Classics World


Andrew can’t pick a single winner in the Best Sports Car Ever category, so it’s a tie.


It’s often been asked what the best sports cars ever built have been. Some say the MGB or the E-type, others tout the original Elan and yes they are a bit special, but blimey they feel so tiny, so vulnerable and faced with a 150 mile round trip, I’ll pass thanks. The Healey 3000 is my favourite Brit; I can’t get on with TRs apart from a really decent TR7 convertibl­e, which are criminally underrated but not the fastest or most exciting drive.

MX5s? Yes, I know how well they handle, but they leave me cold – a great budget track day car, but I have never ached to own one. For me, only the Datsun 240Z and Toyota 2000GT got close to recreating what it means to own a proper car.

MGF? Too unreliable. BMW Z3? Despite being a BMW aficionado they just seemed like a cop out with mock retro styling concealing suspension that dates back to the early 1960s. Z stood for Zukunft, German for ‘future,’ but the Z3 was ancient when it was launched.

This brings us to what the two best sports cars ever made are, and I’m sorry but there can be no argument. Both arrived 30 years or so ago, and both were so disgusting­ly good that they are still exceptiona­l today. Outstandin­g, fantastic, sublime, remarkable – choose your own hyperbole, it all applies. Both represent the ultimate dreams of the people who designed them. Our two champions could not be more different, yet they must share the ‘best sports car ever made’ title – step forwards the M100 Lotus Elan and BMW Z1.

I drove the Elan first. I worked at a Lotus dealer in the 1990s, by which time Lotus were turning out some very well resolved cars such as the S4 Esprit and the Excel. I favoured the Esprit, but all that changed when I took an Elan out to demonstrat­e it to a customer. Now, the normal course of events is to drive the car a short while, then let the potential buyer have a go. On this occasion I’d driven ten miles before I let the lady take the wheel, but she’d already decided that she was having one.

Unfortunat­ely the supply of new Elans was flaky at best as Lotus decided that they would replace it with the S1 Elise, a stripped out thing with doubtful on-limit roadholdin­g and an engine best left in the Rover Group product it came from. Of course they sold loads of them!

Used Elans, meanwhile, were snapped up secondhand at full whack by those who knew, those who didn’t sneer at front wheel drive but appreciate­d a razor sharp yet benign chassis that was so good you had to do something very silly at very high speed to get into trouble. And that engine! A 1588cc Isuzu four, immaculate­ly built by that Japanese firm yet given some zing by Lotus with almost all having a little turbo to give it a kick in the bum. Used Elans sold like fury because you couldn’t buy a new one. People travelled country wide, left big deposits and never haggled. It was the best car Lotus ever made and they dropped it like a hot potato.

As for my other nominee, the BMW Z1 really was ‘future.’ Perhaps too much future as it cost so much to build that this diminutive sports car cost as much as a 911. That 171bhp, 2.5 six came from the E30 325i and powered a car that weighed only slightly less than a basic 325i saloon at 1280kg thanks to a galvanised steel chassis tub, plastic panels, drop down doors, that iron block straight-six and a refusal to skimp. You could not help but admire the finish and the way it was built. While Aston Martin were using bits from a Maestro to save money, the Z1 had everything made especially at huge cost – dash, instrument­s, trim, seats, lights, the lot. Naturally it drove like a dream with its all-new Z axle, its sonorous power unit aided by a lower final drive to keep it lively. It was just a beautiful and tactile product, a car so obviously made rather than manufactur­ed.

Of course, it didn’t sell well because it was 911 money and buyers didn’t understand it, just like the Elan. In 2022, entry to the Z1 club starts at about fifty grand and deservedly so as they are worth the money, but Elans are still struggling and I don’t know why. You can buy a decent one for ten grand, and take it from me – it’s the sports car you want to buy. So buy one, fall in love with it and thank me with a large gin and slimline.

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