Then and Now: 60 Years of Sportscars
Continuing on this month's "Then & Now" series, today we're taking a look at the iconic sportscar with a quick snapshot or two of a vehicle from each decade begining with...
1954 - Jaguar XK140
During the 1950s the line between a race car and a road-going car was both razor thin and often crossed. A sports car during this era put an emphasis on “sport” and many were truly meant for competition. The ‘50s were really interesting because World War II had advanced technology greatly and there were many more high-strung mechanics per capita than before the war. Put the two together, add a desire for speed, stand back, and watch the fireworks. The Leaping Cat was on top of the world in 1954, with three consecutive victories at Le Mans in the books and a bright future in its headlights. Jaguar’s XK140 was a best of both world’s proposition with the iconic silhouette of the XK120 blended with race-proven mechanicals. Available as a two-seat roadster, drophead coupe convertible, or hardtop coupe, the 140 was powered by the latest iteration of Jaguar’s 3.5-liter XK six cylinder engine rated at 190 horsepower with optional variants bumped to 210 horses via a competition-spec cylinder head and carburetor improvements. Think of the quintessential ‘50s British roaster and this is what your mind’s eye will conjure.
One of my favorite sports cars was born in 1954, but it did not come of age until 1957. The Maserati 250F made an already highly accomplished driver a straight-up legend. Juan Manuel Fangio made the most heroic charge in motor racing history behind the wheel of a Maserati 250F. El Maestro was hoping to clinch the '57 driver’s championship the German Grand Prix but after a disastrously long pit stop he found himself far behind his two main rivals in a pair of Ferraris. Fangio power-slid the Maserati around the 170-plus-turn, 14-mile Nordschleife circuit cutting into the Ferrari’s nearly one-minute lead by setting and resetting the track record lap after lap. Fangio caught and passed his biggest rival, Mike Hawthorn on the final lap, taking the checkered flag by a scant 3.6 seconds. Honorable mention: Alfa Romeo Giulietta & Romeo
1964 - Ford Mustang
Representing the significant Golden Anniversary, a lot of attention has been focused on 1964. Making it 50 years is big news. Some of the other notable 50th birthdays include G.I. Joe, Beatlemania, the Sharpie permanent marker, the miniskirt, the Easy Bake Oven, and the Hemi 426. The big-engine, small chassis philosophy that drove the musclecar movement first surfaced with the Ford Mustang. It was instant Nirvana as the ponycar combined the compact Falcon chassis, all new sheetmetal, and a stout 289-inch V8. Ford had a million in sales by 1966. The Blue Oval was a winner on the track as well, capturing the SCCA B-Production championship in 1965, ’66, ’67, and the Trans Am championship in 1966 and ’67. Texan Carroll Shelby also got his hands on it. The car’s commitment to performance, mid 1970s notwithstanding, has carried the mark though 50 straight years of production.
Shelby Cobra FIA 289
Speaking of Carroll Shelby, another one of my favorite automotive personalities, he was already working his magic with Fords in ’64. In fact 2014 is the Golden Anniversary of the FIA version of the small-block Cobra, which competed in the 1964 World Manufacturers Championship series against marques like Aston Martin, Jaguar and Corvette. To celebrate the birth of the 289 Ford-powered roadsters, Shelby is offering 50 limited edition continuation (CSX7000 pictured) Shelby 289 FIA Cobras. Each will be painted Viking Blue with FIA stripes and roundels, feature a black FIA interior, special billet anniversary badges, original style wheels and a variety of additional options. This is a flashback to the future type of scenario, for a car that is serious Bucket List material for most any enthusiast with a heartbeat. Honorable mention: Ferrari 275, Fiat 850, Sunbeam Tiger, Pontiac GTO
1974 - Lamborghini Countach
In 1974 the American automotive juggernaut that was musclecar-mania found itself at the bitter end of the line. Oil shortages, environmental concerns, and a disengaged public sucked the power right out the American performance car market. Soon, V8s would be burdened with smog pumps and choked back to 150 horsepower. Classic movies like “Gone In 60 Seconds” and “The Man With The Golden Gun” did their best to uphold the automobile’s cool factor, but America was in for a struggle. A Super Bowl ad in ’74 cost $103,000. Europe, however, was not only on stable footing but pushed the envelope to the extreme - just look at the Lamborghini Countach and consider the most popular car on the road was a VW Beetle. Sleek lines and swoopy silhouettes were replaced by wedge shapes, trapezoidal panels, and compound angles, all with a flash of Italian panache. A mid-mounted V12, scissor doors, and a big contact patch has served as the exotic supercar blueprint for the last 40 years. Dubbed the LP400, the first Countach was never a big seller with just over 2,000 examples built between ’74 and 1990, but it is wise to remember that Lamborghini was producing other models, spawned from the LS400 during that time span. Even today, the Countach’s impact can be seen in modern Lamborghinis and other super-exotic offerings. Honorable mention: Maserati Quattroporte, Bricklin SV-1
1984 - Ferrari Testarossa
Bust out the poofy hair, white slacks, pastel shirts and suit coats with rolled up sleeves, it’s the ‘80s. Michael Jackson is making waves with a famous Pepsi commercial, Madonna is just making waves, Frankie Goes To Hollywood urges us to "Relax,” Arnold first said, “I’ll be back,” and Michael Dell started selling computers to the people. A Super Bowl ad hit the wallet for $384,000. Take all the above-listed ‘fashion attributes’ of the ‘80s, mix in some yachts, a nice helping of drug culture, a couple detectives named Crockett and Tubbs, and a Ferrari Testarossa and you’ve got Miami Vice, one of the iconic TV series of the decade. The Testarossa is easily spotted by the strakes down its side that lead to big vents that feed the mid-mounted V12. I like the car’s audacious styling...and who would turn away a V12 Ferrari? The Testarossa’s 4.9-liter was rated at 390 horsepower, tame by today’s standards, but the soundtrack still hits the high notes. Honorable mention: Toyota MR2, Audi 5000S Turbo, Mustang SVO, Bentley 8
1994 - Ferrari F355
Things were humming along in America in 1994. “Life was like a box of chocolates,” according to Forrest Gump, O.J. Simpson made his famous dash for freedom in a white Ford Bronco, and we lost grunge rocker Kurt Cobain and comedian John Candy…there were bumps in the road. In automotive news, Christian Von Koenigsegg founded a car company but he wouldn’t produce his first street legal car until 2002. Super Bowl ad: $900,000. Here we see where Ferrari went post Miami Vice. The F355 runs a V8 amidships and the styling is a bit less trendy than the Testarossa of a decade earlier. The chassis consists of a steel monocoque with tubular steel rear sub-frame with front and rear suspensions using independent, unequal-length wishbones, and a coil spring/shock set-up. Honorable mention: Alfa 145, Audi RS2 Avant, 7 Series BMW, VW Polo Mk3
2004 - Aston Martin DB9
Can you believe Facebook is 10 years old in 2014? Yep, the Facebook was born in 2004. In other news… Boston Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino. Legend has it the Red Soxs were cursed to never win a championship again because they traded the all-time great Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. It was 86 years between World Titles for the Sox, so Boston was celebrating at Tea Party levels when the Sox swept the Cards. In the NFL, the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl but the halftime festivities made quite the splash as Janet Jackson was afflicted with the Wardrobe Malfunction while grinding on stage with Justin Timberlake. Super Bowl ad: $2.3 Million. The DB9 has done well for Aston Martin, heck it’s still in production all these years later. With a 6.0-liter V12 rated at 450 horsepower nestled behind its signature grille (sorry Ford Fusion) the ’04-vintage DB9 meant business right from the get-go. The car has been refreshed through the years and the latest iteration puts out 510 horsepower. The Aston Martin DB9 has a significant racing pedigree with back-to-back class wins in the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2007 and 2008. No wonder James Bond likes these things.
Porsche Carrera GT
Produced from 2004 to 2007 the Carrera GT is more race car than road car. The car’s mid-mounted V10 started life as a Formula 1 engine built in secret for the Footwork Formula 1 team in the early ‘90s. It was later dusted off for use in a late ‘90s version of Porsche’s 911 GT1 and LMP1 racers. Rules changed and the engine was once again on the shelf. Fast-forward to the 2000 Paris Motor Show and the Carrera GT Concept dropped so many jaws the 612-horsepower, 5.7-liter V10 finally found a place to land. Porsche pumped out 1,270 examples and even at $450,000 per copy had no problem selling the lot - sleek supercars. Honorable mention: Ferrari F430, Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, TVR Sagaris, Pontiac Solstice
2014 - Lamborghini Huracán LP 610-4
Today it’s hard to project forward and identify the cool, cultural trends of 2024. Wearable devices like Google glasses and intuitive artificial intelligence is entering mainstream (smartphones are already completing our texts, will they take our thoughts right from our stream of consciousness next?). Will zombies, selfies, gaming, and hip-hop still be relevant in another 10 years? Let’s just try to enjoy the ride… Super Bowl ad: $4 Million ($133,000 per second). This new Raging Bull gets the juices flowing but luckily lacks the bone-crushing price of $4.5 million like the Aventador. At about $200,000 this Lamborghini hits the wallet softly indeed. The innovative aspect of this car is its hybrid aluminum/carbon fiber frame and aluminum composite outer skin. Mechanically, the Huracán flexes a 610-horsepower V10 that funnels its intensity through an all-wheel drive system taken from the outgoing Galllardo. Styling-wise, I like that Lamborghini has stepped away from the trapezoidal abyss that is the Aventador. The Huracán has that Lambo edginess, but feels more buttoned up at the ends…with something I’m not used to saying about a Lamborghini “a rounded nose.” Time to start playing Powerball again.