WE COUNT DOWN our top 10 automotive icons of all time.
Some cars are beautiful, some cars are fast, some cars are luxurious and some cars are great to drive. But every once in a while there is a car that transcends all these measurements and parameters and is famous the world over, simply for being what it is. Everyone knows exactly what it is, even those without a modicome of interest in cars will get a picture in their head and an ideology simply from the merest mention of the name. These cars are icons. Here’s our top 10.
10. Mazda MX-5
Say “Mazda MX-5” to the uninitiated and they will probably say something about hairdressers, but say it to a true petrolhead and there will be a smile and nod of recognition. This is because the Mazda MX-5 is one of the best handling cars of all time. Not only this but it’s cheap to buy and run and is the benchmark by which all sports cars are measured. It’s got pedigree too because it was inspired by the classic Lotus Elan.
9. BMW 3-Series
The BMW 3-Series has been on sale all over the world since 1975. Some generations are more fondly remembered than others, most notably the E30, but all have been class leaders in just about every aspect and having that blue and white propeller badge on the nose of your car has become something of a status symbol. So much so that the BMW 3-Series now outsells the cheaper and previously best-selling Ford Mondeo in the UK.
8. Land Rover Defender
Ask a child to draw a 4×4 and it will probably look something like the Land Rover Defender. It has been in production for nearly 30 years and is seen all over the world; from the depths of Africa to London’s Oxford Street. It is utilitarian and so capable off-road it nearly defies the laws of physics, yet it is classless and could be owned by everyone from farmers to royalty. It’s no wonder Land Rover are having such a hard time replacing it.
7. Subaru Impreza
The definitive road-going rally car, the Impreza has a cult following all over the world, nowhere more so than here in the UK. Helped by Colin McRae and Richard Burns, both rally champions at the wheel of Imprezas, and the Gran Turismo Playstation games which introduced it to petrolheads both young and old. Some think the Impreza is ‘yobbish’ with its big wings, but it’ll show any supercar a clean pair of heels on a wet and twisty b-road.
6. Volvo Estate
This is the vaguest entry in our top 10 because it covers many different models over many years, but the Volvo estate is an icon of motoring. Familys, antique dealers, safety, dullness. All these words come to mind when thinking about the classic ‘box on wheels’ but you can’t fault its practicality and there is a genuine fondness amongst car fans for Volvo estates. Particularly the bonkers 850 T5-R and its BTCC cousins.
5. Porsche 911
Launched in 1963, the rear-engined 911 was widely criticised for having its engine “in the wrong place”. But being German (and stubborn) Porsche did not concede. Instead they perservered, perfecting it over the decades until it was the greatest sports car on sale. It’s been winning magazine awards and group tests for years, leading many to be accused of favouritism, but the 911 wouldn’t constantly win if it weren’t constantly the best.
4. Volkswagen Golf GTi
Volkswagen pretty much invented the hot hatch when some engineers, working after hours, decided to try and fit the humble Golf with the engine from an Audi 80 to create a sporting version. It worked, and people loved it. It went on sale in 1979 and has remained ever since. We’re currently on our sixth generation and the public are just as hungry for it as ever thanks to its mix of speed, handling, practicality and (relatively) low cost.
3. Lamborghini Countach
In the 80’s, teenage boys had two posters on their wall; one was of that tennis girl scratching her arse and the other was of the Lamborghini Countach. For many years it was the car that defined the term ‘supercar’. It grew some wings, spoilers and arches over the years but its scissor doors, sharp angles, wedged nose and simply massive rear wheels remained, drawing big crowds wherever it went. In fact, it still does that today.
2. Ford Mustang
The Ford Mustang. What more do you need to say than that? Well, it was released in 1964 and represented a working class dream car. It wasn’t very sophisticated and it didn’t handle very well but it was cheap, it was powerful and it looked good. While they’re rare as hen’s teeth in Europe they are (I am reliably informed) as common as muck in the USA, but that doesn’t detract from it’s iconic status. It is the American dream, on wheels.
1. The Mini
How could it be anything other than this? The Mini is the iconic car. It combines many features from the cars above; the high sales figures of the Mustang, the classlessness of the Defender, the cheap and accessible performance of the MX-5 with the practicality of the Golf GTi.
“God damn these bloody awful bubble-cars. We must drive them off the streets by designing a proper miniature car.” These were the words of Leonard Lord to Alec Issigonis that lead to the creation of the Mini. Issigonis wanted to design a small, economical car that handled like a bigger car and could carry the same passenger count. He succeeded, and in 1959 the Mini was born.
John Cooper soon recognised the Mini’s potential and created the Mini Cooper and Cooper S which added to the Mini’s fame and legacy. It remained in production, virtually unchanged, until 2000. BMW bought the Rover group and in 2001 launched the new MINI brand which has further increased its status. Because of all of this, and much more, the Mini is the ultimate automotive icon.