From sputtering, horseless carriages to exotic missiles, the average car junkie has over 100 years' worth of models to put on his list of cars to drive before he dies. How would you whittle it down and prioritize only your top 10 choices? For our list, we considered everything from milestone vehicles to single representatives of an era. Sure, there's a bias toward sports cars here, but even so, not all are speed demons. In fact, some of the cars on our list could be smoked by your sister on a moped, but that's not the point. Get behind the wheel and indulge in the experience. Whether it happens at barely 20 mph or beyond 200, here are 10 cars to drive before you die.
10: Ford Model T
Kicking off our list is the car that mobilized America, not to mention a good chunk of the world, during and well beyond its 1908-1927 production run. Henry Ford's Model T was not the first car he built, but it was the model that made car ownership affordable and uncomplicated for millions. Of course, "uncomplicated" is a relative term by modern views. Sure, these have about as many moving parts as your recliner, but the driving experience challenges you to forget just about everything you know. Take the three pedals in front of you. They're not the clutch, brake and gas. Left to right, that would be the forward gear pedal, reverse and then the brake. There's no clutch, and the gas (well, throttle) is lever-operated up by the steering wheel. But given the chance to drive one on a very deserted road, you'll begin to appreciate the rickety car and understand its significance as one of the top 10 cars to drive before you die.
9: Jeep CJ
After World War II, the military Jeep came home with the GIs and went to work in more peaceful conditions as the CJ, or Civilian Jeep. As it did so, amazing off-road possibilities were opened by this early SUV. Let's make one thing clear, though: This SUV doesn't have heated leather seats or a DVD player. It began production life in 1945 as little more than a mechanized tool and stayed the course through 1986. How many other vehicles can you think of with removable doors and a folding windshield? They're slow, crude, rough-riding, and still some of the most fun you'll have behind the wheel -- on- or off-road.
8: Datsun 240Z
Life didn't immediately take a 180-degree turn as 1970 dawned, but it wouldn't be long before big changes came. Datsun was ready with the right car at the right time: the 240Z of 1970-1973. A harmonious blend of European styling cues and Japanese affordability, the two-seat coupe was an instant hit and well established by the time gas became scarce a few years later. It wouldn't smoke a Hemi Mopar off the line, but it handled much better, had credible performance and opened enthusiasts' eyes to the possibility of great fun with less displacement. Even today, the 240Z's straight six easily keeps up with traffic and is fun to drive in the curves. One drive and you'll understand what paved the way for Nissan's 350Z and even the GT-R.
7: 1959 Cadillac
The excess of the '80s was one thing, but in many ways it paled in comparison to the '50s -- especially where cars were concerned. Tail fins and chrome grew with each new model (at a time when cars were redesigned yearly) until it climaxed with the 1959 Cadillac. Today it stands as either wretched or gorgeous, but most agree it's an iconic representative of the period. If the '57 Chevy is cool, the '59 Caddy is cool and gratuitous. Driving one guarantees attention, but keep your own on the road. It's deceptively easy to drive at first. When it comes to turning or braking, though, that half-century-old technology feels and responds like a cabin cruiser on a choppy lake. Your SUV will feel nimble in comparison, but the '59 Cadillac represents an automotive decade that would soon change in a very radical way.
6: Austin Healey 3000
Of course, it wasn't everyone's dream to drive a land barge in the '50s and '60s. Some were looking for affordable, European sports cars (yes, they once existed). At No. 6 is our epitome of the classic British roadster, the 1959-'67 Austin Healey 3000. They've always represented the fun character of cars like the Triumph Spitfire with a nod toward the performance and sophistication of the Jaguar E-Type. With a size that was also a compromise between both (in modern terms, think Miata), the "Big Healey" was the best of both worlds. Today, with a sympathetic shifter hand and the resolve not to fret about excessive heat singeing your leg hair, the 3000 series rewards with surprisingly decent handling, reasonable power and an exhaust note that will rank among your favorites. This is what British roadsters were all about, and why they're appreciating among collectors.
5: 1967-'69 Chevrolet Camaro Z-28
The muscle car era was a helluva party and one of the distinguished guests was the Z-28 of 1967-'69. The restored cars commanding six figures at collector car auctions today are many of the same ones beaten mercilessly in the name of pride (or even pinks) through clouds of burned rubber from stoplight to stoplight. If you didn't experience it firsthand back in the day, the next best thing is to climb in one today and get a feel for how Chevy -- or Ford or Mopar, for that matter -- sold speed. Screw the creature comforts, it's time to say your prayers, floor it and keep going straight.
4: Porsche 911
Not many sports cars can claim continual production for decades. And within that small group, most have periods best forgotten. Think the Mustang II, or the mid-'70s to early-'80s Corvettes. Then consider the Porsche 911. From day one in 1964, right through to the present, there hasn't been a dud in the bunch. Some variants have stood the test of time better than others, but none underwhelmed when they were new. So, which to drive before you die? They all drive as great -- or even better -- than they look, something few cars can claim. Chances are you'll have the most fun in the car you grew up lusting after. For some, that's the air-cooled 3.2 Carrera of the '80s. Others are dying to flirt with 200 mph in a new GT3. Regardless, you will experience a car that knows how to perform as well as tolerate everyday driving -- all the more reason not to give the keys back.
3: Shelby Cobra Roadster
The car that launched a thousand kits must be experienced firsthand in your lifetime. Our No. 3 car, the Shelby Cobra Roadster, has been written about and lusted after since 1962. When Carroll Shelby successfully dropped an American Ford V8 into a British AC roadster, it marked the beginning of a significant chapter in automotive history. It doesn't matter if you drive an early model with a 260 cubic-inch V8 or a later beast with a 427, so long as it's a real one. They're all a rare pleasure to experience, if challenging. There's so little weight and so much power, blinking wrong will induce a burnout ... In fourth gear ... At 100-plus mph.
2: '60s V12 Ferrari
To look at a vintage Ferrari road car, it's difficult to imagine Enzo Ferrari justifying its existence as little more than a necessary distraction to fund his racing program. The 250-Series production models of the late '50s and early '60s stand as some of the most beautiful Ferraris built. Driving any of these multimillion-dollar rides is not only a rare treat, you'll also have an excuse to skip your workout -- power steering through the canted, wood-rimmed wheel? Yeah, right. Disc brakes? Perhaps, but they're far from twitchy. The gated shifter ain't like buttah, either. Your ears have it easy, though. They get to pick up the single sweetest engine sound ever produced: The Ferrari V12 -- especially in earlier cars like this. If the justification for seven-figure transactions could be expressed non-verbally, here it is. Enzo was right.
1: Bugatti Veyron
In the time it takes you to say "0 to 60," a Bugatti Veyron could be well on its way to doing so; requiring about 2.5 seconds to nail it. In the time you've spent reading this article, a Veyron could have burned its 26.4-gallon fuel supply. At full throttle, it goes from full to fumes in about 12.5 minutes. At this rate, the tires will be nearing the end of their service life as well. However, given enough suitable track, you'll have at least achieved a tad over 250 mph for your trouble. On any single one of these figures, the nearly $1.5-million supercar wouldn't stand with such regard. Yet for all this performance, technology, exclusivity, and desirability to come together on four wheels with such precision and ease of use is more than reason enough to make this the ultimate car to drive before you die.
Rides of a Lifetime:
Enthusiasts have over a century of cars to rank as the ones they must drive before they die. Cutting the list down to 10 is far from easy, but the debate is always enjoyable and the pursuit of fulfillment is even better.