Our Golden Age

Did car enthusiasts in the late 1960s know they were in a swiftly passing golden age? Were they able to appreciate it? This I wondered as I hustled through a back road the other day in a Subaru WRX, tasting the bittersweet times we now live in. The irony is this: the auto industry is all but falling apart, and we’ve never had better cars.

The WRX, in case you have forgotten, is an engaging, 265-hp, all-wheel-drive performance machine that eats up corners with relaxing ease and blasts through straights with more brutality than most old muscle cars. And it starts for a little more than $25,000. In short, it’s exactly the sort of car we would have trumpeted from our cover a decade ago. In 2009, it gets, well, a blog post. Why? Because in 2009, a year otherwise known for doom and gloom, the average car enthusiast has more and better performance cars to choose from than ever before. Don’t believe me? Here’s a list – hardly exhaustive – of really good performance cars on the market for less than $35,000:

Incredibly, only two of these cars, the Mini and the Miata, offer less than 200 hp. And almost all the cars on this list come with manual transmissions. Best of all, you get to choose exactly how you want to go fast. There are hairy V-8s, high-strung four-cylinders, rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, convertibles, and supersedans. It’s all there for the taking, with a nice warranty to boot.

It’s important to highlight and appreciate these cars now because we don’t know how long we’ll have them. There are tougher CAFE standards on the horizon; the industry is reeling; and the federal government, not known for its love of fast cars, now owns two of America’s three big car companies. General Motors alone has stopped producing three of its five cars on this list, and the fourth (the Cobalt SS) might not be far behind. Is speed doomed? Certainly not. But true golden eras are few and far between. Be thankful for our’s.