For vintage sports car collectors, the finest examples in sleek design, technology, and sophistication were produced in the 1960s and 1970s—said to be the golden era of the sports car. It was during the recovery from the devastation of World War II that automotive design began to emerge from the shadow of steel shortages and crippled economies. "It took [car manufacturers] about a decade to get their act together," says Andy Sta. Maria, an active member of the Manila Sports Car Club. "By the time the `60s rolled around, they were capable of producing really sophisticated cars."
After World War II, consumers demanded more speed, style, and technology in their vehicles to reflect the accelerating progress and the pace of life after the war. The pinnacle of all offerings was the introduction of the sports car (or "halo car"), two-seaters with attractive designs and powerful engines that became the ultimate expression of driving freedom and status. They served as a test bed for new technologies, as well as a sales pitch that drew more customers to a brand.
The allure of the sports car and all the benefits it provided took a nosedive during the 1973 oil crisis. Subsequently, "along came Ralph Nader and the EPA," says Tito F. Hermoso, a former dean of economics and motoring journalist. EPA is the US Environmental Protection Agency. "Mandated crash safety standards meant cars had to wear ugly bumpers. By adding more weight, engines had to grow in size to develop enough power. But big engines were also being bedeviled as the cause of pollution and the accelerating waste of natural resources. Cars were to become tools for transport and having fun was bad for the health. Big Brother was taking away man's fondest toy."
"At that time, the owners of the big car companies were still owned and run by one man, says Sta. Maria. "You had Enzo Ferrari, Colin Chapman for Lotus, Ferruccio Lamborghini...later on, corporations took over and personalities disappeared. I think in the 60s, you had the purest visions." New safety regulations also had a hand in dictating car design, adds car enthusiast Mike Aguilar.
Today, many automakers have rekindled their interest in their brands by remaking the classics of a bygone era, like the new Challenger from Dodge, Cinquecento from Fiat, and Gullwing from Mercedes-Benz. Only time will tell if they too will stir up as much excitement as their original inspirations. But for now, the originals rule. Vault Magazine tracked down these collectibles in 2011, along with their owners to determine why specific models from the golden era are considered the ultimate collectible.
1966 Jaguar E-Type 4.2 Series 1
Jaguar's E-type was marketed as a grand tourer in a two-seater coupe form and as a convertible. It was a hit, boasting of high performance with competitive pricing. "It came out in '61 when all the cars were humongous," recounts Mike Aguilar, a collector of rare classics. "Here was this small car and the design was fantastic. Enzo Ferrari said once, 'If the car had a prancing horse in front, it would be the most expensive Ferrari.'"
1967 Toyota 2000GT Series 1
Easily the rarest in the set, this Toyota is one of only 337 produced. The limited production grand tourer was designed by Toyota in collaboration with Yamaha. It went on to revolutionize the automotive world's view of Japan and is widely regarded as the first Japanese supercar. "The 2000GT wasn't really meant to be a profit maker for them," says Aguilar. "Toyota wanted to prove to the world that it can build a reputable sports car, comparable to the European sports cars. Toyotas were always reliable. Even if you drive this car now, it still feels like a regular Toyota." Studying the E-Type for design and the Lotus Elan for chassis, Toyota adopted the best of both. "They grafted an Elan chassis and the proportions of an E-type, of course in a smaller way, and that became the 2000GT," notes Aguilar.
1972 Dino 246 GT
Created to market a lower-priced, more affordable sports car, the Dino was named after the Ferrari founder's late son, Alfredo "Dino" Ferrari, who influenced his father's decision to produce a line of racing cars in the 1950s with a V6 engine. "You buy a Ferrari, you bought an engine," explains Sta. Maria, owner of the Dino. "The car is just built around it. [The Dino] never really was sold as a Ferrari. There are no Ferrari emblems on it except for the manufacturer's tag on the door. Many say that in spite of not having a Ferrari badge, it's one of the most beautiful Ferraris ever made." He points to some of the car's stylistic quirks—a door handle with a latch and pleated seats.
Mercedes-Benz 1954 300SL and 2956 290SL
Introduced in 1954 as a two-seat, street-legal sports car, the 300SL was based on the company's successful race car. It was built around a lightweight tubular chassis and was best known for its distinctive gullwing doors and being the fastest production car at the time.
The 190SL was sold alongside it, closely resembling the 30o in styling, engineering, detailing, and fully-independent suspension." In the 190, you can see the development of Mercedes' sports car," explains Manny Dimaculangan, a Mercedes-Benz collector. "You can see the line from the '56 190SL to the '67 280SL, to the current SLS AMG, they preserved it."
Photographs by Milo Sogueco
This story first appeared in Vault Magazine Issue 2 2011.