a Ford 351 Cleveland engine, and in 1971 De Tomaso began exporting them to the Stats as the Ford Pantera. But the cars were notoriously unreliable, reportedly causing Elvis to shoot his own Pantera after it wouldn’t start, and exports ended after 1975. De Tomaso would continue to offer increasingly powerful and luxurious models for more than a decade afterward.

  • 42. BMW M1


    The M1 was the first and only mid-engined supercar BMW ever produced, and it rounds out our little MR triplets here early on in the list. The car utilized a twin-cam M88/1 3.5 L 6-cylinder engine capable of 800+ HP in racing trim. 456 examples were handbuilt between 1978 and 1981, making it one of the rarest and most desirable BMW’s of all time. Though it didn’t enjoy immense racing success, the M1 is remembered for its remarkable handling and stellar build quality, and in 2004 Sports Car International named it the number 10 best sports car of the 1970s.

  • 41. MAZDA RX-7


    The third and final iteration of the highly popular RX-7 hit the streets of Japan in 1992, and America a year later. Power was generated by the first-ever mass-produced sequential twin-turbocharger system to export from Japan, an extremely complex piece of machinery that gave the RX-7 a wide and usable torque curve throughout the entire RPM range. Car and Driver voted it to their 10 Best list ’93-95, and Playboy awarded the RX-7 victor in a head-to-head contest against the Dodge Viper. Handling was world class, and to this day remains one of the finest handling cars of all time thanks in part to its front-mid-engine layout, and its futuristic looks have kept the car looking sexy after all these years.

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    9 Responses

    1. Jason from Banned Camp says:

      It’s going to take me awhile to get through this list, but it looks awesome.

    2. c0de says:

      Excellent list, but i think you missed quite a few sports cars: Lotus Exige, Esprit S3, TVR 300s Turbo and Grifith, Peugeot 205 1.9 GTi (and the Turbo), Renault 5 Turbo.. and i got a long LONG list….

      but most importantly, Lancia Delta Evoluzione II :(

      • Chris says:


        Check the caveats. The Lancia Delta IS an amazing car. But it has four doors. It’s a great performance car, but it’s not a sports car, strictly speaking.

        If I had my way, I would have included it, along with a Shelby Mustang and a Mini Cooper. But those aren’t sports cars, either.

        As for the Lotus Exige–I included it in with the Elise. This is a broad list, and it doesn’t specify specific body styles or model years for the most part.

    3. c0de says:

      dang, even here no edit button ? i meant TVR 3000s Turbo

    4. .357 From Banned Camp says:

      God, that picture of the 8C made me stare. I have a new desktop background.

    5. c0de says:

      I’m not putting holes in your list or anything, in fact i agree to most of it, i just think there are better alternatives to say.. the Miata..

      • Chris says:

        I understand what you’re saying, and I can sympathize. But–the Miata was listed as #10 by Sports Car International, and as high as #2 by a British slanted Discovery channel top 10 list. The Miata absolutely deserves to be there, and to be high on the list.

    6. John Hopkin says:

      From #21: “For a whole generation of car enthusiasts, this is the wet dream that stole their car virginity, not to mention their hearts”.

      Um, Chris … it takes more than a wet dream to lose your virginity. Just thought you’d like to know that.

      Seriously, though, nice list, and hard to quibble with the choices.

    7. Alex Kierstein says:

      @c0de: yeah, the Miata definitely deserves a place there. if you doubt that, find a Spec Miata racer, provide him with a bone-stock 1st gen Miata, and strap yourself into the passenger seat and allow him to find a windy road. i guarantee that the performance package built into that low-cost, high-volume convertible belies any of the common stereotypes surrounding it. i’ve owned one for a while, and i haven’t come close to exploring the limits yet. it can certainly embarrass a great deal of modern sportscars on a twisty road.

      my own bias is evident, but i think there is something to be said for a driver’s car that a person can actually afford on a tight budget, and i think such a car deserves a place on a list like this.