Written by James Dolan
Making a list of the ten cars that I would love to own was surprisingly difficult. It wasn’t so much an issue of having too many vehicles to choose from. Just the opposite, it was hard for me to come up with ten. How can that be? With thousands of makes and models over the last 100 years you would think it would be easy. Well it would be very easy to come up with an Everest sized list of unattainable exotica and just blindly choose from that. However I wanted to have a list of vehicles that are reasonably obtainable, both on price and availability. Sure there are vehicles on the list that you won’t run into or get run over by for that matter, on your daily commute but they are out there and can be purchased by a normal individual.
Secondly the list needed to consist of vehicles that were reasonably easy to live with. Sure Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s are fantastic to look at and can be a blast to drive for short periods of time. But they are like strippers, they can be great to look at sometimes but you really don’t want to ever take one home with you. By no means is this a list of the ten best, prettiest, most likely to get you laid vehicles ever, but it is a list of great enthusiast vehicles that just about anyone can own and enjoy. And perhaps garner the same attention as those exotics. Just as with the girl next door you would be more than happy to be seen with them or bring them home.
So here they are in no particular order of importance or desire, cheers!
A Mazda Miata, any Miata of any year of any generation is a fantastic car. The Miata was responsible for brining the two seat roaster back from the dead. Sure it’s styling is a blatant rip off of a Lotus Élan. But the Élan is a gorgeous car so is that really a bad thing? They are tremendous fun and on a sunny day they are guaranteed to put a smile on your face even if you are stuck in traffic.
As an added bonus they are one of the most reliable vehicles that you can buy and sips fuel like an economy car. But it gets better, because they were so popular in the 90’s you can find a first generation Miata that is in excellent condition for under $10,000. Your searching the for sale ads for one right now aren’t you? I’ll take a 1997 dark green Speedster edition thank you very much…
How can a Porsche 911 be on this list? Easy, it’s practical, reliable, fast, fun, and you can buy one for a reasonable amount of money. I adore this car with every part of my soul. I love its eccentricity, its simplicity and the fact that on paper the car should be terrible but somehow it’s just the opposite. For example the engine is in the rear, totally wrong. Up until 1989 it had torsion bar suspension, very, very wrong. The heater sometimes works; the air conditioner never works, on the pre ’89 car that is. And its air cooled, who in their right mind makes and air cooled car that works! But I don’t care, not in the least.
But somehow, all those parts put together something fantastic happens. The steering is telepathic; you feel every pebble in the road. The air cooled six is an automotive symphony as you rev it through the gears. The brakes are firm and direct with the ability to handle any street or track situation. Nothing handles like a 911. Get it right and it will sweep through corners like no other car will. But get it wrong and you will spin off the road and most certainly hit a tree, bust into flames and die. How exciting is that? I melt every time I see one; I really do love it that much. Simply it is automotive pornography.
For less then the price of a new fully loaded Toyota Corolla you can buy yourself a wide variety of 911’s. Sure rare 911’s command astronomical prices and new one are six figures, but if you’re a clever shopper you can have yourself a really nice 911 from the mid 70’s to the early 90’s for economy car money. If that’s too old for you there are great deals on the 1999-2001 911’s out there. These newer 911’s are water cooled and are more user friendly with heaters that heat and air conditioners that cool you down. But they are bigger and perhaps a tad less fun. Generally 911’s that are well maintained and properly updated are reliable. However Porsche’s are expensive to maintain if you are not mechanically inclined. So only those who can wield a wrench need apply. Besides maintaining your own sports car is half the fun.
As for me I’ll take just about any 911. But if pressed with a budget and if I could find one that is properly maintained and updated I’ll take a basic “middy” ’76 Carrera, the lightest and most basic of the modern 911 range.
The first generation Volkswagen Golf GTi is the best hot hatchback ever made, bar none. If you think differently I don’t care. Either you have never driven a proper GTi or you have no clue what you are talking about. With this one there is no debate… None. Not only is it the best hot hatch ever, it was the first to be made available in large numbers. The MkI Golf (Rabbit for us North Americans) was a revolution in its own right when introduced in the mid 70’s. It was front wheel drive, had a peppy overhead cam engine, and had a roomy, almost wagon like hatchback design that was ahead of anything from America or Japan. Volkswagen needed something ultra modern at the time as the Golf was the replacement for Beetle. In fact this basic design is still used today for almost every small car made.
But VW did stop there; they were either bored or went a little crazy. Some of the Golf engineers got together and took a Golf and made it more athletic. They gave a pinch of fuel injection and a dash of added compression to enhance the engine. They lowered and tightened suspension and beefed up the tires for better cornering. Subtle exterior touches where added to enhance the looks, a pin stripe here a spoiler there and a GTi badge for the grill. Put in some sport seats, steering wheel and a golf ball shift knob and there you have it. Sounds very simple, yet no one have been able to match it since, not even Volkswagen.
The GTi isn’t about the sum of it parts but the way those parts are used and put together. The difference really is in the details. Driving the GTi you can tell the car was developed by a group of car loving engineers. Back in the day it wasn’t unusual for a GTi to fly past Porsches, Mercedes and BMW’s on the autobahn as if they were standing still. And on a twisty road the GTi is the only car you’ll ever want to drive, even if it has the odd habit of cornering on three wheels.
Good MkI GTi’s can be a hard find although the MKII GTi does come a close second for the fun factor and are easier to find. Unfortunately the latter generations got slower and fatter and were more of a marketers dream than an enthusiast car. But if you can find a nice MkI or MKII GTi snap it up you won’t be disappointed. But if you find a white one, you can’t have it; I’ll have my name on it.
Lotus is renowned for producing some of the best handling cars on the planet. Manufacturers all over the world contract Lotus for their suspension development and tuning services. However Lotus cars have always suffered from a few major faults. They were horribly unreliable and slapped together as if the company employed a group of 5th graders to assemble the cars. Sure the cars were gorgeous and when working, great fun to drive. Mazda even copied a Lotus design for the Miata with great success. But the fun of a Lotus quickly goes away when the problems creep up and it’s a not a matter if.
However what if Lotus got its act together and started taking some care in manufacturing and assembling its vehicles? What if they made a light weight, simple mid engine sports car that can out perform more expensive machinery? And what if they injected some Toyota reliability and ease of maintenance by installing an engine from a Celica and Corolla? Well then you have the Elise!
I’ll admit that I was not a fan of the styling of the Elise. It was a bit on the homely side in my opinion but over the years it has grown on me. What does turn me on is the razor sharp handling, a sub 5 second 0-60mph acceleration time and that bullet proof Toyota drive train. The Elise has been available in North America since 2005 and although it is not a huge seller you should be able to find that suits you.
When I think of a British sports car I automatically think of the MGB. As a kid growing up we had a neighbor that had a white MGB roadster. There was something romantic about the way it looked, sounded and even the way it smelled. The exhaust has a sweet throaty sound and if it is a model with chrome grill and bumpers is pleasing to the eye. The roaster models even have 3 windshield wiper blades, how cool is that?
MGB’s have a little something for every one. There is the roadster that everyone associates with the MGB. There is a great looking coupe called the MGB GT. And the choices don’t end there, oh no. You can have a 4 cylinder roadster (MGB) or coupe (MGB GT). A 6 cylinder roadster and coupe was available in the late 60’s called the MGC and MGC GT. The MGC’s had some handling issue because of the extra weight but modern tires and suspension components and some fiddling solves that issue. And the big daddy of the line up was the MGB GT V8. As the name suggests this was a V8 powered V8 coupe. However unlike the MGC the MGB GT V8 did not have any handling issues due to have heavy engine up front. In fact the aluminum 3.5L Rover V8 weighed in at 60 pounds LESS then the 4 cylinder MGB! Unfortunately the MGB GT V8 was never available in North America so if you do find one it’s an import.
The MGB is a great car if you love to tinker with your car. If you don’t have the patience or are not mechanically inclined, look else where and buy a Miata. The MGB has a certain charm that you can’t get in a Miata or another modern car for that matter and that is why it is on my list. Just to be different I’d choose a British Racing Green MGC GT with Minilite wheels.
No I have not lost my mind, the Toyota Pick-up is really on my list and I’ll tell you why. The Toyota Pick-up is the toughest, sexiest and best truck out there and I’m talking about the small one, not it’s big brother the Tundra. Don’t believe me? Then try this on. The Toyota Pick-up was the first 4x4 truck to reach the magnetic North Pole AND also the first to reach the South Pole.
Not impressed? Here’s more… Toyota trucks are used by third world militaries and militias as technical fighting vehicles because of their indestructibility. It is the only vehicle that has had a war named after it. The Toyota War took place in 1987 and was a conflict between Chad and Libya and got its name from the vehicles that the Chadian army used against the Libyans, and the Chadians won the war. I’ve never heard of the Hummer war have you?
So if you are a dictator or war lord you want a Mercedes S-Class to ride around in and a fleet of Toyota pick-ups for your army. This makes the Toyota one badass truck and we all know that bad boys are sexy. Just ask your girlfriend or wife she’ll tell you, if she says anything different she is lying. The Toyota pick-up is like Patrick Swayze, good looking, light on his feet, tough and can kick the crap out of anyone and both guys and girls love him.
Not only do they have go anywhere capability, indestructible and good looking they are fun to drive. Some of my best driving memories are in late 90’s Toyota Tacoma 4x4’s. From driving up the Sea to Sky highway from Vancouver to Whistler and all over BC for that matter to falling in love with a green ’98 Tacoma SR5 4x4 that I used for my business travels one summer. All of them have been tones of fun and I always get the feeling that I can take on anything when ever I drive one. Give me an extra cab manual transmission 4x4 Toyota Pick-up any day and I won’t be unhappy.
The Datsun 240Z single handedly legitimized the Japanese auto industry in North America. Quite frankly, before the Z car came along Japanese vehicles were considered to be somewhat of a joke to North Americans. They were considered to be cheap, made out of old tin cans and unsophisticated. At the time a car from Japan was an appliance that you never really took too seriously. Like most stereo types this was not based on fact. Sure Toyota came out with the fabulous, jaw dropping 2000GT, however with only 300 or so made the general public never knew about it let alone ever had seen one. And honestly most Japanese cars were not designed with the American market in mind. As far as styling was concerned, well it was often quite bad to be honest. What was needed was something to captivate the public and Datsun did just that by coming up with the idea of selling and affordable sports car.
The 240Z was introduced in late 1969 for the’70 model year and it lasted through to the end of the ’73 model year. The 240Z is gorgeous and one of the most underrated cars in terms of design in my opinion, I still get weak in the knees when I do see one. This is one of the few Japanese cars that just seem to “work” in terms of aesthetics. No tacked on flares or none functional louvers that Japanese designers seems to covet. Design credit for the 240Z goes to Albrecht Goertz who in turn worked for Raymond Loewy of Studebaker fame. So you know this Datsun has some good design genes. You could say that Goertz may have copied the styling of the Jaguar E-type just a bit. And that is understandable with such basic elements as the long hood with sugar scoop head lamps and short rear deck hatchback. There are Jaguar elements there, no question, but really is that a bad thing? The Jag is considered to be one of; if not the most beautiful cars ever made so some of its styling elements are bound to show up on other vehicles. Besides there are enough differences that you would never mistake one for the other.
But the 240Z is more than just a pretty car; there is some substance underneath to lend credence to the sporting profile. Other wise the Z car would be like going out on a date with Jessica Simpson, you’d be in love until you tried to hold any kind of conversation with her, a big disappointment. Lift the hood and you’ll find a single cam 2.4L straight six with twin single barrel Hitachi carburetors and a design and engineering elements that eerily mirrors an engine from Mercedes-Benz. Even though the engine might resemble a copy of a Mercedes engine of the same era the 240’s engine is actually the engine from the Datsun 510 with two extra cylinders added. With 150hp the Z car had energetic performance and Road and Track reported a 0-60mph time of 8.7 seconds which was excellent for its day. The engine was backed up by either a 4 speed manual or 3 speed automatic transmissions. A 5 speed manual came along later.
So this sexy Asian had the looks to capture your hart, the power to impress, but could it handle? Yes it most certainly could! See the engineers and marketing people at Datsun understood that their new sport car needed to be a great all round performer. Not only did it need to look as good and go as well as a European sports car, it had to handle just as well. So the 240 got a 4-wheel independent suspension consisted of Macpherson struts in front and Chapman struts in back. This gave the car excellent handling characteristics well above the competition in its price class. Like the engine the suspension pieces were lifted from other Datsun models and modified for use in the Z. Braking was handled by front disc brakes and rear drums, not exciting but very effective.
Using parts from other models allowed Datsun to build the Z car for much less money than if they used all new designs from a clean sheet of paper. This in turn gave them a price advantage over the competition and made the car hugely popular with a sports car hungry public. The combination of styling, handling, performance and price lead Road and Track to declare the 240Z as “super bargain” and “a real winner” that “set new standards in of performance and elegance for medium-priced two seat GT cars.” With all this goodness in one package how could it not be on my list?
My ideal 240Z would be a ’70-’72 in white, silver, orange, pale yellow or green with a 5 speed and period correct alloy wheels.
Most BMW’s are pretty serious driving machines and from its inception the 3-series has been one of best driving BMW’s available. My personal favorite of the entire range has to be the late ‘80’s early ‘90’s E30 M3. Without a doubt it is the purest driving machine of the M series of vehicles that have been available in North America. This machine was born out of necessity and not dreamed up by BMW’s marketing department like the M3 we have today. The sole reason for the existence of the road going M3 was to enable BMW to homologate the M3 for competition use in Touring Car racing and rallying. So this is one serious car with some serious racing pedigree.
The E30 M3 is an all around sensational car in my opinion. Everything about the car appeals to me. From the high winding powerful twin cam engine, the race inspired suspension, to the blistered fenders, rear wing and no nonsense interior, everything has a purpose. Although it may not have the comfort and conveniences of a modern M3 the E30 is closer to the M series concept then the contemporary M cars. This is one BMW that I would be proud to park in my garage.
When someone mentions the word Jaguar I think of powerful, graceful, voluptuous and stunning luxury/touring automobiles and no other modern Jaguar symbolizes these thoughts like the XJR. The XJR is the sporting member of the XJ series sedan. The “normal” XJ sedan is a gorgeous and sumptuous car in its own right. But the XJR adds an extra level of punch and athleticism that the regular XJ just doesn’t possess.
There is just something about a Jag that words can’t explain it just has to be experienced. Nothing on the road looks drives or smells like a Jaguar. A Jaguar XJR isn’t about getting from point A to B; it’s about the whole experience. It is about arriving to your destination swiftly and with the utmost of class. From the sexy curves of the body to the sent of the leather and the perfect wood trim of the interior, the XJR is a pleasure for the senses. The orgy for the senses continues as you glide down a curvy and hilly road in total control and complete comfort, unfettered by the roads or driving conditions. An XJR is one of the few cars that I know of that can float down the road without feeling “floaty” yet still be able to grab a corner and hold on with extreme grip giving the driver all the confidence in the world that they will come out the other side safely and gracefully.
No matter what year of XJR they look especially good in black or dark green with a tan interior… And it would look just as sensational in my garage or with me behind the wheel…
Mustangs have a special place in my heart, I love them. No list of any kind made by me could be complete with out a Mustang. Although I love just about all Mustangs the 1967-68 Mustang GT Fastback engrained a deep impression on me as a young boy and I have wanted one ever since. One late night in Myrtle Beach on vacation with my parents I watched the movie Bullitt with Steve McQueen. Watching McQueen drive a Highland Green GT 390 Fastback to its limits through the streets of San Francisco while being chased by the baddies in a black Dodge Charger in the famous chase scene was a “wow” moment for a young boy.
Seeing that green Mustang leaping over the hilly streets, smoking its tires and the symphony of sounds from the 390 Ford V8 was one of the coolest things I had ever seen. Add in Steve McQueen whom in my opinion is one of the coolest guys ever to grace this planet doing all the driving and stunts just cemented the fact in my mind that this was the Mustang to have. If this Mustang was good enough for Lieutenant Frank Bullitt then I just had to have one I reckoned.
Logically I know that the ’67-’68 Mustang probably isn’t the best Mustang ever made. It’s rather big and heavy, it really doesn’t handle that well and it’s not all that sophisticated. But all that does not matter and I really couldn’t care. This car has a super cool factor to it. Take the styling for example. It just looks right, aggressive, imposing, bad ass and just plain mean. Then add to that a thundering Ford 390 V8. Nothing this side of a Ferrari sounds as good when it comes to melodies from a V8 exhaust pipe. The car has all the moves and sounds to make beautiful women weak in the knees and young boys dream of the day when they too could own one.
The Mustang has a universal appeal; men like it, and believe me the women sure do like it and kids like it. No wonder this Mustang was so popular when new and still has a great appeal to this day. This is probably the reason why they command a price premium to buy. But I’m sure it’s all worth it, if you had one you sure would be the coolest person on your block.