Lamborghini Gallardo

The Lamborghini Gallardo is an example of a sports car.

A sports car is a type of automobile designed primarily for performance driving.

While opinions differ as to the exact definition, most sports cars are rear-wheel drive, have two seats and two doors and are designed to provide excellent handling, acceleration, and good looks. A sports car can be described as a car whose dominant design consideration is driving performance. A sports car's main emphasis is on performance by superior road holding, braking, maneuverability, low weight and power rather than comfort, passenger space, and economy.

Sports cars can be luxurious[1] or spartan, but driving performance is key. Drivers regard brand name and the subsequent racing reputation and history (Ferrari, Porsche, Lotus, etc.) as an important indication of sporting quality, but brands such as Lamborghini which do not race or build cars exclusively for racing are also highly regarded.

A car may be sporting without being a sports car. Performance modifications of regular cars, such as sport compacts, sports sedans, muscle cars, hot hatches and the like do not generally fall in the pure sports car territory, but share common sports car traits. Often, performance cars of all configurations are grouped under the general term Sports and GT cars or occasionally performance cars

A large, powerful engine is not required for a sports car, even though many possess them. Most early British sports cars lacked a powerful engine and did not accelerate as quickly as contemporary American muscle cars, but were known for having exceptional handling characteristics due to their combination of light weight, carefully engineered/balanced chassis, and innovative suspension designs. Lotus is often cited as an example of this approach today. On tight, twisting roads, such a car usually has higher effective performance than a heavier, more powerful car with less cornering ability.

Due to certain restrictions in the North American market usually involving safety regulations, many sports cars are not available for sale or use in the United States and Canada. In Britain, Europe and the Arab market (e.g. UAE), a more flexible attitude towards small-volume specialist manufacturers has allowed companies like TVR, Noble, Pagani, etc. to succeed.


The sports car traces its roots to early 20th century touring cars. These raced in early rallys, such as the Herkomer Cup, Prinz Heinrich Fahrt, and Monte Carlo.[2]

The first true sports cars (though the term would not be coined until after World War One) were the 3 litre 1910 Vauxhall 20 hp (15 kW) and 27/80PS Austro-Daimler (designed by Ferdinand Porsche).[2]

These would shortly be joined by the French DFP (which became sporters after tuning by H.M. and W. O. Bentley, the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. In the U.S. (where the type was variously called roadster, speedster, runabout, or raceabout, there was Apperson, Kissel, Marion, Midland, National, Overland, Stoddard-Dayton, and Thomas among small models (which today would be called sports cars), while Chadwick, Mercer, Stutz, and Simplex were among large ones (which might today be called sports sedans or grand tourers).[2]

In 1921, Ballot premiered its 2LS, with a remarkable 75 hp (56 kW) DOHC two liter, designed by Ernest Henry (formerly of Peugeot's Grand Prix program), capable of 150 km/h (90 mph); at most, one hundred were built in four years. This was followed by the SOHC 2LT and 2LTS. The same year, Benz built a supercharged 28/95PS four for the Coppa Florio; Max Sailer won.[2]

Simson in 1924 offered a Paul Henze-designed 60 hp (45 kW) DOHC 2 liter four, the Simson Supra Type S, in a long-wheelbase 120 km/h (60 mph) tourer and 115 km/h (71 mph) twin-carburettor sporter; only thirty were sold, against around three hundred of the SOHC model and 750 of the pushrod-six Type R. Duerkopp's Zoller-blown two liter in 1924, as well.[2] je kk ma

There was a clear cleavage by 1925. As four-seaters were more profitable, two-seaters increasingly turned over to specialst manufacturers, led by Alvis, Aston-Martin, and Frazer-Nash, with shoestring budgets, fanatic followers, and limited sales (today exemplified by Aston and Morgan): between 1921 and 1939, 350 Astons were built; 323 Frazer-Nashes in the period 1924-39.[2]

By the end of the 1920s, AC produced a 2 liter six, the 3.5 liter Nazzaro had a three-valve OHC (only until 1922), while French makers Amilcar, Bignan, Hispano-Suiza, and Samson had the typical small four-cylinder sporters and Delage, Hotchkiss, and Chenard-Walcker the large tourers. Benz introduced the powerful SS and SSK, and Alfa Romeo, the Vittori Jano-designed 6C.[2]

Two companies would offer the first really reliable sports cars: Austin with the Seven and Morris Garages (MG) with the Midget. The Seven would quickly be "rodded" by numerous companies (as the Type 1 would be a generation later), including Bassett and Dingle (Hammersmith, London); in 1928, a Cozette blower was fitted to the Seven Super Sports, while Cecil Kimber fitted an 847 cc Minor engine, and sold more Midgets in the first year than MG's entire previous production.[2]


The layout of drive train and engine influences the handling characteristics of a car and is the focus of more attention in the design of a sports car.

The front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout (FR layout for short) is common among sports cars of any era. This form has survived longer in sports cars than in the mainstream, due to the unique handling characteristics, cost, and packaging considerations. Current examples include the Caterham 7, Mazda MX-5 (Miata in North America) and the Chevrolet Corvette.

In search of improved handling and weight distribution, other formats have been tried. The RMR layout is commonly found only in sports cars — the engine is mounted towards the centre of the chassis, which is close behind the driver, and powers the rear wheels only. This layout is preferred by high performance sports car and supercar manufacturers, such as Ferrari and Lamborghini. Many modern cars, especially grand tourers, also use a FMR layout, where the engine sits between the front axle and the firewall.

Porsche is one of the few remaining manufacturers which uses the rear-engine, rear-wheel drive layout (RR layout), a rear engine driving the rear wheels. The weight distribution across the wheels in a Porsche 911 provides excellent traction, but cannot be seen as ideal as the weight of the engine is not between the two axles. This causes poor vehicle balance and many early Porsches suffered from twitchy handling. However, Porsche have continuously refined the design and, in the recent years, combined their modifications with electronic driving aids like computerized traction and stability control that do much to counteract the inherent characteristics of the design.

Some sport cars have used use a front-engine, front-wheel drive layout (FF). Examples include Lotus Elan M100, Fiat Coupé, Fiat Barchetta, Saab Sonett and many Berkeley cars. The layout has some advantages which are particularly suitable for small, light, lower power sports cars as it avoids the extra weight, increased transmission losses and packaging issues associated with the long driveshaft and longitudinal engine found in FR vehicles. But due to its conservative effect on handling, particularly a tendacy towards understeer and the fact that many drivers believing that FR is more appropriate for a sports car, it is not typical in higher-performance models. However, the FF layout is quite common in sport compacts and hot hatches, like the Honda Civic Si and Type-R, the Volkswagen Golf GTi and the Peugeot 205 GTi.

One option for transferring the power from the engine to the car's wheels is four-wheel drive (AWD). Prior to the early 1990s very few sports cars used AWD, but due to its all weather ability and traction advantages it has become increasingly common in high powered sports cars including those manufactured by Porsche and Lamborghini as well as the supercar Bugatti Veyron.


Some sports cars have small back seats that are really only suitable for luggage or small children. Such a configuration is often referred to as a 2+2 (two full seats + two "occasional" seats). Often these seats are only included to lower insurance premiums.

Over the years, some manufacturers of sports cars have sought to increase the practicality of their vehicles by increasing the seating room.

One method is to place the driver's seat in the center of the car which allows two full-sized passenger seats on each side and slightly behind the driver. The arrangement was originally considered for the Lamborghini Miura but abandoned as impractical because of the difficulty for the driver to enter/exit the vehicle. McLaren used the design in their supercar F1.

Another British manufacturer, TVR, took a different approach in their Cerbera model. The interior was designed in such a way that the dashboard on the passenger side swept toward the front of the car which allowed the passenger to sit farther forward than the driver. This gave the rear seat passenger extra room and made the arrangement suitable for three adult passengers and one child seated behind the driver. The arrangement has been referred to by the company as a 3+1. Some Matra sports cars even had three seats squeezed next to each other.


Well known specialist brands or marques, modern and classic, are:

Almost all major car manufacturers also make some form of high performance car, sometimes very successfully such as Ford with the GT, Mazda with the MX-5/Miata, RX-7/RX-8, M Cars, Chevrolet with the Corvette, Honda with its S2000, and Nissan with the Z-car, Mercedes-Benz with AMG.

Many major manufacturers have a sports car that serves as the 'flagship' image car of the company. Also known as a halo car. Examples:

See also[]


  1. Csaba Csere and Tony Swan (2005-01). "10Best Cars: Best Luxury Sports Car". Car and Driver. Retrieved 2006-10-07. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Georgano, G. N. (1985). Cars: Early and Vintage, 1886-1930. London: Grange-Universal. 

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