Until the 1960s, big, brawny, front-engine GT cars were the gold standard. On the Autostrada or the Autobahn, a powerful two-seater or 2+2 coupe was a viable alternative to a light plane. With a big Ferrari, Aston, or Maserati at your disposal, you could have breakfast in Marseille and dinner in Munich without breaking a sweat. The advent of mid-engine cars like the Lamborghini Miura and Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer blunted the top-dog status of the front-engine GT, but the sheer practicality of this classic layout meant that the genre persisted for decades.
Alas, the three-pedal GT is all but extinct and destined for a fast-track to collector status. Here are some of our favorites from the last 20 years, some of the last of their kind. They’re bargains (for the moment), even in spite of the frothy post-pandemic market.
2005-17 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Since the introduction of the DB7 in the late 1990s, Aston Martin has been on a roll, producing one gorgeous car after the next. Of all the lookers, though, the V8 Vantage and DB9 of the 2000s might be the high-water mark for modern Astons. Both are timelessly gorgeous cars with ample modern performance to match. In Road & Track’s first road test of the V8 Vantage, the magazine called it one of the sexiest-looking cars on the planet with an exhaust note to match. Handling is superb with great balance, and a ton of safety built-in, even with the driver’s aids turned off. With 380 hp from its 4.3-liter dry-sump unit, 0-60 comes up in 4.7 seconds, and from 2009 the engine grew to 4.7 liters for 420 horses. A V12 model was also available from 2009 on, but the V8s are much more affordable, simpler to maintain, and just as nice to look at.
With its handy hatchback, the two seater Vantage had more cargo space than the longer-wheelbase (but mechanically similar) DB9, which had a pair of small back seats. Maintenance costs are, well, befitting of the car’s exotic status, but with condition #2 (Excellent) values ranging from $54,000 to mid-$60K territory for most base model V8 coupes, it’s such an uber sexy car for the money as well as one that is likely done depreciating.
2014-19 Chevrolet Corvette (C7)
As the last front-engine Corvette (and the last one with an available manual), the C7 will always hold a sweet-spot in the hearts of Corvette fans, but as the truly spectacular car that it is, the C7 also has enough going for it to tempt even decidedly non-Corvette people. The car checks nearly every box—V-8 bellow, enviable Le Mans GT class history (thanks to the Pratt and Miller prepared C7R racers), and even an interior that feels far less downmarket than the Corvettes that precede it. C7 manuals have also acquired an impressive reliability track record.
The dirty little secret of C7s is the fact that the base cars might just be the most satisfying ones to drive on a daily basis. The stock suspension and brakes work great for real-world driving, while 455hp and 460 lb-ft from the base V8 will rarely leave you yearning for more grunt. If you do some occasional track time the Z51 package is wonderful, adding bigger Brembo brakes, performance exhaust for added sound and five hp, an electronic limited-slip differential, and optional Magnetic ride control. With another 200 hp or so, the Z06 is an impressive car, but even with driver’s aids on, it can quickly tax the abilities of all but the most skilled drivers. While C7 base cars have depreciated very little from their original price off the lot, they still offer more speed per dollar than almost anything on the road. They’re a screaming bargain in the high-$30,000 to low-$40,000 range.
2015-19 Jaguar F-Type
Ever since 1961, Jaguar has been trying to recapture the magic of the original E-Type. For the most part, they’ve failed, but the latest attempt at least got closer than all the rest. Introduced in the spring of 2014, the F-Type was audaciously named as a the direct lineal descendent of the E. And it is gorgeous, albeit not in the same sensational way that the E was at the Geneva Motor Show back in 1961. But other than low-volume exotic stuff like the XJR-15 and XJ220, it is the prettiest sports car Jaguar has produced since the E-Type.
And while the V-8 F-Types have the most intoxicating exhaust notes, and more power, it’s only the odd V6, (essentially the V-8 block with two empty cylinders), that came with a manual transmission. It’s a low-key, elegant car that is quite reminiscent of a 1960s GT car, and decidedly off-brand for Jaguar. It also has a pretty good reputation for reliability as Jaguars go. Jaguar didn’t release production figures for the manual (which disappeared after 2019), but at any given time, there are maybe 2 or 3 F-type manuals for sale nationally, and that kind of rarity translates to solid potential for long-term collectability.
2002-07- Maserati Coupe and Spyder
These two cars led Maserati’s resurgence in the U.S. as the first new Masers sold here since the wedgy/boxy Biturbo series of the 1980s and early 90s. Neither the 2+2 Coupe, nor the shorter Wheelbase Spyder were Italdesign’s/Giorgetto Giugiaro’s most striking work, but both were understated and handsome, and powered by a 4.2 liter, Ferrari-derived 385 hp V-8. Both available gearboxes were six-speeds, with one being a conventional three-pedal manual, and the other the two-pedal Cambiocorsa being a manual with an automated clutch. The former accounts for roughly ten percent of production and is far more desirable than the Cambiocorsa, which has a reputation for electrical and hydraulic problems and for eating clutches as well as general clunkiness in its shifting.
Cambiocorsa values have accordingly taken a huge hit which to an extent have driven down manual prices. Nice Coupes and Spyders can be had for well under $40,000. For a Giugiaro-designed Italian exotic, with the heart of a Ferrari, that’s a serious deal.
2003-10 BMW 6-Series
If there’s a bête noire of automobile designers, it’s Chris Bangle, BMW’s chief of design during the 1990s and 2000s. Given the current vandalism that is taking place throughout the BMW lineup, however, some of Bangle’s designs like the E63/E64 6-Series and the Z4 Coupe are starting to look quite a bit better, “flame surfacing” and “Bangle Butts” notwithstanding. Truth be told, the E63/64 were actually finalized by Adrian van Hooydonk, but based on a Bangle concept, so he generally gets the blame/credit.
Introduced in 2003 after the original was discontinued in 1989, the second generation 6-Series rides on a shortened version of the E60 5-Series platform. Wonky iDrive interface aside, these aren’t bad cars. The naturally aspirated N62 V-8 was the first to use a continuously variable-length intake manifold to go with variable valve-timing. The 4.4-liter 645Ci made 329 hp, and its replacement, the 4.8-liter unit found in the 650Ci, made about 33 more. Both engines require proper maintenance, and both still suffer from the usual BMW maladies like oil leaks and faulty valve-stem seals. But most importantly, coupes and convertibles were classic GTs and both could be had with a manual transmission. Manual 6-Series are rare but worth looking for, and probably won’t get any cheaper than they are now.