Sunday, July 14, 2013

10 Ten Supercars from the 1960's to the 1990's

Supercar, Hypercar, Hyper-Hybrid, when will the madness stop? I for one hope it never does. Halo cars are the stuff that dreams are made of. And I suspect that the companies that make wall posters hope these cars never go away. Where will all those pre-pubescent boys (and come to think of more than a few older types) get their wall coverings? Been to my garage lately? Yeah, guilty as charged. I have more than a supercar or two adorning the empty spaces.

If you have been reading My Life With Porsches, you know that I love my lists. It's so orderly and all. Almost a wee bit British, not that there is anything wrong that that. The list part I mean... We should probably set some qualifications. The cars on this list have to be production cars, cost less than $250K when they were new and add something to the automotive landscape. Should be easy right? Wrong, there are probably a bunch of cars that are not on this list for a good reason. They probably sucked, or worse, they were ugly, or worse and generally we did not care too much for them.

So here it is, my list of top the top Supercars from the 60's to the 90's.

10. BMW M1 - BMW needed a halo car, the M1 fit the bill. Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro of Ital Design, it showcased his famous wedge shape and featured a highly tuned version of the venerable BMW inline 6. Little known fact, Lamborghini was actually charged with producing the car for BMW, but being an Italian firm known for meeting deadlines... BMW ended up taking it in house and farming out the production to their M or Motorsports division.

9. De Tomaso Pantara - Take sexy Italian styling and combine it with Detroit iron (AKA a FordMoCo 351 Cleveland V8) and what do you have? Well besides a car that could easily catch on fire, it could be purchased at your local Lincoln Mercury dealer. And here is the amazing thing, for a paltry $11,000. But that was 1971 dollars, which means it would cost you a million today.

8. Ferrari Testarossa - Ferrari needed a car that could go up against the Lambo Countach. The mid-engine flat-12 Testarossa carried the banner. It was very wide, probably too wide for narrow Italian (and European B-Roads) and it has these deep side strakes that gave it an aggressive stance. It screamed Ferrari, even when standing still. And Sonny Crockett drove one. Don't remember Sonny? Think the 80's, think pastel colored South Beach, think Miami Vice. Yeah it had that kind of vibe.

7. Porsche 930 Turbo Carrera - Other super cars came before, but nothing had the impact of 260 turbo-charged HP in 1976. The first affordable supercar, the 930 developed a reputation of being tough to drive (don't brake mid corner if you want to exit the corner whale tail first), but was rewarding if driven well. It was also plush by Porsche standards with standard AC, power windows and a full leather interior. Porsche did not think that they would sell, they figured they were too expensive. Funny, but they are still making them, each generation better than the preceding one. That's progress!

6. Honda NSX - Honda was deep into motorsports in the 80's and it wanted a road car to showcase its technology. Their partnership with McLaren produced several Formula One World Championships with the likes of Alain Prost, Niki Lauda and the incomparable Aryton Senna. It is told that Senna helped Honda set up the suspension settings on the NSX and there is a famous video showing Senna driving the car, one camera showing the view out of the car, the other showing his feet working the pedals. It is great to watch his feet dance across the pedals, the guy was a true master. So Honda hit all the high notes, mid engine V-6 that redlined at 8,000 RPM, Honda reliability and drop dead good looks. I think Honda needs another car like the NSX, if only to help the get back on the track to motorsports...hint, hint.

5. Ferrari 288 GTO - The 308 series of cars were Ferrari's most popular cars to date. Just ask Thomas Magnum, he drove one it Magnum PI for a number of years. It became one of the most recognizable cars of all times as America got a weekly dose of fun loving action adventure. But Ferrari needed a faster car for the FIA Group B rally series and it chose the 308 as the basis for the new race car. The series may have ended, but Ferrari went forward and built more than 270 road going versions. Amazing good looks, the car really was the embodiment of the 308 on steroids, but then again it would be with more than 400 HP on tap and a top speed of more than 300 KPH, a first for a production based road car.

4. Porsche 959 - Talk about a tour de force. The 959 was supposed to have battled with the 288 GTO, but Group B got scrapped. Porsche (like Ferrari) went ahead and built the car anyway. Rumor had it, that it lost money on every 959 it sold. The car was very ahead of its time - AWD, sequential twin turbos, active ride height adjustment, aluminum and Kevlar shell, the list of forward looking technologies built into the 959 goes on an on. And it was even faster than the GTO with the sport version clocking in at 197 MPH. There is a great story about Paul Allen and Bill Gates (two Microsoft heavy weights) who both wanted to drive a 959 in the US. Problem is, Porsche never had plans to federalize the cars so they were impounded by the IRS and sat in a warehouse for more than a decade before the laws were changed to allow limited use cars like these to be imported. To federalize one will set you back about $200,000. That's on top of the price of the car. OUCH!

3. Ferrari Daytona - The Miura was stealing all the automotive press thunder, but Ferrari did not have a mid engine car to fight it. That would come later, when the 365 GT4 BB came along in 1971. So Ferrari needed a car that would carry the torch until its mid engine fighter would be ready. The Daytona (or more accurately the 365 GTB) was the perfect foil to the Miura. Front engine versus mid engine, they each took a different path to reach the zenith of late 60's performance. The sharp edged styling was penned by Pininfarina and it is one of those designs that have stood the test of time. It still looks great (from any angle). Developing more than 350 HP and with a top speed of more than 170 MPH, the Daytona was the everything the Miura wasn't. The one main difference, the Daytona was a pleasure to drive.  

2. Lamborghini Countach - The Farah Fawcett of cars. The Countach probably adorned more bedroom walls than all other cars combined. I mean, just look at it. Wedge shaped, scoops, spoilers, scissor doors and a stonking V-12 motor made it probably the icon of all supercars before and after. Designed by Marcello Gandini of Bertone, he used trapezoidal shapes to give it the signature low and wide wedge shape. The original LP400 and 400S were devoid of the later spoilers, wings and sill extensions that came to characterize the shape of the car. The original was much more fluid and graceful compared to the look that came later. But the later cars got better and better with the change to injection versus the early carb only models. For me it does not really matter. Wings, spoilers, carbs or injection, I would take any of them.

1. Lamborghini Miura - When it comes to supercars, one could argue endlessly which one should come in at numero uno. But really the whole supercar genre had to start somewhere. And that starting point was the Miura. Lamborghini wanted to focus on Grand Touring type cars, but his brain trust of Gian Paolo Dallara, Paolo Stanzani and Bob Wallace convinced him otherwise. They built a rolling chassis with the engine mounted mid-ship with a common casting for both motor and transmission to help with packaging. They showed the chassis at the 1965 Turin auto show and customers came forward with orders so Lamborghini gave the Miura  the green light, the car being shown with its Bertone styling at the Geneva show the following year. It may be amazing to look at, but history shows that it was difficult to live with and the common casting of the engine and transmission proved to be troublesome. Still, it is achingly beautiful to look at from any angle.

Honorable Mention? There are so let's limit it to five: Maserati Bora, De Tomaso Mangusta, Alfa Romeo Montreal, Shelby Cobra, Ferrari BB. We will stop the mentions there since one could go on and on. So there you have it. My list of the top 10 supercars. But I stopped in 1990. How about more recent cars? Well just wait a week or two and see what pops up.

And on that exhaust note, until next time.

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