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Sports Cars

Massive demand for sports cars in prosperous post-war America prompted rapid progress in design here and in Europe. This was a golden era for sports cars, as profiles became lower and stylists emphasized this with gorgeous, flowing lines, in the process coming up with some of the most attractive cars ever built.

Chevrolet Corvette, 1953


Engine3,859 cc, straight-six
Top speed107 mph (172 km/h)

A Motorama dream car that made it to production, this was the first plastic-bodied car and represented a well-judged leap of faith by Chevrolet.

Sunbeam Alpine, 1953


Engine2,267 cc, straight-four
Top speed95 mph (153 km/h)

Based on the four-seat Sunbeam-Talbot 90 chassis, the Alpine was overweight. Good PR from Alpine Rally wins in Europe and a 120 mph (193 km/h) record run were not enough to win sales.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, 1955


Engine1,290 cc, straight-four
Top speed112 mph (180 km/h)

This beautiful little sports car was built to a very high specification with performance far higher than its 1.3 liters would suggest, thanks to its brilliant twin-cam engine.

Jowett Jupiter, 1950


Engine1,486 cc, flat-four
Top speed84 mph (135 km/h)

Innovative but heavy, Jupiters enjoyed good handling thanks to a low, horizontally opposed engine. Jowett was too small to make it in quantity: 899 of these were sold.

Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider, 1958


Engine1,975 cc, straight-four
Top speed111 mph (179 km/h)

Ahead of contemporary U.S. and British standards, except for its drum brakes, this handsome 2+2 Alfa boasted unitary construction, a five-speed gearbox, and a double-overhead-camshaft engine.

Triumph TR2, 1953


Engine1,991 cc, straight-four
Top speed107 mph (172 km/h)

This fast and entertaining sports car was developed on a shoe-string budget. It was an immediate success in the market, and probably won more rallies than any other car.

Arnolt Bristol, 1953


Engine1,971 cc, straight-six
Top speed109 mph (175 km/h)

S.H. “Wacky” Arnolt of Indiana commissioned Bristol to build a rolling chassis in England, to be clothed by coachbuilders Bertone of Italy. Just 142 were built.

Jaguar XK140, 1955


Engine3,442 cc, straight-six
Top speed124 mph (200 km/h)

The XK120 grew up into the XK140, with rack-and-pinion steering, more power, and more space inside. Customers could have a roadster, convertible, or coupé.

BMW 507, 1956


Engine3,168 cc, V8
Top speed135 mph (217 km/h)

Just 250 of these gorgeous super sports cars from BMW were built. They were so good, motorcycle World Champion John Surtees has owned one from new.

MGA, 1955


Engine1,489 cc, straight-four
Top speed100 mph (161 km/h)

Beautiful lines, a top speed of 100 mph (just), and a fixed-top coupé option made up for the separate chassis in the MGA. It sold well, especially in the United States.

Mercedes-Benz 190SL, 1955


Engine1,897 cc, straight-four
Top speed107 mph (172 km/h)

Launched just after the similarly shaped but much faster 300SL Gullwing, the 190 was a luxurious touring car for two, built to traditional Mercedes-Benz quality standards.

Daimler SP250, 1959


Engine2,548 cc, V8
Top speed120 mph (193 km/h)

The maker of staid luxury sedans had a new aluminum V8, and it was used in a fiberglass-bodied sports car with a chassis copied from Triumph.

Austin-Healey 100/4, 1953


Engine2,660 cc, straight-four
Top speed103 mph (166 km/h)

Donald Healey conceived an inexpensive sports car using Austin Atlantic parts, Gerry Coker styled a stunning body, and Austin bought the rights to produce it.

Austin-Healey Sprite, 1952


Engine948 cc, straight-four
Top speed86 mph (138 km/h)

Targeting the bottom-of-the-market preserve of kit cars, the “Bugeye” (“Frogeye” in the UK) Sprite showed that cars didn’t have to be fast to be fun.

Porsche 356A, 1955


Engine1,582 cc, flat-four
Top speed100 mph (161 km/h)

The lively 356, launched in 1950, grew from its VW roots until, by the end of the decade, it was a 110 mph (177 km/h) flyer, hitting 125 mph (201 km/h) in its twin-cam Carrera form.

AC Ace, 1956


Engine1,971 cc, straight-six
Top speed117 mph (188 km/h)

Launched in 1954 with AC’s own engine, the Ferrari-inspired Ace with all-independently sprung chassis came alive with a 120bhp Bristol engine, and later spawned the Cobra

Lotus Elite, 1957


Engine1,216 cc, straight-four
Top speed118 mph (190 km/h)

This was the world’s first fiberglass monocoque: complex with excellent aerodynamics, a powerful Coventry Climax engine, and supple suspension. It was highly sophisticated.

Lotus 7, 1957


Engine1,172 cc, straight-four
Top speed85 mph (137 km/h)

Brilliantly simple, Sevens were sold mostly as kits with a choice of engines. Low weight and well-designed suspension made them quick and effective in club racing.


It is a quote. The Definitive Visual History Of The Automobile 2011

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