Do you agree with Goodwood’s ‘50s favorites?

British hosts list what they consider the best sports cars of the 1950s that aren’t Ferrari 250s

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The BMW 507 is among the best non-Ferraris of the 1950s according to Goodwood Road & Racing | Goodwood photos

A challenge for you from Goodwood Road & Racing in England: The good folks from Goodwood have compiled a list of “The best Fifties sportscars that aren’t Ferrari 250s.” 

The challenge is to see if you agree and, if not, to share your opinion through the “Comments” section below.

So what non-Ferraris did Goodwood select? Here they are:

1951 Lancia Aurelia GT — “Mike Hawthorn, Juan Manuel Fangio, Jean Behra. When drivers like these choose a particular car as their own personal transport – and free of the restrictions of sponsors – then you know it is something special,” Goodwood notes. 

“Named, in Lancia’s fashion, after a Roman road, the Aurelia used the world’s first production V6-engine, an all-alloy jewel designed under the auspices of legendary engineer Vittorio Jano mated to an innovative transaxle which combined the gearbox, clutch, diff and in-board drum brakes in one unit. The Aurelia was also the first car to be fitted as standard with radial-ply tires. 

Add in a Ghia-designed and Pininfarinia-built fastback body and you have what Goodwood adds is the first “Grand Touring” car. 

1953 Porsche 550 — “Ferdinand Porsche revisited the mid-engined layout he had pioneered with the Auto Union Grands Prix cars of the 1930s for the first post-war sports racing car to be called a Porsche. The engine, regardless of where it was situated, was quite something:  all-alloy, air-cooled, four-cylinder boxer with double overhead camshafts, twin carbs and dual ignition it produced 110PS.

“Introduced in 1953, it won its classes at Le Mans and the Carrera Panamerica that year, the latter victory leading to Porsches carrying the ‘Carrera’ badge to this day.”

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1953 Austin Healey 100 — “If the Porsche 356 was the sportscar birthed from the Volkswagen Beetle then the Healey 100 applied the same approach to the Austin A90 Atlantic, a bulbous two-door which tried, unsuccessfully, to apply American styling ideas to British-sized cars. Former Monte Carlo Rally winner Donald Healey had been producing high-end hand-built cars under his own name since just after the war but wanted to make something cheap enough to win mass-market appeal. Hitting on the A90 as the donor car, Healey designed the rakish 100 (has any sportscar worn two-tone paint better than the ‘Big Healeys’) around its mechanicals.

“The design impressed Austin boss Leonard Lord and a deal was done to jointly build the Austin-Healey 100, the number referring to its ability to reach the magic ton with its 2.6-liter four-cylinder engine and three-speed with overdrive manual gearbox. The bodies were produced and trimmed by Jensen Motors.”

1954 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing — “Car dealers don’t often get a say in how the models they sell get developed but US luxury car importer Max Hoffmann had a hand in more than one car on this list, as well as others such as the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider and Porsche 356 Speedster. Hoffman suggested to Mercedes-Benz that a road going version of its Le Mans and Carrera Panamerica winning W194 racer, would be a hit with well-heeled Americans.

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“The 300SL (for ‘Super Light’) used the same construction techniques as the racer, albeit mainly in steel rather than aluminum, and it was the tube frame underneath the body panels that, due to its high sides, necessitated the iconic gullwing doors. The road car used the same 3.0-liter overhead cam straight-six as the W194, canted over at 50-degrees for a low bonnet line.”

1956 BMW 507 — “Here is another Hoffman-inspired entry which the dealer persuaded BMW to build because he wanted a cheaper convertible to sell alongside the 300SL cabriolet. Hoffman envisaged the car being half the price of the Mercedes and selling in the thousands, so BMW designed it around as many existing components as possible, including a chassis adapted from the BMW 502 saloon and its 3.2-liter V8, which with twin-carburetors produced 150 HP. 

“The body was the work of Albrecht von Goertz (who later designed a grand piano for Steinway & Sons) at the insistence of Hoffman, a friend of his. The result was undoubtedly pleasing but proved to be a challenge to build, each one being hand formed from aluminum and no two cars being identical, to the extent where a hardtop from one example will not fit another correctly. This also meant the price almost doubled, leading to only 252 being sold, nearly bankrupting BMW.”

1957 Jaguar XKSS — “Another racer turned road car in the vein of the 300SL Gullwing, the Jaguar XKSS was conceived as a way to make use of unused chassis from the D-Type competition program, recouping their development cost. A fairly thinly veiled adaptation of the D-type, the XKSS gained a passenger door, windscreen and side screens but lost the D-type’s glorious fin along the rear bodywork and the divider in-between the driver and passenger areas. A properly trimmed cabin and rudimentary convertible top added a modicum of refinement while bumpers and larger Jaguar XK140 rear lights helped increase safety.

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“In total, 25 cars were planned but on February 12, 1957, a fire at Jaguar’s Browns Lane factory destroyed nine of the cars, although two were later created using existing D-types. Most of the remaining 16 were sold in America, including one to actor Steve McQueen, who referred to it as ‘The Green Rat’.” 

1958 Lotus Elite — “Is there any car company that is able to do so much with such seemingly humble components as Lotus? Case in point; the Lotus Elite was powered by a 1.2-liter Coventry Climax engine originally usually used as a water pump on fire engine. With it, the Elite won its class at Le Mans six times. 

“Unveiled in 1957, the Elite was the first production car to feature a fiberglass monocoque forming the body and load-bearing structures of the car (with a steel windscreen hope and subframe for mounting the engine). As a result, the car weighed just 500 kilograms, helping it to two Index of Thermal Efficiency wins at Le Mans as well.”

A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Hmm next time try mid 50’s Ford, Chev, Dodge products.
    Different strokes for different folks.
    Val

  2. I understand Goodwood’s preference for European sports/racing cars due to being located in the UK, but there is more to life than Ferrari’s. If not 50’s Detroit Iron, then how about maybe a 50’s era Rolls-Royce or Bentley? Or a Morgan, Jaguar XK-120, or MGA?

  3. Hey Val
    This was a list compiled by the British in England. What specific car made in the ’50s in the land of the free(way), qualifies for the title of sports car?
    Corvette (’57 on?)

  4. Hi JDM
    By what possible definition does any Rolls-Royce or Bentley made (by the factory) in the ’50s, qualify for the title of sports car?
    The other three you mention, yes but Rolls-Royce and Bentley? I’ve owned (and enjoyed) examples of both marques. All were quick in a straight line but sports cars? No sir.
    Etore Bugatti summed up Bentleys very well when he referred to contemporary Bentleys as the world’s fastest lorries.
    He was right. I can’t comment on the current crop of big Volkswagens but right up to the Arnage, Bentleys had left hand threaded wheel nuts on the left side – just like trucks.

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