Trying to select just 10 examples from the thousands of fun, fast cars that have been made over the last 100+ years is a huge task, so let’s put some guardrails around it. Bugatti Veyron, McLaren F1, Ferrari LaFerrari, or any model Pagani, you’re out. Way too expensive. Way too exclusive. Way too unlikely the average gearhead will ever get his or her hands on you. MGB, Fiat X1/9, and original Miata, you’re out too. Sure, you’re fun and all, but you’re just not that fast. Sorry to call it like it is, but there it is.
The sweet spot here is everywhere in between; there are these extremes of accessibility and being unbelievable. It’s gigantic. Seriously, you could drive hundreds of cars through a sweet spot that big. But we only need 10.
So from that dizzying array of ridiculously fun cars you could reasonably expect to borrow, rent, test-drive, or maybe even buy, here are 10 any gearhead should love because they’re unusual, feature advanced tech, or are just plain cool.
10 Jensen Healey
The Jensen Healey may be the biggest bargain in sports cars. Designed and built to be the successor to the famed Austin Healey, it’s powered by the Lotus 907 engine that later showed up in the Lotus Esprit S1 (yes, the James Bond submarine car).
Late ‘74 and ‘75 versions feature a Getrag dogleg 5-speed transmission that you’ll also find in the BMW 2002tii. And it cleaned up in SCCA, winning the D Production class an impressive five times. It goes, it turns, it kinda stops. But more importantly, the Jensen Healey growls down low, screams as it nears the 7,000 rpm redline, and plasters a grin on your face that’ll be hard to wipe off.
9 Volvo V70R
The 2004-2007 Volvo V70R has a secret. It looks like the car parents the world over use to shuttle their little ones to playdates, soccer practice and school. Yet under the smart styling of Peter Horbury beats a heart with 300 horsepower, 295 ft-pounds of torque, and an odd, syncopated exhaust note that sounds like almost nothing else, thanks to the inline 5-cylinder.
When matched with the 6-speed manual “space ball” shifter, this sleeper rockets from 0-60 in 5.6 seconds, carves up the twisties (thanks to a driver-controlled active suspension), and brings the fun to a safe end with massive multi-piston Brembo brakes at all four corners. You should drive it at least once, but then you may want to keep it.
8 Acura NSX
Back in 1990, supercars weren’t reliable. They couldn’t be counted on to sit in traffic or go to the grocery store. They couldn’t be tuned by the corner mechanic. They worked as toys, but not all that well as real cars. The NSX changed all that.
The design brief was to create one car that could do it all without sacrifice and the all-aluminum NSX delivered. Behind the wheel, the fighter-inspired cab-forward cockpit gives a clear view ahead and behind (another major difference from exotics of the day) while the VTEC 6-cylinder nestled right behind your ears makes a soundtrack that’s almost unbelievable as the revs climb and thrust the car from 0-60 in 5.2 seconds. With a balanced feel and handling dialed in by none other than the famed Ayrton Senna, the NSX dances where other cars lumber.
7 Ferrari 550 Maranello
Gated shifter, glorious 12-cylinder engine, and beautiful in every way, this surprisingly tossable GT is a hoot on twisty mountain roads, with unending torque at any RPM catapulting you ahead at the slightest pressure on the loud pedal. With only 485 horsepower (can you believe that deserves an “only” these days? Crazy!), it’s not the fastest car around, but that’s not the point.
An effortless, refined driving experience that’s still plenty fast is the point. The 550 is incredibly smooth, thanks all those cylinders, so you can drive all day and arrive relaxed - and probably envied, too. Flying keeps getting worse, so maybe your next long distance trip should be on flight 550. Up for it?
6 Plymouth Hemi Superbird
That nose. That wing. That engine. That bit about being banned by NASCAR because it was too fast. Read that last sentence again. This car, along with its Dodge doppelganger, the Daytona, was banned from professional racing because these early aero cars were the first to break 200mph on the track and race officials were concerned for driver safety.
But you can drive it on the street! Best of all, when you lay on the horn to warn slower cars of your near-instant arrival, you get the Road Runner’s trademarked meep-meep! Hilarious fun. And that’s exactly what you want in a car, right?
5 Noble M600
Okay, if you’re from North America, you’re going to have to travel to Europe to drive this one, but rest assured it’s worth the trip. While its construction is state-of-the-art carbon fiber, the M600’s approach is decidedly old-school. With a 662-hp twin turbo V8 just waiting for you throw caution to the wind, downshift, and slam the pedal to the floor, you might expect a squad of electronic nannies at the ready to channel your exuberance into something that closely approximates skill and keep you on the road.
But you’d be wrong. Because this car expects you to drive it. Yourself. Try to defy the laws of physics in this car and you’ll quickly find out if you’re really as good behind the wheel as you think you are. There are few new cars that feel as pure as the Noble M600. That’s what makes it so special.
4 Caterham 7
The Caterham 7 is the latest incarnation of an idea Colin Chapman had back in the 1950s as he pursued his philosophy of performance through lightness and simplicity. Purchasing the rights to the Lotus 7 back in the early ‘70s, Caterham has been building—and perfecting—them ever since. Strap into the airy cockpit and you’ll find yourself low to the ground and open to the sounds, smells and insects of nature. But the 210-hp 420 model will rocket you from 0-60 in an eye-watering 3.8 seconds, so it’ll all pass by in a blur - and the 7 is so light and low to the ground, you barely have to slow down for turns. A helmet is optional, but exhilaration comes standard.
3 Superperformance MKIII
None of us can turn the clock back to when Carroll Shelby launched the Cobra — the marriage of AC’s curvaceous aluminum bodied Ace with the Ford 260 V8, an early iteration of the soon-to-be-famous Ford 289 HiPo.
The Cobra dominated the racing circuit, helped cement Shelby’s legend and became one of the most copied cars of all time. Good thing we can track down a Superperformance Cobra replica at almost any cruise night or cars n’ coffee across the country. Or, apparently at the track. A 427 c.i. Superformance MkIII set the new Cobra speed record of 201.1 mph in 2017. Wow.
2 Tesla Model S P100D
Everything that needs to be said about the Tesla Model S P90D can be summed up in two words: Ludicrous Mode. This car goes from 0-60 in 2.4 seconds. In perfect silence. Except for the screams of your passengers, that is. But it’s also a fully-functional AWD sedan that’s as comfortable in stop-and-go traffic as it is on the freeway, as it is at the valet stand of your favorite restaurant.
We won’t get into autonomous mode here, because that’s not the kind of driving that gearheads care about. For you, it’s the knowledge you’re driving the quickest car on Earth, right? Good thing you’re all grown up. Most of the time.
1 Corvette ZR1
Every generation, the Corvette gets faster, swoopier, and more amazing. But not every generation gets a ZR1. So when one comes out, it’s kind of a big deal. The 2019 ZR1 takes everything Chevy engineers learned from the Z06 (a pretty awesome car, itself), the C7.R race car and a bunch of new tricks they’ve been working on to deliver 755 hp and 715 ft-lbs of torque via a hand-built, supercharged LT-5 engine.
Find one with a manual, and you’ve got seven gears to play with, although you won’t need more than the first two to blow past the speed limit in any state — even Texas (85 mph, in case you were wondering). But there’s more to the ZR1 than speed (0-60 in under 3 seconds, 212 mph top speed, BTW). A driver-adjustable suspension that reads the road every millisecond, gigantic Brembo carbon ceramic brakes, and carbon fiber throughout to keep the weight down. Maybe the coolest application of carbon fiber is the intercooler cover that sticks out through the hood so you can see the engine rock back and forth as it winds up. Sort of takes you back to the Mopar Shaker hood of the ‘60s, doesn’t it?
So there you go. Ten fun, fast cars you should find a way to drive – like right now. Do you agree with this list? Were there any cars you didn’t know about? Leave a comment with your list and let’s keep the fun going!