Trends in car design have come and gone and reappeared over the years, but Jim Hall in his latest Design Handbook entry for Autoline Daily, makes the argument that sports cars have more-or-less kept the same proportions for over a century: long hoods with cockpits placed close to (if not on top of) the rear axle. (These proportions can be explained partially by a subject covered previously in the video series, dash-to-axle ratio.)
Hall points to the American Underslung automobiles of the early 1900s as among the first vehicles to be designed with a sporty appearance. In addition to having long hoods and rear-biased passenger compartments, their axles were hung under the frame rails, and their engines, transmissions and bodies were mounted between them, instead of on top. These features lent American Underslung cars a relatively low and sporty appearance compared to other contemporary vehicles - especially with their 40-inch-diameter wheels. We also imagine that handling benefited from the low center of gravity afforded by mounting components lower.
Watch the video below to find out how the same basic design elements have been applied to vastly different sports cars over the years to get that same elegant yet athletic look - and why sports car proportions have never really changed.