There is a lot to be said for going down the front-engined classic car route. No complicated electronics, no safety gadgets to spoil your fun, and more importantly for gearheads who like to tinker, easier to tune and maintain.
Sure, there are going to be off-days when something doesn’t quite work, but rather than calling a garage or breakdown service to plug your motor into a laptop, just break out the service lamp and tools to see what’s what. Besides, how often do you come across a classic car parked at the side of a freeway? Properly cared for, these old classics are just as reliable as anything on the road today.
Reliability myths dispelled, the only choice left is which front-engine classic to buy? American V8’s make a gorgeous sound and go fast too, or how about a more delicate European roadster or coupe? As for the front-engine layout, they are just better balanced, the engine upfront driving the rear wheels is about as pure as driving gets.
Chevrolet Corvette (C2)
Winner of any smile per mile contest, the second-generation Corvette nailed it when it comes to looks! We defy anyone not to at least cast a few glances in the direction of arguably the best looking Vette ever.
However, this stunning example of American sports car history isn’t all about looks, by the end of production in 1967, Chevrolet rolled out the big guns. Standard fit L89 V8s cranked out 435 hp was the more common choice, with the rarer L88s kicking out well over 500 horses if you believe the unofficial claims.
Triumph Spitfire 4/Mk. 1
Around the same time across the Atlantic, Triumph unveiled the Spitfire, which sadly, despite bearing the name of the legendary WW2 fighter, didn’t come with a V12 Merlin engine. Instead, the best gearheads could hope for in the early years, was a 1.2-liter four-pot mills producing 63 hp.
True to form, like all British carmakers of the period, Triumph concentrated its efforts on affordable performance, weight playing a key role. The Spitfire was built on a shortened Herald chassis, and while lacking in the power stakes, it delivered its best driving experience on twisty country roads where its agility shone through.
AC Cobra Roadster
Moving firmly into money no object territory and worth every cent, the AC Cobra is the ultimate front-engined sports car experience you can get. Anyone in the market for one of the original 31 factory-built 427 S/C examples will need deep pockets, as prices can go as high as $6 million.
For that kind of money, we’d want some serious adrenalin-pumping action, and the AC Cobra doesn’t disappoint. At the front, Ford’s big-block 427 FE motor punches out 425 hp, guaranteeing anything short of a supercar is going to struggle to keep up. Nailing the throttle off the line sees sixty in 4-seconds, keeping it flat to the floor, and you’ll see 165 mph before the Cobra runs out of grunt.
Any gearhead in the market for a svelte European classic coupe could do a lot worse than Volvo’s P1800. Launched in 1961, this Swedish-born 2+2 coupe with a hint of Italian flair initially came as a coupe before a follow-up shooting brake arrived in the early ’70s.
Volvo, not known for its sports cars, very nearly canned the project through lack of internal support, the first show car funded externally forced the Swedish carmaker to accept its existence after a leaked press photo. This fortunate turn of vents eventually led to the production of 10,000 cars, many of which are still running today, including a 1966 example with over 3 million miles on the clock.
Jaguar Mk. II
The most elegant of all Jaguar sedans, the Mk.2 was a class leader when it came to sporty refinement, a trait commonly referred to as Jaguarness. Renowned for its supple ride and sports car level of performance, the Mk.2 attracted the attention of shadier owners, the Jag becoming a favorite with getaway drivers.
Picking up one today still comes with a certain air of “Jaaag” caddishness, but that’s all part of what makes the Mk.2 so desirable. Under the XK-series engines in various guises powered the sedan, with easily the best choice later 3.8-liter versions making in the region of 220 hp.
Ferrari 365 GTB/4
When Lamborghini went down the mid-engined route, Ferrari opted for a conventional front-engined, rear-drive layout for the 365 GTB, resulting in one of the greatest grand tourers we’ve ever seen. On paper, the two evenly matched in both sprint times and top speed.
The 365 GTB is a pure thoroughbred, easily Pininfarina’s best effort to date, a low-slung 2+2 coupe with a serious punch. Fitted with a glorious-sounding Ferrari 4.4-liter Colombo V12 sending 352 hp to the rear wheels, with sixty passing in 5.4-seconds and a top speed of 174 mph, the 365 GTB4 is blisteringly quick even by modern standards.
Chevrolet Camaro Yenko
As dealer special edition go you’ll be hard pushed to find anything quite so special as the Yenko Camaros, pulled from the same production facility and fitted with bigger, more powerful engines.
As standard, Chevrolet fitted the Camaro with disc brakes, quad-core rads, and beefed-up suspension, leaving Yenko to fit a 450 hp version of Chevrolet’s 427 cubic-inch V8 motors. Completing the package, custom paint jobs, front and rear spoilers, and a muscular hood cowling. Now for the bad news, Yenko produced just 201 examples, making them rare and pricey.
Shelby Mustang GT500
The holy grail of Mustangs, Carroll Shelby’s first model to bear the GT500 designation arrived in 1967, low production numbers and on-screen appearances boost the model’s desirability among collectors.
In creating one of the most famous Mustangs ever, Shelby American utilized its racing experience, wherever possible fiber-glass panels replaced steel including the hood, doors, front end, and rear deck. Under the hood, Ford FE 428 Police-interceptor engines topped with Holley Carburetors raised output to 355 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque.
Lotus Elan Sprint
A simple formula of lightweight fiber-glass bodywork atop a steel backbone chassis made the Elan one of the finest handling sports car we’ve ever seen. Even Gordon Murray, designer of the legendary F1 hypercar, regretted that the McLaren lacked the same level of steering feels as the Elan.
Beneath the skin, a host of Ford-sourced components made up the drive train, engines on the receiving end of some Lotus fine-tuning. Towards the end of production, Sprint models aimed at boosting sales with larger 1.6-liter twin-cam motors offering 126 hp, the most powerful model ever made.
Porsche 928 S
Unloved at first, the Porsche 928 was originally intended to replace the iconic 911, along the way Stuttgart bigwigs changed their minds, leaving the front-engined sports car to fill the role of a long-distance cruiser.
Despite low sales, the decision to keep the two models separated proved to be correct, those that drove the 928 were amazed by its mile-covering speed and comfort. Unlike its sportier 911 cousin, the 928 used V8 engines, a first for Porsche, launch cars using 300 hp 4.5-liter units, with later cars getting bigger V8s and more power.
The Corvette has seen many changes over the years but the classic has stood the test of time. Here are 10 of Chevy’s most impressive Corvettes.
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