Sports cars have changed a lot over the years!
From design to technology, the changes over the past 100 years have been incredible.
What is your favourite era of sports car?
Racing Edge provides a brief history of sports car production through the decades. Following Part 1 which focuses on the Brass Era to the ‘Golden Era’ 1960s, welcome to Part II – 1970s to the present day.
Sports Car Production - 1970s
The 1970s saw a change of direction in sports car production. While the previous decade saw a radical forward movement, design traits in the 1970s were very different.
Sports cars became sharper as curves were replaced with angular lines. Manufacturers focused on long bonnets and short rears, and big performance.
Supercars adopted the famous ‘wedge’ shape. Think of the iconic Lamborghini Countach, Maserati Bora, Ferrari 308 GTB and Lotus Esprit.
Makers began experimenting with bold new looks. Britain’s Aston Martin released the American Muscle-inspired V8 Vantage. Porsche, meanwhile, built on the success of the 911 with exciting new versions.
Lancia enjoyed terrific success with the Stratos, a futuristic sports car that looked more like a spaceship than rally monster. Nevertheless, Lancia won three successive World Rally Championship titles in the mid 1970s.
After the progress of the 1950s and 1960s, the 1970s helped move sports cars into the supercar era.
Fashion, perms, parachute pants, new-wave music and crazy super cars. If you were to sum up the 1980s, that would be a good start.
The 1970s saw a clear switch in design from previous decades as the wedged sports cars became popular. The 1980s took those designs to the next level.
Technologically, the 1980s was a standout decade for sports car evolution. The turbo charger became a big thing, as did all-wheel drive, as manufacturers focused on improving performance and speed.
Sports cars adopted innovative computer technology and driving aides.
It was a defining era for Ferrari. The Italian brand produced the astonishing F40, still one of the world’s most iconic super cars today. The Testarossa and 288 GTO followed.
Lamborghini further developed the Countach, Porsche released its unforgettable 959 while Ford’s RS200 was launched to satisfy rally homologation. BMW made waves with the M3, while Audi brought out the Quattro. The 911-inspired RYF CTR Yellowbird remains a standout 1980s sports car.
In Asia, the Nissan Skyline, Toyota MR2 and Honda CRX all impressed.
The 1980s was all about pushing performance. Companies were determined to break top speed records and outperform their rivals.
The 1990s was a fantastic era of sports cars and supercars. If the 1980s seemed futuristic, the 1990s was another level!
The economy was booming as demand for exotic cars became higher.
The sci-fi designs of the previous decade were further enhanced, as sports cars featured more air vents, intakes and dramatic spoilers. All in the name of improving aerodynamics and speed!
Super cars and sports cars were designed with motor racing in mind. With technological improvements such as better electric steering, sports cars became faster yet easier to drive.
The turn towards motor racing brought a host of crazy, homologated race cars made for street use. For example, the 1990s gave us the Porsche 911 GT1, Mercedes CLK-GTR, Lamborghini Diablo, Toyota GT-One, Nissan R390 GT and Dauer 962 Le Mans.
The McLaren F1 was the standout 1990s supercar. It was a racing monster and dominated Le Mans.
In terms of design, Jaguar’s XJ220 remains the picture sports car of the 1990s, as does the Ferrari F50. The Pagani Zonda also made an exciting debut in the late 1990s.
However, arguably the biggest shift was the new wave of super cars coming from the Far East. The Honda NSX was an incredible machine that forced European manufacturers to rip up the rulebook and start again.
A new century and a new era of sports car production. Asia dominated the sports car scene in the early 2000s, with a host of nimble coupes and rally monsters.
The Mazda MX-5 and Toyota MR2 were complemented by the improved Nissan Skyline and new Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru Impreza WRX.
The turn of the century brought the internet boom as digital technology advanced at a rapid rate. Super car technology did the same. Design changes improved aerodynamics as sports cars were given sharper noses and wider rears. Carbon fiber became prevalent.
Power became astonishing. Bugatti broke top speed records with the incredible Veyron.
Ferrari released the Enzo, named after its founder: arguably its greatest success since the F40.
There was also a firm nod to the past from various manufacturers. The Mercedes SLR and Ford GT were both inspired by previously successful race cars in the 300 SLR and GT40.
There was also a rise of completely bonkers supercars from marques such as Pagani, Koenigsegg, Saleen and Hennessey.
Road-going sports cars such as the Audi R8 and Lotus Elise became hugely popular. However, sports car production would soon take a turn for the greener.
Modern day supercars and sports cars are a world away from those of the past.
The entire motoring industry has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. Turbochargers have once again become popular, but the biggest shift has been the emergence of battery power and hybrid technology.
Manufacturers are focusing on being greener and reducing emissions.
As a result, a new wave of hybrid supercars and sports cars came to the fore.
The McLaren Speedtail, Aston Martin Valkyrie, Ferrari La Ferrari, Maserati MC20, Koenigsegg Hemera, Lotus Evija and Porsche Taycan are the new benchmark for environmentally-friendlier supercars.
And there are plenty of impressive sports cars to boot.
The new Mercedes-AMG GT looks exceptional. Maserati and Alfa Romeo define Italian sports car style with their respective GranTurismo and 4C models.
While change has been heavy, there is still a desire to top your rivals and break records. The Hennessey Venom F5 looks set to be faster than a Bugatti Chiron, the first production car to break the 300 mph barrier.
Whatever the future holds, it has been an incredible journey for sports cars over the past 100 years. Hopefully, it is only going to get better.