9 Classic European Performance Cars Every Gearhead Should Drive
Europe has always been a melting point for interesting sports cars. Each nation takes a different approach to creating their own vision of four-wheeled perfection. The world’s first affordable sports car, the MG M-Type, came from Europe and over the decades many other fine machines followed.
The constant competition between countries to create something iconic has led to an almost exhausting amount of fantastic cars. Icons of different shapes and sizes. From the cute little Fiat 600 to the monster Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth, Europe has a tasty menu of classic cars to suit all tastes.
With such a bewildering choice, it would be easy to disappear down a rabbit hole and create a list of one hundred cars to discover before you die. But in a time when time is not on our side, and with so many four-wheeled wonders to ponder, here are the nine definitive European classics sports cars each reducer must conduct.
9 Ford Escort RS1600
The Ford Escort was one of the most successful motorsport cars ever created. He was a working class hero. A car that bridged the gap between being affordable and being fast. The Escort RS1600 was the pinnacle of Ford’s road-going efforts for the Escort MK1.
In street version, its 1.6 liter engine develops 113 hp. In full race spec, that figure rose to 230bhp. Coveted by collectors, prices have exploded. Yet one of the most entertaining drives on the planet, the RS1600 is, simply put, an automotive icon.
8 BMW 2002 Turbo
Compact, aggressive and ferociously fast. The BMW 2002 Turbo left its mark on history as BMW’s first turbocharged car. Fewer than 1700 examples were made due to the oil crisis of the 1970s, which is a crying shame.
Well ahead of its time, the 2002 Turbo used a 2.0-liter blown engine producing 170 hp. It would go up to 60 mph in 7 seconds and keep firing until it hit 131 mph. Boasting sports seats, a bespoke interior and a very sizable boost gauge, the 2002 Turbo will still dish out punishment today.
seven Peugeot 205 GTI
Back then, the Peugeot GTI was the hot hatch of choice for those who knew their cars. Offered with two engine options, the Peugeot was a superb handling machine. Fitted with the 1.6-litre 115hp engine, a Peugeot 205 GTI could easily show a Golf GTI a clean set of taillights.
When fitted with the larger 130bhp 1.9-litre engine, it would hit 60mph in 7.5 seconds. This then gave the 205 GTI a level of performance that would make more exotic machines run and hide. It set a hot benchmark, which lasted for decades.
6 Alfa Romeo boat tail spider
You have to hand it over to Alfa Romeo, when there is a need for a wonderful car, then they can deliver the goods. Released in 1967, the Boat-Tail Duetto Spider is a visual marvel. Boasting a 108bhp 1.6-litre twin-cam engine fed by twin Weber carburettors, it also sounded amazing.
One of the most beautiful cars ever created, there’s no better way to travel. Its modest 70hp wouldn’t set the road on fire, but it would pack plenty of punch. But then, when you look this good, it’s much better to drive at a speed where passers-by can admire your beauty.
5 Jaguar E-Type
If a manufacturer were to be singled out for just one model, then Jaguar can still hang its hat on the E-Type. From the grille to the taillights, its entire design is captured in metal form. Best experienced in 5.3-litre V12 form, the E-Type is quintessentially British. Its 272 hp engine emits a noise that will make your neck hairs stand on end.
Capable of reaching 100 km/h in 6.7 seconds, the Jaguar E-Type is a brute. It’s a big cat with a huge roar and a massive bite. Nothing comes close to being this classically cool.
4 Volvo P1800
Every car Volvo launched after the magnificent P1800 felt like the company was stepping back on the styling stakes. Sleek, sleek and highly refined, the P1800 was pushed as a grand tourer rather than a sports car. Available with a 1.8 liter 130 hp engine capable of reaching 200 km/h, it was still rather sporty for the time.
A timeless classic that’s a joy to drive, the Volvo P1800 has also been noted for being ultra-reliable. One example was recorded as covering over 3.2 million miles. Now it’s a car worth driving.
3 Ferrari 308 GTS
Probably one of the least sought after Ferrari models, the 308 GTS shouldn’t be considered a bad car. Its 2.9-liter V8 engine may only produce 240 hp, but it still sounds great. Planting the throttle will fill the air with a fantastic V8 howl as the 308 GTS launches to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds.
The Ferrari 308 GTS also remains the affordable way to become a Ferrari owner. They remain one of the easiest Italian stallions to own, maintain and repair. A car is made for driving, after all, not for spending hundreds of hours under it.
2 Lotus Spirit Turbo
Costing nearly £2 million to design, the Lotus Esprit Turbo was one of the fastest production cars of its day. The 2.2-liter turbocharged engine gave it 215 hp, allowing it to hit 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. Instantly made cool by posing as a James Bond car, the Lotus Esprit Turbo is always a coveted retro car.
Surprisingly, it’s also a very reliable vehicle to own and one of the most exciting. Later cars would benefit from an improved intercooler and injection system, allowing 249 bhp and a reduced 0-60 mph time of 4.8 seconds.
1 Audi Quattro Sports
The Audi Quattro turned the world of performance cars upside down. The incredible Quattro all-wheel-drive system allowed Audi to pump all of a vehicle’s power to all four wheels to deliver incredible levels of grip. In turn, this has made Audi a force to be reckoned with in motorsport.
The Quattro Sport, in essence, is a Group B road rally car. Its 2.2-liter 20-valve turbocharged engine develops 302 hp. It has kevlar and fiberglass panels. It’s incredibly light and it will hit 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and 100 mph in 11 seconds. It’s still fast today.