Step this way if you’re in the market for one of the last, best old-school sports cars. Machines with naturally-aspirated (NA) engines – meaning engines un-muted by turbochargers and unassisted by superchargers or any kind of hybrid system – are a dying breed. There are only a handful of high-end examples left, and they’re all unabashedly aimed at driving purists.
It’s worth noting that cars like these might prove to be sound investments. As noted recently in the New York Times, prices for used high-end sports cars are strong. These machines aren’t depreciating as much as they used to. A valuation expert from insurance firm Hagerty explained there are several potential reasons for this trend, including the fact collectors are realizing we’re nearing the end of road for pure internal-combustion automobiles.
Don’t get us wrong; we’re hyped for the battery-powered future of fast cars too. We like a good EV as much as anyone. But, that doesn’t mean we won’t miss these fire-breathing, free-revving, naturally-aspirated machines when they’re gone. Here are seven of our favourites that you can still buy in 2022 and 2023.
The Last Huracan
It’s been the best-selling car in Lamborghini’s long history, but the Huracan is going to be discontinued and replaced by a new plug-in hybrid supercar in 2024. (We asked if it would still have the Huracan’s 5.2-litre naturally-aspirated V10, but Lambo’s people wouldn’t say.) As a (semi) final sendoff, Lambo is offering up the new Huracan Tecnica as a greatest-hits package, taking all the best bits from every other Huracan. For driving purists, it ticks two important boxes. First, it’s rear-wheel drive. Second, it’s packing the best version of that V10: the 631 horsepower unit from the STO. It’s a worthy sendoff for one of our favourite Italian supercars. If, however, you need more than 10 cylinders, Lambo still makes the V12 Aventador. It’s being replaced by a plug-in hybrid in 2023, but Lambo confirmed the new supercar will keep the NA V12.
Lexus’ Monster V8
The 5.0-litre Lexus V8 engine is a modern classic. It’s mechanical architecture dates back to 2006, but you’d never guess. The motor is buttery smooth and nearly vibration-free, just as you’d expect from the luxury experts at Lexus. The 5.0 V8 can be found in a few of the brand’s models, including the RC F coupe and the IS 500 sport sedan, but our favourite is the LC 500. The initial concept debuted in 2012, and the production arrived in 2016. It was so ahead of the curve on design, both inside and out, that Lexus has barely had to update it. Even in 2022, the $104,000 LC 500 still makes an excellent long-distance GT cruiser, thanks in large part to that velvety V8.
Ferrari’s very first car, the 125 S from 1947, was a two-seater with a V12 motor mounted just ahead of the driver. In the 75 years since that car hit the road, the Italian brand has been perfecting its naturally-aspirated V12, which it still makes today. The most recent (and perhaps final?) example of this fabled motor can be found in the Ferrari 812 GTS, which, much like its predecessor is a two-seater with a V12 motor just ahead of the driver. The high-revving engine sounds less dissonant than Lambo’s V12, but not less spine-tingling. The 6.5-litre mill makes a noise that resonates through a driver’s skull as it approaches 8,500 rpm. Driving this car is an unforgettable experience. The 812 GTS costs roughly $500,000 today, but it if does turn out to be the last NA V12 from Ferrari it’ll surely be worth much more than that in the future.
The Mighty Miata
At the opposite end of the price/performance spectrum from the Ferrari is the humble Mazda MX-5, aka Miata. It’s a favourite of keen drivers today, just as it has been since 1989. The 2022 model starts at just $33,300 and is powered by a tiny 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine good for a modest 181 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. Because the car is a featherweight, tipping the scales at just 1,066 kg, it really doesn’t need any more power. The steering is brimming with feel and you’ve got to work the six-speed manual to keep the engine in its sweet spot. It’s a rare treat to drive a car that makes you work these days. Long live the Miata.
Porsche’s Racer For The Road
Of course, any list of great NA sports cars wouldn’t be complete without the Porsche 911 GT3. This car carried the torch for naturally-aspirated, high-revving engines even as the rest of the Porsche 911 lineup abandoned them. The current GT3’s 4.0-litre flat-six produces an incredible 502 horsepower (well over the 100 hp/litre mark) and revs to 9,000 rpm. It’s essentially the same engine you’ll find in Porsche’s 911 GT3 Cup racecars, and so it’s full of racecar tech, like a rigid valve train and six individual throttle bodies. As if that’s not enough, soon the brand will unleash an even-more racey GT3 RS.
Okay, it’s not technically a sports car, but it’s definitely not your basic sedan either. The outgoing 2022 Acura ILX has a big 2.4-litre straight-four that punches above its weight. Mated to a dual-clutch eight-speed automatic, the 201-horsepower motor feels stronger than that number would suggest. It’s also excellent value, with the performance-oriented A-Spec model starting at $35,400. If you’re interested, you’d better get to your Acura dealer ASAP. As of this year, the ILX is being replaced by the much-hyped new Acura Integra. (What the Integra lacks in natural-aspiration, it makes up for with the option of a six-speed manual ‘box.) You can’t go wrong with either of them.
The Ultimate One
This is a deep cut, but as far as we can tell Gordon Murray Automotive (GMA) is the only automaker whose cars have these three ingredients: a manual transmission, a naturally-aspirated V12, and rear-wheel drive. You could be forgiven for not knowing GMA, but Mr. Murray is the man behind several championship-winning Formula 1 cars, as well as the McLaren F1 supercar. He’s branched out on his own now, but he’s still championing lightweight cars for hardcore driving purists. The 4.0-litre V12 in both the GMA T.50 and T.33 (pictured here) was developed by U.K. specialists Cosworth. In the T.33 the V12 makes 607 hp at just over 11,000 rpm, so it should sound vaguely like an old Formula 1 racer. Peak torque is a modest 332 lb-ft at a sky-high 9,000 rpm. In other words, this is an engine that’s meant to be driven hard. And you get all that in a car that weighs the same as a Mazda MX-5. Yikes. The price? Roughly $2.4 million at current exchange rates, but this could very well be the last (and best) old-school supercar of the fossil-fuel era. Let that sink in for a moment.