We wanted to know which sports car would be considered the very first sports car. So we started asking really smart car guys we knew.
Nobody seemed to know. But we got some great answers…
Here is the answer we got from our long-time friend, Raffi Minasian. Raffi’s illustrious background includes important design work on behalf of Mattel, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Toyota and Subaru. He helped propel the popularity of diecast models as a legendary design director during the halcyon days of Franklin Mint. His knowledge and insight into automotive history seem fathomless.
As you can guess from the picture, he puts the Cisitalia 202 at the beginning.
Everything is the synthesized result of all that came before it. And surely the DNA of the sports car started spooling over decades earlier than 1946, the dawn of the Cisitalia. But think of the Cisitalia as the *big bang* that created the sports car universe.
“This car was astonishing for 1946 and literally every car since owes the body design to this iteration. Fewer than 200 were handmade, but Cisitalia and Pinin Farina changed modern car design forever with this car.”
To refresh your memory about this car, it was the brainchild of Piero Dusio, former soccer star, accomplished race car driver and successful industrialist. During WWII, he made a small fortune in military uniforms and afterwards introduced the D-46 single-seat racer with a novel space-frame. Legend has it that he grabbed his engineer, Giovannia Savonuzzi and shared his desires…
“I want a car that is wide like my Buick, low like a grand prix, comfortable like a Rolls-Royce, and light like the D-46.”
So he wanted a production car that would be the magical synthesis of these 4 cars:
What he got was the Cisitalia 202, which eventually found its way to Pinin Farina for the body.
Cisitalia – even some true car buffs don’t know this car
Cisitalia 202 SMM Spider Nuvolari
The coupe was expensive at $5,000 ($62,000 today) and the spyder another +$2,000), so fewer than 200 were made before production ended in 1952. Enough time to establish the concept of a sports car.
The special status of this car was recognized by the Museum of Modern Art which included the Cisitalia 202 in its 1951 exhibition “Eight Automobiles” – exclusive company indeed. The car remains in its permanent collection.
Raffi also cites two other pivotal sports cars as the sports car universe unfurled.
Jag E-Type: First mass marketable and production-based sports car of significance. Disc brakes, fully independent suspension, monocoque, twin cam, race-bred sports car priced far less than a Ferrari and performed as well if not better. Jaguar made thousands of these cars – unprecedented numbers up until that time.
Datsun 240Z: Think of it as a Japanese E-Type at a fraction of the price. By time the Z arrived in 1969, the Jag was bloated and over scale. America was ready for a low cost sports car with dynamic handling and reliability. Sales were astonishingly high.
You may have an opinion about an alternative car upon which recognition as the first sports car should be bestowed. Don’t be shy, comment on our Facebook Page.