According to Brauer, the Miura is believed to be the first exotic sports car ever made. In production from 1966 to 1972, its V12 engine and midengine design set it apart, and it went on to win many performance and styling awards.
“It offered the highest top speed of any road car at the time, at 170 miles per hour,” he said. “It started the trend of placing powerful engines between the passenger compartment and rear axle.”
9. Ferrari 250 GTO
The GTO was produced for a scant three years in the early 1960s, and only 39 units came off the line. On that basis alone, it’s easy to understand why Brauer calls it “arguably the most sought after sports car of all time.”
Still, there’s more to its status than rarity. Its ability to hold its own on the racetrack and off is an essential component that makes it a classic.
“Some would argue the purest expression of a sports car is a vehicle capable of being driven to a racetrack, beating the competition and then driving home again—all with little or no work being done between road worthiness and track readiness,” Brauer said.
The GTO succeeds in spades.
8. Acura NSX
When the NSX was introduced in 1990, it turned the sports car world on its ear. Up to that point, the exotic sports car was considered a purely European creation, but Honda came along with this and put Japan on the map.
“An all-aluminum monocoque body, featuring a midengine V6 and double-wishbone suspension, gave the NSX full exotic car credentials,” Brauer said. “The NSX backed up its technical pedigree with real-world performance numbers that forced Ferrari and Porsche to sit up and take notice.”
7. Jaguar E-Type
When your nemesis calls your product the most beautiful car ever made, you’ve got something very special on your hands.
According to Brauer, Enzo Ferrari gave that very compliment to the Jaguar E-Type, despite its being his company’s primary rival.
“Style is one of the key elements to a successful sports car, and the Jaguar E-Type is one of the most successful styling executions in the history of the automobile,” Brauer said. “The long-nose/short-deck proportion was commonly used for sports cars before the E-Type went into production in 1961, but the clean and purposeful lines of the E-Type were unlike anything before it, or since.”
6. Dodge Viper
The Dodge Viper was introduced in 1992. It had a 400 horsepower V10 engine under its clamshell hood, and while nobody questioned its power, this type of car simply wasn’t in vogue, so it could very well have ended up as a limited-edition novelty.
Instead, it stayed in production almost two decades, until 2010.
“By 1990 the possibility of a large, mainstream automaker introducing a raw, unapologetic sports car, one that was reminiscent of the 1960s racing legends, seemed far-fetched at best,” Brauer said. “But that’s exactly what Dodge did when it turned the Viper concept car into a full-fledged production car for 1992.”
5. Shelby Cobra
The Shelby Cobra had an inauspicious beginning. According to Brauer, the car was the brainchild of a Texas chicken farmer, Carroll Shelby, who envisioned a vehicle with a small British body and a big American V8 engine. The result was the racing legend that is beloved to this day.
“If being copied by dozens of kit car companies is the most important measure of success, the Shelby Cobra wins the crown hands down,” Brauer said. “It’s one of the most recognizable sports cars to come out of the 1960s, with a proven competition history that included beating Ferrari on the world racing stage.”
4. Mazda MX-5 Miata
When a car is described as “powerful” and “exotic,” the Miata is not necessarily the first to spring to mind. Regardless, the “Guinness Book of World Records” proclaimed it the best-selling two-seat convertible sports car in history, so Mazda gets the last laugh.
“Introduced in 1990, the Miata essentially recreated the successful British roadster recipe of the 1950s,” Brauer said. “It was small and light, with incredibly responsive handling, while costing barely more than a well-equipped economy car.”