Friday, July 13, 2007

Ten All-American Sports Cars

Sports cars are different things to different people.
For Don Chaikin, the recently retired automotive editor of Popular Mechanics, if you look up "All-American sports car" in the dictionary, there's a picture of only one set of wheels.
"To me, it's the Corvette," he says. "The classic definition is, it's got to be front-engine, rear-wheel drive. It has to have a V8, and it has to have a true dual exhaust. It has to have two doors and two seats, and it can't be a sports coupe."

Another widely held and passionately defended definition of "sports car" is the tiny, affordable two-seat roadster. Like America the melting pot, this concept is a blend of different nationalities.
Its roots are in the post-World War II boom in tiny, lightweight, mostly British sports cars like MGs and Triumphs. They were finicky to start on a rainy day, not very practical and not even all that powerful. But when they ran, they were, and are, immense fun to drive.

"In the old days, a sports car was thought of as an open two-seater that might not even have a top," says D. Randy Riggs, editor in chief of Vintage Motorsport magazine. "Or else it had a top that you had to spend an hour putting up and down."
High costs and poor quality all but drove the British car industry out of business and into foreign ownership by the 1980s. A Japanese brand revived the British sports car concept in 1989, with the original Mazda Miata, now in a new generation. Compared with other sports cars, it's tiny and unpowered but undeniably fun to drive.

American Adopters American models, on the other hand, have plenty of muscle. To make our list, a car had to be an American brand and built in North America (the Dodge Challenger will be built across the border in Canada).
Such icons include the Pontiac Solstice, for the 2006 model year. GM added the closely related Saturn Sky for 2007.
The Ford Mustang is another All-American set of wheels, in between the bulked-up Corvette and the stripped-down Miata concept.

But since the Mustang and its competitors have four seats, some purists consider them "sport-y cars," as opposed to sports cars per se. Automotive News, the auto industry trade magazine, lumps most of the cars on our list into the larger category of "sporty cars," which are then subdivided based on price. Consulting firm J.D. Power and Associates has a similar "sporty" category, which includes most of the cars on our list that are on sale. Some of our picks aren't on sale yet, so they're not categorized.
However, Riggs points out that even classic Porsche 911s had folding jump seats for kids, and nobody would think of calling them anything but sports cars.
Bottom line: The freedom of choice, the right to different opinions, and the blending of ideas and cultures from different countries doesn't apply to just the good old U.S.A. It applies to her sports cars as well.

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