Now don’t get me wrong, none of these cars was considered “ugly” when they were new, but in this age of LED headlights and aero influenced design, here is a small collection of sports cars that now stand out from the crowd more than ever.
Jaguar X100 XK8/R
Back in 1996 when the Jaguar XK8 was launched, it was a welcome update to the ageing XJS and other sports cars. Then it only got better as improvements were made its production. With its sleek and rounded bodywork and luxurious leather and wood interior, it was a wonderful place to be and the V8 under the bonnet was beautifully smooth and refined. However, by the time the newer X150 XK was launched in 2005, the old XK8 was starting to look a little long in the tooth. Even though it was the best selling sports car Jag had ever produced, it was definitely the right time to put the model to bed. Fast forward 10 years and the older X100 is starting to look as beautiful and desirable as it did back in 1996 and with prices for well-maintained ones starting at around £5,000, what’s not to love. People should also note that low mileage XKR models are on the turn so well worth investing in now if you can.
Ferrari 456 GT/GTA
A big comfy 2+2 seater grand tourer designed by Pininfarina and powered by Ferrari? What’s not to like… featuring a 5.5 litre V12 pushing out 436 bhp that could propel this Italian motorway muncher all the way to 186mph, the 456 was the most expensive Ferrari you could buy for some time, and it was also the most practical. It had 4 seats and a reasonably sized boot, but more importantly, it was effortlessly pretty. You can tell it was designed with a passion and soul for sports cars instead of downforce and aero in mind. The pop-up headlights will always stand out, and with this being the last Ferrari to feature them, the 456 is the subtle design icon you want.
When the E31 BMW 8-series was launched in 1989 it was one of the most truly cutting edge sports cars in its design. With its futuristic dart shaped body and slanting cockpit, it was unlike any other BMW. The flagship 850 CSi was also the first ever road car to be built with a V12 engine mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox – it was so ahead of its time. Contrary to popular belief, the E31 was not marketed as the successor to the 6-series, it was in fact intended to create a whole new series of BMWs, hence the number change. It was also sold at a much higher price, as to attract a higher calibre of customer. The styling of the 8-series is utterly timeless and a well-polished one will still look at home parked right next to a brand new 2017 BMW. Obviously, the interiors and engines have come a long way, but they have not made a better-looking car since.
Originally launched in 1976, the Lotus had a long and interesting life leading all the way up to its final production in 2004, that’s nearly 30 years of essentially the same car in on the market. With the exception of the immortal Porsche 911, there aren’t many other cars that have lived that long, and given Lotus’ checkered past with regards to reliability, that’s pretty impressive stuff. With its cheese-wedge design and mid-engine layout, everything about the original Esprit screamed 70’s but as time moved on, so did the styling until the final series, the series 4 which is, in my opinion, the pick of the bunch. James Bond may have driven both an S1 and an S2, but the softer lines and twin-turbo V8 in the S4 ticks all my boxes. As you would expect with a car that ran this long, there were also a few very cool special editions like the S2 Essex Turbo and then more recently the awesome S4 GT3! Like the 8-series, the S4 still looks good today and in my opinion outshines a lot of modern sports cars in its appearance.
Aston Martin Vantage (Virage)
Based on the flagship Aston Martin Virage, the Vantage wasn’t a conventionally “pretty” car like other Astons, instead, it was a wide-shouldered and aggressive-faced brute of a car. Originally built with an output of 550bhp and 550lb ft coming from a twin-supercharged V8, the original Vantage was no slouch and could push itself from 0-60 in 4.6 seconds, which when you think it weighs in around 2 tonnes, is pretty impressive – even by today’s standards. However, in 1998 Aston Martin decided to give it a bit of a push and make what would be their most powerful and fastest car ever. They managed to squeeze 600bhp and 600lb ft out of the updated models and the also made a very limited run of just 40 special “Le Mans” edition cars in commemoration of 1959 24 hour victory 40 years prior. These very special and rare versions had a bit fraction more power at 604bhp and also a suggested top speed of 200mph and 0-60 in just 3.9 seconds…back in 1999! Aston Martin may have come along way from these with their styling, but as far as mental high-output engineering goes, you won’t probably won’t find a modern AM with half as much character and scare-factor.
I went to school with a girl whose father had a V550 and you could hear it being started up from the other end of the village, it was epic.