Classic Sports Car History
When Jaguar introduced the XK-120 in 1948, only exotic race machines such as Alfa Romeo, Bugatti and Duesenberg were running double-overhead-cam engines. The twin-cam XK motor was a marvel of engineering, propelling the six-cylinder roadster to 120 miles-per-hour, making it the fastest production car of its day.
Among the popular early British sports cars were the Austin-Healey 100 and Triumph TR2, both introduced in 1953. Though both were designed around existing components from mass-market models, each had a character all its own, and fast became favorites in the U.S.
Along with the growth of America's middle class, affordably-priced sports-cars appeared after WW2. During 1946 to 1952, many small companies introduced sports cars to the American public, including Kurtis Sportscar (later to become the Muntz Road Jet) and Nash-Healey, introduced in 1950.
In the early fifties, development of GRP (glass reinforced plastic) became more sophisticated, and started being used to develop prototypes for small sports car companies. Bill Tritt, an early pioneer, offered the Glasspar G-2, one of the first successful GRP sports kits. Tritt, along with Woody Woodill, would later develop the first production GRP vehicle, the Woodill Wildfire.
Designed by Howard 'Dutch' Darrin, Kaiser-Frazer announced their two-seat sports-car, the Kaiser Darrin in 1953. Soon after, General Motors became interested in the new substance, making their first GRP body in 1952. The experiment survived many crash tests, which persuaded GM to continue experimentation.
In 1953, the new Chevrolet Corvette was a mix of traditional British roadster and American "dream car". The Corvette cost as much as a Jaguar XK, but lacked performance and handling. Purists scoffed, and limited availability hurt initial sales. Had Ford not introduced the Thunderbird, the Corvette would have likely been discontinued after 1955.
The rear-engine, air-cooled Porsche 911 first appeared in 1965. Weighing 2,300 pounds, it displayed brisk handling, great braking, and was capable of speeds over 130 mph. With timeless styling, world-class engineering, and countless race wins, the 911 is considered by many to be the greatest of all classic sports cars.
The same DOHC engine that powered the Jaguar XK120 would see another two decades of use, including in the beautiful 1961-1970 Jaguar XK-E .