Insider Garage

Why enthusiasts love analog cars

by Rob Sass
8 June 2023 3 min read
Cameron Neveu

Last year, vinyl records had their best year since 1987. Mechanical watches, tube amplifiers, and even film photography also continue to enjoy a resurgence. Analog tech is clearly having a moment. So why should low-tech cars be any different from records, amps, cameras and watches? In point of fact, they’re not—post-1990s analog cars are hitting their stride among a certain subset of collectors and enthusiasts. But what makes for an analog car, and why are people coming to appreciate them? Let’s just say that while the cars themselves may be simple, the answers to those questions are anything but. 

There seems to be little consensus on what exactly fulfills the analog definition. The most hardcore enthusiasts will not abide any electronic drivers’ aids, like traction control or even ABS, while the more tolerant will accept those but draw the line at electric power steering, which they consider to be the work of the devil. Where enthusiasts do come together, however, is on the tactile delights of a good, old-fashioned hydraulically-assisted rack, and of course the non-negotiable manual transmission.    

Jason Cammisa

Similarly, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when analog cars gained the throwback quality that made them cherished outliers rather than the norm.  Just as there was nothing novel about the vacuum tubes in a Carver or a McIntosh amplifier from the early 1960s, there was nothing remarkable about a C2 Corvette of the same vintage lacking ABS or traction control. There was, however, most assuredly something damned unusual about the 2005 Lotus Elise not having power steering, or the 2000 Dodge Viper lacking ABS. Those traits contributed to the Elise’s reputation for driving purity and the Viper’s rawness—even when new—and as a result few can quibble with those models being charter members of the late analog car hall of fame.

Analog car fans can be incredibly geeky, to the point of near-snobbishness. For example, many single out the 1999 Porsche 911 as the last true analog 911—but it can’t be just any 1999 911. Nope, it has to be the Carrera 2, and not the all-wheel drive Carrera 4. Why, might you ask? Although both cars could be ordered without Porsche Stability Management (PSM), only the Carrera 2 came with an old-school cable throttle, whereas the Carrera 4 had an electronically controlled throttle. These folks have been known to split a few hairs. 

Regardless, they are onto something. The more digital-age assists make spirited driving easier—and further disconnect us from the task that got us excited about cars in the first place—the more people seem to revel in cars lacking that technology.

Case in point: two track events that I did a few years apart. The more recent of the two was at Road America in a then-new 991-generation Porsche 911 GT2 RS. The suite of driver’s aids on the car made blistering lap times available to mere mortals and superbly managed the car’s 690 hp. Get on the gas a little too soon exiting a corner? No problem, the car knew better, overriding your hamfisted, premature throttle input until the front wheels were pointed straight. The car’s sophisticated electronics always made you feel like a hero, but deep down, you knew where the magic was coming from. 


In contrast, years earlier, the Z06 Corvette I drove had far less sophisticated driver’s aids. It was an unrepentant oversteerer, unwilling to mask the mistakes of an unskilled driver. But, when you nailed all the inputs just so and rocketed out of a corner, your ear-to-ear grin came from knowing that little bit of perfection came from you working with the car. And that’s precisely the appeal. Lovers of analog cars want the visceral thrills—they want to take the risks and bask in the rewards.

Alongside renewed appreciation for driving these cars, the market seems to have jumped on the late analog car bandwagon. Supercars that fit the analog moniker like the Ferrari F40 and Porsche Carrera GT are breaking records, but the trends aren’t just limited to the top of the market. First-year Porsche 996 Carrera 2s are now highly sought-after cars that have increased in value by 74% over the last five years. Early Dodge Vipers, after years of fairly static pricing, are firmly on the upswing. Values of my personal favorite late analog car, the pretty and diminutive Lotus Elise, have followed a similar trajectory. Cars that were in the low $30,000 range a few years ago are now in the mid-forties, and likely to climb further. That’s no surprise—as it becomes more obvious that we’ll never see a new sports car with a curb weight under a ton again, people are flocking to the little British sports car. Simplicity doesn’t come cheap, unless it’s the perfect Elise substitute, the very analog Toyota MR2 Spyder. Don’t tell anyone. 

At least as it applies to cars, “analog” is always going to be defined differently based on who you ask. But one thing’s for sure: as our automotive world becomes increasingly digital, the last generation of cars that offered a pure mechanical connection to the road will only grow in popularity.


  • Paul Ipolito says:

    I enjoy driving my 1995 Corvette coupe 6-speed. I enjoy driving it, because I am driving it. Of course it has anti-lock brakes and traction control I can switch off, but it is absolutely not a 3500 lb 5G phone on wheels. Even the cup holders are useless thanks to the shifter. And that’s a good thing.

  • Chuck Siklodi says:

    Can’t agree more. I’m 80 now and of all the changes that have come over the years there have only been a few that really count and those are tires, abs, traction control and suspension.
    I still drive a ’71 daily and the only modifications that it wasn’t born with are an overdrive trans.,tilt steering and fuel injection. Not a cup holder in sight.

  • Doc says:

    To me, “analog” went out with the advent of EFI. If it doesn’t have a carb, it can’t be “analog”.

  • Dr. Robert J Carley says:

    I love my 2016 Intermeccanica Speedster. Bespoke built, with mechanicals from a 1987 911 Carrera, and engine from a 1995 993 (3.6 litre). No nanny controls whatsoever, except when my wife drives with me, and she is very attuned to driving. The only car more basic than this that I have owned was my Bugeye Sprite, back in the 1960s.

    • Jim Liberty says:

      My shop truck is a 1947 Crosley pickup. 3 speed crash box tranny, but juice brakes, an upgrade. The mechanical binders were just not safe in So. Ca. traffic. My sophisticated car is a 1961 Porsche 356. There is no better ride anywhere. ……Jim.

  • DweezilAZ says:

    My newest has drive-by-wire and electronic power steering. 2005. DOHC, aluminum block, fuel injection. And crank windows. No ABS or cruise control. I would have preferred a manual but it sucked on this particular car.
    Semi analog but base trim. I would have opted for less if it was offered.
    I will go backward if I ever have to replace it. Too gimmicky for my tastes.
    Pure analog: the 63 Valiant. Three speed on the column, [no syncro on first gear], un-boosted brakes and steering, carburetor. It requires deliberate driver engagement to operate it and it never fails to satisfy even running errands.
    The 95 Saturn SL1 I had was cut of the same cloth.
    Less really is more.

  • Boomvang says:

    Power steering? How is that analog? Hydraulic or no, still not analog.

  • Thomas Vine says:

    Your definition of analog is way off. Analog is with no electronics. I consider my 1979 Ferrari 308 GTB to be one of the last true analog cars. Breaker point ignition, mechanical advance distributors and carburetors. The electrical systems are controlled by electro/mechanical relays. This car of course has a manual transmission but I would still consider it to be analog if it had a hydraulically operated automatic with no electronic controls

  • john wogan says:

    you left one thing out you can fix a lot of things yourself in the driveway

  • Gary Whiting says:

    ECM, PCM, ECU or any other onboard computer? Not analog. Check engine light? Not analog. Cell phone on suction cup mount? Definitely not analog. I’ll let you have your AM/FM radio but no tape deck or Bluetooth! Now get out there and drive for the fun of it. My ’62 MGA is such an example. Not particularly fast, but immensely enjoyable!

    • AEZ says:

      Analog to me is the absence of any computers & sensors…with analog, everything operates mechanically/hydraulically with the exception of the radio (and obviously basic electric wiring for lighting, spark, possibly even power windows, etc.).
      I also think the reason some are permissive of some computer-era cars is based on simplicity/ease of repair/replacement of parts…some have good parts support and some are unfixable problems waiting to happen. In other words, people don’t like hassles and expensive issues…they want to drive & enjoy their car.
      Having grown up where it snows, I was actually a fan of ABS when it became mainstream…it has never been intrusive to me, nor has it ever been something I’ve had to get fixed…unlike like some of the more modern safety adds, some of which I find ridiculous (like the self-parallel parking aids, lane-keep assist, etc.)…it’s too far when basic driving skills are being replaced with tech.
      And I am actually more accepting of the most modern cars because the electronics simply don’t fail with the frequency of the 1990s to early-2000s…if parts are made to last a lifetime, I’m ok with it. That said, the thing I HATE about all modern cars is the inability to change out the radio or upgrade speakers…something I would do to almost every car I owned years back. I don’t like or need touchscreens in my car.

  • Edward C. Greenberg says:

    Driving my 68 Cougar is a joy. Driving my Accord is trouble free and more efficient. I drive the Cougar because I actually drive and control the car making it FUN to drive. The Accord is perfect transportation. The Cougar is a joy.

  • Hack Heyward says:

    To split a hair, the 996.1 Carrera 2 gained an electronically controlled throttle in 2000. In doing so it also gained 4 hp, from 296 to an even 300. So I forgave them and I’ve kept my 2000 model for eleven years, much longer than my average.

  • Blair Groves says:

    Let’s create another distinction: between nanny-state computer controls and basic electronic assists that help but don’t take over.

    I love lane keeping assist and radar cruise control on my daily drive Acura TLX, and all the less recent safety goodies such as stability control and emergency braking assist. These things all help reduce the demands on the driver while I enjoy another modern goodie: commercial-free Sirius XM radio.

    Make no mistake that I also do appreciate and immensely enjoy the ultra-simplicity of my ‘97 Miata that lacks ABS and also lacks power windows and air conditioning, all in the name of the minimalist driving experience. Ultra-lightweight construction makes the meagre 160hp motor capable of making the rear wheels break loose on command, and back road twists and turns can be quite entertaining.

    So here’s to striking the balance between electronic overkill vs passively contributing.

  • Dr. Who says:

    A car that may fit the bill is the base Miata NA (1989 – 1998). I have a Shinsen NB and it fits the bill nicely for me, certain mod-cons I appreciate with simplicity and reliability! A combo that’s hard to beat.

    • Steve Ledford says:

      I loved my 1957 stock Chevy . Was analog for sure.Fast forward to my 1989 Miata ,hugs the road. No cup holder.

  • Dennis Hager says:

    Regardless of anyone’s definition of analog, the joy of driving a car with the absence of any driver aids requires a level of involvement and accountability that makes me feel as one with the machine. It’s the accountability… brake a little too late, upset the car a little, or something that reminds me that I might find myself in over my head and there is no wizard in the brain of the car to be my guardian angel. It’s the accountability that makes driving the joyful, adventurous experience that can only be found in an analog car. There is no substitute.

  • Mark T says:

    Great article! I just recently decided to replace my new vehicles with older ones… which I already owned several of… much for this reason. One recent purchase was a 1991 Corvette… manual trans… L98 engine (last of the small block “first generation” engine in a Corvette). Yes, it has a few (still working perfectly!) modern gadgets and conveniences like electronic fuel injection, relatively primitive ABS, and one of the first production TPMS available. Cable throttle. No traction control. It provides a very satisfying “analog” driving experience. And as was mentioned, easy to work on. You don’t even need a scan tool for the electronics… Chevrolet has built in diagnostics that can be easily accessed with a little knowledge and a jumper wire. I have a 1971 Ranchero as well… and to tell you the truth I don’t really miss the days of carburetors and chokes and breaker points ignition as much as I miss the days before “electronic nannies” altered the purity of the driving experience.

  • pdmracing says:

    I have to disagree with your opinion on what’s analog . My 308GT4 is analog. My Viper GTS is nanny free , but OBD2, far from analog but a raw driving experience. My Demon is a beast that no electronic can tame the laws of physics . I think the word you are looking for is sanitized. The NSX was the birth of the sanitized supercar. So easy to drive , anyone could drive it. The fun of an exotic pre NSX was the fact that only a few could tame it.

  • Mattski says:

    The best part of analog is the ability to keep analog cars on the road indefinitely. Some of the electronics required to keep modern cars running are not repairable and/or not even available rendering the car useless. There are stories of more exotic cars becoming unrepairable until a model of similar vintage is scrapped and pillaged for parts. In the future, that is likely the fate of many less popular cars. When parts availability is not profitable it won’t exist.

  • The Lizzard says:

    You can have my TR3 when you pry it from my cold, dead, fingers.

  • Dale D says:

    No one will be collecting the cars of today in 25 years. With all of the electronics on board and with the software needed to run vehicles today becoming obsolete or flaky so quickly, today’s cars (particularly EVs with lithium batteries as the sole source of power) will be relegated to the scrap heap of history. I’ll take my 1972 Beetle – I can do most of the work myself and it will run almost forever.

  • paul s murray says:

    Besides the tactile difference between an analog/digital car you’ve got to consider when it was produced. Some of the early digital models had electronics that were simply not up to snuff and this teething problem was often exasperated by the more features the better philosophy . While you can look at today’s models and their miles (literally) of wiring the systems have improved considerably, actually more than. Oddly enough the Le Mans commentators ( in the wee small hours ) were talking about this subject with regard to those early digital race cars. How it was getting difficult to find people who could, paraphrasing -” blow the dust off those old beige Dells laptops ” and bring the cars back to life. So there’s room for both. I was more than happy to replace my points/condenser setup with “just set it and forget it! ” trouble free electronics. So shoot me. And I’m really happy that everything now has ABS and with the way I see other people driving. The problem is there seems to be less middle ground. Bigger screens, more buttons, look pretty pretty, shinny shinny. An impractical pain in the ass to use often but hey! That’s why I love my Mustangs turn up, turn down knob temperature control, I don’t even have to take my eyes off the road to use it. Now we have, as one ad says. “like a coffeemaker that will automatically order fresh beans ” and VW’s ‘Sit to Start’ feature. One more thing I don’t need, one less thing to break.

  • Gary says:

    I had a 1994 Supra TT, 6 speed converted to single turbo with 768 hp, 726 lb-ft.
    No trac control, but ABS.
    Way too much car for the average driver, one of whom I consider myself.
    Don’t have it anymore. Now have a 991.2 911 Targa 4S. Not as insane as the Supra for sure, quick enough and much nicer to drive.

  • Woodrow says:

    Use of the word “analog” here is really a misnomer and leads to the confusion about what we’re actually talking about. For example, ABS – held-up by many as “not Analog” – when first put into commercial use (on aircraft) was a purely mechanical system. Likewise fuel injection, with early systems having nothing to do with electronics, let alone computers.
    As someone mentioned earlier, what we’re talking about are Drivers’ Aids: systems on the car – mechanical or otherwise – that interpret or modify the driver’s inputs before they’re delivered to the wheels.
    It’s the lack of these drivers’ aids that defines the “Analog Car” to me.

  • Jody Fitzmaurice says:

    I just traded in my C7 for a Camaro. TBH out of the 5 Corvettes I’ve owned (1 C3, 2 C5’s, and 1 C6) it was the most disappointing, and I couldn’t agree more with Rob’s assessment. It’s a shame because I had the highest hopes for the C7.


    Hi all,

    Well, I am old-school guy because I was born in 1950, and I still have my roadable 1976 MG Midget 1500 that I bought brand new, after a series of cars including a 1955 MGTF which I wish I still had), a 1966 Mercury Comet 202, and a 1973 Chevy Nova 307 Custom (both which I wish I still had).

    Simply put: I could more or less easily diagnose and fix them. of most problems.

    I do much appreciate, though, the many added safety features that came after those cars.

    As for my MG Midget 1500, well, if I get killed in it than they can just bury me and the car. We’ll fit in a standard graveyard hole in the ground.

    Bests all,

  • James Stewart says:

    I am glad a couple of C4 owners chimed in and declared it to be Analog. I recently inherited a 94 Aqua-Blue Coupe with a 6 speed. After undoing the evils of letting E10 gas sit in the fuel system, and mending the mouse-chewed wiring, I hope to be the star of the next Radwood car show. 😎 The first gen push-back-at-You traction control can be turned off, and thankfully most of dashboard regressed from 80’s video game bar graphs to analog needles by 94. The windows and seats are power but I suspect the driving experience will be very “analog” with the TCS switched off. To me, drive-by-wire throttle control is the bridge too far…I will gladly take ABS, power steering, AC, power brakes, digital spark & fuel control – but keep the computer nanny’s away from my gas pedal and steering wheel. If I want to go full caveman , I will drive my 1950 Chevy 3100 with the Stovebolt 6 and 3 on the tree – people were tough in the 50’s.

  • Gary Bechtold says:

    Audio analogy was a bit flawed. Carver amps didn’t exist in the 1960’s let alone have tubes in them. Now Bob Carver Corporation which is a different entity has had tubes since 2011 or so. Bob Carver until recently has been almost completely solid state.

    As for analog cars a 1990’s Toyota Supra is an analog car and I feel a lot of that has fueled the Japanese car explosion in price.

  • Troy says:

    Analog in my mind is quite a simple definition…no computers. Arguably the last analog cars were produced in the 80’s. Mechanical fuel injection is fair game, but not most electronic fuel injection. The ‘mulligan’ for older cars is a Pertronix type ignition system to avoid the hassle of points (who still keeps emory emory cloth and a spare set of points in glove compartment and actually know what a dwell meter is AND knows how to use it…I do). The fact that a car has a manual transmission and limited driver Nannies does not make it ‘analog’. Let’s leave the analog term for cars that are truly just that and maybe coin a different team for more modern stuff that might more driver focused, but please don’t do injustice to the term ‘analog’ when it isn’t. If you have Bosch D or K Jetronic you are grandfathered in as there is no lamda control, but everything after that is certainly NOT analog as it requires more than screwdriver to adjust.

  • don cox says:

    I don’t know where to draw the line between analog & digital–(definitions can be confusing)– The electronics of the 70s we considered Computerization—

  • paul s murray says:

    Gary B, the same applies to watches. If you appreciate quality pieces you’ve probably have a few automatics on the winder right now and you’re not going to the drugstore looking for batteries for your Patek Phillippe. Not a lot of people scouring the web looking for old Timex’s except me. I consider my mint condition kids Hot Wheels watch a true connoisseurs item for special occasions only. While I had no choice but to swap out the band, the original is boxed away, like my old distributor set up. No harm no foul.

  • Eric says:

    There are some first gen “NA” (1990-1997) Miatas that fit the analog description. Base models did not even have power steering. Many lack power windows, ABS, and AC. And of course modern tech like traction or stability control was unknown to both first and second generations. Perhaps the ultimate analog Miata would be the 1994-1997 R-package trim option: none of the above but with a torsen LSD. Values for those in good condition, if you can find one, are rather high now.

  • lee barr says:

    914’s,924 and 944’s…..take out the seatbelt bulb and all it tells you is speed,temp and pressures

  • Doug L says:

    If you really want the analog experience, you should avoid power steering entirely. Nothing is as precise as a manual rack and pinion.

  • Dan Lively says:

    My full analog car is a 1968 Firebird HO 350 car with a Muncie four speed. It is Hotchkiss suspension upgrades, lowered spindles, and QA one coil overs upfront when you drive this car you are directly connected to the experience. it’s pretty quick with 320 rated horsepower SAE gross and it will overrun redline in 4th gear due to the 373s. no digital upgrades please although it does have a modern pioneer stereo in it

  • David Cordeau says:

    Very very analog… my 1967 Lotus Europa S1a. Snap-in windows, mechanical clutch, drums in rear, no sound insulation with engine 4 inches behind my head, semi-working electrics, 1 wiper blade and hand-pumped windshield washer. I bought it new in ’67 and still love it more than any car I have had since.

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