Almost everyone has a fantasy that involves a super-cool car. Here’s how to get behind the wheel.
The 1967 Chevy Corvette, the 1975 BMW 3.0 CSL, any pre-1974 Porsche 911–these are some of the vehicles that have earned a significant place in automotive history. Iconic yet accessible, they are museum-quality cars that you really just want to take for a spin. These automotive legends have weathered the decades, but with some ingenuity, you can still get behind the wheel of most of them. Here’s our list of the ones worth the hunt.
Once called “the most beautiful car ever made” by Enzo Ferrari, the 1960s Jaguar E-Type is a classic sports car mainstay. “If you only choose one car from this list to drive, this is the one,” says McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty, the world’s largest provider of collector vehicle insurance. This staple of British motoring history still has verve–it can perform up to 150 m.p.h. and brakes better than most cars from its era. Visit the Jaguar Heritage Driving Experience program in Kenilworth, U.K., where you can pay for a day of driving the marque’s classics.
The emblem of Big Three muscle cars, the Chevy Corvette is the most collected vehicle in America. The second generation, which spanned 1963 to 1967, is “the most iconic American car ever made,” says Keith Martin, publisher of Sports Car Market. “It’s still breathtaking and fresh today.” Early generation Corvettes remain plentiful in the U.S., so you can scour auctions, collector car dealers, and websites like classiccars.com for deals.
Considered by some to be the sexiest car ever built, the Miura debuted in 1966 as a sleek mid-engine speedster designed to challenge Ferrari. “Piloting the Miura transcends driving experience to become a life experience,” Hagerty says. “If the sound of six carburetors feeding a thirsty, vibrating V-12 moored right behind your head isn’t enough, it’s also arguably the most beautiful car ever produced.” To buy one, contact the Lamborghini Club America or an auction house like RM Sotheby’s or Gooding & Co. They’re usually in the know about the cars before they reach the general market.
The Porsche 911 represents vintage driving at its best—particularly during the golden era before the car’s 1974 redesign. “There’s magic in the early 911,” Hagerty says. “It’s an amazingly well-built machine that delivers one of the most honest driving experiences of any sports car ever built.” Even by today’s standards, first-generation 911s still have plenty of horsepower and can hold their own on the track. You can find one, even in mint condition, on eBay.
Rolls-Royce Dawn Drophead
Based on the first full-size car Rolls-Royce made after the war, the original Silver Dawn drophead launched in 1949 and retired in 1954. The name was intended to mark the dawn of a new era for the world and Rolls-Royce’s place in it. Slightly smaller than pre-war cars, the Dawn helped the British bespoke carmaker reintroduce motoring craftsmanship while bringing the company into the modern age. They’re extremely rare: only three of the original 28 dropheads remain in the U.S., and those are owned by private collectors. Happily, the carmaker is introducing a successor model after a 60-year hiatus.
Mercedes SL 300 Gullwing
Among the first sports cars of the post-war era, the Mercedes SL 300 Gullwing was the fastest production car of its time when it was introduced in 1954. As the first direct fuel injection series production car, the SL 300 could travel at an eye-popping 160 miles per hour. “Nobody expected something like that from Mercedes,” says Constantin von Kageneck, a specialist in classic car marketing at the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Irvine, CA. Though about three-quarters of the original SL 300’s survive today, many still belong to their original owners. To see one, visit the Classic Center or an automotive museum like the Petersen in Los Angeles.
Ferrari 250 GTO
Ferrari made just 39 of these elegant race cars between 1962 and 1964, so they are extremely rare. “The 250 GTO is probably the holy grail in terms of value and recognition, but the reality is only a handful of people in the world will ever have the chance to legitimately drive one,” Hagerty says. An early model fetched $38 million at Bonhams’ Quail Lodge auction at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance two years ago. If that’s too pricey, know that any 1960s Prancing Horse with a V12 engine is worthy of making the list.
Aston Martin DB4
The precursor to James Bond’s getaway car, the Aston Martin DB4 is an iconic workhorse. “The DB4 is a thoroughbred that never gets flustered,” Hagerty says. “I wouldn’t hesitate to drive one across the country. It’s no wonder that James Bond favored the derivative DB5.” They’re in short supply, so if you want to drive one, your best bet may be to befriend a collector.
BMW 3.0 CSL
If any part of you harbors a race-track fantasy, this is the car to track down. When BMW came to America in 1975, it brought a quartet of models with it, including the 3.0 CSL coupe. Driven by racing legends Brian Redman, Sam Posey, and Hans Stuck, the car claimed victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring race that year and won Daytona the following year. The pair of triumphs established BMW’s performance chops stateside. In addition to its engineering and performance legacy, the 3.0 CSL pioneered a host of technologies found in later BMW models, from its first-ever four-valve six-cylinder engine to its early anti-lock braking system. BMW offers a turn at the wheel as part of its BMW Classic Center in Munich.
Acura’s halo car from 1990 to 2005, the NSX is young but mighty. “While it’s not as sexy as its European rivals, the Acura NSX showed the rest of the world that supercar specs and daily-driver manners could co-exist,” Hagerty says. “It inspires confidence and begs you to keep pushing, braking later, and turning harder. It may be the most underrated car on this list.” Its successor, the new Acura NSX, reaches customers this year and is likely to inspire renewed interest in the original. Fortunately, Acura made 9,000 first-generation NSX cars so finding one online is easy.