Amid today's great surfeit of automotive choice is a cruel irony: Cars are more alike than they've ever been, and our parking lots are melting pots of badge-engineered, generically styled sedan-SUV-sports car-crossover minivans. What happened to the characterful if unpredictable sports cars our dads were always swearing at in the garage? A lot of things, but mostly safety and reliability, features that certainly made cars better but also far, far less interesting.
Safety meant bigger, dumpier bodies. Reliability severed the bonds that tied men to their mechanics – those countless hours of Sisyphean wrench work. But buying investment-grade sports cars from the past can solve all that. They're appreciating assets that recapture the visceral motoring experience. If you're sick of driving roadsters that feel and sound like video games, sick of cars you can turn off and walk away from unaffected by the experience, read on.
Ferrari 250 GT Lusso
Okay, so it's not a roadster, but we'd be remiss if we left this beauty off our list of collectible sports cars. This is not a race winner (its name means "luxury" in Italian) and was therefore not the kind of car the competition-obsessed Enzo Ferrari cared much about. But its stylist, Pininfarina, cared, turning out a design that was arguably more evocative of a kind of high-style, high-speed touring than any car before or since.
Over the proven, short-wheelbase 250 chassis and 3.0-liter, 240-hp Colombo V-12 engine, Pininfarina stretched the sheet metal – steel for the body shell and aluminum for the hood, trunk, and doors – taut and low. The front end is particularly beguiling, with its plunging hood and wide-set lights.
It is interesting how un-Ferrari-like the 250 series appears to the modern observer. Part of this is because Ferrari, unlike, say, Jaguar or Porsche, rarely looks back when designing a car. So if your idea of a Ferrari is something that looks like a nuclear-powered anteater, the Lusso might seem impossibly old-fashioned. But check out the tight relationship between the wheels and the body, the tiny greenhouse, the car's squat stance, and its atavistic V-12 growl, and it's easy to understand how Ferrari got to here from there.
What to watch out for: Bills. Simple tune-ups run to $3,000. These were tube- and ladder-frame cars, unlike today's unit-body designs, so any weaknesses in the frame system will adversely affect steering and handling. Spend the money and get a knowledgeable Ferrari person to look the car over. And make sure the engine and chassis numbers match.
Resources: Ferrari: A History, by Bruno Alfieri; Standard Catalog of Ferrari, 1947–2003, by Mike Covello
Credit: Brian Snelson / Wikipedia