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What Is A Sports Car?

May 29, 2012 by Matt

Datsun 240Z Driving Red

Although not quite as intense as the recent controversy surrounding the automotive term “coupe” (set off by the introduction of so-called “four-door coupes”), the precise definition of the descriptor “sports car” has been debated for far longer.

Can a sports car have more than two doors? Does it matter which wheels are driven? Need it have only two seats? Is sports-car-dom the exclusive province of the classic convertible?

While (in my mind) the definition of “coupe” is far more objective—two doors, and no more—the meaning of the term “sports car” is more subjectively rooted in the philosophy that underscores a car’s raison d’être. Put succinctly, to me, a sports car uniquely prioritizes enjoyment in two areas: Driving enjoyment and looks.

In other words, a sports car is more of an idea than a cut-and-dried checklist of physical attributes a car may or may not have. That said, the idea does carry with it some inescapable connotations.

Triumph TR6 Green

For one, the notion that a sports car places aesthetics above almost all else rules out four-door cars, since back doors and a somewhat usable rear seat are, in essence, compromises in the name of practicality. Also, for every attractive sedan (and there are many), I can just as easily find a more visually pleasing two-door shape. So while the sports car concept may not rule out four-door cars by definition, it does by implication.

The same goes for the attribute of driving enjoyment. Whatever the merits of worthy front wheel drive cars, their engineers compromised—they opted for packaging efficiency, or platform sharing economies with other models in an automaker’s range or a host of other reasons and denied the car the mechanical configuration best suited to maximizing driving enjoyment: Rear wheel drive.

Ironically, the subjective definition of a sport car in terms of its vehicular priorities becomes a far more useful tool than an objective one in establishing a car’s category. Rather than wondering, for example, whether a BMW 8 series should be considered a sports car, given its two doors and RWD chassis, we can apply the subjective test and observe that significant compromises were made in the name of luxury, concessions which effectively place it outside the circle of true sports cars. And the template can be applied to just about any car with ease.

I think it’s a workable concept. Let’s lay to rest the notion that “all sports cars must have X, Y or Z,” and think more deeply about cars’ priorities and their designers’ intentions.

Filed under: Miscellaneous

1 Comment

  1. John D says:

    Amen. Very succinctly put, my friend. I shall concur and move on with my life. ;)

    (Two posts in a week? It’s a miracle! Glad to have you back.)

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