A-Z of Classic Sporting Cars 1950-1975
AC Ace, Ace Bristol 1954-1963
Bespoke British sports cars with fine looks, excellent performance and, if you like crossplies, handling to match. Two engines — 1991cc AC unit and more powerful 1971cc 120bhp Bristol engine introduced 1956 — both 6-cylinders, both symphonic. Less than 700 produced all told, so rare now. Not cheap to buy and not to be left unattended at Sainsbury’s. Top speed of around 118mph, but not if you want to hang on to your tweed cap.
AC Cobra 427 1965-1969
Brutal, beautiful and ever ready to have a crack at the sound barrier, 7-litre V8 offers 400bhp-plus, neck-snapping acceleration and highly illegal speeds in almost every gear. Chassis copes admirably with the power but be ready to catch it in the wet. Some believe the most beautiful ’60s sports car. Highly desirable but its reputation tarnished (or enhanced?) by the plethora of fakes.
Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider 1958-1961
Rust has consumed a good many but the 115bhp 2-litre twin-cam (2.6 came later) and 5-speed ‘box remain inspiring if you’re prepared to pay handsomely for a good one. First class handling, top speed around 110mph, 20-25mpg and elegant 1950s styling which has stood the test of time. Tiresome electrical problems, but you’re unlikely to be bothered once the tacho needle is above 3,000rpm.
Alfa Romeo Duetto 1966-1967
Twin carb 109bhp “twink” is delightful, if wanting for performance, but the Pininfarina two-seater body still looks stunning. Traditionalists prefer later Kamm tails but the Duetto is better balanced. Charming road car with modern feel — still cheap to buy and run. Rust not a problem if caught in time, spares situation good and an army of enthusiasts to help in times of trouble. Exceptional value.
Alfa Romeo 2000 GTV 1970-1977
A civilised road car with 5 speeds, 2-litre twin-cam and sufficient room in the back for a couple of little ‘uns. Beautiful coupe styling that looks great from any angle, exceptional road manners and performance, and interior comfort aplenty. Rust is a problem and body panels are expensive Parts supply good, market values low: few have cottoned on yet.
Alvis TE/TF 21 1963-1967
Choice of elegant saloon or drophead coupe Graber bodies. 3-litre 6-cylinder engines mated to 5-speed manual or auto ‘box with 110mph performance potential. Bentley-like comfort from leather-trimmed interior, wire wheels, prestigious badge and exclusivity guaranteed. A sensible Bristol alternative which should be on every English gent’s shopping list. Watch for body rust and tired engines. Otherwise, utterly gorgeous.
Aston Martin DB2 MkIII 1957-1959
Everything considered, the pick of the DB2s. 3-litre 6-cylinder engine gives 162bhp if maintained properly and 120mph at the top end. Nicely engineered package and, on the whole, reliable. Front discs brakes improve stopping power, steering a little ponderous and handling now showing the car’s age. Available as 4-seater sports saloon, hardtop coupe or drophead coupe. Don’t ignore cost of ‘ground-up’ rebuilds but a wonderful thing to own, drive or polish.
Aston Martin DB4 1958-1963
A wolf in wolf’s clothing by Touring, the DB4 remains the classic Aston. Straight-six 3670cc engine comes in standard 240bhp, 260bhp Vantage or 300bhp twin-plug GT forms — not forgetting the pretty 314bhp Zagato. All-round discs, ‘snappy gear change and good in heavy traffic: kick the loud pedal, though, and the beast awakens. Maintenance costs can be high but tail-happy handling massages the pain of cheque writing. Watch Mike Salmon driving one and you’ll soon get the message.
Aston Martin DB5 1964-1965
Still a classic Aston — wonderful looks and persuasive presence but beginning to put on weight. 3996cc engine pushes out 282bhp or 314bhp with Vantage spec. Amazing straight-line performance, cornering power reasonable and creature comforts aplenty. For reliability and durability, a better bet than a 275 GTB Ferrari. Just over 1000 cars made, market values reasonable, not difficult to find a good one. But watch for corrosion between body and chassis.
From the early 100/4 to the 3000 MkIII, they all rot like hell, but what a car for those hairy of chest and hard of hearing. Lots of arm-wrenching power especially from 6-cylinder engine available from 1956. Most popular model is the MkIII with 150bhp version of 2912cc engine. Competition success broadens appeal and despite shortcomings — tight-fitting engine, tight-fitting cockpit, tight-fitting everything else — there’s nothing from Italy or Germany that comes close, A most uncivilised, highly desirable road car. And there are plenty about so don’t rush.
Bentley Continental R 1952-1955
The finest 1950s inter-state cruiser and the best looking, most purposeful Bentley of the modern age. 4566cc or 4887cc 6-cylinder engines are unburstable as are autos or manual gearboxes. Supreme comfort but less than ideal for hustling down country lanes. As there were just 207 cars made, good ones are expensive and running costs can be astronomical, but all worth it if you have the dosh. A target for mindless vandals is only drawback.
BMW 507 1956-1959
A fine 1950s fling with exotica before the Bavarian company came down to earth. Available as a ‘ragtop’ or hardtop coupe, the 3168cc 150bhp V8 engine is a Jewel and good for 130mph, very pretty, very exclusive — lust 250 in all — but now difficult to persuade owners to part with them. Still competent, compelling road car, but megabucks needed if you crunch one
BMW 2002 1968-1975
The car that put BMW on the road to stardom. Well-sorted chassis, strong 2-litre SOHC 4cylinder engine that pulls 130bhp in Iii fuel-injected form. Spares readily available (body and mechanics) and good enthusiasts clubs. Mechanically durable but ‘tinworm’ is a problem on unrestored cars. Available as a saloon, 3-door Touring and cabriolet. Turbo version built 1973/1974 goes like stink but rare, suffers from turbo lag and premium prices asked. For those who don’t like Alfa driving position
BMW 3.0CS 1971 -1975
Karmann-built super coupe with 3-litre straight-six on twin carbs or 200bhp fuel-injected CSi — 206bhp on alloy-panelled version. Choice of 5-speed manual or auto gearboxes. Great style, genuine 4-seater, but desirable leather upholstery extra-cost option relatively rare here. Rust also keeps prices low but even a good one won’t break the bank. CSL cost more than a Dino when new but Bee-em is more practical. Watch for cracked cylinder heads and rust in front inner wings. Good spares back-up.
Bristol 405 saloon 1954-1958
Achieved recent fame as star of ‘in’ soap ‘Peak Practice’ — one of the better looking Bristol carriages. Classic 2-litre straight-six but, despite weight of four-door body, good for 100mph flat out. Radial tyres were standard and improved roadholding, but still a handful in tight bends. Less than 300 built but current low values reflect demand for a much-underrated car. A classy piece of craftsmanship
Bristol 410 1968-1969
Beautifully made by old-age craftsmen for people who understand Bristolian philosophy. V8 5.2-litre engine delivers torque and fuel bills in abundance — both unnoticed by enthusiasts. High level of trim, supreme comfort and loyal factory support for restoration work. Market value is incomprehensibly low.
Caterham Super 7 S3 1974
Dumped by Chapman at the end of the ’60s, Caterham took up the challenge of building this unique car in 1974. A strict two-seater for those impervious to the elements. A real driver’s car with unrivalled roadholding, handling and performance with a choice of Ford engines. A triumph of design genius over common sense, the evergreen Seven is the ultimate statement of British motoring eccentricity. Ask the French what they think of it and the conversation soon turns to hearty laughter
Citroen SM 1970-1975
The ultimate 1970s Grand Tourer with power everything including the steering and brakes. Frighteningly complex, virtually every component is an extravagant but technically brilliant masterpiece. Maserati quad-cam 2.7-litre V6 was given fuel injection in mid-’72 and enlarged to 3-litres in July ’73 when 3-speed auto also became optional. Uniquely styled slippery body with 0.25cd aids 140mph top speed. Some folks can’t live without one but rust and spare parts supply a problem, not to mention cost of Maserati engine rebuilds. One hell of a motor car, still cheap to buy but a DIY nightmare.
Clan Crusader 1971-1974
Plastic-bodied, Imp-engined clubmans car. Strict 2-seater and not much in the way of creature comforts, but crisp steering, agile handling with ability to change direction quickly — real crosscountry fun. Astonishing acceleration from 875cc OHC power unit. Have you watched them at Prescott recently?
Daimler SP250 1959-1964
A brave attempt at a two-seater glass-fibre bodied sports car designed to rescue the Coventry concern from the doldrums. Excellent 2.5-litre V8 engine fitted to TR2 chassis copy. Early cars suffered from lack of torsional rigidity until strengthened on B-spec car after 1961. An ugly duckling and a compromised design, but love ’em or hate ’em, there’s 120mph performance for relatively little money.
Daimler V8 250 saloon 1963-1969
A good way of acquiring a Mk2 Jaguar at a budget price. You haven’t got Jaguar performance, of course, but 110mph from the twin-carb 2.5-litre is ample, and the auto ‘boxes fitted to most take the effort out of it in modern driving conditions: leather and wood is a bonus. Rust is the principal enemy but there are good restored ones about if you look hard enough. Beware of ‘clunky’ auto ‘boxes.
Datsun 240Z 1969-1974
The original ‘cor blimey’ sports car from Japan with 125mph tyre-burning performance from the 2.4-litre OHC straight-six. Attractive Ferrari-like 2-door coupe body: overall package appealed to those who mourned the loss of the big Healeys. All-round independent suspension, a well-sorted chassis and excellent stopping power, but rust has taken a heavy toll. Most cars fitted with Wolf race alloy wheels — well, have you seen the standard wheels? A minor classic but one with an increasing following.
De Tomaso Mangusta 1967-1972
Striking two-seater coupe with Ford 4.7-litre V8 and ZF gearbox; built for those with a fetish for high-speed flatulence. Like the Lotus Elan, there’s a backbone chassis but with handling a little more tricky on the limit. Hence the flatulence. One of the most exciting and innovative cars of the 1960s, combining American muscle and reliability with Giugiaro design flair, the Mangusta is unforgettable rather than great.
De Tomaso Pantera 1970
Difficult to ignore the Pantera although many have tried. Whopping 5763cc V8 mounted behind the driver along with 5-speed gearbox. Rewarding in experienced hands but not for 17-year-olds with 10 minutes ‘solo’ experience. Styling not everyone’s cup of tea either but, at 170mph, you’re more likely to be interested in the all-round discs doing their job properly. Supercar performance for the cost of a new GTi-style ‘Ecobox’.
Facet Vega 1962-1964
The pick of several models made between 1954 and 1964. The preferred transport of the rich and famous — Ringo had one — there’s refreshingly unusual styling, a powerful V8 6.3-litre Yankee stock-block ready to ‘grunt on tap and all the usual creature comforts associated with 1960s opulence. Ergonomically challenged, chassis performance compromised and the kind of ride that will make you wish you hadn’t eaten a full English breakfast. But impeccable style.
Ferrari 212 1951-1953
Although the Commendatore kicked off with the 166, it was the DOHC 2.5-litre 212 that marked Ferrari as a constructor of beautiful road cars. Less than 100 were made in two years and, despite the crude leaf-sprung chassis, these cars are rightly at a premium today. The 150bhp V12 was mated to a 5-speed gearbox the exhaust note is quite delicious. A lovely ‘period’ piece but there were better things to come.
Ferrari 250GT 1956-1964
A model in various guises with hardtop coupe, cabriolet and 2 + 2 coupe variants. Fitted with the classic 3-litre DOHC V12 giving up to 240bhp and 4-speed manual gearbox, most were good for up to 140mph, although fuel consumption was usually just on the acceptable side of wicked at such velocity. Braking and roadholding are of a high order but it’s the Scaglietti-bodied SWB version with 290bhp and disc brakes that enthusiasts lust after today. Not forgetting the glorious Lusso.
Ferrari 400 Superamerica 1960-1962
Exclusive, expensive and hand-built for the rich and famous. 4-litre V12 DOHC engine develops close on 400bhp, but with all that weight and bulk, it was no Le Mans contender despite 155mph top speed. Everything from the switchgear to the sump pan feels and looks as though hewn from the solid, but the stunning styling is not to everyone’s taste and maintenance costs will have most clawing for the key to the drinks cabinet.
Ferrari 275 GTB4 1966-1968
In DOHC form this, Ferrari’s first car with all-round independent suspension, first saw daylight in 1965, but when the styling was tidied up and the 4-cam engine installed, it became the car of all schoolboy’s dreams. V12 3.3-litre gives 160mph top speed and 300bhp courtesy of six Webers. Superb handling, nicely appointed cabin and unsurpassed styling — simply perfect, apart from the usual rust. Also GTS ‘ragtop’ and NART Spiders on 275 chassis.
Ferrari 365 GTB ‘Daytona’ 1968-1974
The nearest anyone has ever come to making an automotive version of a Boeing 747. Sensational 360bhp (approx) from 4.4-litre V12 4-cam: 5-speed transaxle and chassis carried over from 275 GTB and handling, therefore, to match engine performance — genuine 175mph top speed and 0-60mph in 4.7sec. Plexiglass model until 1971 when superseded by retractable headlamps. The Pininfarina body stunned in 1968 and still does. Not for the imprecunious or fainthearted.
Ferrari Dino 246 1969-1974
‘Baby’ Ferrari with timeless looks, nice on-the-limit handling and a supreme transverse 2.4-litre V6. Good for 145mph two up and just enough room in the boot for a squashy bag. Spacious cabin, controls well laid out but gear change ‘notchy’. Poor hot starting, the ever-present threat of rust and usual Italian niggles can spoil ownership for those not entirely entranced by the charisma. A minor work of art.
Fiat 850 coupe 1965-1973
Regrettably, rust has eradicated many from British roads but there’s a lot of fun to be had it you can find one of these wonderful little cars in good order. Original 843cc engine was ‘bored out to 903cc from 1968 which spells 100mph with a trailing wind. Just the sort of car that should be competing in historic rallies today — but where are they?
Fiat Dino 1967-1973
Original 160bhp 2-litre Ferrari Dino V6 engine enlarged to 2.4-litres in 1969. Unlike the Ferrari Dino, the engine’s in the front in this one, but roadholding is still exceptional and the bodywork, whether coupe or spider — and they’re very different — looks sensational. A real driver’s car but for the family to enjoy as well; rear legroom is a little cramped. The best ever Fiat?
Fiat 124 Spider 1966-1982
Various twin-cam engines from 1.4-litres to 2 litres. Popular in Europe and America but relatively rare in Britain. Understated styling is worth a second glance because there’s also plenty of enjoyment to be had from behind the wheel. And unlike many sporting ‘ragtops’, there’s a good size boot for continental holidays. It goes without saying that rust is a problem and many spare parts, especially body panels, are not easy to come by. A viable alternative to the Alfa spider.
Ford Lotus Cortina Mk1 1963-1966
The car that changed the world of saloon car racing when driven by Sir John Whitmore and Jim Clark et al. Alloy doors, bonnet and boot lid, Lotus 1600 105bhp 4-pot twin-cam and a top speed of 110mph gave the man in the street an affordable ‘road racer’ capable of great things. Genuine Mk1’s are now expensive but, beware of copies being passed off as the real thing. Dead easy to fake so don’t be fooled by new white and green paint.
Ford GT40 1966-1968
Hairy big banger with 4.7-litre V8 and 160mph top speed potential. Just a handful of road cars — 31 in all — but what a road car it is! No luggage space, rainwater gets in everywhere and there’s not a hope in hell of seeing backwards to park but, with timeless looks, a rot-free glass-fibre body and a racing pedigree that includes four Le Mans wins, the GT40 has to be one of the world’s most desirable high-speed chariots. Racing versions more charismatic, however. Mirage is ultimate but strictly for circuit use.
Ford 1600E 1968-1970
Not the greatest classic but a very useable one. House-brick aerodynamics ensure that the 1600GT engine struggles past the ‘ton’, but there’s a nice plank of wood across the dash and doors, and a set of 51/2J Rostyles and other ‘goodies’ for the sporting look. A sensible 4-door saloon for travelling to and from, rather than competing with, at Silverstone. Jeff Uren’s Savage version is of greater interest: Dunlop alloy wheels, tuned exhaust and a host of other ‘tweaks’, but the heavy V6 3-litre Zodiac lump, although not lacking in ‘grunt’, makes the unassisted steering almost impossibly heavy. Worth considering one though.
Ford Escort RS2000 Mk1 1970-1974
Which Escort? The RS2000’s 2-litre OHC engine makes it a candidate for serious pilotes as well as the almost extinct ‘boy racer brigade’. Fine, easy handling and a lot of useable power from the 100bhp motor. The most successful rally car of all time — in all its various guises — the Escort is set to make a big comeback, but not until the RAC delivers a verdict on its classic rallying status. Alan Mann’s circuit racers were the ultimate tarmac cars — remember the 1968 British Grand Prix supporting saloon race — but where are they now?
Ford Capri RS3100 1973-1974
Naff styling, unruly rubber-eater but a riot of raucous fun. Simple V6 engine had 150bhp and a chassis that could just about cope. Bolt the big 3.4-litre ‘Cossie’ in, blue and white paint job and don’t put your foot down too hard in second — the roof has a habit of ‘kinking’.
Gordon Keeble 1964-1967
Tortoise badge but don’t be fooled, there’s 130mph available from the gas-gulping 5.4-litre Chevy power unit. So much could have come eventually from this small manufacturer but didn’t, and just 99 cars were produced before the company folded. Glass-fibre body is elegant and always looks better in the flesh. Exotic spaceframe chassis was state-of-the-art. The quad-headlamp, wide grille layout and clean lines gel well. There’s usually one, and no more, in the small ads but there are better cars for the money.
Hillman Imp 1963-1976
Not as silly as it appears. A great design but poorly executed. All-alloy 875cc 4-cylinder engine suffers from warped cylinder heads, leaking gaskets and the rest but is eminently tuneable. So, get a rust-free runner, take it to bits, rebuild it carefully and join the Historic Rally Car Register — you can’t regret it; cheaper than a Cooper S and just as much fun.
Iso Grifo 1963-1974
Handsome Italian styling coupled with American 5.3 litre or 7-litre V8 muscle. A Grand Touring car rather than the racer Iso hoped for, but an interesting cocktail nevertheless. Shattering performance with ‘oomph’ all the way to 155 mph and the chassis wasn’t bad either until the outer limits were reached — the front end could point in any direction it liked. The mechanical bits are obtainable but you’ll regret bending the bodywork.
Jaguar XK 1948-1961
From 120 to 150, there are roadster, fixed-head coupe and drophead coupe versions and usually a number of each available. Classic twin-cam 6-cylinder develops 160-280bhp depending upon model, Rack-and-pinion steering on 140s, late cars have disc brakes and some with auto ‘boxes. Whatever your model preference, all of these cars were rust-prone — bodies and chassis — but problems largely eradicated if modern restoration techniques are employed properly. Take your pick — all have 120mph-plus performance, fine handling, even on original crossplies, and comfort aplenty. Watch carefully for bodged restorations.
Jaguar saloons: Mk VII, VIII and IX 1951-1961
The same 3.4-litre (or 3.8-litre in the Mk IX) as fitted to the XK sports cars but with acres of leather-clad cabin space for five, instead of two adults. Manual gearboxes with optional overdrive or auto transmission. A lot of performance for such a large car, and on-the-limit handling will put a silly grin on your face too — body roll is in the 2CV class. Rust has consumed the majority, but there are good ones around and they’re cheap. Pass anything on the road except a petrol pump.
Jaguar Mk I 1955-1959
Early Jaguar attempt at a modern sporting saloon and it caused a sensation. Choice of 2.4-litre straight-6 and 3.4-litre from 1957, Manual ‘boxes with optional overdrive or auto transmission available — disc brakes on later cars. Good looks, ample performance — between 100/115mph depending on engine — but watch the rust and roadholding. Plenty have landed in the guardrails at Woodcote to show that these beasts are tricky.
The classic Jaguar saloon with a choice of 2.4-, 3.4or 3.8-litre twin-cam sixes. Something of a ’60s ‘cult’ car — the choice of bank managers and bank robbers alike — the desirable one is the 3.8 manual overdrive, but the 2.4 is just as rewarding if you’re not in a hurry. Good anchor power from disc brakes, lovely wood and leather interior, improved rearward vision through enlarged back window and gorgeous array of dashboard instruments, but rust by the barrowload if you don’t invest heavily in an annual dose of Waxoyl.
Jaguar E-Type 1961-1975
Styling masterpiece that still turns heads today. choice of 3.8-or 4.2-litre twin-cam sixes or, from 1971, the silky smooth 5.3-litre V12. What hasn’t been said about the E-Type? By any standards it’s still fast, although the handling feels antiquated and there’s a lot of sheet metal to go rusty but parts are easily obtainable and there’s an army of specialists. Prices have tumbled in the past five years but. because they’re unlikely to fall further, now is a good time to buy. Series 1 (up to 1964) raodsters and coupes most desirable and, therefore, the most expensive.
Jaguar XJ6 1968-1978
Evergreen saloon with 2.8 or 4,2-litre twin-cam six and mostly auto transmission. Lots of charm and character, good handlers and usual Jag refinements. Two-door coupe introduced in 1975 is the most desirable, but really good ones are few and far between, V12 introduced 1973 but even thirstier than the 4.2 6-pot. Magnificent poise and presence but perceived reliability and rust problems keep prices in ‘banger’ territory. Key to survival is a rigorous maintenance schedule and an optimistic outlook. Spares situation good. Which is just as well.