Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A short and simple essay on sports cars

Written for younger readers:

Sports car is an automobile designed more for performance than for carrying passengers or luggage. Sports cars are known for their light weight, speed, nimble handling, and appearance. They feature special equipment, and with few exceptions manufacturers make only limited numbers of them. As a result, pound for pound they cost more than most other cars. Famous sports cars include the Chevrolet Corvette of the United States, the Alfa –Romeo and Ferrari of Italy, the Jaguar XK-E, MGB, and Triumph TR-7 of the United Kingdom, the Porsche 911 and Mercedes 300 SL of Germany, and the Mazda Miata and Nissan 370ZX of Japan.
Characteristics. Most sports cars are two-seaters with low ground clearance and aerodynamic designs that enable them to cut through the air easily. With generally favorable power to weight ratios, these cars often accelerate more quickly than other automobiles do. Sports cars have performance tires and advanced suspension systems. Sports cars often serve as a means of testing new automotive technology before it becomes commonplace in everyday vehicles. For example, automakers have used sports cars to demonstrate the efficiencies of multi-valve, overhead cam engine designs, rack and pinion steering, and four wheel disc brakes before they were incorporated in inexpensive passenger cars.
History. Automobiles began to be driven as sporting vehicles in the late 1800's. At that time, rich enthusiasts started racing one another on public roads from town to town. The first formally organized race took place in France in 1895. This race and others like it helped encourage the development of the automobile, and soon special cars were being built for racing. Automobiles in the United States in the early 1900's were light, rugged, and powerful. Well-known models of the time included the Hayes-Apperson “Jack Rabbit,” Chadwick Great Six, the Lozier Briarcliff, the Mercer Type 35 Raceabout, and the Stutz Bearcat. As time went by, however, the size of cars increased. By the 1930's, the only sports cars made in the United States were the Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg, and the same company made all three.
By the 1940's, open wheel and stock car racing had become the most popular motor sport in the United States. But in the late 1940's and early 1950's, there was a revival of interest in light, quick cars. A number of small, short-lived businesses sprang up to produce sports cars—among them the Kaiser Darrin and the Crosley Hot-Shot. Meanwhile, sports car production was fairly strong in Europe before and after World War II (1939-1945). Among the most important sports cars manufactured in the United Kingdom were the MG, Austin-Healey, and Triumph. Beginning in the late 1940's, such names as Jaguar of the United Kingdom, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo of Italy, and Porsche of Germany became well-known for racing and sports cars. These cars were discovered by American G.I.s stationed in Europe after the war, and brought back to the United States. Soon local sports car clubs were established, and cars were raced on a few road courses like Watkins Glen in New York and on former airports, like Sebring in Florida.
American manufacturers soon responded to the appearance of European sports cars on American shores. In 1953, the General Motors Corporation launched the Corvette. The Ford Motor Company responded with more luxurious Thunderbird in 1954, but Ford eventually turned the "T-bird" into a four-seater. Thus, the Corvette remained the only true sports car made in the United States until the Chrysler Corporation introduced the Dodge Viper in 1992.
In the 1960's, the Japanese auto industry introduced its first sports cars, including the Honda S800 and Toyota 2000GT. Since then, Japanese automakers have built generations of fast, reliable sports cars. Among these are the Nissan ZX, Toyota MR-2, Mazda RX-7, and Mazda Miata.
Since 2000, several automakers have made cars with vastly increased engine power. This increase makes sports cars potentially more dangerous and difficult to control. Fortunately, advanced stability control systems have also become more common. The Audi R8 is typical of the modern sports car, with all-wheel drive and all-aluminum construction.

Sports cars continue to be popular among a group of young drives and older drivers who wish to remain feeling young. Often expensive, they bring status and the exhilaration of speed to those who drive them.

John Heitmann
University of Dayton


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