The weather is getting nicer every day, and I’m looking forward to spending some time driving with the top down. Feeling the sun and the wind aren’t the only benefits. You also enjoy great views from a convertible that you miss in a closed car. My wife and I used to drive around and look at houses in a little old sports car of mine and you didn’t have to constantly duck to see what you were driving by. There are plenty of nice ragtops out there, including new ones. I happen to be a vintage sports car fan, so I’ve confined my list to that variety. I’ve also intentionally excluded exotically expensive cars that I’d love to own or just drive. A few of the cars on this list are worth real money, but multi-million dollar cars are for a different list.
This is a very cool car and, like all old Porsches, sturdy and trouble-free. It has no windows and a top too low to let you sit up straight, so it’s really a fair weather car. It’s not fast at all, but it’s fun and you’ll get about as many thumbs up in this as anything on the road. It was the first cool car Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and James Dean owned, so that’s saying something.
This is a well-built car and handsome in a clean, Germanic way. It’s the least sporty of the bunch, but great to cruise around in. A lot of the U.S. cars had automatic transmissions, which wouldn’t cut it for me, but you can find the occasional one with a four-speed. It had an optional removable hardtop, which is really good-looking when most of them aren’t. A little more country club than race track, but a classy ride.
This is one of the truly iconic American sports cars. It’s very pretty, but in a masculine way. The fuel-injected cars are rare and valuable, but the lower spec. cars are much more attainable. No one will miss seeing you in this. If you find a good one, it won’t cost an arm and a leg to keep it on the road. It’s not a real lightweight, nor does it have very sophisticated suspension or brakes, but it does have one of the all-time great V-8 engines. Put on a Jan and Dean song and you'll be ready to go.
This is the antithesis of the Corvette in a lot of ways. Pininfarina designed the body and they were awfully good at it, so it’s one of the prettiest small sports cars of its era. It’s not aggressive or tough, just beautiful. It has an overhead, twin-cam motor (dual Weber carbs on the Veloce model). It has coil spring suspension and brakes that actually work. The gearbox is wonderful, but the second gear synchro lasts about as long as a pint of yogurt. Not the quality of its contemporary Porsches, but extremely sweet to drive.
This is pre-war technology at its best. It’s very graceful to look at, much more refined than the MGs or Triumphs of the time. You hear it said that it has a wood frame. What it actually has is a hand-built body on an ash body frame. The actual chassis frame is old-fashioned, but it’s steel and it does its job. It’s a hoot to drive. They made one with a Rover V-8,so it’s quicker, but it’s nose-heavy. This is a relic from the past, but a great car nevertheless. They still make them. Wow!
You’ll see its successor, the 3000, a lot more often, but this is the more pure car. It has a fantastic body shape and the windscreen folds flat in case you’re not getting enough bugs in your teeth as it is. It has a pretty agricultural motor and gearbox, but it sounds right and it couldn’t look much better. For a small, old sports car this one does have an aggressive air. A serious step up from your standard post war English roadster.
A lot of people think that this is the most beautiful sports car of all time. Enzo Ferrari said as much. It’s certainly hard to find anything wrong with the way it looks. It was the fastest production sports car in the world when it was introduced in 1961, although they had to fiddle with it quite a bit to get to the claimed 150. It looks pretty small now and it’s certainly narrow, but it’s not a cute little sports car. It’s a very serious car, it handles extremely well and it's quick, even by modern standards. It has one of the great engines of all time, the overhead cam, six cylinder XK. Jaguar used this engine from 1949 through 1992. The early 3.8 liter cars are the most valuable, but these cars came with non-synchro Moss gearboxes. You get used to them, but sweet they are not. Where I grew up, you never saw the really exotic stuff, but seeing an E type once in a while was good enough.
In any case, I can’t wait to do some open air driving. Some people think it’s silly or impractical to own an old car, but I’m not one of them. Just buy a boat and an old sports car will seem like the most useful thing you could own. You can get groceries and a sunburn at the same time, for goodness sake.
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