By on March 15, 2018

honda s2000 cr

My friends, I spoke to you last week about the dangers of freedom-hating wackadoodles who want to take away your right to own and drive your own car. Some of you agreed with me, others didn’t. Such is the nature of an op-ed. I was pleased to see that only a couple of you tried to no-platform me — either I’m getting less offensive in my old age or you’re getting more tolerant, and both of those are good things.

But today I am here to warn you of a more subtle threat to your driving-related joy, and it’s coming from a rather unsuspected source — the very manufacturers of the cars we love so much. Well, no, that’s not exactly right. It’s actually coming from you. The economic factors presented by the buying behavior of the general public are eventually going to make it impossible for automakers to deliver the cars that enthusiasts want to buy.

I’m not just talking about silly “Save the Manuals” nonsense. I’m talking about being able to buy a lightweight car. I’m talking about buying a car that will allow you to get yourself into trouble without kicking in the traction control. They won’t be dead — at least, not yet. But there’s no denying that cheap, fun cars are very, very close to being a thing of the past.

I spent a few days with the Lotus Evora 410 Sport GP Edition earlier this month (whew, that’s a mouthful), and while there is certainly a significant amount of tech inside, the most pleasant thing about the car was just how connected I was with it. The hydraulic steering, the defeatable traction control, and the ways in which Lotus worked to remove weight from it were all incredibly delightful. I went to visit a PR friend of mine in SoCal, who also happens to be an accomplished amateur racer, and I let him drive the Evora around the parking lot a bit while we chatted.

“It’s amazing. The steering feel, the shifter…the feedback is incredible,” he remarked. “It just feels natural.”

I remember a similar conversation being had about the 410’s stablemate, the 400, with some writer friends about a year and a half ago after we’d all had the chance to drive it around a circuit. “What would we be saying about this car if it weren’t from Lotus, a brand with impeccable racing heritage, but if it were from, say, Hyundai?” one writer asked.

“We’d be throwing a goddamned festival, that’s what,” said another. “I don’t care that it’s ‘old school’ or whatever. It’s fantastic.”

Of course, Evoras ain’t cheap. So what can the man on the street buy right now that’s brand new, that’s RWD, available with a real six-speed manual transmission, completely defeatable stability control, and weighs less than 3,000 lbs for less than $50,000?

Umm. Well. Huh. The Toyota 86 counts, if you can do The Pedal Dance. The Mazda MX-5 and the Fiat 124 Spider.

That’s it. (I’m sure one of you will remind me of something I’ve forgotten. Go ahead. Put it in the comments.)

We lost the RX-8 and the S2000 about 10 years ago. GM isn’t bringing back the Kappa cars, even though they should. Nissan is done with making sports cars. The new Supra is reportedly being targeted at 3,200 lbs, and it’s not gonna be cheap. Neither is the new Z4.

Automakers aren’t immune to financial pressures. They can’t make cars that people don’t buy. The bane of my existence is people on forums and in comments sections who say things like, “I can’t wait to buy one of these things (used, of course)!” If nobody buys them new, they won’t be available used — just ask the Saab community. So while some version of the Miata will always be in the Mazda lineup, I personally find it hard to believe when Toyota promises a second generation of the 86. They just don’t sell.

But I do have good news! You can buy a car like this — you just need a lot of money. You can buy an Alfa Romeo 4C! It’s really light and it’s only about $60k. You could buy the aforementioned Evora 410 for just over $100k. How about a Porsche GT3 RS (it’s 3,020 lbs, but we’ll stop drinking soda and eating donuts and make up for it)? A mere $146,000.

But even Lotus will charge you more to make the 410 lighter than the 400. The GT3’s weight savings sure as hell don’t mean a cost savings. And while it seems silly at first glance to charge more to take a back seat out of a car than to put one in, even the most basic understanding of manufacturing will soon help you realize why.

So what’s the non-wealthy performance driving fan to do? Well, for a limited time, you can buy used versions of the cars we used to be able to buy new (and pay ungodly amounts for them, in the case of the S2000). You can buy the Toyobaru twins and modify them into being fun, I guess, and hope that your purchase inspires somebody — anybody — at Toyota to make good on their promise to build another one.

You could learn to love FWD — the Fiesta ST is still a thing you can buy in 2018 (thank God I was wrong about that) and it’s great, the Honda Civic Si is just under 3,000 lbs (the Type R isn’t, and it’s also not cheap, but it’s still wonderful), and even the Fiat 500 Abarth is still on some dealer lots right now. But only Honda seems committed to continuing to build a car in this segment.

The best hope for the sub-$30k enthusiast? It’s the turbo four-powered pony car. While they’re chunky, and they don’t make great noises, they are more powerful than even the eight-cylinder versions of just a decade ago. There are mods aplenty, even power mods that don’t void warranties, and thanks to independent rear suspensions and track packs, the four-bangers from Ford and Chevy can turn, too.

But I can’t lie. I look at my old S2000 CR and RX-8 autocross pictures on the wall of my home office, and I realize that neither car has been available for a decade. We might have more horsepower than ever, but we’re worse off for not adhering to the great Colin Chapman’s mantra. We haven’t simplified or added lightness. We’ve complicated and made up for it with turbochargers and boost.

And at the risk of sounding like the old man I never dreamed I’d become on the day I signed the papers for my 2004 RX-8, I regret it.

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87 Comments on “Bark’s Bites: The Lightweight, Affordable Sporting Car Is Dead by Our Own Hands...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Risk averse snowflakes rule the day. They don’t want you driving a Toyota Corolla, let alone a sporting car. They don’t want you *driving*. Period. You don’t have the common sense to stop driving so they’ll make the choice for you. Enjoy your Auto-Pod SS (with sport appearance group L2)

    • 0 avatar
      volvo

      You don’t have to be a “snowflake” to be reasonably risk averse. The S2000 or RX-8 are great for the track or back country road but in today’s urban jungle where your windshield is at the level of the PU or SUV’s bumper next to you and you are looking at eye level wheel hubs I say no thanks.

    • 0 avatar
      e30gator

      I don’t blame “risk-averse snowflakes” for lagging sports car sales.

      I blame selfish, driving skill-averse, imbeciles in jacked-up F250’s who drive like they’re on the track on urban streets.

      Brodozers over the last decade have taken the crown away from Trans-Ams and Z28’s as the a**hole car of choice for show-offs behind the wheel. They’ve made sports cars into deathtraps….a designation that used t be held solely by motorcycles.

      • 0 avatar
        doublechili

        Yeah, if I had a dollar for every time some pickup (and in my area, Range Rover) grille filled by rear view mirror even though I was stuck behind the car in front of me…. I have come to the conclusion that the behavior is some kind of male appendage enhancement substitute.

        Yet, there are always the exit ramps to humble them and cause momentary self-doubt.

      • 0 avatar
        kvndoom

        There’s more truth to that than most people think. See, in single-vehicle households, women wear the car-buying pants. Guys can deny it all they want, but they know it’s true. A man only gets to drive “what he wants” after “what she wants” is taken care of.

        And because of brodozer syndrome, women don’t feel safe in low-to-the-road vehicles. So they buy *UV’s because of the ride-height arms race that has been in full force since the late 1990’s. Hence the death of FWD coupes, light sports cars, and other “fun” vehicles that can’t really support a family lifestyle. Hence the Sedan Deathwatch, when sedans used to be seen as viable family vehicles. For many, a fun car would have to be a 3rd car, which is usually out of the question financially. “Bachelor cars,” might as well call them. Cars you drive to pick up your date, not ones you worry about fitting child seats in.

      • 0 avatar
        Felix Hoenikker

        I remember when BMW drivers were the biggest A$$hat drivers. I think their bad driving behavior coupled with the market is what caused BMW to go the route they did.

      • 0 avatar
        dantes_inferno

        >I blame selfish, driving skill-averse, imbeciles in jacked-up F250’s who drive like they’re on the track on urban streets.

        Brodozers with “Little Dick Johnson” syndrome driving around in their penis compensating super-sized trucks.

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      If you were truly not a snow flake you would join me and my 1965 Lotus Elan on a drive. Well as soon as it gets above freezing.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      Who is this “they” who’s not letting people buy sports cars? The cars were there; people just haven’t been choosing to buy them. Possible reasons: bigger financial priorities than a third, impractical car; practical cars having become so dynamically competent that people see less of a reason to compromise into a two-seater; not as fashionable as they once were, and people are mostly sheep; SUVs limiting your sight lines in a low-slung car; decaying road and traffic conditions making it less pleasurable to own a stiff-suspensioned driver’s car.

      I’ve enjoyed my sport bikes, and I still enjoy my old, stiffly-sprung Miata when I can take it out on my own terms, but the older I get – I’m 34 – the more I see the appeal of a comfortable, practical car, especially considering that anything you can buy new today will easily obliterate posted speed limits.

    • 0 avatar
      e30gator

      To add on to my last reply:

      I also think cellphones are at least partly to blame. When I drive my own sports car and look into the rearview mirror and see the driver of a Yukon texting whilst riding my bumper, it is a scary situation…especially in an old Z3.

      Since I’d prefer to watch my kids grow up rather than become roadkill due to someone else’s negligence my sports car sees mostly just weekend use and country driving. That makes it a toy, and $30k+ is a lot of money to spend on a toy for most.

  • avatar
    arach

    I thoroughly disagree.

    you see the problem is that everything is getting SO MUCH BETTER that we don’t need to compromise as much.

    Instead of them dying by our own hands, they are getting WAY BETTER by our own hands.

    Which is a better light-weight track car:
    a. Honda S2000
    b. Ariel Atom

    Answer: B.

    But you see, when the S2000 came out, there was no SPECIALIZED Ariel Atom. Ariel Atoms are street legal (at least in Ohio), they look great, and they perform darn well.

    And are they a one-off? no. You have BAC Mono, KTM X-Bow, VUHL Xcar…

    And are they both “cheap”? Well an Ariel Atom costs about what an S2000 cost new adjusted for inflation. Ariel might be a few bucks more expensive, but frankly its one of the most expensive offerings in the market!

    So say for example your not just looking for a track monster and just want a cheap, fun, lightweight car to throw around…

    Well, you have the Polaris Slingshot, and a handful of other similar low priced, powersports oriented, fun lightweight raw “sporting cars”.

    There’s some as cheap as 10,000 (exocet) if your willing to do a little work yourself, and some that are uber expensive. The exocet is WAY CHEAPER than anything you could buy 10 years ago, and in many ways better.

    But to suggest lightweight, affordable sporting cars are dead seems silly… just the old fashioned, compromised versions from old-school mass produced manufacturers is dead… but with good reason.

    These new versions are BETTER, CHEAPER, and all around superior…

    The only thing they don’t have in the nostalgia.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      Just tried to run actual inflation math, and I may actually have understated the comparison of the S2000 to the Ariel Atom.

      My records show that a base S2000 cost about $36,400 ($35,705 + Destination).
      In 2018 dollars, that is $52,632.

      Since an Ariel Atom costs $49,000 new, But may have a little less negotiation room (Lots of S2000 buyers said they got about 1,200 of sticker, but then your talking about higher base prices)

      Also ran numbers on a near fully built Exocet and a Slingshot, Both come in way WAY WAY less than miata prices in 2000.

      Either way I look at it we have better, more specialized light throwable cars at a lower price than ever before in history.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      The problem is, with a very small amount of sacrifice an S2000 or Miata or whatever can be an only car. An Ariel Atom can’t be, at least not if you need it for regular transportation. Buying a $35-50k car is one thing, buying a $35-50k toy or second car is quite another.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        +1

        I did 10000 mile road trips (plural) in my S2000. Including frozen Canadian tundra. A smidgen more interesting than going around and around the same old circle, if you ask me. Even if you can, in some very specific locales, legally get your track toy to the track under its own power.

        The availability of videogames, doesn’t make up for the fact that movies nowadays suck, to put it that way.

        • 0 avatar
          arach

          I find your analogy interesting.

          In 2009, videogames first outperformed movies. I view videogames simply as modern movies. Movies you have to sit back and let someone else tell you the story. Video games involve you being part of the story.

          Modern video games are an Evolution of Movies.

          Plays > Silent Films/talkies > Movies > Video Games

          Silent Films and talkies were better than plays because they were more accessible, and cheaper to produce. Movies were better than silent films because they were more engaging and higher quality. Video games are even MORE engaging and interactive than movies.

          I think video games fully make up for the fact that movies now suck… haha.

          The movies don’t need to be good, because if you want an engaging movie, you try a video game. If you want some stupid thing to turn on at 2 am because you can’t sleep, you pick a movie.

          That is what I would call divergence- each is better at meeting the specific use case and need for which it is derived. Some people get alienated who are looking for that unique thing in the middle, but each divergent result is actually closer to the needs and wants of a larger buying segment.

          So in other words, having sucky movies that are cheaper and more readily available (relative to the available technology and distribution) and video games better fits MORE people’s needs BETTER than good movies did, even though some people might not like it.

          I’d say the same thing is true with the evolution of the lightweight affordable sporting car. Again, The extremists who are buying track toys and what not, take advantage of the divergence, focusing on the product that better fits their needs. If they are nolonger buying the mainstream car, then the mainstream car is less pulled in the direction of the needs of that segment. Therefore it moves closer to the center point of what the remaining customers want.

          Because while there were some extreme performance junkies buying S2000s, there were also comfortable roadster desirees… who just wanted a cushy, feature-laden roadster.

          Take out one group of people because they migrated to a different technology, and now the influence is larger by those who are in the opposite extreme.

          Take any car, and then remove the customers who require certain elements of it, and those elements will be removed by the manufacturer, plain and simple. That doesn’t always mean that those needs disappeared from the market as a whole, it means they are better served by someone else.

          I might have bought an S2000 back in 2000. But today, I’ll buy an Ariel Atom. I’m not saying you should do the same thing- because in your post you made it clear you value other compromises, like comfort and distance drive-ability. Maybe even affordability? So When a company packages those together WITHOUT the influence of people like me, they come to a result which is more like a modern Camaro or Mustang… which sells in higher volumes today than they have in more than 16 years.

          And I DD a sedan today, because my Sedan outperforms the sports cars I used to buy, but gives me more technology, features, etc. therefore meeting my needs better.

          I think as more automotive automation happens more and more of these specialty cars are going to be “offroad”. In fact I am fully speculating here, but I see a day where I own a Mahindra Roxor and an Ariel Atom, but DON’T own any other cars. A self-driving car will pick me up and take me to work…

          that doesn’t mean cars are dead, again they evolved. I don’t love that evolution necessarily, but that doesn’t mean everyone become a snowflake over night. I’m guessing then there will be way MORE tracks, MORE racing, MORE ariel atoms and similar than ever before. Maybe then we’ll have more Ariel Atoms selling per year than we ever did S2000s!

          Which by the way, despite the fact that we love to think they were all over the place, no more than 9684 were ever sold in a year.

          I know they only sell about 150 atoms a year right now, but some day those numbers might exceed 9684!

    • 0 avatar
      Dawnrazor

      I agree with this 100%.

      As you point out, there is still a nice selection of no-compromise sports machines readily available in the form of these niche/kit cars, and honestly I find them a lot more interesting than the hyper-complex megabuck machines from the mainstream manufacturers. There’s more fun to be had behind the wheel (or handlebars, for that matter) than ever before, we just need to evolve and learn how to find it!

      Even something as great as the S2000 falls a bit short compared with some of these vehicles, as it does make a few concessions to comfort, “features”, refinement, and the necessity of a factory warranty.

      As you said, it’s mostly nostalgia that rears its ugly head and makes us feel unsatisfied. Time and “progress” marches onward, and we either adapt and evolve, or we will simply get left behind and end up with no choice but wallow in the self-pity of what “once was”.

      • 0 avatar
        Rick T.

        Nostalgia has an interesting medical history most are not aware of:

        “Swiss physician Johannes Hofer coined the term in his 1688 medical dissertation, from the Greek nostos, or homecoming, and algos, or pain. The disease was similar to paranoia, except the sufferer was manic with longing, not perceived persecution, and similar to melancholy, except specific to an object or place.

        “Though Hofer is credited with naming nostalgia, it existed prior to that. During the Thirty Years War, at least six soldiers were discharged from the Spanish Army of Flanders with el mal de corazón. The disease came to be associated with soldiers, particularly Swiss soldiers, who were reportedly so susceptible to nostalgia when they heard a particular Swiss milking song, Khue-Reyen, that its playing was punishable by death.”

        https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/08/when-nostalgia-was-a-disease/278648/

      • 0 avatar
        arach

        Well Stated

  • avatar
    ajla

    Personally, I much prefer a muscle car to a Miata.

    I think if I ever had the itch to buy something that priotized light weight and tossablilty over noise, style, and straight line acceleration, I’d probably go your brother’s route and get a motorcycle.

    Still, I don’t disagree with your overall point.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      Not to discount anyone’s preference, but I’d rate my Miata as more tossable than the 600-1,000cc bikes I used to ride.

      People romanticize bikes’ abilities to be flung from corner to corner – and it is highly engaging and fun – but on real-world curvy back roads, with average drivers/riders, I’d put my money on a light sports car to make faster pace than a sport bike, as long as the bike doesn’t get enough open straights to take advantage of its enormous power-to-weight advantage.

      It’s happened to me before that a group of sport bikes passed my girls’ car at triple digits on a straight while I stuck to the speed limit, only to have to drag my brakes behind them once the road got curvy.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        @JuniperBug – Agreed. Sporting cars are easier to drive fast. You make a mistake on a car and usually the car takes the hit. You make a mistake on a bike and the rider is the one who takes the hit. Cornering fast is a prime example.

    • 0 avatar
      e30gator

      Muscle cars and sport bikes are great, but sports cars are a different, misunderstood animal.

      In either a muscle car or bike, acceleration is swift but urban traffic really puts the brakes (pun intended) on how much enjoyment can be had by their biggest virtue: straight-line acceleration.

      A cheap sports car might be “slow” compared to a Hellcat, but way more fun around town since it can be flogged to its limits between stoplights without killing someone or yourself.

      While I can launch a BMW M3 into the stratosphere in 4 sec, I might only get it into 2nd gear before traffic conditions slow me down. I can get 5 shifts in driving a “slow” sports car on the same stretch of road.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Lucky for me, I live away from “urban traffic”. Most of the roads around me are straight, flat, and sparsely populated.

        Something like a S2K would be a big waste for my driving conditions.

      • 0 avatar
        jkross22

        This is why I think cars like the Focus ST, prior model 3 series, the Giulia, the 6 cylinder F Type and the 6 cylinder Stinger are so interesting – they’re quick cars, but not blazingly fast and you can use much of their capabilities on a regular basis.

    • 0 avatar
      Rasputin

      In my 20’s & 30’s I had an Alfa, a Europa, a Healy 3000, and a succession of 124 Spiders. I lived North of Albany NY and had 10’s of thousands of low-traffic, country back roads to have some fun with – and did I ever.
      Age 50 found me married, with a young child, living in the ‘burbs of Central NJ sans a roadster. Still a few back country roads, but development was running amok. When my wife bought a new commuter car – a Mercury Mystique (Mistake) – we kept her 1991 Geo Metro w/MT as an errand-runner. I could drive that 3-banger at the absolute limit and not break the speed limit. I found it very much fun to drive.
      In 2006 I bought a 1996 Miata with 33K on the clock for my daughter. It is now back in my garage (w/104K) and I take it out a lot in the summer. Unless I win the lottery, it will be my last sports car.
      [Apologize for the nostalgic rant.]

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    Internet convential wisdom said I shouldn’t have bought my S2000, when I was 25, living paycheck to paycheck in a crummy apartment, driving it year round in Chicagoland. I financed about 98% of the purchase price, and put tires on credit cards. I put about 30k hard miles on it before I could afford a daily driver and had bought a house with a garage. Internet wisdom said I should’ve bought a house and made sure I had 6-7 figures in my 401k before I bought a stupid sports car.

    But the internet is dumb; I have over a decade of happy memories in that car. It’s long since been paid for, and now that I have the salary to support actually affording it, all of that money goes to daycare and ballet lessons and swimming lessons and other assorted frippery that comes with two daughters. The car sits quietly in the garage, costing nothing but $50/mo in insurance, an annual oil change, and the odd set of tires (far fewer now that it is driven about 2500 miles a year). It’s scruffy from those hard miles, but every year I throw $500 or so at it for a new clutch, a re-covered steering wheel, a new non-pitted windshield. It can be made new(ish) again.

    Every winter I have a dark thought about just selling it, because who needs a five-figure asset taking up valuable garage space. But I know, if it goes, that money will be frittered away on a vacation or a home improvement or stuck in a college fund or something, and the next time I can think about another sports car would be 20 years in the future when the last college tuition payment is made. So I keep the thing. And every spring I’m glad I did.

    If no one today has the balls or stupidity or whatever it takes to make a young man (or woman) make a rashly stupid decision to buy something he or she desperately wants, I feel for them. And I’m sad that because of that almost no one else will have the chance as a result. But thank God I was dumb enough to do it.

    • 0 avatar
      Boxerman

      Love this post.
      Did the same thing myself, 25 years later still have the car, spring is comming and all ti takes is one good drive…

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      Just wanted to say this is a great post, especially the last paragraph which could apply to a lot of things.

      I’m thankful that I was dumb enough to buy my first big old Chrysler 18 years ago, shortly after finishing school and getting a fulltime job. :)

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      @S2k Chris – too true.

      I sold my street motorcycles when I had kids and sold the dual sport when arthritis kicked in. Now I’m hard pressed to afford to buy one that I want, let alone one that I can afford.

      Enjoy it when you are young, healthy, fit and don’t have conflicting responsibilities.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      I love this.

      I’ve often said myself, “All my best memories have come from the worst decisions of my life”

    • 0 avatar
      daiheadjai

      I bought mine in 2017, right out of grad school (and the requisite student debt), and right after having my daughter.
      Conventional wisdom would dictate that I should be saving for daycare, downpayment for bigger home, etc.

      But I found a used 2003 AP1, owned by an older gentleman who had taken exceptional care of it.

      Even my wife was egging me on to get it, and we are happy to say we do not regret it at all.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    It’s not as carefree a world as it used to be. There are fewer of us who can buy a second or third car for the fun of it, the first car has to do all the important things, then maybe think about the fun car after that. If a WRX or GTi fills your primary car needs and you think you need spending change elsewhere, that’s a disincentive to get a car like the Miata.

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    Who has the disposable income for playthings? I know I don’t, and there may be more of us than before.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      If you’re single, a sports car a-la Miata/S2000 can easily be your only car. It doesn’t have to be just a “plaything.” 98% of the time, you’ll drive solo, and with little luggage. The remaining 2%, is may suck to be forced to drive to the rental place and get a truck, vs already having one. But it ain’t all that. Doubly so once you’ve done it enough times for it to be routine.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        It’s almost easier if you’re married (no kids). My wife always had practical cars (Liberty and a Jetta) so my car was just for commuting and fun times. If I needed to carry people or stuff I just used her car.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    The weight specifications aren’t necessarily an indicator. There are plenty of great performing cars that weigh more than 3,000lbs. As JB points out all the time, the Corvette is one of the finest performance cars out there. Plus many a sport sedan that would embarass the affordable options mentioned. I get it, small, cheap and focused sports cars are fun in a special way. However, that market isn’t dying, it’s been largely dead for a long long time and we’re franly lucky to have the options we do.

  • avatar
    JMII

    Sad but true. Just like the death of manual transmission the death of lightweight “fun” car is coming (and quickly). As mentioned nobody buys them so there is no reason to make them in large quantities. Thus it becomes a niche vehicle which drives up the price which causes demand to drop even further. Wash, rinse, repeat. After a few more years of this trend all the affordable new fun cars will be gone. So its time to start hording Miatas while we still can. We already lost almost all the CRXs.

    • 0 avatar
      kvndoom

      The problem with each car Bark mentioned was that it came with some sort of compromise.

      The RX8 had a woefully unreliable engine (all the anecdotes in the world won’t change the fact that Mazda replaced thousands of engines in the 2004-2008 models). Then you have convertibles, underwhelming engines, unattainable price tags, etc. All of these cars have a fatal flaw even if you overlook them only having 2 doors (something from which pony cars seem to get a free pass).

      Let’s not forget the worldwide groan of pain we heard when Toyota announced the engine specs for the 86. It’s like 9/11 or the space shuttle disaster- I actually remember where I was and what I was doing when I read it.

      At least we still have the GTI. It might not be a sports coupe but it IS a fun car that sells. Year after year. Its only “enthusiast” compromise is being FWD but it has very few “Joe 6” compromises.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Having grown up in (and survived) the era when sports cars weighed 2000 lbs or less, I can relate. My uneducated guess is that much of the increasing value of most of those cars today results from the fact that a car like they are is simply unavailable, new.

    I think their relative rarity (and endangered species status) is the result of two principal trends. The first, obviously, is the need to make cars crashworthy, which these old cars were not. Imagine a head-on in a Porsche 356 Super C, with the gas tank sitting above your legs. At least the hot engine is not up there, too. So, all of that adds weight. The Miata’s antecedent, the Lotus Elan weighed less than 2000 lbs. 2/3s the weight of the Miata. Ditto the original Fiat 124 Spyder (which I and a friend drove cross-country in 1970 vs. the current one.

    The second one is the tremendous scale economies that allow the big manufacturers to deliver 4-place sedans with power everything, air conditioning, automatic transmission and a bunch of technologies never imagined in the 1960s for a street price in the $20K range. Those economies are simply not available for low volume sports cars (and sports cars were always, comparatively, low-volume). So, the more or less same car costs much more (even adjusted for inflation) than it did in the mid-1960s. As every Econ 102 student learns, increased prices lead to decreased volume, so you have a vicious circle working against these limited-appeal cars. Today’s sports car values are the hot hatches that can benefit from the scale economies of their milder brethren. Of course, they’re all FWD and drive much differently than the classics do.

    I don’t see a solution here. The popular priced sports car of the 1950s-1970 was the result of a unique set of circumstances that don’t exist today.

    The best solution seems to be that of “S2k Chris”: if you have one of these, keep it, take care of it and enjoy. If you don’t, go out and buy (and restore or buy restored) one, understanding that they are not daily drivers, are not for covering 800 miles a day on the freeway, but are for country 2-lanes if you can find them.

  • avatar
    bluegoose

    When wages stay flat for 20 years and the price of everything goes up it gets hard to buy 2 door coupes new from the dealership. There is little to no spare income available. The “economies of scale” economic philosophy as well as safety regs leads to bloated cars that all look the same. It is sad and incredibly boring…but it is our future.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    I drove the hell out of a 1984 Honda CRX (5 speed, of course) just about every day for ten years and never felt threatened or intimidated by the tiny size and light weight, and this included long trips as well as daily commuting in Orlando and Miami. Though the car would be considered horribly unsafe in 2018, it met all the 1984 safety standards and that was good enough for me. For the rest, I relied on my attentiveness, skills, and common sense (like always wearing the seatbelts). Even at my advancing age and with increasing road congestion (not to mention clueless texters), I still miss driving the CRX.

    • 0 avatar
      tomLU86

      Well said! My 86 GTI, while not as sporting as others in the column, keeps me entertained. 2200 lbs, met all 1986 safety regs.

      I count on being attentive, and using common sense to stay alive.

      Each year my car gets smaller and smaller… And harder to find.

  • avatar
    Glenn Mercer

    I concur with “all the above” since this phenomenon has many causes, IMHO. I would add two more:

    1. Americans (I cannot speak for others) losing their interest (maybe due to lack of exercise or excess of poundage) in “bending down” to get in and out of low-slung sports cars. I know, this sounds absurd, but I think it is a factor. And it is exacerbated by the rise of SUV and CUV and PU (fanboys, please note, I am NOT anti-truck), where ingress and egress is high and easy. When the comparison ingress/egress was a sedan (Malibu, Camry), the sports car was, say, 50% harder to get into. When the comparison is a CUV/SUV, it is 75% harder?

    2. The Miata/MX-5 is pretty darn close to perfect in its category. (Okay, now unleash the wave of criticism, but bear with me.) That is, which rival has ever been able to dent it, anywhere near its price point? MR2? Solstice? Etc. Imagine if there were 5 vehicles within plus or minus a few grand of the Miata, with comparable performance. I think the market might grow.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark_Miata

      The Solstice/Sky twins taken together actually outsold the Miata by around two to one in three full model years they were on sale. Here is a chart I found online:

      C.Y……..Miata………..Solstice………Sky
      2005…. …9801*……….5445……………..0
      2006…..16897*………19710……….8671
      2007…..15075………..16779…….11263
      2008…..10977………..10739……….9162

      The Miata was all-new in 2006 as the third generation model, so it’s not as if the Solstice/Sky twins were competing against an older version of the Miata.

      Also, the Solstice GXP and the Sky Redline are in SCCA A Street Class,and no Miata is placed that high.

      The real problem with the Solstice/Sky twins is the lack of trunk space with the top down. I have a NB Miata, and my bother-in-law has a Solstice. I daily drove mine for years – his is a weekend fun car, mostly because he can’t fit luggage for an overnight trip if he has a passenger in the car.

  • avatar
    Glenn Mercer

    Oh and by the way, to show my bias: I REALLY miss my S2000! It was like driving a skateboard. Front-mounted but effectively mid-engine weight balance, excellent short-throw six-speed manual on a high-revving little hamster-wheel engine…. sigh.

  • avatar
    FerrariLaFerrariFace

    These cars may go away for a while, but they’ll be back. Consumer tastes change, but they are cyclical.
    There was a time when we had MGs, Triumphs, Alfa Spiders, and lots of other little roadsters running around. Then Americans decided they were for girls and real men only drive V8 muscle cars in a straight line and they went away in the 80s. Even convertibles virtually disappeared.
    Then at the end the decade, Mazda saw a gaping hole in the market and decided to fill it. There was pent up demand, and the Miata sold like gangbusters. Others saw their success and followed. Honda gave us the S2k, GM brought out the Kappas. Even Nissan made the Z into a vert.
    Right now the market is flooded with used versions of these cars. There will come a day when a decent one is hard to find, or too expensive. Early Miatas are already rusting away, headed to the scrap heap because repairing them costs twice what the car is worth. Many are owned by kids, the same ones people seem to think aren’t into cars anymore. They are wrong.
    When these kids get older, just like their parents before them, they’ll pine for the days when they used to cruise around town in that beat up hairdresser’s car with their friends. They’ll look to the car lots to recapture their youth and find nothing but SUVs. Then one day, one of these former kids will be sitting in a board room at Tesla or the New New New GM with an idea…

  • avatar
    snakebit

    Interesting comment by Bark pertaining to a used S2000. I was around an exotic foreign car dealer in 1967, when two separate buyer flew from the west coast to buy a Ferrari and Jaguar sedan they couldn’t get when they wanted in their home state. A nice, well-cared-for S2000 is taken their place lately. I spoke to a Honda salesman with a pristine 2009 in the middle of the showroom. He told me it was already sold, and the Kentucky buyer would be flying up to New England to pick up the car within the week. It went for $29,000, not much less than it would have cost when new. I want another one, as well, but it’s becoming more than my pay grade to rejoin the S2000 owner group.

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    As a kid in the late 70s early 80s there were pretty much no new lightweight sportscars, by then the Alfa was old lardy slow and expensive so didnt apply.

    The miata changed the game,
    To me its Miata then lotus then Gt3/4, they’re all good and besides those cars there really arent any other what we might call focussed chuckable sportscars.

    For under 30k its used or miata, and miata is a great car, its the elan Mg all thown into one light todsable great handling japanese reliable machine. Sometimes a car is a sysntheiss of so much good.

    The bigger issue is defeatble traction control, regardless of the car.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I remember getting to go for a spin years ago, with a guy (Andy, a British expat who worked for a company that serviced and rebuilt industrial gas turbines) that owned a 1964 Lotus Seven. The thing was light, and fast as hell, but man, I felt vulnerable in it. And he daily drove the thing in Dallas freeway traffic. Tons of respect for that guy.

  • avatar
    Chris Fairbanks

    “…Toyota promises a second generation of the 86. They just don’t sell.”

    This gets said a lot, but it’s really not true.

    Since 2012 the FR-S/86 has outsold the Miata in the USA. In that time it’s also outsold the entire production run of the S2000. The FR-S/86 on its own has already come fairly close to matching NC Miata sales for the entire production run of that generation, and if you add in BRZ sales the Toyobaru has outdone both the NB and NC in U.S. sales. These cars are not doing as poorly as internet commentators and articles would have everyone believe. Sales have certainly dropped off, but that’s typical of any niche sports car. A second generation with strategic updates (no, it doesn’t need a turbocharger) will undoubtedly see a rejuvenation in sales.

  • avatar
    240SX_KAT

    I bought a 240SX new off the lot in 1991. I’ve been driving one ever since, although not the same one.
    It’s highly modified, runs great, no rust, puts down about 300HP to the wheels and passes emissions testing just fine. It’s reliable, easy to repair when things do go wrong, and has just the right level of technology. No ABS, no traction control, no TPMS, no backup cameras, no nannies whatsoever. The only problems are with the interior, it’s disintegrating now, with over 350K Km on the clock.

    I’ve been looking for a replacement. I had cash in hand waiting for the BRZ as it looked like it would have all the right stuff from the factory. Alas, they refuse to put the correct engine in it, so no sale. I HAVE BEEN READY TO BUY FOR A DECADE, but no manufacturer makes a car that ticks all the right boxes. Miatas are out because I don’t like convertibles (or sunlight much for that matter) and as I live in the Vancouver area, a watertight lid is kind of mandatory.

    I want a small, light, non-convertible, RWD, manual transmission, turbo inline four for under $50K.

    If Subaru put the 2.4l turbo in the BRZ, I’d probably own one within a month even though it’s a boxer engine.

    Since no company wants to make a product I desire, I’ll spend a few grand fixing the interior of my 240SX and keep it for another decade.

    • 0 avatar
      Chris Fairbanks

      Your 240SX didn’t come with a turbo inline 4 either. It came with what most people considered to be a pretty lackluster engine out of a small pickup. Toyota/Subaru essentially made a modern day 240SX.

      If you’re waiting for a company to make the exact car you want, I think you’re going to be sadly disappointed. Buy the BRZ and then take the leftover money from that $50k cap of yours and throw a turbo on it if that’s what you think it needs.

  • avatar
    eliandi

    Like many above, I believe its due to the arms-race in size. People want to be higher to see over others, but now everyone if driving higher and higher vehicles.

    OTOH my family has always bought just enough car. We have twins and a live-in grandma, and we have taken roadtrips with 5 people in a BMW 3 series or 4 people in a MINI Cooper. No problem, just pack light.

    But the reactions we get! You all came in that! No way!

    My current daily is a Miata. Yes, you need to be alert, but as I tell my boys that is how you should always drive.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      If you’re putting 4 people in a Mini or 5 in a BMW, they must be pretty small people. 6’ tall broad shouldered me or my 5’8” wife are not giving you much space in the back seat. It’s not about “stuff” space it’s about people space.

  • avatar
    Dingleberrypiez_Returns

    Great opener, Bark. It’s obvious you’re more interested in trolling readers than contributing valuable op-eds. I guess that’s what gets you your click-throughs.

    “only a couple of you tried to no-platform me”

    My critique was that your op-ed was crappy, which it was, because the entire basis of your argument was based on a single tweet by (in your words) “freedom-hating wackadoodles.” If that dude’s tweets are the entire supporting evidence you provide for your argument, then I’m sorry, that makes your op-ed crappy.

    If you just want to rag on that particular dude for his stupid tweets, fine… but I don’t think that TTAC is the right forum for calling out random idiots for their dumb tweets. That one piece where you ripped on that industry dude for his paid reviews was (to me) a bit tacky, but at least it was based on more than some bozo’s tweets.

    I have no doubt that you roll your eyes whenever some progressive idiot uses a stupid Trump tweet as the entire defense of their argument, and you probably think less of the publications where such arguments are presented. Your last op-ed was no different.

    This article on the other hand, is not crappy. So cheers to that.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    Im confused by the last sentence. You regret losing the lightweight sports car? Regret signing the papers on the RX-8? You regret becoming an old man? All of the above? Seems awkwardly out of place to me.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Small light sporting cars have always been a niche product. Most car companies cannot afford the investment to fill those niche’s.

    I’d be much more inclined to buy a Jeep Wrangler than any small sportscar and can have way more fun without worrying about speeding tickets or “stunting” tickets. I also would not have to worry about the typical brodozer since they typically don’t go off-road.

    (Unless it is to play in a greasy field to make it look like they went off-road. I saw a truck like that last year. The tailgate was spotless clean so it was blatantly obvious.)

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    There’s another pilot at my home field, who drives a Alpha 4C. I once asked him if his car might be a little impractical. He replied, “This car is a toy, it’s not supposed to be practical! If you want practical, you buy one of those” – and he pointed inside his hangar. There, I saw an LR Discovery parked in a corner. He uses it for runs to Home Depot, I’m sure.

  • avatar
    Add Lightness

    The 4C only has 2 pedals worldwide, not just NA.
    If you feel fully engaged driving a car with a video game transmission, I envy you because I don’t.
    My kids don’t have to rent automatics in Europe and know how to heel and toe.

  • avatar
    LS1Fan

    I would chalk up the decline of the enthusiast car to advanced technology, full stop.

    I remember reading car mags in the early 2000s marveling at the Gen 1 BMW X5s poised handling. Of course,the price you paid was a ride harder then North Korean labor camps- because no such thing as computer programmed handling. Back then ,your typical Joe Ordinary car might clock 16s in V6 trim if you were lucky. Going from a Camcord to a 5 series was a major dynamic jump.

    Today a loaded Camry can smoke an early 2000s Mustang ,and just about every “enthusiast” four door made at the time. Probably a stock RX8 too come to think of it. Thanks to computer tech the dynamic difference between a family car or SUV and a specific performance car is smaller every year. When a Camry can do 14s stock, why bother with a RWD roadster that goes a second faster ,is a PITA to service and breaks down faster then a teenager with a broken iPhone?

  • avatar
    TW5

    It’s not the buying behavior of the public. Lightweight small cars face an uphill battle meeting crash standards. Sporty engines face an uphill battle against emissions, particularly naturally aspirated high performance engines. Small sporty cars with “poor” fuel economy are being regulated out of existence by CAFE 2025.

    If a manufacturer defies CAFE, they customer will need to cover the fine, which undermines the notion of cheap.

    The primary market-based pressure applied to the affordable lightweight sports car segment is the tens of millions of young people without the means to purchase a new vehicle because they are unemployed or they are paying off school debt. I suppose this market pressure could also be classified as regulatory interference because learned helplessness is also deliberate.

    Anyway, the next few years will decide what happens. If CAFE is rolled back or certain provisions (e.g. footprints) are repealed, and the economy actually begins to function properly as domestic production rises, lightweight sports cars might have a chance again.

    However, even a buoyant economy and optimistic manufacturers may not give us a successor to the S2000. It was the lovechild born from an orgy between HRC and the FIA. It was built to showcase the sporting credentials of Super2000, which was replacing Group A for touring cars and other series production cars. S2000 is dead and gone as a naturally aspirated 2 liter formula.

    Anyway, get into motorcycles. You can buy something as fast as LaFerrari for $15K, and you get to wear really cool gear.

  • avatar
    JDG1980

    I think one underrated factor in the demise of sporty cars is the deterioration of our roads. You mention being “connected” in your Lotus. Well, have you ever been on the section of I-4 south of Seminole County and north of the attractions? Trust me, the last thing you want is to be “connected” to that road. You’d have trouble walking afterward. It’s a patchwork of garbage, in far worse condition than a good 45 MPH county road. And there’s lots of other stuff like this; the main drag in Seminole County (17-92) is all torn up for “repairs” that will allegedly be done sometime in 2020.

    Another factor is the poverty of younger Americans today. The people with the money are mostly older – and that means they are more likely to have bad backs and bad knees, and are thus less likely to enjoy a jolty sports car than they might have in their youth.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Lightweight fun cars have largely died due to safety regulations (and the wimpification of America), and wage stagnation has to play a part too, as new cars – but there are a million of them out there used. From ye olde British crockes like my Spitfire to a zillion low-mileage used Miatas and such. Toy cars generally don’t get used very much, I see very little point in buying them new.

    I bought my Spitfire in 1996. That same summer, a friend of mine bought a ’91 Miata. Over the same time period and similar summer-only usage and mileage, my old Brit has been just as reliable and has cost about 1/3rd as much – Miatas have modern car issues at modern car costs as they age. And 22 years on it is worth about double what the Miata is worth. I plan to keep it until I can’t get in and out of it anymore. As does my friend with his Miata. I actually really like Miatas but I don’t fit in them and at the time it cost 4X as much as my Spitfire.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      Funny, where I am an old Spitfire costs about the same as an old Miata. Needless to say “old” is relative here, as even the oldest Miata is newer than the newest Spitfire. My ’99 Miata has required relatively little in the 7 years I’ve owned it: shocks, tires, brakes, motor mounts, and a replacement soft top ($500 and an afternoon of labour) were the worst of it, and that’s a car that I can – and have – driven 500 miles in a day or for an hour on the race track. I replaced the radiator as preventive maintenance – $70 and 30 minutes of labour.

      I’m not immune to the charms of a Spitfire, having had the pleasure of driving a restored ’73 (which cost my uncle more than my Miata cost me) through the Swiss Alps. The old Triumph requires way more effort to reach lower speeds than even a Miata does, and even this low-mileage restored one proved quirkier than an all-original Miata. I have to admit, for the low Swiss speed limits, especially up the Gotthard Pass’s cobblestone streets, the Triumph may well be the more entertaining ride.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    “But only Honda seems committed to continuing to build a car in this segment.”

    VW disagrees.

  • avatar
    Old Scold

    A comparison of 4-5 passenger sedans <3000 lbs with manual transmissions over 50 years. https://www.dropbox.com/s/kl8f0ghl911v9ls/50%20Years%20of%20Progress.xlsx?dl=0 All of these have roughly the same space, engine size, and horsepower, though gas mileage has improved. The earlier ones were considered perfectly adequate in their day for smallish families, like most people have. The newer examples meet current safety standards, but for some reason are no longer adequate. You need an AT? It is an available option across the board.

    Who needs an F150 who doesn't have a job or hobby that requires hauling building supplies?

  • avatar
    brn

    It’s interesting that the new bar is 3000lbs. Lotus used to make a 1600lb car that would dance with 180hp.

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      CFRP is in the pipeline. Whether or not manufacturers use it for lightweighting or whether they add a bunch of batteries remains to be seen. BMW i3 and i8 paint a bleak picture.

  • avatar
    pmirp1

    Sometimes you have to look close to home to find the gems. Instead of impractical advice about mystical mythical unicorns found in non-existent Lotus and Alfa dealers you can buy Base Vettes for less than 50k that run circles around your options all day long. Yes ALL DAY LONG.

    Go ahead. Make my day. Search on autotrader nationwide for less than 50k new Vettes. You find manuals and automatics.

    People will love you for it. They will respect. And bonus you can get it serviced at your local Chevy dealer.

    Sometimes the best deal is right next door to you. Hopefully driving little Focus turbo has not ruined you to joie de vivre of God’s own engine. 6.2 V8.

    You are welcome.

    • 0 avatar

      Glad you like your Vette.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      ‘Vettes aren’t small cars. A C6 still weighs 3,000lbs with NC Miata being 500lbs less and over a foot shorter. My wife recently asked after my Z what I am going to upgrade to and a ‘Vette seems like a logical choice. However every time I park next to one I can’t get over how large of a car it is. By the numbers its about 5″ longer and 4″ wider with the wheelbase being only 1″ bigger (per Wikipedia)… just seems oversized to me. As an ex Honda guy I tend to like smaller cars, its one of the reasons I got a Dakota instead of a full size “real” truck.

  • avatar

    I can lease a 718 Cayman that weighs under 3,000 lbs and makes more than 300 hp (dyno verified) from Manhattan Motorcars for under $600/month with $0 down.

    As I always tell my younger friends, “If it flies, drives, floats or fucks – lease it.”

  • avatar
    lne937s

    Cars have become more reliable, and new cars have warranties that can be voided. Better reliability means cars are not usually headed to the crusher on the second owner. More vehicles are available to buy used. As such, many enthusiasts how know how to work on cars and want to do things that would void a warranty then buy used cars.

    This has driven new car buying more to people who have larger disposable incomes, tend to be older and/or find the certainty of a warranty attractive (often because they find how cars work to be baffling). Uncomfortable, impractical cars then find a smaller market new (outside of exotics), which eventually leads to fewer options in the used market.

    • 0 avatar
      cimarron typeR

      I should add that I put on over 150k combined with no issues (power train at least) miles on my supercharged BMWs so I woiuldnt be afraid to build your dream BRZ.Note you will only get back a fraction of mod prices upon sale and will take twice as long to sell.
      Way back in early 2000s when I was modding my e36 there was little info available but now there are so many forums that there’s a wealth info available for any model.I got some useful info off of Siennachat for our minivan :)

  • avatar
    otaku

    If FWD (and the asymmetrical door configuration) isn’t a deal-breaker, then the next generation Hyundai Veloster might meet some of the (relatively) lightweight and inexpensive criteria Bark was talking about in a (relatively) sporty vehicle. I was even considering possibly trading up to one of them myself when they become available, but I haven’t seen many reviews yet regarding the driving experience.

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    I want to pull together a couple of things already mentioned and add a bit to it.

    There was a time when you could have a two-car household with 2 adults and 2 kids under 12 and have that second car be some combination of small, sporty, and/or light. You could pull this off knowing that the kids could be squeezed into the second car a few times a month and it wouldn’t be a big deal.

    This falls down now that both of those kids have to be in car seats.

    If you can’t shoehorn in two seats, that “fun” car is only going to work as a third car. With wages where they are that third car is harder to swing in the budget, and now that insurance companies have gotten sticker shock over the cost of claims with all the tech being put in vehicles now that third car has higher fixed costs too.

    I believe this is also a big driver in the demise of standard-cab pickups, too — I remember when the family would gather at Grandma’s house and us non-farm-kid cousins would all pile onto the bench seat (or hop in the bed) of our aunt’s F-150 to go for a ride because pickups were a novelty. Those days are long gone.

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