I still remember the day in 1968 when the genus "classic sports car" died.
"Turn your hymnals to 2002," Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis, Jr., instructed readers that April in one of his most famous pieces, alerting the American enthusiast population in the pages of Car and Driver to the wonders of a new sport sedan from Germany, the popularly priced BMW 2002. Along had come a refined car capable not only of transporting a young family and their luggage in comfort but also of blowing most of the world's affordable sports cars - the MGs, Triumphs, Fiats, and Alfa Romeos that had captivated so many of us for so long - into the cocked hat of history.
It was hard, on the numbers, not to agree with Davis's view, and the appearance of a new generation of sport sedans and coupes over the course of the next few years begat similar reports, rendering the case for the uncompromising two-seaters Americans once revered ever more difficult to make. While the Datsun 240Z stood as the exception proving the rule, the arrival of each new sharp-handling four- or five-seater - from Datsun 510 to Ford Capri to Mazda RX-2 to Opel Manta to Saab 99 to BMW's even hotter 2002, the tii - placed side-curtained sentimentalists like the preteenaged yours truly in the increasingly untenable position of defending old and woefully long-in-the-tooth favorites, especially those from England, against a cold, hard fact: if the goal was getting through a corner fast, a usable back seat was no longer an impediment.
The tragedy for those of us who bled British racing green - an understandable affliction in my case, as Leonia, New Jersey, my hometown, was also the site of the North American headquarters of the British Motor Corporation and, later, British Leyland, makers of MG, Triumph, Jaguar, et al. - was that there seemed to be no concerted effort by English sports car makers, once the world's greatest, to respond to the challenge. As the British industry continued its long, slow implosion, successive mergers resulted in the pièce de résistance, the disastrous 1968 creation of the state-owned, multiheaded nightmare that was British Leyland. By the early 1970s, a big year in the British sports car world meant revised grille and wheel trims on the aging MGB, along with another double-digit loss of horsepower and, perhaps, a new set of tape stripes for the Triumph Spitfire. The Triumph TR6 of 1969 looked cool, but it shared doors and a windshield with the TR4 of 1961, and its antiquated body-on-frame construction recalled closely the TR2 of 1953.