Editor’s Prologue: Cars get our blood flowing here at GP. From vintage racers to compacts to the latest supercar offerings, we realize that there are myriad
discussions debates over which ones are the most memorable, the most celebrated and the most remarkable. So to end the inquisition we’ve been compiling a list over the past two months and honing (and honing) it down to what we feel are the 50 most iconic automobiles in motoring history.
Cars are objects of subjectivity, and everyone seems to have an opinion, from the cognoscenti to the everyman. The best cars can be whittled down based on design, popularity, exclusivity, performance or all of the above. There are plenty of lists out there and opinions inevitably vary (widely), but for our humble screed of 50 we’ve used a single rule: which cars are truly significant in our own minds.
So sit back, hit the jump and get to scrolling.
1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic
The Type 57 Atlantic is the kind of car that can never be copied, reproduced or emulated without utterly ruining the memory. The sheet metal alone will send you home drooling, as if you’d seen the most sensuous woman in the world. With curves galore and an elongated hood, the Atlantic looked like nothing else on the road in its day and still stands apart over the generations. Like a vintage era Batmobile, it’s both Powerful and elegant. It now auctions north of 30 million dollars and is essentially the world’s most expensive car.
1948 Tucker Torpedo
The brainchild of Preston Tucker, the “Torpedo” or Tucker Sedan, was created in response to the lack of new ideas from any of the big three in the early 1940’s. Originally designed with such innovations as four-wheel independent suspension, a rear mounted flat six aluminum engine a hydraulic drive system and four-wheel disc brakes. Sadly only 51 cars were made and the Tucker Torpedo never got out of the starting gates, supposedly due to a conspiracy by the big three. On the bright side, a single iteration of this pioneering automobile is worth a sweet $1.2 million.
1960 Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato
Though not as famous as its younger DB5 brother, it’s even more stunning in our humble opinion. The bulging hood, the big frowning Aston grille and the spectacular wire wheels, along with the Zagato Italian touch rendered this British car stunningly curvaceous. Limited to only 20 versions, it still trades at over a cool million at auction. 0-60 times of 6 seconds and 314 horsepower made this car a force to be reckoned with in its day. We envision someone like Sir Richard Branson tooling around in one of these. Lucky bastard.
Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB
Probably one of Ferrari/Pininfarina’s most beautiful designs, the 250GT Berlinetta SWB dominated the 1960 24 Hours of Le Mans by taking the first four positions. With a shorter wheelbase (SWB) than the 250GT Berlinetta and the removal of the rear quarter windows, the 250GT SWB boasted improved cornering due to the wheelbase reduction. A revised V12 was parked under the hood, along with larger carburetors. The competition version crushed everyone else on the racing circuit in 1959 and 1960. Current versions bring upwards of $4 million to own a piece of racing history.
1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray Coupe
Also known as the C2, this version of the Corvette turned things around for Chevy. Redesigned completely, it sported a now much sought after split window, Corvette-only reverse flip-up headlights, improved handling and performance and a gorgeous silhouette made the C2 a standout amongst American sports cars. Produced for 20 years, the Sting Ray Coupe is as American as it gets. Part elegance and all sinew, the wide and sleek C2 will forever be associated with brilliant American design.
Built by Ford to not only compete with Ferrari but to humiliate them at Le Mans, the GT40 was racing domination at its best, taking top position at the grueling 24 hour race series four years in a row. Utilizing high displacement Ford V8s, the GT40 established Ford as the only American built car to ever take Le Mans overall. It spawned the Ford GT, which carries forward the same kind of ferocious performance that made it an icon. Recently a 1966 Mk1 version brought in over $4 million at auction. Now that’s a pricey Ford.
Aston Martin DB5
Bond made it famous in Goldfinger, but it would’ve stood on the merits of its own looks. The silky grand tourer was built from 1963-1965 and boasted a then-healthy 282 horsepower, enabling it to reach 145 mph at the top end and zero to sixty in around 7 seconds. Most importantly, the DB5 still stands as one of the most recognizable cars in the world. Instant panache for and respect to anyone lucky enough to own this rarity.
1967 Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale
Widely considered to be one of the sexiest automobiles ever made, the car was not just a looker. Alfa produced the 33 as a roadgoing version of the racing Tipo 33 and introduced Alfa’s racing technology to the world. It clocked 60 mph in 5.5 seconds and topped out at a blistering 160 mph. Sadly, only 18 were made. If it looks familiar, it inspired the modern Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione. A beauty in its own right.
The intention to build the sleek and unique supercar was purely for homologation, and in 1970, BMW partnered with Lamborghini to help bring it to life. Lambo jumped ship before production and BMW took over the entire project, bringing the rare cars to market from 1978 to 1981. Fewer than 500 were built and they’re still so sought after today that BMW still holds the M1 name sacred, as does the rest of the automotive world. We’ve seen it in the flesh and it is awesome.
AC Shelby Cobra 427
The stuff of legend, this is. Carroll Shelby approached Ford MoCo in order to shoehorn its monster 520 bhp, 427 V-8 into the AC Cobra, a British sports car. The result was magic and threw down with the previously victorious Chevy Corvettes in auto racing. It was a triumph of huge proportions. Shelby’s beast did the quarter-mile in 13.2 seconds and handled like it was on rails. And though the production of these monsters ended in 1967, the automotive world would never be the same
When the NSX was introduced to the public in 1990, it was one of the most technologically advanced supercars ever made. The first production vehicle to use an all-aluminum monocoque chassis, it was made even more rigid after consultation by the famous F1 driver, Ayrton Senna. The lightness of the engine, frame and body aided in top-notch performance numbers which did not go unrecognized. The NSX garnered major automotive awards and redefined the supercar for the 21st century. When we see this rarity on the street today, it still makes us want one. So it’s sometimes referred it as the ‘poor man’s Ferrari’, it stands on its own as one of the greats.
Despite what you remember about the DeLorean from the Back to the Future movies, it was only fast if you dropped it off a cliff, but it is certainly hard to forget. Stainless steel body, gullwing doors and a body flat enough to grill on, the DMC-12 is one seriously beautiful failure. Its founder and creator was a crook, but he put his stamp on the automotive world by bringing us a vehicle that was like nothing else. Flux capacitor optional.
Any top 10 most iconic cars list will have this beauty near the top. The gloriously long hood and the elegant power the XKE communicates will turn heads anywhere you go. The burbling V12 power and the ridiculously low slung body made it that much more desirable. Though we prefer it in roadster form, the coupe will do us just fine. Just don’t do it up Austin Powers-style and emblazon the car with the Union Jack. This car actually makes driving gloves look cool, not like the fool wearing them in his Trans Am.
Practical was the farthest thing from its vocabulary, the Countach was the truly excessive supercar. With a mailslot of a rear window, it was impossible to park, but who cares. The wedge shape, scissor doors, massive engine vents and the pronounced angles made it instantly recognizable. Sporting a monster Lambo V12 engine, it was hellaciously fast, as well. The bespoilered LP500S is easily the most remembered. Big bank roll required. Gold chain and chest hair not included.
Make no mistake. This tiny roadster single-handedly revived the type for the world. Mazda produced this car back when everything about tiny convertibles pointed to the crusher. Light and rear-wheel drive, the precision and the “snikt” sound of the shifter along with nimble and taut dynamics were driving heaven. Even now, after four generations, the Miata (MX-5) still brings the kind of pure driving pleasure that no amount of automotive technology can replace.
And you thought Volvo started out making shipping crates for ovens. Let the P1800 prove you wrong. It was built-in 1957 as a much-needed answer for a Swedish sports car. It was, however, the car that nearly didn’t happen due to conflicts with automaker Karmann, who had previously agreed to produce the car for Volvo. Jensen motors took on the job and the P1800 came to life with a Volvo B18 engine that could take the svelte body up to 120 mph. Who said Volvos of old are boring?
1967 Pontiac GTO
Otherwise known as the “Judge”, the GTO was actually named after Ferrari’s 250 GTO (Gran Turismo Omologato), despite the dissimilarities. The split grille design and the monster 335 hp, 441 lb ft V8 engine, along with the optional Hurst shifter made it a true American classic and the sales figures proved its popularity. Today, a pristine model is worth a pretty penny. The modern version of it was basically a rebadged Holden Monaro from GM Australia, and though it was quick, it didn’t even come close to the presence of the original.
Maserati 3500 GT Vignale Spyder
In the late 1950’s Maserati decided to capitalize on the improved roads in Europe by creating a true roadgoing GT car and hence the 3500 GT Vignale Spyder was born. Having pulled back from its dedicated racing roots, Maserati succeeded in producing a car that rivaled the best from Ferrari and Aston Martin by providing prodigious straight six power and luxurious amenities. It was both a performer and a looker by all measures and ended its production run with 2,200 cars, more than all other previous Maseratis made. It was the car that essentially put Maserati on the GT map. One look at this car, and you’ll be won over by its elegance. Just don’t wear an ascot if you own one.
We all know the term ‘Quattro’ to stand for Audi’s four-wheel drive system, but the term arose from the early 80’s when Audi brought the original Audi Quattro stateside. It was born from the original rally car that was the first to mate 4-wheel drive with turbocharging. With straight, hard-edged design, the Quattro was angry and sophisticated at the same time. The 2.1 liter high-revving inline-5 cylinder churned out 197 hp and could propel the car to 60 in 7 seconds with a top speed of nearly 140 mph. Every Audi with the Quattro system on the road today can thank its predecessor for the rugged and rapid heritage passed on by the original. It looks like Audi may try to repeat that same success by coming out with a re-imagined version. Let’s hope.
The poor man’s Jaguar E-Type, the Datsun S30 series, named the 240Z, 260Z and 280Z marked the birth of the Z car and are true classics. Produced in the 1970’s the cars were low cost and highly successful here in the U.S., as a result of both their price and appealing sports car design. These bargain sports cars could do sixty in under 8 seconds and top out at over 120 mph. Eventually Nissan even refurbished a handful of them for sale several years ago and what we wouldn’t do now to get our mitts on one of those.
Nissan Skyline GTR r34
The current Nissan GT-R is a monster, no doubt, but its origins date back to 1989 with what was dubbed “Godzilla” by the automotive press, the R32 Nissan Skyline GTR. The target was the Porsche 959 and what a lofty goal it was. The Skyline sported twin ceramic turbochargers, all-wheel steering, electronically controlled four-wheel drive, and 276 hp. It dominated 29 out of 29 races in Japan and went on to conquer circuits all over the world. Thankfully, its heritage lives on in the current version.
It was one of the first true supercars. Born out of Gruppe B racing, it had a steroidal 911 silhouette, an aluminum and kevlar body with enhanced aerodynamics, all-wheel drive, and a monster flat six engine with 444 horsepower, which propelled it to 60 mph in less than four seconds. Incredibly rare, the 959 is considered the father of the current 911 Turbo and still asks for and gets high prices at auction. The likelihood of ever seeing one in the flesh is infinitesimally small due to the fact that very few owners modified it for U.S. streets.
Ferrari 365GTB/4 Daytona Spyder
You don’t have to be Sonny Crockett to appreciate this car. Miami Vice made it popular but it has far more pedigree. Named for the famous racetrack, the Daytona’s design was nothing if not clean. From the smooth hood to the circular taillights, it was sleek and muscular at the same time and sadly was limited to only 122 versions. The Spider was so coveted that many coupe owners paid to have the tops lopped off. Sporting a sonorous V12, the Daytona maxed out at blistering 180 mph. Road and Track called it “world’s best sportscar.” It had both the looks and the performance. Many hairpieces were lost, no doubt.
The original British luxury car that started its run in 1925, the Rolls-Royce Phantom moniker and heritage spread over seven model generations. Owned by the likes of John Lennon and the Sultan of Brunei (what doesn’t he own?), the Phantom exuded class and wealth. Driving in it can be equated with sitting in an executive boardroom on wheels. Though it may have suffered from a bit of bloatedness in its fifth and sixth generations, the seventh and current iteration proves to be the right combination of power, performance and sophistication. Like it for its power and size. Love it for its ever-upright logo’d wheel hubs and its door retractable umbrella holders. Who needs Grey Poupon?
Originally the Willys-Overland MB, it was commissioned for the U.S. military to fulfill the need for a light, rugged and versatile recon vehicle during World War II. And though there is dispute to this day over the origin of the ‘Jeep’ nomenclature, there no doubt that the modern descendants, the Jeep CJ and Wrangler, exemplify the all-around utility of this wartime workhorse. From Willys to Ford to Chrysler, the Jeep maintains bomb-proof the heritage that was born in a time of our country’s greatest need.
Austin Healey 3000
We love roadsters and the Jensen Motors bodied Austin-Healey 3000 is no exception. Built in the 50s and 60s, the 3000 went through three iterations from MkI to MkIII, with ever-growing output and refinement. The bug-eyed fascia and large shiny grille made it a standout, along with the prominent bulging hood. Racing versions showed up at Sebring and LeMans. Sadly the run ended in 1967 when Austin-Healey stopped producing cars. It remains as a true gentleman’s car and is upheld by enthusiasts and vintage racing circuits today. Classy and very, very British.
Ford Shelby Mustang GT350/500
These beefed up versions of the standard Ford Mustang emerged in 1965 as essentially street legal race cars with the aid of Carroll Shelby, himself. Over the course of production, they eventually were moved to in-house production directly by Ford. What started out as an attempt to create a unique performance vehicle with some modifications from the standard car has resulted in generations of a true American icon (as exemplified by the coveted “Eleanor” in the movie Gone in 60 Seconds). Heavier, more brutal and yet more refined in character, the current 2012 top of the line version (the Super Snake) boasts a face-ripping 800 horsepower, up from the original 289 hp in 1965.
Quite possibly the ultimate driver’s Ferrari. Built in the days when traction control, ABS and other driver assist tech was for sissies. Lean, light, fast and positively ferocious, the F40 made mincemeat of cars with more horsepower due to its singular purpose of being a rocket powered street razor. The huge and purposeful rear wing both keeps the car planted and makes it visible from a mile away. No AC and no radio so you can hear the sonorous twin turbo V8 rasping its pipes at 471 orgasmic horsepower.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL
In 1955, the 300 SL took the world by storm, positioning itself as not only one of the most beautiful cars ever made but also as the fastest car of its day with the world’s first direct injection gasoline four stroke engine. The Roadster with its curvacious gullwing doors made the car that much more exclusive. Today, it commands up to three quarters of a million dollars at auction and we think its worth every penny.
An automotive hippie magnet, the Beetle could just be the most recognized car in the world. Built in colossal numbers for a world market, the Beetle was unsafe, underpowered and just plain unimpressive, except that it looked like nothing the world had ever seen. It was the car that made people happy just by looking at it. Don’t even get us started on the New Beetle. We think the 3rd try will be “the cleaner” and make us forget the tragically flawed but ever so successful designs of the first two.
You might consider it a dowdy European taxi of sorts, but the Citroen DS gave its driver instant class and sophistication combined with technology and utility. This wonder was introduced in the 50s and went on to see 20 years of production. Possessing the world’s first front disc brakes in a production car, along with self-leveling suspension and self-leveling directional headlights, it was truly revolutionary. If you’ve seen it in person, you know how well it has stood the test of time. And this is one case where being French is truly a very good thing.
Porsche 356 Speedster
Brought into existence by Ferdinand Porsche himself, the 356 is considered Porsche’s first production vehicle. A direct relation to the VW Beetle (say it isn’t so), the 356 was built it both coupe and Speedster forms from the 1940s through 1965 It wasn’t a speed machine, with only a flat-4 engine, but the design was both simple and classic. In various racing iterations, it made itself additionally famous in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Mille Miglia and still brings upwards of $300,000 at auction. Most importantly, it gave birth to the Porsche 911. Talk about good genes.
1969 Mercedes-Benz 280SL Roadster