David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
8/28/20 9:16 a.m.

Engineers didn’t wake up one morning and deliver the modern sports car. The type evolved over time. The Mercer Raceabout, produced a little more than a hundred years ago, was an early attempt at delivering true sporting performance.

As the decades progressed, the formula was refined: lower center of gravity, more powerful engines and increased stick. Four machines, we’d argue, helped propel us into the modern era of the sports car. Each one helped us break free from upright styling, ox-cart suspensions and tall, skinny tires.

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mad_machine (Forum Supporter)
mad_machine (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
8/28/20 10:40 a.m.

I would also throw the Alfa GTV6 into the mix.  If for no other reason than to have an Italian car in the lineup.  Yes, it's driveline is a lot like the 924, but it also brings semi-usable rear seats into a very sexy and svelt body that can dance with the best of them.  Unlike the German and English cars, it also includes a sweet sounding and sexy smooth v6.  It is the car that bridges the Datsun and Porsche, combining the best of both cars in a way only the italians can

LindBrosRacing
LindBrosRacing
8/28/20 4:01 p.m.

You should add the 140 horsepower Jensen Healey to this article. Underrated and under appreciated it is a great alternative to the average underpowered 70's sports car . You should also recognize Joe Huffaker and Huffaker Engineering for making the TR7 and TR8 winners. Huffaker also won two National Championships with the Jensen Healey in the first two years of production. A first for any production car.

Timothy Murray
Timothy Murray None
8/31/20 9:01 a.m.

Let's not forget the Fiat X1/9 that debuted its "...sleek, wind-cheating..." shape year earlier than the TR7 to people who were arguably in the same tax bracket as TR7 buyers.  My X still makes me smile every time I look at her.  

Tom_T
Tom_T New Reader
2/24/21 1:55 p.m.

Come on!  ... Really!? ... How groundbreaking are a handful of front engine updates?

You start with the 240Z then jump to the TR7 & 924 - while skipping past the first mid-engine mass market sports car with electronic fuel injection, 4 wheel disc brakes, standard 5-speed transmission, and both flat 4 & 6 cylinder air cooled engine options - with great race history for both powerplants, which continues today in vintage racing! 

Many of your "ground breakers" had only front discs, only a 4-speed transmission (until later on), were carbureted, and most were 4 cylinder only - except for the rotary RX-7 & I-6 240Z - which was not even cutting edge at that time. 

How can you ignore the car which saved Porsche from bankruptcy, just as the more recent and another VW-Porsche joint venture Cayenne did in the 2000's?

You really need to add the 914/4 & 914-6 to this list - unless you're trying to say the only fron engine sports cars need apply - which then is really NOT so groundbreaking!

Tom T

1973 914-2.0 "914S" 2nd owner since 1975

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Bardan
Bardan New Reader
2/24/21 1:55 p.m.

In reply to Timothy Murray :

I worked for a guy that had an X1/9. He loved it when it drove, but spent most of it's time being towed or in the shop. 

johnorm
johnorm New Reader
2/24/21 7:08 p.m.

I would add the Porsche 914, Volvo P1800 and TR8 to the list of 70's and 80's sportscars.  I have have owned three TR8's, two 914's and two P1800's over the years. They are a great choice because they are still a great bargain compared to a 240Z (currently have the two 914's).

vintagemilano
vintagemilano New Reader
2/24/21 9:02 p.m.

I feel that the Alfa GTV6 is a bit outside the parameters of this article as it's model run was 81-86. However, the Alfetta GT from 75-79 with 5 speed transmission, 4 wheel disc brakes and fuel injection for all years would totally fit in. Classic wedge styling by Giorgetto Giugiaro also a plus. With 140,000 made of all variants it compares side by side with your TR7 and 924 published examples. The alfetta GT also has racing pedigree. Mind you the original release of this article was almost ten years ago now. Would "birth of the modern sports car" writings look any different today?

dougie
dougie HalfDork
2/24/21 9:07 p.m.
LindBrosRacing said:

You should add the 140 horsepower Jensen Healey to this article. Underrated and under appreciated it is a great alternative to the average underpowered 70's sports car . You should also recognize Joe Huffaker and Huffaker Engineering for making the TR7 and TR8 winners. Huffaker also won two National Championships with the Jensen Healey in the first two years of production. A first for any production car.

Right you are and still going strong in historics as you know.....

racerdave600
racerdave600 UltraDork
2/26/21 4:41 p.m.
Bardan said:

In reply to Timothy Murray :

I worked for a guy that had an X1/9. He loved it when it drove, but spent most of it's time being towed or in the shop. 

As someone that owned many X1/9's over a number of years, most X1/9 problems are due to not knowing how to work on it, or electrical ground problems.  Mine had very few issues, as long as you knew what you were doing.  For instance, there is a bleed valve in the frunk, and if you do anything with the cooling system, you have to jack up the front of the car and open the valve.  Problem is, it doesn't look much like a valve and you had to know if was there.  And most Fiat dealerships at the time I think were pretty shoddy.  

And as someone that has owned all the cars on the list, the X1/9 probably deserves it far more than the TR7.  I'm an old Triumph guy, but there's not much revolutionary about the TR7 except in terms of a modern-ish British car.  The X1/9 though was built by a "super car" builder in Bertone, plus an engine design that owes its origin to Aurelio Lampredi, who also designed iconic Ferrari engines. It also was built to a safety standard that was almost unheard of at the time.  It really was a revolutionary car and sold in pretty good numbers.  If they were less prone to rusting and had a bit more hp from the factory, the collectibilty of the X1/9 would be far greater.

Also, not sure the TR7 or even the 914 can claim to have spawned other cars like the Fiat did, namely the MR2 and FIero.  The AW11 is in many ways, a good, updated copy of the X1/9 underneath.  

wspohn
wspohn SuperDork
2/27/21 2:14 p.m.

IMHO, the birth of the modern sports car didn't take place in the 1970s (although the Datsun 240Z did come as a shock to the traditional British sports car types), it took place in the previous decade - in fact at the beginning of it.

To my way of thinking, this was the first modern sports car - 

In 1962 the car had:

- non-rusting GRP body

- backbone chassis and all independent suspension

- light weight

- efficient 4 wheel disc brakes

- modern DOHC over-square 4 cylinder engine.

Later variants (the 26R with just over 1300 lbs and around 180 bhp) burned up the tracks in their displacement class until the next generation of mid/rear engines sports racing cars showed up (Ginetta, Chevron etc.)

A fair bit of the Elan DNA came from the Lotus Elite, one of the prettiest Loti ever, and fairly quick on the track (although when I was racing in historic racing, the fastest ones tended to have more DNFs so weren't considerd real threats). Unfortunately the forward thinking all fiberglass monocoque chassis was expensive to build and maintain, which I beleive is why the Elan came along only five years later.

In a lot of ways, the Elan was a lower production somewhat less reliable Mazda Miata almost thirty years before its time.

dougie
dougie HalfDork
3/5/21 10:39 p.m.

In reply to wspohn :

Right on all points except it didn't have the reliability that the '67 Datsun Roadsters had.

wspohn
wspohn SuperDork
3/6/21 10:52 a.m.
dougie said:

In reply to wspohn :

Right on all points except it didn't have the reliability that the '67 Datsun Roadsters had.

Chapman's cars never had the reliability  - his approach was to build a car, wait until something broke, make a slightly stronger version etc.  It is too bad that this race car modus operandi spilled over into his street cars.

It is interesting to speculate where things would have gone if the Elan had possessed the reliability of it's later successor, the Miata.

 

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