Every once in a while a car comes along that people claim couldn’t possibly get any better. They go away, but sometimes they come back. Better!
The H.J. Mulliner bodied Continental was the 2-door version of Rolls-Royce’s Bentley R-Type and it became the fastest four-seat production car of its time. The R-Type 4.6-litre inline 6-cylinder engine was modified to improve power output (estimated at 130 hp in its initial form). The car was primarily built for the UK market, with fewer than 50 fitted with left-hand drive.
Continental production stretched through 1965 and was resurrected in 1984, with the awesome Continental R debuting in 1991 as the first Bentley to not share a body with R-R, and a turbocharged 6.75-litre V-8 estimated to make 325 hp. The car was produced through 2003, when Bentley was acquired by VW.
Although the Continental R is regarded as the end of an era, a new era began right away with the introduction of the first mass-produced (as opposed to coachbuilt) Bentley under the Volkswagen banner. The thoroughly modern Continental GT used VW’s 6.0 litre twin-turbocharged W-12 that put 552 hp at the whim of the driver’s right foot.
The original Gullwing was a street version of Daimler’s Gran Touring champion and became the fastest production car of its day. The iconic doors were necessary due to the metal cage of the cabin and made the model one of the most admired classic cars in history. A direct injected 3.0-litre inline-6 put out 212-222 hp, depending on tuning.
The gullwing 300 SL was in production for two years and enthusiasts prayed for its successor for over 50 years, until Mercedes resurrected the design in the SLS AMG. Billed as the spiritual successor of the iconic 300 SL, the new gullwing used a 563-hp 6.3-litre V-8 that was touted as the most powerful naturally aspirated engine of its time.
Based on Jaguar’s famous racing D-Type, the street legal E-Type dazzled people with its looks and impressed enthusiasts with its performance, breaking the production sports car mould with monocoque construction, disc brakes and independent suspension all around. Its life spanned three series from 1961 through 1975, in coupe (2- and 4-seaters) and convertible bodystyles.
Although the E-Type gave way to other coupes and convertibles in Jaguar’s stable since the mid-’70s, it wasn’t until the F-Type of 2013 that aficionados acknowledged a spiritual successor of the model. Initially launched as a roadster, it was followed a year later by a coupe model, both powered by supercharged engines in V-6 or V8 configurations.
The GTO designation of famous Ferraris stands for Gran Turismo Omologato (Italian for homologated versions of Grand Touring race cars), in this case a street-legal version of the 250 GT race car. Only 36 versions of the fabled GTO were ever built between 1962 and 1964, though it was enough to have Sports Car International name it the Top Sports Car of all time.
A street-legal version of the 308 GTB competition car, the 288 GTO featured a smaller 2.8-litre twin turbo V-8 that made 400 hp (20 years earlier, the 250 GTO used a 300-hp 3.0-litre V-12). There were only 272 produced over three model years, before it gave way to the awesome F40. The GTO was named to the Top Sports Car list for the 1980s, coming second to the Porsche 959.
Featuring Porsche’s first 4-wheel drivetrain, the 959 was intended to be a rally car. It featured a twin-turbo 2.9 Boxer-6 with 444 hp available across a broad RPM plateau due to the sequential turbos. Very few of the 337 street cars produced made it to North America, and were not certified for everyday use except for special events.
Following a short-lived 911 GT1 Straßenversion, Porsche finally got its street-legal race car in the form of the 2004 Carrera GT, taking it to supercar territory with the use of a 605-hp 5.7-litre V-10 (though it was originally planned to continue with a twin-turbo H-6). Over three years, 1,270 of the carbon-fibre monocoque cars were made (nearly half sold in North America at an MSRP just shy of $500,000).
The GT40 was built with a singular purpose — to beat Ferrari at Le Mans. Ferrari had won six consecutive 24 Hours races (1960 through 1965) and was reportedly interested in selling its production division to Ford but wanted to keep control of its racing assets. In answer, Ford created the GT40 that won four consecutive Le Mans races (1966 through 1969)
Ford wanted to create a new GT40 for its 100th anniversary, and showed off a GT40 prototype in 2002. The name was now owned by a continuation builder (one who builds modernized versions of the originals) and the two companies could not reach a rights agreement, so the car went into production as the Ford GT. Initially planned for a 4.500 production run, just over 4,000 were built over two years.
Still, there was enough interest generated in the recreated legend that Ford decided to make another limited run of GTs (only 250 per year) starting in 2016, improving on the previous model’s 550-hp 5.4-litre supercharged V-8 with a new 755-hp twin-turbo 3.5-litre V-6. Built by Multimatic in Markham, Ontario, the car is expected to race in the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans (the 50th anniversary of the GT40’s win).
Originally intended as the successor to the DB6, the 4-seat DBS ended up being its stablemate. Originally, it was powered by a 282 hp 4.0-litre inline-6 (that reportedly could be reworked to deliver 325 hp) but in quick order acquired a 5.3-litre V-8 (estimated to make 315 hp) to make it the fastest production 4-seater of its time.
Thirty-five years after the original DBS went away, the model name was resurrected on the V-12 powered version of the DB9, to replace the Vanquish as the flagship of the marque. The 5.9-litre 48-valve V-12 put out 515 hp, directed to the road via a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. It was also available as a Volante (convertible model).
In 1985, BMW took the popular 6 Series coupe and dropped in the 272-hp 3.5-litre inline-6 from the mid-engined M1 supercar, creating the M635CSi (sold as the M6 in North America). The engine was tuned to deliver 286 hp, and when combined with the legendary balance of the 635CSi, produced one of the most desirable coupes ever sold, despite its subdued outward appearance.
When BMW resurrected the 6 Series coupe in 2004 (after nearly 20 years since its predecessor’s demise), enthusiasts naturally started dreaming of a new M6. That came a year later when BMW dropped in the 5.0-litre V-10 from the M5. It makes 395 hp until such time as the steering wheel M-button is pushed, boosting that up to 500 hp. Lightweight materials up the power to weight ratio substantially.
At the 1989 Chicago Auto Show, the NSX debuted to tremendous publicity owing to Honda’s tremendous success on racetracks around the world (most notably in Formula 1, at the time) and tapped into that talent, including world champion Ayrton Senna in developing the car. It was the first production car to feature an all aluminum body.
Since the original ran off the production line in 2005, fans have been looking forward to a replacement, and after a false start, that loyalty was rewarded with the announcement of a new NSX. As it turned out, the new car would continue the rear mid-engine configuration of the original but would add electric motors for improved boost at the wheels, while adding the control of all-wheel drive.
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