The definition of a sports car has changed over the years. What was once limited to open-top 2-seaters has now evolved to include almost any vehicle with four wheels and a sporting nature. Hatchbacks, sedan-based coupes, and even 4-door autos are classified by some as sports cars. Road and Track says, “Ask five people the exact definition of a sports car, and you'll likely get five different answers.”
True sports cars almost always elicit one specific emotion: speed. Even when a sports car is not moving, the aggressive look can prompt observers to say, “look at that fast car.”
What makes a car look fast (and therefore sporty)? The form and shape of any car are influenced by the car’s components and occupants. These affect the size and proportions. Specific shape packages are associated with fast cars and speed. An example is a car with the engine located behind the driver. The mid-engined car is strongly associated with race cars and sports cars. All Formula One race cars have a mid-engine configuration.
Styling is a significant factor. While the “wedge” and the “taper” improve a car’s aerodynamic properties, both shapes imply speed. Car designers have always been influenced by current sources when creating cars that “look fast.” In the 50s and 60s for example, fast designs sported fins and long, thin shapes, like jet planes and rockets. Today the influence comes from Motorsport. Put an aerodynamic device like a rear wing on a road car, and that car instantly looks faster and more exciting: a sports car!
However, not all sports cars that look fast are fast. Here are 25 that couldn’t beat a bicycle.
25 1976 Porsche 924
The Porsche 924 was designed as an entry-level model and as a replacement for the 914. The two-door, 2+2 coup was the first street-ready Porsche with a front engine and automatic transmission that drove the rear wheels.
Although it achieved a level of sales success with just over 150,000 produced during a 1977-1988 production run, enthusiasts criticized its mediocre performance
The Porsche was remarkably slow even by the standards of its time. The underpowered 2.0-liter EA831 engine was the same previously used in the Audi 100 and a VW van, not exactly examples of high-performance vehicles. The 924 lumbered to a 0-60 mph time of 11.6 seconds and it reached the quarter mile at a snail’s pace in 18.1 seconds.
24 1974 Jaguar E-Type V12
When the Jaguar E-Type was first introduced in 1961, Enzo Ferrari called it "the most beautiful car ever made,” and the Daily Telegraph online ranked it number one on their list of the worlds’ "100 most beautiful cars" of all time.
The Series I Jaguars were not only attractive, but performed well for cars of that era with a sub-7-second 0 to 60 mph acceleration and a top speed of 150 mph.
However, for the Series III (1971-1975), Jaguar equipped the E-Type with lethargic 5.3-litre V12 and optional automatic gearbox. The heavier body and underperforming engine turned the once dynamic E-Type into a shadow of its former self with an acceleration from 0-60 mph in over 8 seconds and a maximum speed of 135 mph.
23 1969-1976 Porsche 914
A joint effort from Porsche and Volkswagen, the 914 was a two-seater, mid-engine roadster with a Targa top that looked like a sports car but lacked performance. Motor Magazine wrote in 1973, "The 914 is no sports car. Not enough power."
Although it cornered well and handled curvy roads to perfection, the acceleration was, frankly, pathetic. The standard 914 came with a four-cylinder, air-cooled engine and an option for the more powerful 2.0-liter engine with fuel injection that generated 101 hp.
The most popular choice by 914 buyers was the 1.7-liter Volkswagen Type 4 unit, which fell well short of sports car like characteristics with its 80 hp. It accelerated from 0-60 mph in a sluggish 13 plus seconds.
22 Triumph Spitfire
An inexpensive small sports car with basic features like rubber mats and a large plastic steering wheel, the Spitfire was, never-the-less, comfortable to drive. It boasted relatively full instrumentation, roll-down windows, and exterior door locks. However, the coil-and-wishbone front suspension with rack and pinion steering, and the rear single transverse-leaf swing axle assembly proved to be troublesome for the Spitfire. The design caused violent oversteer if driven too hard.
In addition to mechanical issues, the Spitfire’s speed was disappointing. The in-line four-cylinder produced only 63 bhp at 5,750 rpm and 67 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm. The underpowered engine gave the car an acceleration of 0 to 60 mph in 16.4 seconds and a top speed of 92 mph.
21 1980 California Corvette
Strict emissions standards applied to the automobile industry in the '70s and '80s made a significant impact on vehicle performance, but nowhere were the regulations more rigid than in California. The Corvette, perhaps, suffered more than most other sports cars. While owners were more than happy to pay higher prices for a 400 hp “Vette” just ten years earlier, the Corvette 305 "California” edition of 1980 with its smog-choked 5.0L V8 that managed to produce a mere 180 horses was a disappointment.
To make things worse, a significant portion of the Corvette’s power was consumed by a torque-sapping three-speed automatic transmission. The “sports car” accelerated from 0-60 mph in a slow 9.3 seconds on its way to a maximum speed of only 122 mph.
20 1979 MG Midget
The MG Midget was a fun car to drive that had a successful eighteen-year production run ending in 1979, mostly due to its low cost and reliability. However, in the 1970s, British Leyland struggled to keep the performance at acceptable levels, as vehicles were loaded with catalytic converters, EGR valves, and air pumps to meet new US and California exhaust emission control regulations.
A new 1493 cc engine from the Triumph Spitfire was installed. The increased displacement helped deal with new emission regulations, not with more horsepower, but with more torque. The increased output combined with taller gear ratios also improved acceleration. However, the change was from an embarrassingly slow 0-60 mph in 13 seconds to a marginally improved 12 seconds and a top speed of just over 100 mph.
19 Ferrari Mondial
Ferrari produced the Mondial from 1980 to 1993. A mid-engine, V8-powered grand tourer, it was offered with coupé and cabriolet body styles. Most experts would agree that the Mondial was not among Ferrari’s best cars, it has the unique distinction of being the only convertible, mid-engine four-seater made in the history of automobiles worldwide. Replacing the Ferrari 308/208 GT4 coupé, the Mondial remained the last 2+2 model V8 Ferrari produced until the California convertible and the GTC4 Lusso coupé were released in 2008 and 2016 respectively.
The first Mondial versions were equipped with a detuned 214 bhp 3.0-litre V8. The underpowered Ferrari accelerated from 0-60 mph in just under 10-seconds which is slow for most modern vehicles but unthinkable a Ferrari sports car.
18 Triumph 1800
No one would expect a sports car built in the late 1940s to be fast. The Triumph 1800 doesn’t disappoint. Standard Motor Company purchased Triumph in 1944 and subsequently designed the 1800 Roadster, model number 18TR to compete with Jaguar in the sports car marketplace.
The 1800 engine was a variation of Standard's 1.5-litre, four-cylinder side-valve engine that had been built exclusively for SS-Jaguar before World War II. Although the Triumph version had a higher compression ratio, the engine managed to produce only 63 hp.
In 1947, Autocar magazine test results showed acceleration from 0-60 mph in a pathetic 34.4 seconds and a top speed of 75 mph. The magazine diplomatically described the maximum speed as "satisfying but not startlingly high."
17 2012 Toyota GT86
A joint project by Toyota and Subaru, the GT86 is equipped with the Subaru 2.0-liter naturally aspirated boxer engine that produced 197 bhp and 151 lb-ft of torque.
While the horsepower output seems more than adequate to produce a respectable performance, the Toyota GT86 has been criticized for its lack of power ever since it arrived on the scene in 2012. Acceleration numbers are less than modest for the 0-62 mph dash at 7.7 seconds with the manual transmission and a sluggish 8.2 seconds with the six-speed automatic. The GT86 reaches a top speed of 137mph.
Sadly, the GT86’s lack of torque not only degrades the acceleration numbers but effects handling performance, especially through the occasional hairpin turn.
16 1989 Mazda Miata
The Miata MX5 is a fun car to drive through the corners and generally outperforms the competition with excellent handling characteristics. However, the Mazda is severely underpowered, with performance specs that even fall short of a Ford Escort GT.
The iron-blocked twin-cam 1.6-liter engine is derived from the turbocharged engine used in the 323 GTX all-wheel-drive car. However, it was tuned to run at normal atmospheric pressure, and placed longitudinally in the engine compartment instead of transversely as in the 323.
Although the Miata is lightweight, the engine's 116 peak horsepower does not produce impressive results. The car accelerates from 0-60 mph in 9.0 seconds, completes the quarter-mile in 16.5 seconds and reaches a top speed of 116 mph.
15 1968 Ferrari Dino 206 GT
Released in 1968 and named after Enzo Ferrari’s son, the Dino 206 GT was the first road-going Ferrari to use other than the traditional 12-cylinder engine. It was also the first road-legal car with a mid-engine layout. Placed behind the seats, the 2.0-liter V-6 that Ferrari had designed in the 1950s produced 160 bhp
Car critics applauded the 206 GT for its intrinsic driving qualities and groundbreaking design. The model received numerous awards including a place on Sports Car International’s Top Sports Cars of the 1970s and Motor Trend Classic’s list of the 10 "Greatest Ferraris of all time."
However, the 206 GT needed 7.5 seconds to hit 60 mph and can reach a top speed of 140 mph; disappointing for a Ferrari two-seater coupe.
14 Pontiac Fiero
The only mass-produced mid-engine sports car by a U.S. automaker, the Pontiac Fiero was successful despite its reputation as an unreliable car and its pathetic performance figures. A total of 370,168 vehicles were produced over a period of five years.
Pontiac offered two engine options: a base four-cylinder 2.5-liter, and a 2.8-liter six-cylinder unit. Fiero’s innovative body structure with a space frame and plastic panels was designed to achieve a weight under 2,000 pounds, but the complete structure ended up more than 2,500 lbs., making the car slow, really slow.
Car and Driver road tests in December 1983 showed an uninspiring 0-60 miles per hour acceleration in 11.3 seconds and a top speed of only 105 mph for the base model.
13 Ford Mustang 2nd Generation
Ford introduced the 2nd generation Mustang as a smaller and more fuel-efficient pony car in a time when the U.S. suffered from a fuel crisis, increasing insurance rates, and stricter emission standards. However, Mustang enthusiasts wanted a true V8, the traditional beast that had always been about performance and speed, not ecology and fuel consumption.
The 2.3-litre inline-four produced only 90 hp, and the optional V6 could only cough out 107 hp. Mandatory catalytic converters reduced output to 83 hp and 97 hp respectively.
The base model Mustang II accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in an unhurried 13.4 seconds and reached the quarter mile in 19.3 seconds at a speed of 71 mph.
Berkeley Cars Ltd of Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, England offered affordable sports cars with their front wheel drive economic microcars powered by motorcycle-derived engines from 322 cc to 692 cc between 1956 and 1960.
One of the smallest car engines of all time, the 0.32-liter transverse-mounted, air-cooled two-stroke, two-cylinder produced 18 hp to the front wheels in the early years, but a later three-cylinder bumped that up to 30hp.
Tests conducted in 1957 by Motor magazine on the 328 cc Berkeley showed it to have a top speed of 62.1 mph and acceleration from 0-50 mph in 30.6 seconds. The trade-off for lack of power was fuel efficiency. The tests recorded a fuel consumption of 48.5 mpg‑US.
11 DeLorean DMC-12
When production of the DMC-12 began in 1981, it was plagued with problems including gullwing doors that were too heavy, poor electronics, a ventilation system that malfunctioned frequently and caused overheating, and the selection of an underpowered 130 bhp 2.6-litre V6 from Volvo/Renault/Peugeot.
In production for only three years, failure of the company can be attributed to many factors including cost overruns, an unfavorable exchange rate, cash flow problems, refusal by the British government to provide additional funding, along with DeLorean's personal problems. However, the biggest problem was the underpowered engine. The car weighed 2,866 lbs., far too heavy for a 130hp powertrain.
An acceleration of 0-60 mph in 10.5 seconds and a quarter mile time of 18 seconds were much slower than buyers expected from such an exotic-looking sports car.
10 Volkswagen Golf MK4
When Volkswagen launched the MK4 in October 1997, auto critics, the motoring media, and owners showered it with accolades. In 2001, it was the bestselling car in Europe.
The fourth generation Golf, the MK4, came with a higher-quality interior and equipment upgrades over the MK3. Handling characteristics were not exceptional, but the steering was precise, and the soft ride made for comfortable trips, both on city streets or highways.
However, the MK4 used the same 2.0-liter engine as the MK3. Prospective buyers eventually grew disappointed with the performance. With a mere 115 bhp the car accelerated from 0-60 mph in a lackluster 10.5 seconds.
9 1948 Porsche 356
Although the Porsche 356 is a priceless classic that marked the beginning of a long history of high-performance Porsche sports cars, it was slow even by late 1940’s standards.
The car was built with a new steel spaceframe chassis, but most of the other component parts were originally developed by Porsche for the Volkswagen. The front and rear suspension, as well as the drivetrain, were pure Volkswagen. However, the mid-mounted engine pointed forward. The brakes, clutch, steering, and headlights were also sourced from Volkswagen. The 25 bhp air-cooled flat four Volkswagen engine was bored, used larger valves and a higher-compression cylinder head to produce 35-40 bhp when installed in the 356.
Although the elegant aluminum body gave the 356 an aerodynamic form and lightweight, the upgraded powertrain was still insufficient to provide any significant acceleration performance.
8 1949-1952 Crosley Hot Shot
Although the Crosley Hot Shot sports car won the Index of Performance at the 12 Hours of Sebring, it was remarkably slow. The small, lightweight, and fun-to-drive vehicle has the distinction of being one of the few production cars ever made that takes longer to get to 60 mph (26.3 seconds) than it does to reach a quarter mile (23.4 seconds).
Despite their lackluster acceleration, the Crosley roadsters represented two significant automotive achievements: The 44-cid overhead cam engine design that produced 26.5 bhp and powered the car to a maximum speed of 74 mph, and a full set of Goodyear-Hawley disc brakes. Both features were highly unusual at the time.
7 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing
The 300SL Gullwing is one of the most recognizable sports cars in the automotive world, in part due to Mercedes racing success. The SL300 version won at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 24 Hours of Nürburgring.
While many people assume that the Alloy Gullwing was equipped with a similar high-performance engine straight from the factory, the powertrain was more modest.
The 1955 300SL Alloy Gullwing was equipped with a 3.0-liter, six-cylinder engine featuring a Bosch mechanical fuel injection that generated 215 hp and 203 lb-ft of torque. The engine was coupled to a 4-speed manual transmission that sent power to the rear wheels.
The 300SL accelerated from 0-to-60 mph in 8.8 seconds with a top speed of 130 mph. Both of those numbers are subpar by today’s standards but not too bad for the 1950s.
6 1992-1997 Honda Del Sol
The four-wheel-drive, Targa top, two-seater, front-engined Del Sol was sold in the U.S. from 1992-1997 as a rival to the Mazda MX-5/Miata.
An entertaining vehicle offering precise handling, good braking, and enough power to take on windy roads, it was a refreshing change from the dreary Honda lineup in the early and mid-1990s. Based on the Honda Civic, the Del Sol featured compact 1.5-liter and 1.6-liter engines, which sent power to the front wheels through five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions.
While the Del Sol had better handling and braking than the Miata, the standard powertrain produced a disappointing acceleration of 0-60 mph in a sluggish 9.9 seconds.
5 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia
The classic styling and sporty appearance of the Karmann Ghia made it look like a 60’s high-performance sports car, although it was marketed as a practical and stylish 2+2. However, its performance was identical to the Volkswagen Bug since they shared the same engine.
While the Beetle used a machine-welded body with bolt-on fenders, the Karmann Ghia's shape was formed with butt-welded panels that were hand-shaped and smoothed with English pewter. The process was time-consuming and expensive resulting in the Karmann Ghia's higher price.
Although Ghia’s engine displacement grew concurrently with the VW Beetle, ultimately arriving at 1584 cc, it still only produced 60 hp. The result was a 0-60 mph time of approximately 26 seconds, far short of sports car expectations.
4 Smart Roadster
Introduced in 2003, the Smart Roadster remained in production for only two years. It was a stretched platform of the first generation ForTwo model, powered by a 0.7-liter three-cylinder turbo engine coupled to a six-speed semi-automatic transmission that produced 61 hp. The Roadster boasts a front independent suspension with a McPherson leaf spring layout, while the rear featured a torsion bar suspension.
The Roadster was a small sports car, even smaller than the Toyota MR2 and the Mazda MX-5 Miata, but the price was nearly the same.
Unfortunately, the car was painfully slow. It needed nearly 11 seconds to reach 62 miles per hour and could achieve a top speed of only 109 mph.
3 1985 Nissan 300ZX
The sleek and elegant 300ZX combines U.S. and Italian sports car styling with a focus on the drag coefficient. Both the standard model and the Turbo feature an aerodynamically shaped front spoiler the permits the Nissan to achieve a very slippery drag coefficient of 0.31Cd. The 300ZX Turbo's 0.30 Cd is even lower than the Toyota Supra and the Porsche 928 at 0.38 Cd, and the Corvette at 0.34 Cd. The lower drag coefficient helps improve fuel mileage, provides a quieter interior with less wind resistance, and influences speed.
Despite the excellent drag coefficient, the slippery body of the 300ZX is not enough to give the sports car exceptional acceleration characteristics. It does 0-60 mph in a disappointing 8.4 seconds and reaches the quarter mile in 16.6 on its way to a top speed of 137 mph.
2 1964 Morgan Plus 4
In 1950, the Morgan introduced the Plus 4 model as a larger-engine ("plus") car than the previous 4–4 model. It was equipped with the 127.4 cubic inch Standard Vanguard engine while the 4-4 model used the Standard Special 77.3 cubic inch engine.
In 1964 Morgan implemented a contemporary fiberglass body on a special version of their Plus 4. The lightweight body with reduced drag characteristics improved the performance. However, it was not enough to place the car in the high-end sports car category. The Morgan accelerated from 0-60 mph in 9.3 seconds, reached the quarter mile in 17 seconds and had a top speed of only 107 mph.
While the fiberglass Plus 4 showed some promise, mainstream Morgan enthusiasts did not embrace the departure from traditional Morgan design. Only 50 Plus 4 models were built.
1 Ferdinand GT3 RS
Webster’s dictionary defines a car as “a machine that is used to carry people or goods from one place to another,” and a sports car as “a small, usually two-seater automobile designed for spirited performance and nimble handling.”
By this definition, the GT3 RS qualifies as a sports car even though it is pedal-powered and rides on bicycle wheels.
Originally named Ferdinand GT3 RS - The world´s slowest Porsche, the car was created by an Austrian artist, Johannes Langeder, who covered a handmade chassis, bicycle mechanism, and four bike wheels with an empty Porsche bodyshell.
The sports car took the record for the slowest lap time ever on the Top Gear TV series. It may also be the slowest sports car ever made but its fuel-efficiency is superb and it is nearly emissions free!
Sources: jalopnik.com, msn.com, readcars.co, carsguide.com, fastestlaps.com