There’s something about a manual transmission sports car, much like there was something about Mary, in the movie that is. While automatic transmissions are cool and take away the stress and effort of changing gears, there’s nothing like a Boomer-inspired stick shift that can truly take your mind off everything else but conquering that road up ahead of you.
That said, with the advancements in automatic transmissions, manual gearboxes are becoming a thing of the past, even in sports cars. Many cars, including the current Chevy Corvette (C8), the first mid-engine Corvette, have completely eschewed the manual transmission in favor of automatic.
For those of us who still like to think that we can control the car better than computers, these are the best manual-transmission sports cars of the ‘90s to indulge in. Which one of these has your heart and is waiting to be in your garage?
10 1995 BMW M3 Lightweight
Considering the M3 Lightweight weighs about 200 pounds less than the standard E36-generation M3, it’s one sweet ride indeed. The hand-picked 3.0-liter inline six came mated to a responsive 5-speed manual, generating 240 horsepower and 225 lb-ft, of torque, good enough for a 5.5-second 0-60 time.
All Lightweights came painted Alpine White and bore a tricolor checkered “M” motif on the left-front and right-rear corners. There were even extra parts in the trunk, such as a special oil pan and oil pump as well as spacers to make the rear spoiler taller. You can still get some of these cars with the extra parts still wrapped in plastic.
9 1992-1996 Ford Escort RS Cosworth
The Escort RS Cosworth was a homologation-special model built for rallying, with a turbocharged inline-four that churned up more than 220 horses. The five-speed manual gearbox sent power to all four wheels and this European Escort remains one of the most fun stick-shift drives ever.
It was the first Ford to win the Monte Carlo rally, and the manual transmission played a big part with its ideal ratios and ease of shifting, as did that rear wing, dubbed the whale tail. Overall, one of the sweetest manual transmission sports cars of the ‘90s.
8 1990-1995 Chevy Corvette ZR1
The Chevy Corvette has always been an entertaining and relatively affordable sports car, with those of this era delivering plenty of good old American muscle. The 1990-95 Corvette ZR-1 took it to a whole nother level, as it came equipped with an exotic 5.7-liter, DOHC, 32-valve, port-fuel-injected ‘LT5’ V8 with aluminum block and heads. Output stood at an incredible 375 to 405 horsepower, depending on the model year.
Only available with a manual transmission, the ZR-1 zipped 0 to 60 MPH in 4.5 seconds with a sizzling top speed of 175 MPH, and did so in absolute style. The six-speed manual transmission withstood a massive 370-385 pound-feet of torque and performed like a maestro for that sweet engine note.
7 1995-1998 Porsche 911 GT2 (993)
The Porsche 911 GT2 is undoubtedly one of the coolest manual transmission sports cars from the 1990s, as it came based on the 911 Turbo but with way better looks. The 3.6-liter boxer-six made 424 horses and 400 lb-ft of torque, making it fly because of its low curb weight.
It flew 0-60 MPH in 3.7 seconds, making it the ideal car to spend your track weekends in. Plus, being a Porsche it handles like a dream, meaning it simply cannot get any better than this.
6 1990 Acura NSX
In the past and still today, many automotive enthusiasts prefer driving a manual transmission over automatic because of the greater feeling of involvement with the car and the driving experience. One of the coolest manual transmission sports cars to come out of the ‘90s was the Acura NSX.
The original NSX was lightweight, came mid-engined, and was built for people who loved to drive. It had enough but not immense power, so it handled well and drove like a well-controlled, obedient rocket.
5 1996 Dodge Viper GTS
With a 400-horsepower, 465-lb-ft, 8.0-liter V-10 engine, no side windows and a flimsy soft top, the original Dodge Viper roadster was all kinds of crazy. Did we mention that its engine came co-developed by Chrysler-owned Lamborghini? With a six-speed manual transmission, barely any creature comforts and absolute nutty speed, things were still crazy with the Viper GTS, a coupe version of the American supercar.
The beastly GTS made 410 horsepower and 488 lb-ft of torque and looked dynamite with its fastback roofline. The manual transmission added to the whole raw appeal of the car, and a run through the gears could take your breath away.
4 Third-Gen Mazda RX-7 (FD)
Mazda has always made cool sports cars, and the RX series has also been pretty cool. The RX-7 more so, with the last generation (the FD) sporting a twin-turbo rotary engine. The 1.3-liter force-fed rotary engine made between 255 and 276 horsepower depending on the trim, and worked well with a 5-speed manual transmission.
For a while, the FD RX-7 ruled as it won Playboy's Car of the Year in 1993, and even now, it is one of the coolest manual transmission cars of the ‘90s.
3 1995-1998 Fourth-Gen Nissan Skyline GT-R (R33)
The fourth-gen Skyline GT-R, the R33, used the same R32 engine, and officially claimed to make 280 horsepower, although many say it made more than 300 easy. There’s a reason they call it Godzilla. It’s only recently become legal to import into the U.S., but the lure for the JDM rocket has always been strong.
With lovely handling and a very responsive five-speed manual gearbox, the Skyline remains a JDM hero. Sadly, the next in line, the R34, succumbed to the call of the automatic transmission.
2 1993-1998 Toyota Supra A80
The Mk IV supra is the original 10-second car from the F&F franchise and has forever gone down in history as one of the coolest manual transmission sports cars ever. The 2JZ straight-six engine is a legend, and the Mk IV Supra’s sleek looks helped further its cause.
The turbocharged variant could hit 60 MPH in 4.6 seconds, reach a top speed of 160 MPH, and handle a road course without breaking a sweat. No wonder that it was an automotive enthusiast's dream car. The base trim made 220 horses while the turbocharged version took this up by 100 horses, for 320.
1 1990-1999 Lamborghini Diablo
As the name suggests, this is a devil of a car, with a 5.7-liter V12 that works well with a five-speed manual transmission. Of course, it was an absolute speed king. The Diablo replaced the Countach and while it did not go about breaking records, it was a cool enough car that drove fantastic.
The design was all new, and a bit of a step-away for Lamborghini, and the pop-up headlights only added to the car’s appeal. This may not have been a celebrity’s car like the Aventador, but it made anyone driving it feel rather special.
Sources: CarandDriver, TopSpeed, Autoevolution