Car manufacturers love devising new segments in which to place their models, but back in the 1930s, even defining a ‘sports car’ prompted a fair amount of head scratching.
This wasn’t altogether surprising. In the early years of the car, most makes and models had been proven in speed trials and races, regardless of size and shape. However, by the 1930s, the variety of cars available to fulfil specific purposes was growing.
What Autocar’s Brian Twist wanted to fathom was the criteria that could be used to classify a sports car.
“The term has been in existence so long that it has become accepted for everyday use, and people rarely stop to consider what exactly is meant by the definition,” he wrote. “There is nothing to stop a manufacturer calling his products what he will, but many excellent cars are called ‘sports cars’ when it is not easy to see what right they have to such a term.”
Obviously short of entertainment one evening, Twist gathered his colleagues to debate it over some furious pipe-smoking.
“To start the ball rolling, I said that I thought a definition might be made out for a car in the building of which, as regards engine, chassis and bodywork, performance was the principal consideration,” wrote Twist.
“Someone asked how I would define performance. After some thought, I replied, ‘Good acceleration, maximum speed, roadholding, cornering and brakes’. It was suggested that such a car must also ‘hold its tune for a long period’.
“This was agreed to after some discussion, during which it was pointed out that some machines beloved by sporting enthusiasts needed frequent adjustments and were none the less beloved for that.