Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
8/4/08 10:33 a.m.

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.

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