Sports cars have changed a lot through the decades.
Whether it be in design or technology, the changes over the past 100 years are fascinating.
What is your favourite era of sports car?
Here, Racing Edge provides a brief history of sports car production through the years. The first part sees us focus on the Brass Era to the golden era!
Part 2 focuses on the 1970s up until the present day.
The term ‘sports car’ did not become popular until after the First World War. But the automobile was first created in the late 19th century.
This period was known as the ‘Brass Era’. Even in the early years of the brass era, performance was a big thing.
Mercedes had the Simplex 60hp (1903), Bugatti had the Type 22 while Ferdinand Porsche’s Austro-Daimler 27-80 enjoyed motor racing success.
Cars were originally status symbols for the rich. Everything was about luxury and travelling in style and comfort. The Rolls Royce Silver Ghost is a prime example.
However, in the 1910s, Ford made the first-ever mass-produced car in the Model T. Henry Ford's new, innovative Assembly Line method revolutionized car making. It cut down production of a single car from 12 hours to around 2.5 hours.
It changed the world. The Ford Model T was affordable and gave the average person the chance to travel.
Car production largely stopped throughout the First World War.
This is the ‘Vintage Car’ era. Elegance combined with speed. Following the end of the First World War, manufacturers began to make sports and road cars again. Economies grew and people had money to spend – especially the wealthy.
Advances in technology allowed for better, more powerful engines. Austin, MG, Bugatti, Rolls Royce, Mercedes and Alfa Romeo made high-profile cars during this time.
Makers also started producing two-seater cars alongside their four-seater tourers. The rise in sports car production went hand-in-hand with the emergence of motor racing. During this time, the first Le Mans 24 Hours was run as well as the famous Mille Miglia in Italy.
Standout models from the vintage era include the Bentley 3-liter, Bugatti Type 13 and Rolls Royce Phantom. Alfa Romeo was the first to use the ‘Gran Turismo’ or GT moniker on the 6C 1750 GT.
A difficult decade for sports cars. The Great Depression and the beginning of the Second World War saw a decline in both production and buyers.
The gap between rich and poor grew bigger. The wealthy still bought cars, which led to a trend in more graceful models.
Sports cars and road cars in general enjoyed better aerodynamics thanks to the creation of streamlining.
Bugatti’s Type 57 and Type 57C, one of the world’s most valuable cars today, was built during the Pre-War era. The Type 55 and Jaguar SS 100 are also prevalent cars from this era.
After the end of the Second World War came a period of renewed hope and success. This decade was arguably one of the most important in sports car production.
Cars began to look ‘sportier’. Models such as the Aston Martin Atom and Jaguar XK120 took Europe by storm. Brands focused on curvier looks and wider, lower bodies to fit bigger engines like the straight-six.
In Italy, the newly-founded Ferrari made its first race car in 1940 (Tipo 815) before the first Ferrari-badged car was released later that decade (125 S).
Ferrari then followed with the 166S as a new generation of race cars began. Maserati made the A6 1500, a two-seater Berlinetta Grand Tourer with Pinin Farina design.
Porsche also released its first car, the 356, as the German marque’s journey began.
The curves were here to stay in the 1950s. Carrying on through the Post-War era, sports cars began to look more desirable.
Roadsters and Coupes became commonplace. Brands loosened the reins and experimented with new shapes, and newer technology. They started to push the limits with speed and design as sports cars entered a modern era.
The Ferrari 250 GT, Alfa Romeo’s ‘Flying Saucer’ Disco Volante and the Porsche 356 Speedster led the challenge from Europe. Across the Atlantic, Chevrolet was busy building the Corvette C1.
In Britain, Jaguar’s D-Type and XKSS as well as Aston Martin’s DB2 began flickering the flames of a revolution.
Perhaps the most iconic sports car of the 1950s was the Mercedes 300 SL with its stunning gull-wing doors.
Sports cars were now hitting 220-250 bhp. A generation of baby boomers were coming of age. Change was on the horizon.
Largely considered to be the golden era for sports car production. The Swinging Sixties brought great change and positivity. Creativity and innovation led the way.
Gone were the stuffy, boxier designs of old. Sports cars enjoyed a new wave of sleek sexiness inspired by the progress of the previous decade.
Cars were fast: it was important to be faster than your competitors. Great rivalries between Ford and Ferrari, as well as Ferrari and Lamborghini were born. Sports cars and race cars racked up great speeds, with powerful new engines.
The 1960s produced some of the greatest sports cars ever built, some of which are still in production today.
American Muscle enjoyed a huge boom. The Corvette Stingray, Ford Mustang and Shelby Cobra came to the fore. Mazda and Datsun had success in Asia.
Sports cars became prevalent in pop culture. Aston Martin enjoyed wonderful success with the DB5, used by James Bond in the film Goldfinger. The Ford Mustang starred alongside Steve McQueen in Bullitt.
This was the era when sports cars were the epitome of cool.
However, sports car production was on the cusp of big change once again. But more on that in Part 2.