From luxurious front-engined GT cruisers to outrageously-styled V12 fire breathers and lightweight Sunday afternoon drop-top roadsters, the most famous sports cars in the world are the epitome of power, prestige, elegance and speed. They represent humankind’s innate desire to redefine the boundaries of physical and artistic innovation.
Indeed the mere mention of famous Italian sports cars, mechanical masterpieces from Germany or the classic British roadsters can turn the heads of even the most hardened motoring aficionados.
Get ready for a high-octane thrill ride of a lifetime as we explore the iconic sports cars that have left an indelible mark on the annals of automotive excellence.
The jaw-droppingly beautiful 3.9-litre V12 Lamborghini Miura was one of the fastest production cars in the world when it was launched in 1965 and one of the most famous Italian sports cars of all time. The paradigm-shifting decision to mount the engine in the middle behind the driver caught the car industry napping and the modern-day supercar was born.
It’s not the fastest sports car in the world, but it is most certainly one of the most famous sports cars in the world. The MX-5, known as the Miata in the USA and the Roadster in Japan is the best-selling two-seater convertible in history, with well over one million sold since it was launched in 1989. As inexpensive, wind-in-your-hair, oodles-of-fun cars go, there’s very little that beats this small superstar!
After Enzo Ferrari pulled out of a deal to sell his company to Ford in the early 1960s, Henry Ford wanted his revenge. He got it in the brutally fast, Adonis-like shape of the GT40. The seven-litre V8 was built to take on Ferrari at Le Mans and it gave the playboy Italians a metaphorical gut punch for four years straight between 1966 and 1969. One of the truly iconic sports cars of the 1960s, the GT40 remains a magnificent looking beast of a car.
If you grew up in the 1980s and loved all things auto, you either had a poster of a red Ferrari F40 or a white Lamborghini Countach on your wall. The 2.9-litre twin-turbo V8 with an 8,000 rpm redline was the last Ferrari personally approved by Enzo himself. When it launched onto an unsuspecting public in 1987, it was the fastest, most expensive and most powerful production car ever made. Designed by Pininfarina, the F40 rates among the most famous Italian sports cars in the world.
Aston Martin DB9
As quintessentially British as James Bond, the introduction of the 5.9-litre V12 DB9 in 2004 ushered in yet another in a very long line of staggeringly beautiful grand tourers from Aston Martin. The first ‘modern’ Aston, the DB9 will go down as one of the great sports cars from history as the epitome of style, sophistication and elegance. It doesn’t have the raw grunt of the modern Lamborghinis or the insane styling of the Paganis but it remains effortlessly cool.
Enzo Ferrari was reported to have said the E-Type was the most beautiful car ever made. In fact it’s so beautiful the Museum of Modern Art in New York has a blue roadster in its permanent collection. It was the car of choice for 1960s rock stars and Hollywood A-listers, and the 3.8-litre straight-six in the Mk1 is among the most perfectly poised engines ever made. The list of famous sports cars is long, but the E-Type, a head turner half a century ago and head turner today, ranks among the very best.
All things considered, the Porsche 911 is probably the world’s most famous sports car. The exquisite rear-engined masterpiece is one of the only cars in the world identifiable by silhouette alone. It was originally to be called the 901, but after Peugeot sent a letter to Porsche saying they had trademarked all three digit numbers with zero in the middle, Porsche needed a quick rethink. The 911 was born and with it, one of the most iconic sports cars in history. Think Aston Martin and you think of the DB5, DB9 or the Vantage. Think Ferrari and you think Testarossa, F40 or 250 GT. Think Lamborghini and you think Miura, Countach or Aventador. Think Porsche and it’s the 911. It’s this supremely iconic status that leads so many people to feel the 911 is quite simply the world’s most famous sports car.
The Car’s The Star
As we put our foot on the brakes and look in the rearview mirror of our thrilling journey through the annals of sports car history, we can appreciate the remarkable ingenuity, passion, and vision that have driven the evolution of the most famous sports cars, each one holding a special place in the rich tapestry of automotive history.
There are dozens – hundreds – we haven’t mentioned so a special tip of the hat goes to the Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari Testarossa, Corvette Stingray, BMW M3, Mercedes 300SL, Audi R8, Pagani Zonda, McLaren F1 and the AC Cobra, each worthy of a place among the very best sports cars.
Yet the great sports cars from history we’ve showcased here represent what’s probably the pinnacle of automotive innovation, and the embodiment of dreams fuelled by octane and adrenaline. As the industry continues to push the boundaries of speed and performance, one can only wonder how future chapters of this ever-evolving story will read. But as long as there are roads to conquer and limits to surpass, the sports car’s journey is far from over.