Post by Kasey Kagawa

It’s pretty easy to design a car. I mean, aside from the years of engineering school and work experience, the thousands of hours spent slaving over a drafting board and computer screen, the pages and pages of math and design printouts on every single conceivable bit of the car and the ten or twenty iterations of everything until you find something that actually works, it’s not that hard. Four wheels, an engine to drive them, seats to sit on, and a body that keeps the passengers from getting bugs in their teeth and water on their clothes. All of these might be placed in a warehouse in some metal plate storage rack and assembled in order to form a decent looking vehicle. In order to sell, all a car really needs to be is cheap and functional. Look at the Chevrolet Aveo or Toyota Camry. The Camry’s quite possibly the single most boring car ever made, but they sell by the container ship. The Aveo’s been horrendous since the day it arrived in the US, but they sell in their thousands because it’s the cheapest car on the US market. As far as the average citizen is concerned, as long as it doesn’t fall apart too much, is cheap to fix, insure and drive, and gets them from place to place, it’s done its job. What can prove to be more difficult is the process of transporting a car from one place to another over a long distance. However, by making use of a quality cross country car shipping service, this can be done painlessly and without busting the new car into action before it’s ready.

Pointless pontificating below the jump.

Performance cars, on the other hand, are a much different story. Those of us who buy our cars for the enjoyment of speed are a much more demanding bunch. Not only must it go from point A to point B, but it must do while accelerating from 0-60 in under six seconds, holding a lateral G load of 0.90, pumping out 450 HP, and sounding like Zeus and Thor having a bar fight in a blender. We’re also far more likely to be interested in modifications. For example, a friend of mine has just got some new headlights fitted and they’ve made such a difference to the night time visibility of his car – I even asked him how he got his headlights so bright and he told me: “If you want headlights like these, you have to replace your halogen bulbs with xenon hid bulbs!”. I’m very tempted to give them a try. We’re also willing to pay extra for our cars, but in return, we expect our products to do what they say it does on the label. And as many, many failed attempts have shown over the years, it’s not easy to strike that perfect balance when searching for sports car greatness. But what about the cars that do somehow manage to dodge all the blockades on the road to greatness and become not only solid performance cars but one of the best of all time? What did they get right?

One could spend hours going over suspension geometry, chassis rigidity, engine design, and steering feel to quantify the individual characteristics of what made a given sports car great, but I think that this not only sells the idea of how a performance car is made short but looks at the problem from entirely the wrong angle. In addition, it’s common knowledge that people tend to sell their cars when the cars get old, and the left hand drive car buyers here prefer to purchase them from them for cheap and then modify them to make them look brand new because the engine may still be in excellent condition. I have a theory about the common origin of all the sports car classics, and it is that every truly great performance car has come from one of two places: racing or renegades. Racing, as in homologation specials and other trickle-down from corporate sponsored racing programs, and renegades, as in people and teams working outside the rules and outside the system, building the cars that they want to build instead of the cars they’re being told to build. I have spent many hours thinking about what are the truly iconic performance cars in history, and they always fall under one of these two categories. The Mercedes-Benz 300SL, Shelby Cobra, Pontiac GTO, Porsche 911, Lamborghini Miura, Volkswagen GTI, BMW M3, Lancia Stratos, and the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 are just a few of the examples of what I’m talking about. All of them were either bred by racing teams either as partners in the car design or by racing teams themselves for homologation, or created by a small group of independent designers working on their project in their spare time without direct factory support, sometimes even against factory rules. Not only are these cars celebrated for their performance characteristics, but many of them created entire new segments in the performance car market. The 300SL and the Miura were the genesis of their own respective eras of supercar development, the GTO was the first muscle car, and the GTI was the first hot hatch.

This goes some way to explain why some sports cars fall flat while others become icons. Sure, the technical stuff mentioned above helps, but when car enthusiasts talk about their favorite cars, very rarely do they go on and on about how the geometry of the double-wishbone suspension really adds to the driving experience or how the acceleration from 3,000 to 5,000 RPM is what really sets it apart. No, what we all talk about are the intangibles, the fluid way it turns into a corner, how it accelerates off the line at a stop light, how when you drive a great sports car, you don’t just feel like you’re guiding a one and a bit ton hunk of metal down the road, you feel not just connected in some superficial way, but actually melded with the car, that its actions and your actions are one and the same. It takes a great deal of passion and skill to make such a thing, and whenever a sports car is designed by committee or to fill a marketing segment, it seems to take a good deal of that special something that separates the good from the groundbreaking. That’s not to say that all sports cars designed that way are bad, but more like the kind of lateral, outside-the-box thinking that the greats of the sports car world have doesn’t do well in corporate situations. Instead, the creativity that flows naturally from racing teams and maverick design teams, either by necessity or passion, is what sets these cars apart. Without that creativity, you rarely take the risks required to make a car that belongs in the history books.

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Kasey Kagawa

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