The 25 Greatest Rides

By Ken Gross and A.J. Baime

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  1. PONTIAC FIREBIRD TRANS AM

It was the dream car for the generation of American men who came of age in the 1970s—the ultimate expression of masculinity, like driving a fist down the road. When the Trans Am debuted in 1969, it came in one color: cameo white with blue accents. Price: $3,887. Engine: a Ram-Air 400-cubic-inch V8. ­Pontiac made the Trans Am until 2002, but its ultimate expression was the 1977 TA Burt Reynolds drove in Smokey and the Bandit. Worldwide Auctioneers sold Reynolds’s personal black Bandit mobile in 2011 for $57,750. 24. BMW 2002

The late David E. Davis Jr. launched this car’s (and BMW’s) fortunes in North America with his rousing 1968 Car and Driver article headlined turn your hymnals to 2002. This Bimmer (1968–1972) could outcorner the era’s British roadsters, with four aboard and Blaupunkt blasting. Early cars are the best (go for a fuel-injected 2002tii), around $20K today. 23. CHEVROLET BEL AIR

The 1957 Chevy is an American icon—a stylish ragtop with frenched headlights, pert fins and an attitude that says “Cruising or racing, I’ve got you beat.” With its panoramic wraparound windshield, gold-anodized side trim and proud V8 badges, the Bel Air was the desirable ride in the Dinah Shore days. At $113K for a top example today, it’s still “the Hot One.” 22. VW BEETLE

The Beetle has dubious beginnings. When Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, he turned a nation ravaged by the Depression into an economic juggernaut by empowering Germany’s auto industry. The Volkswagen (“people’s car”), brought to life by lead engineer Ferdinand Porsche, was part of Hitler’s plan. Had he lived, he would have eaten his rug on seeing the car appropriated by peace-loving hippies in the 1960s. The Bug to have today? An original from the first year of production (1946), notable for its split rear window. Expect to drop about $37.5K. 21. MAZDA MIATA

The best-selling two-seat sports car of all time, the Miata (or MX-5) was unveiled in 1989. It was an affordable, lightweight Japanese sports car inspired by the great 1960s British roadsters (the Lotus Elan in particular). Today the Spec Miata is the best entry-level SCCA competition car money can buy. Pick up a 1990 convertible for $7K and go racing. 20. PONTIAC GTO

Okay, so its actual name is Tempest LeMans GTO. Bypassing a General Motors edict on engine displacement in midsize cars (330 cid was tops), Pontiac’s engineers stuck a 389 cid V8 into a 1964 Tempest, and voilà—the muscle car was born. Some say the GTO is still the greatest muscle car of them all. A 1964 Tri-Power (three carb) today will run you a mere $71.5K. 19. CHRYSLER 300

Built to battle the new Corvette and Thunderbird, Chrysler’s first 300 (the C-300) was the fastest American production car of its time (1955). The race-proven hemi V8 could power this baby over 130 mph, and bodywise she was a stunner. Only 1,725 C-300s were built. More powerful Chrysler “letter cars” followed, but the 1955 is the purest and the best—about $78.2K today. 18. DATSUN/NISSAN Z

The “Z” blazed a trail for Japanese autos in America when it appeared in 1969. The original 240Z had a raked Ferrari-like nose, plenty of agility and a price ($3,500) within reach of the masses. The Z continues to blaze; the 390, the seventh iteration, is rumored to debut next year. But the simple, elegant lines of the original 240 still delight. Expect to drop about $24K. 17. FERRARI 458 ITALIA

A modern Classic, the 458 is the current mid-engine rocket in ­Ferrari’s lineup, a singular sports car that’s an amalgam of all the technology amassed by the most exotic of motoring companies in its 65 years of production and racing. Cornering in this car, with its 562-­horsepower V8 screaming in your ears, makes you feel superhuman. The Pininfarina-designed body is as luxe and Italian as can be. Like a gorgeous model, however, the Italia is a tease. Only the superrich get their hands on this $230K supercar. 16. CHEVROLET CAMARO

Unveiled as A 1967 model by GM chief Pete Estes (who called it “a four-passenger package of excitement”) on June 29, 1966, Chevy’s Camaro was created for one reason: to topple Ford’s fast-selling Mustang. The pony-car wars have been with us ever since. Our pick of the Camaro litter is the first-year 1967 Z28 with a 302 V8 (602 were made), built for customers to race in the Trans Am series. The original sticker was $3,226. Today it’ll cost you about $67K.15. FORD SHELBY MUSTANG

Carroll Shelby was at the peak of his fame in 1967. Shelby American had won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, something no American racing team had done before. The Shelby Cobra (just then finishing production) had won the FIA sports-car world championship and had captured the imagination of a generation. Although the Shelby Mustang debuted in 1965 and is still with us today, the 1967 Shelby GT500 is our pick for the coolest Stang of them all. It came with wide Goodyears and a 428 Ford engine “bigger than king size,” as Road & Track put it. Nothing on the road drew as much attention, especially from the cops. Get yours for about $137K. Don’t think about the miles per gallon. Gulp. 14. MG TC

Britain’s MG was “the sports car America loved first.” When it arrived after the war, the right-drive-only TC was a charming anachronism on spindly wire wheels. Driving a TC today (model years 1946–1949) is an adventure. Slow at highway speeds, the roadster thrives on winding lanes with its crisp shifter and throaty exhaust. You’ll drop $37K for one in good condition. 13. FERRARI 275 GTB/4

A sleek shark, the Pininfarina-designed GTB/4’s pointed nose, tight cabin and impudent tail hint at its 160 mph capability. Its V12 howls like a demented coyote when you rev to the 7,800 rpm redline. This race car for the road was state-of-the-art in the 1960s. A GTB is still capable of showing up modern sports cars. A 1967–1968 example runs $1.3 million and climbing. 12. JAGUAR XK120

Jaguar dazzled postwar sports-car buyers with the world’s fastest production car in an era when Britons were still digging out from World War II rubble (1949–1954). Although its fadeaway fenders aped a 1940 BMW roadster design, Jag’s three-liter six put out 180 horsepower. Clark Gable bought one of the first XKs in California. Phil Hill (the only American-born driver to win the Formula One title) started his career in an XK. The first 200 alloy cars go for $310K today. Steel roadsters are $130K, and they’ll keep going up. 11. LAMBORGHINI COUNTACH

The word COUNTACH is an Italian expression of shock used upon seeing a beautiful woman. A pioneering icon of blistering speed, the mid-engined machine was made from 1974 to1990. Its cockpit sat near the front axle, and the doors scissored open like a woman with her legs in the air. We like the original 1974 LP400 with a four-liter V12. Expect to drop $477K.10. BMW 507

Try to find a midcentury sports roadster prettier than a BMW 507. Designed by Count Albrecht von Goertz (he also penned the Datsun 240Z), the 507 was more expensive than a Mercedes-Benz Gullwing. Only 253 were made between 1955 and 1958, making survivors rare. The 507’s side vents were redesigned for today’s BMW Z4. Enthusiasts have discovered the 507, and it’s nearly a $900K car now. Get the hardtop and Rudge knockoff disc wheels if you can. 9. LAMBORGHINI MIURA

Ferruccio Lamborghini, an air-conditioner and tractor maker, went into the supercar biz in 1963 because he thought he could make a better car than Enzo Ferrari, whose factory was nearby. The Miura, named for a Spanish fighting bull, shocked when it first bowed in 1967. A four-liter V12 was transversely mounted right behind the seats. Over time, Lamborghini souped up the engine and added spoilers; the Miura SV from 1971 is the fastest and most expensive today at $906K. 8. ASTON MARTIN DB5

The sexiest thing ever to appear in a Bond film was not Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder but this Aston, the first and greatest 007 mobile. (We’ve sat in an actual Bond DB5. Yes, it does have machine guns in its fenders.) Offscreen, it was the real thing. Aston Martin was riding high after a 1959 Le Mans victory when the DB5 appeared in 1962, with a four-liter in-line six and top speed of 145 mph. While today’s Aston Martins are among the most beautiful cars ever penned, the DB5—worth about $522K now—is still the benchmark. 7. CHEVROLET CORVETTE

Corvette’s high-revving fuel-injected V8 took the boulevard out of American sports cars when it appeared in 1953, gave GM a racing raison d’être and powered a new generation of hot-rodders. Our favorite: the 1963–1967 Sting Ray, especially the 1967 L-89, a 435-horsepower, 427-cubic-inch big-block racer out of the box, worth about $304K today. 6. MCLAREN F1

The Mclaren F1 was a novel concept: A company known for Formula One excellence set out to make the ultimate street car. When the F1 appeared in 1992, with its middle-situated driver’s seat and 242 mph top whack, it proved to be the ultimate driving machine of its own and perhaps any era. As put by Britain’s Autocar magazine, “The F1 will be remembered as one of the great events in the history of the car.” Only 106 were built. Pick one up today for about $3.5 million.5. MERCEDES-BENZ GULLWING

BARELY SEVEN YEARS after World War II, Mercedes-Benz engineers led by Rudolf Uhlenhaut designed a radical German sports coupe with vertically opening gullwing doors, fully independent suspension and a three-liter fuel-injected six cylinder. The 300SL became an instant classic. Enthusiasts love the 1957–1960 convertible, with its improved suspension and disc brakes, but 300SL coupes from 1954 to 1957 still cost more. Plan on at least $704K. 4. JAGUAR E-TYPE

This 150 mph projectile transformed Jaguar from an interesting British sports-car purveyor into a serious Ferrari challenger. Like a stiletto heel on wheels, the E-Type’s six-cylinder engine came from Jag’s legendary D-Type Le Mans racer. Purists covet Series I coupes and roadsters (1961–1964). Restored examples fetch about $107K—more than 20 times their original price. 3. SHELBY COBRA

Le Mans champ Carroll Shelby was a broke ex-racer with a bad heart when he came up with the idea to match the chassis of a British AC roadster with a lightweight Ford V8. The Shelby Cobra (1962–1967) became the fastest production car in the world. A Cobra with a small-block 289 engine will run you $519K today, more for authentic competition models. 2. PORSCHE 911

Among the cars on this page, only one is actually attainable. Porsche this year unveiled its seventh-generation 911, a delight to all five senses. How do you pick a favorite from 49 years of 911s? Not easy. Here’s ours: the 1973 911 Carrera RS Lightweight, a race car for the road. In fact, the RS (Rennsport, or “race sport”) was not approved for road use in the U.S., but it was street legal in Europe. It had a lighter body shell, almost no insulation, even thinner windshield glass (to reduce weight) and a 240-horsepower fuel-injected 2.7-liter flat six. Top speed: 149 mph. Figure on $390K today for the most iconic early 911. 1. FERRARI GTO

The most coveted Ferrari of all, and the most valuable postwar sports car in the world today, the GTO (for Gran Turismo Omologato) beat all comers in its day. Only 39 were built, between 1962 and 1964. The GTO, which turns 50 this year, won everywhere it raced, often beating more powerful cars, thanks to its impossibly shapely, aerodynamically sound ultra-lightweight alloy body, high-revving three-liter V12 engine with six carburetors and snap-shifting five-speed tranny. Fakes abound, but every one of the real GTOs is accounted for. The last one up for auction sold for more than $35 million. The price is probably double that now.


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