Though Slow, These 10 Classic Cars Are Still A Blast To Drive
Updated May 23, 2018
Driving fun can mean something other than a four second 0-60. Here’s a collection of 10 cars that are enjoyable to drive despite not being very powerful.
What people sometimes fail to recognize is that older sports and performance cars have less sophisticated suspensions and narrower, higher-profile tire sizes. The result is that the limit of adhesion, that point just before the car goes sliding off the turn, is at a much lower speed than a modern car. The result is that you can drive the car much closer to its limits on a daily basis, often not even having to exceed a posted speed limit.
Further, a lack of power requires the driver to maintain the car’s momentum around the turn and not just coast through and mash the accelerator at the turn’s exit.
1959 – 1967 Austin Mini Mk 1
If you’ve never driven one of the original Minis, you need to add it to your automotive bucket list. None were really fast in the way that an American Muscle Car is fast. But they were quick and agile, and seemed capable of driving through a 90 degree turn without lifting off the throttle and with the proper application of the parking brake, driven foot-to-the-floor around a 180 degree bend. Even the lowly 850 is fun, despite its 29.6 second 0-60 times (you read that correctly and no it wasn’t its 1/4 mile ET). By the time the car had fallen into the hands of the Coopers, with its 1275 engine, 0-60 times had dropped to the low 10s and the Mini Cooper was taking on the big Ford Galaxies on the race track.
1965 – 1969 Porsche 912
Concerned over the price increase between the outgoing 356 and the new 911, Porsche created the first of several ‘entry level” cars they’d introduce over the years. the 912 used a revised, 102 hp version of the 356SC engine, tuned to provide more torque at the expense of horsepower. In fact, the smaller engine was really only down 28 horsepower over the base 911. Despite that 0-60 times were a leisurely 11.6 seconds, though it’s been said that the lighter 912 engine, mounted closer to the center of the car, provided better handling characteristics than the original 911 and in the right circumstances could outrun the 2.0 L six-cylinder car.
1984 Pontiac Fiero
First, set aside your preconceived notions. Yes, there were many issues with the early Pontiac Fieros, some due to GM’s design and manufacturing philosophies and some due to the fact that the Fiero HAD to be sold as a commuter car in order to get top brass to sign off on it. In it’s first year – 1984 – it was available with only a 92 hp 2.5 L four cylinder engine with a choice of automatic or four-speed manual transmission. The factory quoted a 0-60 of 11.3 seconds, though some magazines recorded lower times. Despite all this, it was still a low-slung, mid-engine sports car that was light enough to get away without having power steering, so the driver could feel a more direct connection to the road.
1981 – 1983 Mazda RX-7
The first generation RX-7 was the lightest generation of RX-7 ever produced, coming in at just 2500 lbs. And while it lacked the independent rear suspension of its successor models, the FB RX-7s had four-link live axle rear suspension with Watt’s linkage and a 50/50 weight distribution, making driving the twisties an enjoyable affair. The modest 100 hp, 1.2 L rotary engine produced 0–60 mph times around 9.2 seconds With the peak of the horsepower curve at 6000 rpm, and a redline of 7000 rpm, it made every max rev upshift feel like you’re driving a race car.
1958 – 1961 Austin-Healey Mk 1 “Bugeye” Sprite
There is nothing about the Austin-Healey “Bugeye” Sprite that isn’t minuscule. And that’s exactly where it’s fun factor emanates. It’s overall length is less than the wheelbase of a mid-sized sedan and its wheelbase about that of a tall man. The car was austere as well. There were no exterior door handles; the driver and passenger were required to reach inside to open the door. There was also no trunk lid, so access to luggage and the spare tire was through an opening behind the seats. In this first version (later version would share the body with the MG Midget) only one engine was available: a 948 cc four cylinder that produced 43 horsepower. A magazine of the era tested the Sprite Mk 1 and recorded a 0-60 of 20.5 seconds. None of which matters if you’re driving your Sprite on a sunny day, over a lonely twisting road.
1976 – 1986 Jeep CJ-7
A four-cylinder 1979 CJ-7 accelerates from 0-60 in 11.3 seconds. So what? If you purchased a Jeep CJ for its speed potential, you were standing in the wrong line. There are at least two ways to appreciate a CJ-7 other than at the drag strip. First is to drive it off-road where years of development in the Jeep platform pay off. The other is to unbolt any body panel that can be removed and enjoy the warm rays of summer sunshine, carcinoma be damned.
1977 Chevrolet Corvette
While many call out the 1977 Chevrolet Corvette as the one of the worst cars ever, in reality it’s because of its low horsepower rating. Sure there had been a few changes that enthusiasts didn’t care for (a Vegas steering wheel in a Corvette!) but the reality is, the car still rode on the same C3 platform as the awesome ’68 Vette. And while the base 350 Small Block V8 output of 180 hp doesn’t sound like enough power to run a tire pump, it was enough to accelerate the Corvette to 60 in 8.5 seconds. And while there are economy cars that can achieve the feat today, the Corvette was the fastest American car of the time, and when you drive it today, it may not snap your neck but you can enjoy the soft rumble of its Small Block heart.
1970 – 1974 Triumph Spitfire Mk IV
While the Triumph Spitfire was first introduced in 1962, it’s the Mark IV models manufactured from 1970 to 1974 that I prefer. But first, back to 1962. Triumph-Standard, then still an independent company with limited resources, it wanted to take on the Midget but had to do so economically. So it took the body off its Herald sedan, shortened it up a bit, and dropped over it a gorgeous Michelotti-designed body. As such it had some of the Herald’s limitation, like a swing axle rear suspension (like the Corvair). But by 1970 a proper fully-independent rear suspension was being installed which allowed for proper rear-wheel alignment and removed the jacking effect produced by swing axles. Despite a 0-60 time of 15.8 seconds, the Spitfire was a more comfortable, better driving (and riding), more powerful alternate to the Midget and had real roll-up windows to boot!
1967 – 1969 Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia
While the Karmann-Ghia made its debut in 1955, our pick is the 1500 models built from 1967 through 1969, as they retained the small bumpers, offered-up a well-appointed interior and were powered by the responsive 1500 cc 53 hp engine. Four inches wider, three inches longer and seven inches lower than comparable Volkswagen Type 1 Sedans, the Karmann-Ghia actually weighed more than the Beetle. But that’s besides the point. The bodies were virtually hand built, the suspensions upgraded, and a short-throw shifter installed for a much more enjoyable driving experience than the standard Type 1, despite the Ghia’s gut-wrenching 27 second 0-60 times.
1973 Datsun 610
The Datsun 610 is sort of like a Datsun 510 but it really isn’t. The two cars shared many components, but where the 510 had a very clean three-box design, the 610, like other Japanese sport coupes of the time, were styled like little late ’60s American muscle cars. What makes the 610 fun is that it shares the four-wheel independent suspension of the 510, it carries the 2.0 L version of the Datsun SOHC four that had been most recently powering the 510 in 1.8 L form. While the bigger motor increased power by 9 hp, the 610 also weighed about 300 lbs. more than the 510. Despite those differences, a ’73 610 will outdrag a ’73 510 to 60 mph, 10.9 seconds to 11.6 seconds. The 1973 is the pick of all 1973-1976 610s, not only because it was the lightest, but it also had the most aggressive gearing, later cars being geared to be more freeway friendly.