Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
11/1/18 11:03 a.m.

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Story by Tim Suddard • Photography by Walter Pietrowicz

Sometimes it seems as if our hold on the here and now is tenuous, at best. The most random and seemingly insignificant occurrences can send our brains spinning back through time and space, so that what begins as, say, a quick look through a box of old magazines ends up transporting us to memories and longings we thought were long behind us.

That’s how it was for us not long ago, when we ran across an old copy of Look magazine from 1959. The issue contained an article discussing the emerging sports car scene, complete with fantastic photos of all our favorite classics. Sports cars were fast and fun, the article informed us, and perfect for weekend jaunts and rallies.

Nearly half a century later, those words still ring true. Only now, there’s almost 50 years’ worth of memories to add to the excitement. Who among us doesn’t have a tale that involves a classic sports car and the good times it inspired?

Many of us had one as a first car. Or we lusted after the ones our friends drove while we had to make do with something a little more mundane. Either way, we all knew what those roadsters stood for: romance, fun, and that wind-in-the-face kind of exciting life that only a sporting convertible could provide.

These days, as we get our houses paid off and the kids through college, once again our thoughts turn to our youth. And generally sooner, rather than later, we start thinking about roadsters again.

Sure, the modern ones like the Miata, the BMW Z4 and the Porsche Boxster are more capable cars in terms of performance and absolute numbers, but it’s just not the same. A classic roadster is an almost living thing unto itself, an icon of our youth. And we like them.

But which one to buy now? Would the Triumph TR3 that seemed so perfect half a century ago be too slow, uncomfortable and archaic by today’s standards? Is the more expensive Austin-Healey a better car? And if more money does make a superior car, is the Mercedes 300 SL really that much better than the rest?

That cover shot from Look magazine inspired a mission for us: Round up the iconic roadsters of the late 1950s and early 1960s and see how they compare. So we sent out the invitations and all involved made plans to converge at Virginia International Raceway the day before this year’s Gold Cup races. Thanks to its southern Virginia location, VIR is surrounded by some of the best driving roads in the country, making it the perfect place to see how well each car delivers the sports car experience. The track also has a paved area that works well for an autocross course, which is the best place to push a car to the limit in a safe, controlled environment.

Our group of test cars included a 1960 Triumph TR3, 1960 MGA, 1959 AC Ace, 1961 Chevrolet Corvette, 1963 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL, 1959 Alfa Romeo Giulietta, 1962 Austin-Healey 3000 and a 1960 Porsche 356. (We would have liked to include a Jaguar XK120 in our test, but our arrangements to have one present fell through.)

So grab your favorite driving cap and a map; it’s time to check out some classics.

Read the rest of the story

alfadriver MegaDork
11/1/18 11:52 a.m.

FWIW, the Alfa you drove was  a Veloce- so the full name was Guilietta Spider Veloce.  Well, I'm assuming that by not looking at the VIN, but the engine and tach are indicators of it being the far more valuable Veloce.  And some of the prices of those have gotten crazy.

As an aside, it would be interesting to know what the VIN on that Alfa was- as I know what my dad's '59 Spider Veloce was- and it could be that car.

rdstr New Reader
11/1/18 5:33 p.m.

Porsche looks like a roadster (roll up windows) & not a speedster (side curtains) and both bring more then the $80k mentioned. Datsun 2000 would fit nice in this article & affordable price range.

MondoMike New Reader
11/5/18 8:08 p.m.

Thanks for an interesting article, albeit too short to get into much detail. I agree the MGA and Triumph are the real bargains of the bunch, at least right now. Almost every component of these cars is readily available from several suppliers via internet, making restoration and repairs easier now than ever before. I'm fixing up an MGA and I'm amazed how much support there is for these cars. While the old BMC pushrod motor is down on power compared to the Triumph, swapping to a larger MGB 1800cc engine is very acceptable upgrade and can be done without hacking up of the original car. A 3-main is a direct bolt in, and if one opts for the stronger 5-main version it's still a pretty simple conversion. There are 5-speed kits, superchargers, big valve MGB and cross-flow heads, and all sorts of stuff available to increase the power and speed. The BMC engines are known for durability, the mechanical components of the car are well laid out and simple, and the chassis is  robust. The MGA s a great car for a novice restorer.   

dougie Reader
11/5/18 9:25 p.m.

I loved this article when it came out a few years back. Interesting to see what prices have climbed the most. Would like to seen more of this type writing.

wspohn Dork
11/7/18 11:34 a.m.

As the owner of may TR-3s and MGAs over the years, I found the finish quality of th TR to be lower than the MG - gaps and unwelded spots on the frames etc.  But the gutsy engine almost made up for the inferior handling - when the rear end bottomed on the frame, that was all she wrote. Even the big Healey took that cheaper route until the very last cars, when they finally built a frame that ran up over the rear end.

I always figured that it was easier to give an MGA, with the inherently better chassis, more power (as Mike pointed out) than it was to give the TR better handling.  But I sure did enjoy the TR engine, especially in tuned form.

Mr. New Reader
1/4/19 6:28 p.m.

There are still reasonably priced, great looking ragtops out there for first timers on a budget.  I would suggest that the Jaguar X100 XK8 and the XKR can be had in decent condition for less than $10,000.  I recently inspected one for a forum member that ran very nicely, needed a little bit of cosmetic work and had a fully functional convertible, and it was $4000!  I have a 2002 XKR version that was my daily driver for about 10 years and 170,000 miles and only replaced by an X150 XKR.  But I still have it and drive it often.  Its obvious ties to the heritage of the XKE are apparent as soon as you see it, and its senuous body is classic and still gorgeous 23 years after its introduction.  There are certainly things to look for when purchasing but they are well documented and readily available to those that are interested.  

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