by Harold von Kursk
Women may be the ultimate sex objects, but the car comes a close second when it comes to male obsessions. For the past century, the world’s leading auto makers have poured untold resources into the design, development, and engineering of the motorcar. In the course of the quest to produce the ultimate driving machine, legendary marques like Ferrari, Porsche, and Aston Martin have acquired mythological status in western culture. Not only has the car become a symbol of class, style, power, and prestige, it is also a reflection of our enduring obsession with speed. Though the pussy-whipped fringe-dwellers of the left may seek to put limits on the Autobahn, Europe’s last refuge for men willing to test their nerve and the performance of their cars, nothing can dampen our love of speed and our respect for the Sennas, Schumachers, and Alonsos of the motor racing world.
Formula 1 racing has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry which drives the development of automotive engineering and innovation in the fields of motors, brakes, gearboxes, and overall design. From traction control to anti-lock braking to paddle-controlled gear changing, F1 teams like McLaren Mercedes, BMW, and Honda have been at the forefront of automotive technological advance.
Resting on the cutting edge of speed and styling, the sports car has evolved into an essential statement of personal choice – just as demonstrative as an Armani suit or a Patek Philippe watch. The auto is one of the most powerful symbols of a man’s character, taste, and level of accomplishment – I drive, therefore I am. Moreover, sports and luxury cars have traditionally evoked an undeniable element of sexual menace and attraction which men have used to impress, seduce, and conquer women. From James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 to Steve McQueen’s Shelby Mustang to Magnum P.I.’s 328 Ferrari, cars are metaphors for sex, sophistication, and cool.
Led by the great Italian marques Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, and the now forgotten Bizzarini, and the great French Delahaye and Dubonnet cars of the 1930s, auto design evolved into a rarified art form. In a parallel development, German manufacturers like Mercedes and Porsche contributed engineering marvels that came to symbolise both speed and reliability.
Across the continent, U.S. automakers had their great heyday in the fifties with the evolution of muscle cars like the Corvette, Cobra, and T-Bird, foreshadowing the Shelby Mustang. Ford was particularly strong in engine development, supplying several of their advanced power plants to Italian marques who lacked the means to finance their own independent motor production. Meanwhile, the British auto industry was led by concerns like Rolls-Royce, Bentley, the MG, Jaguar, and, of course, Aston Martin. Though UK manufacturers eventually suffered the effects of lagging engineering, the infusion of foreign capital in the last ten years from Ford and BMW has helped revive the noble pedigree of the great British marques – even the venerable Mini has experienced a tremendous resurgence.
Like the great Italian automotive design renaissance of the fifties and sixties, today Germany is leading the way in the production of glorious new supercars. From the impossibly fast Bugatti Veyron 16.4 to the Porsche GT2 to the remarkable new Audi R8, German automakers are crossing new thresholds of speed and performance ¡ that was hitherto thought impossible in production cars. Indeed, advanced electronic traction control systems, paddle-based gear changing, and ceramic brakes are helping create a brave new wave of motorcars.
Some motoring purists, however, may argue that many of these new innovations are transforming cars into glorified space capsules and that this is serving to take the human factor out of driving. Even Formula 1 has decided to turn back the clock and eliminate electronic cornering assistance, traction, and launch control, thereby allowing race car drivers to compete more against each other rather than against the other team’s 100-odd engineers and technical support personnel.
To that end, we have chosen to salute ten iconic automobiles, ranging from classic Ferraris to Brazil’s own Fusca, which have changed the world and made their mark on popular culture. Each in their own way has revolutionised our understanding of the automobile and defined the era in which they were launched. Each of these cars reflects a unique approach to styling and performance, reflective of the audacity of their designers and their desire to push the engineering envelope.
These legendary cars are not merely anonymous transport vehicles; rather, they are engineering marvels which feed our instincts as road warriors and fire our desire to defy the forces of conformity. There will always be a place for those of you willing to break speed limits no matter how hard Big Brother tries to stop you. After all, there is something hauntingly beautiful about being out on the open road, letting one’s consciousness drift, and taking a corner the way Ayrton Senna floored it through Eau Rouge.
1. FERRARI – The Superamerica, the 365 GTB/4 Daytona, & the F-40 “Enzo.”
When it comes to thinking of the ultimate in race car styling and sports car performance, nothing compares to Ferrari. Ferrari can rightfully be said to have changed the way we perceive the automobile, having led the way in the evolution of the sports car as both a status symbol for the rich and famous and as an example of the Italian genius in automotive engineering and design.
The contribution of Ferrari to the evolution of the sports car dwarfs that of all other auto manufacturers and designers, an d its unparalleled success in Formula One racing in the Schumacher/Todt/Brawn era has reestablished the marque as the purest evocation of automotive excellence.
As a factory race driver, engineer, and then director of the legendary Alfa Romeo racing team of the thirties – Enzo Ferrari was already a legend by the time he began to produce sports cars under his own banner Scuderia Ferrari in the late forties. The first fruit of his efforts, the 1948 166 MM Touring Barchetta, featured the familiar menacing grille and hood scoop which influenced automotive design well into the 1960s.
This concept evolved into the Superamerica series, which was equipped with the V-12 engine that Ferrari had developed for its à Grand Prix racing cars of the 50s. Designed by the legendary Battista “Pinin” Farina and his son Sergio, the Superamerica had been built for the American market at the request of Luigi Chinetti whose New York auto dealership had begun to establish Ferrari as the most prestigious marque of sports cars in the United States.
In 1956, the 410 Superamerica was renown as the world’s outstanding sports car, superior to the Mercedes 300 SL in every engineering (delivering 340 hp initially, and then 400 hp in the 1958 and 1959 models) category except perhaps styling. The 410 Superamerica was also the most expensive sports car on the market, selling for $16,800 in 1957 compared to $6,995 for the 300 SL Gullwing.
In the 1960s, the Superamerica gave way to the legendary GT (Gran Toursimo or Grand Touring) models and in 1968 Ferrari launched one of the greatest cars of all time – the 365 GTB/4 Daytona. Intended as the Ferrari which would overtake and outperform the Lamborghini Miura, the new Pininfarina-styled coupe abanadoned Ferrari’s traditional oval grille with an integrated front end that combined headlights, nose, and front bumper into one sweeping, swooping plane. This design is heralded as a stylistic innovation that has influenced automotive design in the forty years since Ferrari launched this breathtaking model. A convertible version was added – the Daytona Spyder – at the behest of Ferrari’s U.S. dealers – whose wealthy customers were craving an open-air model.
Powered by a new 4.4 litre V-12 engine augmented by 6 Weber carburetors that delivered 352 hp and a maximum speed of 280 kmh, the Daytona editions (1968-73) emerged as the most popular front-engine Ferraris ever constructed.
Since then, Ferrari has produced many fabulous models including the classic 308 GTB, the Modena, and the Enzo. But perhaps the one model which best exemplifies both the radical racing spirit of the prancing horse marque and its pure automotive styling is the F-40.
First produced in 1987 and remaining in production until 1992, only 1310 examples of the F-40 (so named because it was rolled out on the 40th anniversary of Ferrari) were ever produced. It was the last car built under the direction of Enzo Ferrari himself – hence the “Enzo” nickname” – and was the street racing extension of design and engine developments featured in the Ferrari 308 and 288 GTO models.
Not only does the styling include a race car-like rear wing, it also reapplies the sloping front design and the familiar wing-shaped side mirrors that were so distinct on the Testarosso models. From an engineering perspective, however, the defining characteristic of the F-40 is its carbon-fibre chassis and twin-turbocharged, 2.9 litre V-8 engine developing 478 hp and a maximum speed of 320 kmh while running through a traditional dogleg 5-speed manual transmission. Without the benefit of traction control, antilock brakes, stability control, or even a radio, the mid-engined F-40 is really a race car masquerading as a production car for those brave enough to test its limits.
Able to accelerate from 0-100 kmh in 3.8 seconds, the F-40 requires intense concentration to exploit the wicked performance that this Ferrari delivers on the open road. It is regarded as the model which redefined performance and design standards in the so-called “supercar” class of automobiles. Taken all together, these three Ferrari models not only set the standard for automotive engineering of their time but were able to capture the imagination of motorheads everywhere.
2. THE PORSCHE 911
The car which has defined the Porsche marque for forty years, the 911 brought race car performance to the autobahn, autostrada, and wherever else men Rchose to exceed the limits of their vehicular imagination. Right up to the new 2008 Porsche GT2, the 911 design has remained spectacularly intact and thus commands our attention as one of the truly iconic automotive designs.
The 911 was the outgrowth of the Porsche 356 Speedster cabriolet, particularly the 1963 SC version. One of the purest and most basic and most beautiful of all auto designs, the Speedster was designed primarily as a California sports car to take advantage of the money of wealthy Hollywood stars and producers and the more convertible-friendly climate. The 356 Speedster’s famous race car sister, the 550 Spyder, was the Porsche in which James Dean was killed on September 30, 1955, forever immortalising that particular model, too.
First introduced in 1964, the original Porsche 911 Coupe was designed by Butzi Porsche ˘ and was one of the first cars ever to offer five gears, rack-and-pinion steering, and disc brakes. Driving the car was sheer ecstasy for sports-car enthusiasts who may have loved their Ferraris and Maseratis but longed for a better-handling vehicle which was both highly responsive on the throttle and featured a Formula One level gearbox.
The 911 delivered on both counts, providing precision handling and superb acceleration that was useful not only on the autobahn but in also in heavy city traffic.
One of the defining characteristics of the 911 was its powerful rear-mounted, 6-cylinder, air-cooled engine, which, coupled with the Coupe’s aerodynamic crisp lines, turned Porsche into a symbol of motoring mastery. With its spartan interior, the 911 was a car destined more for serious drivers than doctors, industrialists, or European playboys who might find it too demanding (or impractical) for a late-night drive with a sexy babe in the passenger seat.
Over the years, Porsche developed several sister models to the 911, most notably the 911 Targa (meaning “roof” in Italian) which was introduced in 1967 ande intended as a partial return to the concept of the old Speedster convertible.
However, given the tendency of drivers to overestimate their skills or underestimate the Porsche’s racing-level speed and handling requirements, Porsche came up with a design that featured a sizable roll bar as a safety device for those wanting a little more insurance in their ability to survive the odd rollover!
The 911 Coupe also spawned the creation of the 911 Carrera RS (Rennsport in German meaning “racing”) in 1972. Produced for only two years, the Carrera RS is considered by many automotive experts and Porsche enthusiasts as the finest racing expression of the 911. The 2.7 litre engine was complemented by wider tires, bigger brakes, a stiffer suspension, and an integrated rear spoiler or ducktail. This ducktail was needed to combat the Carrera’s notorious understeer at the limit, and was also used in the Porsche 911 Turbo that was one of the fastest sports cars of the 1970s boasting a top speed of 240 kmh.
For over 40 years, Porsche has continued to develop and improve the original 911 concept with the addition of Tiptronic paddle-based gear changing and the introduction of Active Suspension Management in 2005 models.
Under the direction of Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking, Porsche staved off bankruptcy in the early nineties and has since reestablished itself as the world’s leading independent sports car manufacturer. Though purists may lament Porsche’s (and Wiedeking’s) decision to abandon the air-cooled engine for the water-cooled models that were introduced at the beginning of the millennium, the new 911 GT2 model is proof that Porsche is still delivering a vehicle that is both an engineering marvel and a design icon.
3. FORD SHELBY MUSTANG GT 350/500
The 1967-68 Ford Shelby Mustang GT 350 was one of the best American muscle cars ever built, a road-racing version of ˝ the standard fastback Mustang. The new Shelby model was transformed into an instant automotive icon during the classic 12-minute car chase sequence in the stylish 1968 cop classic, “Bullitt.” That famous scene, without any dialogue, riveted audiences and captured the imagination of motoring enthusiasts around the world.
“Bullitt” saw Steve McQueen and his 1968 Ford GT 350 Mustang screeching, bouncing, and sliding his way up, down, and through the hilly streets of San Francisco and then onto California’s Pacific Coast Highway in one of the most purely sensational visual scenes in the history of cinema.
The history behind the Shelby Mustang is a testament to how the big three U.S. automakers of the day – Ford, Chrysler, and GM – would try to develop muscle cars to distinguish their marques. A few years after the launch of the Ford Mustang, Ford director Lee Iacocca commissioned the noted automotive designer and race car driver Carroll Shelby (of Cobra fame) to build a high-performance version of the ÷ Mustang under the Shelby American name. This effort resulted in two spectacular road racing machines. The first was the GT 350, which offered superb cornering with a 289 cubic inch V-8 that poured out 355 hp via a four-speed transmission and a Positraction rear end.
The second model was the oversexed GT 500 which was powered by the Cobra LeMans 428 cubic inch V-8, a street version of the 427 motor which Shelby used to win the French Grand Prix. The GT 500 could reach 100 kmh in 6.5 seconds, a very fast mark for the time, and was equipped with hydraulic valve lifters and two Holly four-barrel carburetors.
The GT 500 model, in particular, was the first production car to come factory-equipped with a built-in roll bar and double shoulder harnesses. Its styling was famously aggressive and menacing, featuring an extended nose that hid the front headlights under a deep cowling inside the massive grille opening.
Steve McQueen owned both the GT 350 and 500 models, altho “ugh he preferred the 350 “because it wasn’t so easy to kill myself in that one!” Given his cool, laid-back persona, Steve McQueen gave the Shelby Mustang a distinctive elan that elevated the car into the ranks of the world’s most illustrious cars of all time. If one recalls the crashing and banging of the Mustang on the streets of San Francisco, the Mustang was a car that not only changed but shook the world of automotive engineering.
4. ASTON MARTIN DBV
Another car that was etched into history via the film world was the 1965 Aston Martin DBV. This unique design gained instant immortality with none other than Sean Connery’s James Bond at the wheel of the newly launched DBV in “Goldfinger.” Though only 1023 examples of this superb 6-cylinder 280 PS model were ever built, the DBV was a c ºlassic example of British design and engineering, a tradition that has been continuously refined over the last forty years with models like the Lagonda, the Zagato, and the recent Aston Martin 530 hp DBS model featured in “Casino Royale” with the new 007, Daniel Craig, in the driver’s seat, and the Vanquish S.
Under the ownership and direction of David Brown (hence the “DB” model designations), the venerable Aston Martin Motors Ltd. began a steady evolution towards speed and styling in the 40s and 50s. With the launch of the DB 2 series in 1950, Aston Martin introduced the familiar sleek front and fast-backed rear design which was augmented by the introduction of the sensationally curvaceous grille introduced with the 1957-59 DB2-4 Mk III model.
The racing version of the car not only stole the World Sports Car Championship from Ferrari in 1959, but it also won Le Mans that year with none other than Carroll Shelby (the man who would go on to design the iconic Shelby Mustang) in the driver’s seat. Ironically, it was one of Shelby’s final races as a driver, as he needed to take nitroglycerin tablets during Le Mans to fight off persistent angina.
It was former Lagonda designer Frank Feeley (Lagonda was a small auto factory which David Brown acquired in 1941, hence the “Lagonda” design appellation of various Aston Martin models) who came up with the distinctive styling of the DB2-4 Mk III series. This innovative Aston Martin model introduced the design and engineering features that would inform the iconic DB 5 “Bond” car and remain a part of Aston Martin’s distinctive styling right up to the present day.
Although the real DB 5 came WITHOUT the famous ejection seat, revolving license plate, and retractable rear bullet proof metal screen that were the invention of Goldfinger production designer Ken Adams, it was still a powerful and exciting car to drive. First, there was the distinctive throaty growl of the 5.9 litre engine, then there was the sharp cornering capability that required a deft touch on brakes, throttle, and steering wheel. It was also a marvel to observe on the open road as Sean Connery’s 007 ably demonstrated in a spirited chase sequence on a winding mountain road.
“Goldfinger” was a worldwide box-office smash upon its release in 1964, causing sales of the DB5 to soar by 60%. Aston Martin had scored the kind of international advertising coup that reportedly caused Enzo Ferrari and Ferdinand Porsche to push their respective design and marketing teams even harder.
Of the 1000-odd DBV’s that were produced, only 65 came equipped with the high-performance Vantage engine. The main street model featured a 6 cylinder 395 cc engine amplified by three side-draught Weber carburetors and a radical new camshaft design. The car was capable of 325 hp and boasted a top speed of 135 mph (210 kmh) although it took a rather gentlemanly 8.6 seconds to go from 0 to 100 kmh.
In 1993, a financially crippled Aston Mar tin was sold to Ford and this enabled the venerable British marque to expand and modernise its plant and facilities, resulting in a series of spectacular new models under the Vantage label. Today, Aston Martin has can rightfully be said to have reclaimed its former status as one the world’s leading sports car manufacturers.
5. MERCEDES-BENZ 300 SL ROADSTER GULLWING
The legendary Mercedes-Benz Gullwing was one of a select few cars in our top ten list that was first designed as a race car before the manufacturer decided it would make a superb sports car for the discerning motoring enthusiast.
Upon its launch in the 1952 racing season, the Gullwing was a sensation in virtually every racing competition it entered. Not only did the 300 SL take first and second place at Le Mans that year, it also earned first through fourth places at Nürburgring, first and second at the Carrera Panamerica, and second and fourth at the Mille Miglia.
As was the case with the Ferrari Daytona and the Porsche Speedster, it was at the urging of a U.S. foreign car importer – German emigre Max Hoffman – who convinced the management of Daimler-Benz that they should roll out a street version of their new race car champion. Hoffman guaranteed the German auto giant an initial order of 500 models for the U.S. market, and this led Daimler to take up the challenge of setting up a special assembly line for the 300 SL.
And so it was that in February 1954 in New York that the 300 SL Gullwing Coupe was unveiled, followed in subsequent years by its companion cabriolet version, the 300 SL roadster. American buyers eagerly greeted the arrival of the 161 mph (255 kmh) top-speed rated Gullwing, snapping up 80% of the Coupe and Roadster versions produced in the fifties.
The 300 SL was an engineering and style pioneer in many aspects. First, there was the tubular spaceframe design from Mercedes research and development chief Rudolf Uhlenhaut which consisted of a web of welded steel tubes in place of the traditional platform chassis approach. This meant that it was difficult to cut out traditional doors which opened from the sides – instead they developed the revolutionary Gullwing doors which opened up and outwards from the roof!
Though the racing 300 SL was fabricated out of aluminum, the street version was built out of steel, although 29 aluminum production cars were in fact sold to a lucky few.
Another revolutionary advance ushered in by the 300 SL was the introduction of mechanical fuel injection, the first gas-powered production car ever to offer this innovation. This helped give the 3.0 litre 6-cylinder Mercedes engine a total of 215 hp and 202 lb-ft of torque, enabling models with the highest axle ratio to reach a then-astonishing 161mph (255 kmh) top speed in the initial 1954 model.
The 300 SL was also a sleekly elegant car in terms of design. It’s classic side grille coupled with front and rear side fins gave the car an air of post-Art Deco elan which, when thrown together with the radical Gullwing doors, established the car as a pure expression of German automotive engineering.
Ironically, although the 300 SL was the direct offspring of the racing SLR version, Mercedes withdrew from all motor racing competitions in 1955 after a terrible accident at Le Mans. While the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio was driving the lead SLR, Pierre Levegh was at the wheel of the second Mercedes. During the race, Lance Macklin’s Austen-Healey was forced to brake and then move to the side after being passed by Mike Hawthorne in a Jaguar. This put Macklin right in the path of Levegh’s SLR just as he was accelerating and this caused the Frenchman’s Mercedes to slam into the rear of the Austen-Healey, sending the SLR careening into the barrier wall, killing Levegh instantly, and also sending a lethal wave of parts and debris flying into the crowd resulting in the death of more than 80 spectators. It was the worst accident in motor racing history and kept Mercedes away from the sport for nearly forty years.
The Gullwing, however, reestablished Mercedes as a sports car manufacturer, giving the marque a noble addition to its formidable fleet of superbly engineered cars geared to a prosperous German and international clientele. The SL concept would later find worthy successors in the 70s with the launch of the 450 SL and most recently that of the retro 600 SL and the 200 mph (320 kmh) SLR McLaren models whose side grilles hark back to the inspired look of the original 300 SL.
6. MASERATI GHIBLI SPYDER & BIZZARINI GT STRADA 5300
So much of automotive design history has been made in Italy that it is difficult to overestimate the contribution made by that country’s legendary automakers. Laboring under the shadow of the great Scuderia Ferrari, Maserati and Bizzarini were two very distinct Italian auto concerns each of which produced breathtakingly beautiful designs. Some of these concepts were so remarkable and therefore so expensive to produce that they priced themselves out of the market. Two particular models produced by Maserati and Bizzarini during the sixties evoked the quintessential brilliance and exoticism of Italian auto design, and as such, they served as design landmarks – profound sources of inspiration to automotive engineers and enthusiasts alike. The Ghibli and the GT Strada were each in their own way arrestingly beautiful sports cars yet they also served to mark the end of an era in Italy when it came to these kinds of limited production models.
BIZZARINI GT STRADA 5300
When Giotto Bizzarini, an ambitious designer for Ferrari decided to leave the Italian company in 1961, he went on to create some of the most stunningly designed sports cars of the sixties.
First launched in 1965, the GT Strada was distinguished by an extraordinarily striking, low-slung design whose roof stood only 90 cm off the ground. The chassis was manufactured in Modena and was offered with two engine types installed in the Verona factory. The standard version was powered by 350 hp, 327 cubic-inch Corvette motor, whereas the optional model featured a 365 hp, mechanical-lifter Corvette fitted with a unique aluminum manifold designed by Bizzarini himself and four two-barrel Weber side-draught carburetors.
Top speed achieved by the original 1965 and 1966 twin-seat, all-aluminum monocoque was an extraordinary 250 kmh, a level of performance matched only by Ferrari. Though only an estimated 90 models of the GT Strada and its equally exotic-looking Iso Grifo cousin were ever produced, Bizzarini’s achievement in auto design is still regarded with awe not only by Italian designers but by automotive historians and stylists all over the world.
Unfortunately, Bizzarini could not survive in a highly competitive market against Ferrari, Maserati, DeTomaso, and the Ford Shelby, and in 1969 he shut his factory ending a brief but historic era in automotive design.
MASERATI GHIBLI SPYDER
Built between 1969 and 1972, the Ghibli is one of the most aggressive sports car designs of all time. Its elegant simplicity yet spectacularly sweeping design has been highly influential in automotive styling ever since Maserati unveiled the car to great acclaim in 1969. Reportedly urged to come up with a design that would outshine the Bizzarini Strada, Maserati’s design team responded with a car that is still hailed as one of the finest expressions of Italian auto design.
Unfortunately, the early seventies marked the beginning of an economic recession in Europe and the United States, and combined with an uncertain political climate, the market for the Ghibli Spyder imploded and Maserati was obliged to withdraw this gem from production.
The Spyder was powered by a V-8 engine with four dual-throated Weber DCNL carburetors, delivering 355 horsepower at 5,500 rpm in the 4900 Ghibli SS model. Though only 125 of these extraordinary machines were ever built and only 50 of the coveted SS series, and it remains one of the most sought-after and highly prized collector cars of all time.
7. THE VOLKSWAGEN BEETLE
Despite its unfortunate parentage (the concept of the beetle evolved out of the wish of Adolf Hitler, an admirer of Henry Ford, to develop a car for the masses), the Volkswagen Beetle acquired a mythopoetic status in the 1960s. It was the car driven by flower children, a symbol of cultural revolt and the “small is beautiful” ethos outlined by E.F. Schumacher.
It was also a car that became part of the motoring and cultural fabric of Brazil, where it was produced until 1993 and under its own edition, the Fusca.
The VW Beetle, called “Fusca” in Brazil, started being assembled in Brazil in 1953 with parts imported from Germany, but by 1959 the cars were 100% made in Brazil. It was an instant success, and the Fusca would go on to lead the models ranking in Brazil for over 25 years from 1954, all the way through the sixties and seventies up until 1980. Its market share would peak at over 50% in 1967 and its production would peak at over 250,000 units in 1972. The Fusca model was one of the most popular cars in Brazil and despite its flaws is still held dearly in the memories of the population.
Along with the Fusca, VW produced the Karmann Ghia which, although not a mass hit, was an original addition to VW’s range in Brazil.
Of course, when the first Beetles began rolling off of the fabled Wolfsburg assembly line following the end of WWII, no one could have predicted that this minimalist work of art would have such longevity. The rear-engined wonder, however, benefitted from superior marketing and manufacturing standards and inscribed itself in Germany and the rest of Europe as the “anti-car” of the fifties, a 50 hp tiny workhorse that was notoriously hot and uncomfortable and a bitch to shift gears, but was extremely affordable and represented a kind of reverse status symbol.
In the sixties, Volkswagen boss Heinz Nordhoff believed that the future of the Beetle lay in America, and so it was that Volkswagen of America was created in 1968. The result was a smash success, and the Beetle sold over 3 million models over the course of the next five years. It was during that time that films like “The Love Bug” and four “Herbie” sequels helped immortalise the Beetle as the ugly little family car which everyone loved.
And, like the Ford Model T which inspired its development, the VW Beetle scarcely changed its design until the last Beetle rolled off the production line in 2003 at the Mexican plant which had stubbornly kept on turning out Beetles for the Latin American market. Though the New Beetle was launched in 1998, it could never capture the odd beauty and nostalgia a Üssociated with the original people’s car.
8. JAGUAR XKE (E-TYPE)
The ultimate phallic driving machine, the Jaguar XKE or “E-Type” is the car that not only helped rescue the British motor industry in the sixties but also set a new standard for the low-slung, front-engined sports car. When first introduced in 1961 at the Geneva Auto Show, it caused a sensation among car lovers everywhere. Suddenly, the motoring public was given the opportunity of owning the most affordable sports car of its time – selling for U.S. $5500 – less than half the price of a comparable Porsche and one-third the price of a Ferrari or the Mercedes Gullwing.
The XKE was the evolution of the D-type racing models which Jaguar had used to win at Le Mans in the fifties. Taking nearly four years to adopt many of the design and engineering features of the production D-Types, the XKE emerged with the sweeping front and rear fender lines and impossibly long nose and hood louvers that have made this legendary Jaguar species synonymous with aerodynamic symmetry and projectile-like flair.
Engineered by Norman Dewis, and styled by Sir William Lyons together with Jaguar’s aerodynamics specialist Malcolm Sayer, the E-Type was an instant classic that gave the British motor industry a formidable competitor to its European rivals.
The XKE was a highly advanced sports car, equipped with front and rear disc brakes, independent suspension, and a formidable 265 hp straight-six engine that could deliver an impressive 150 mph or 240 kmh. Not Ferrari fast perhaps, but at a sticker price of less than £2000 pounds, it was immensely affordable and opened up sports car performance to a much wider range of motoring enthusiasts for whom a Ferrari or a Porsche was a pipe dream.
The E-Type was a sensation in both coupe and convertible versions, and it offered high performance and nimble cornering that enabled one to enter a chicane at maximum speed after allowing for a certain amount of throttle-off oversteer. This Jaguar hugged corners far better than any Ferrari – with the XKE convertible taking particular advantage of its low centre of gravity.
In 1971, the E-Type was finally endowed with Ferrari-like straight-line speed with the introduction of the V-12 engine that enable the the XKE to go out with a flourish. Clocking 0-100 km in a Porsche-like 6.4 seconds, the V-12 powered XKE was a fitting climax to an engineering and design marvel. Few cars in history have ever been able to match the E-Type’s sensational low-slung beauty, and Jaguar would languish for many years in designer doldrums until the XJS convertible and today’s latest XJS version brought it back to prominence.
9. CHEVROLET CORVETTE “STING RAY” 1963-67
The fabled Corvette “Sting Ray” is without doubt one of the most classic and recognisable designs in the history of automobile manufacturing. Developed by General Motors’ chief design engineer Bill Mitchell toge ther with his chief stylist Larry Shinoda, the Corvette “Stingray” achieved immediate accolades upon its launch in 1963. Together with the introduction of the Ford Shelby Mustang, this improved version of the somewhat ragged 50s Corvette marked a renaissance in American autmotive engineering.
The Stingray proved to be an immediate and immense success, finally allowing a U.S. built car to challenge the European dominance of the sports car market. By the end of the 1963 model year, GM’s Chevrolet division had sold 10,594 Sting Ray couples and an additional 10,919 Sting Ray cabriolet roadsters.
Distinguished by its revolutionary lightweight fiberglass body, the V-8 powered Corvette came with a variety of engine options, the most formidable being engineering guru Zora Arkus-Duntov’s “big block” L88 427 series motor that packed 467 hp and could deliver a top speed of 170 mph (270 kph).
The only engineering flaw in the Corvette was the extremely shaky cornering capability at high speed that required a dri ver of considerable dexterity and bravery. Another flaw that was corrected in the 1964 and subsequent coupe editions was the controversial rear window bar that split the window in half and created a horrible rear vision problem for the driver.
In addition, the Sting Ray boasted a fabulous interior cockpit design that consisted of a phalanx of circular guages that added to the car’s racing-style image. For most Americans and many Europeans, the Corvette Sting Ray was the most distinctive and irresistable American automobile.
10. CITROEN DS and 2CV
Despite the great beginnings of the French auto industry with the classic Delahaye 135 Cabriolet and the futuristic/art deco design of the Dubonnet Xenia Coupé, it was not until Citroen launched its classic DS line that the French auto industry could be truly proud again.
It was Citroen that introduced front wheel drive and a revolutionary independent suspension system to the world. Launched in 1955, the Citroen DS became an instant classic and over the next 20 years until its discontinuation, this innovative French car became a distinctive part of automotive mythology
The Citroen DS’s bodywork was shaped for low aero drag and was carefully designed to provide huge interior space. (In fact, along with the ride, it was interior packaging that impressed us most about the car we drove – there was so much room in the front and back seats, and the boot, that modern car designers should hang their heads in shame. Or maybe put the engine halfway into the cabin!) A very stiff underbody pressing was used – the roof took little if any structural loads and was made from plastic. Doors were pillar-less.
But not only was the body groundbreaking, the car ran a hydraulic system of amazing sophistication. An engine-driven hydraulic pump provided high pressure oil that was used to provide fully hydraulic suspension front and rear, power the steering, power the brakes and power the gearbox change – the clutch action being hydraulically provided.
There were also inboard disc brakes on the front, rack and pinion steering, front-wheel drive and fully independent, self-levelling suspension. The front suspension used wishbones, the rear trailing arms, and both ends had (apparently inadequate!) anti-roll bars. The ride height could be varied by the driver operating a lever. Cutting-edge Michelin X steel radial tyres were fitted.
Only the engine was utilitarian: a small pushrod four cylinder with an alloy head developing 75hp at just 4500 rpm. A 3.7 litre air-cooled flat six had been on the drawing board but it didn’t make it into production. No wonder: the cost of producing such a complex car must have already been mind-boggling. The engine was mounted north-south with the gearbox ahead of the engine.
The public acclaimed the design and it was much loved by none other than General De Gaulle himself.
The Citroen Deux Chevaux (two horsepower), known as the 2CV, was the French equivalent of Henry Ford’s Model T, Germany’s Volkswagen Beetle or Britain’s Austin Seven. It was economical, sturdy and versatile, affordable by virtually everyone.
André Citroen was born in 1878 in Paris and graduated in engineering from the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique. Following successfully manufacturing chevron-toothed gearwheels and artillery shells during the First World War, he began automobile production in 1919. His cars were well engineered and popular, and within a decade, the Citroen company, along with Renault and Peugeot, made up France’s Big Three automakers.
In 1934 Citroen startled the world with its very advanced front-wheel drive Traction Avant model that had such progressive features as unit construction and torsion bar suspension. Alas, the Traction’s development had overextended Citroen, and in 1935 the company fell under the control of its largest creditor, the Michelin tire company. A broken-hearted Andre Citroen would be dead within a year.
Pierre Boulander, Citroen’s general manager, decided that in addition to the Traction the company needed a simple, sturdy affordable car. He had the Traction’s chief engineer, Andre Lefebvre, start work on this in 1936.
The design parameters were simple: “Four wheels under an umbrella.” The first prototypes were ready by 1938, and the 2CV’s introduction was planned for the 1939 Paris auto show. But the Second World War intervened, and the 2CV finally arrived at the 1948 Paris show. In spite of the Nazi prohibition against building or designing cars, Citroen’s engineers had worked on improving the 2CV during the war.
The 2CV was a brilliant, ingenious yet simple feat of engineering. Its platform carried a minimal four-door body with few compound curves to facilitate easy manufacturing. Body panels were ribbed for stiffness, the canvas top could be rolled back, and the seats were easily removable for a picnic.
The engine was an air-cooled, horizontally opposed (flat), overhead valve, two-cylinder with a vertically split crankcase and light alloy cylinder heads. It had hemispherical combustion chambers and an oil cooler. The cooling fan was attached to the front of the counterweighted crankshaft, as was the ingenious generator which required no bearings. The generator/fan/crankshaft assembly was held together by one bolt, and no drive belts were required.
The 2CV’s suspension was simple yet imaginative. Each wheel was independently suspended by a single curved arm, leading at the front and trailing at the rear with a coil spring for each wheel. These springs were housed inside moveable metal cylinders mounted horizontally under the doors on each side of the car. Each suspension arm was attached to a spring through a rod, and the system was interconnected front to rear so that when a front wheel passed over a bump, the suspension automatically compressed its companion rear wheel spring, preparing that wheel for the impending shock.
Upon its introduction, motoring writers treated the Citroen as more of a joke than a real car. But the public loved it. By 1950, with production running at 1,000 a day, there was a six-year waiting list. So much for the power of the press.
Improvements were made over the years, and performance progressed from slow to modest. By 1982, now with 602 cc and 29 horsepower, it could reach 108 km/h (67 mph), and still deliver more than 50 mpg.
Citroen finally ended 2CV production in July, 1990. Despite more luxurious versions such as the Dyane and the Charleston, time and technology had passed the little car by.
Over more than 42 years almost seven million 2CV were built. With nicknames like “rolling garden shed” and “tin snail” they were loved by millions for their basic toughness, versatility and economy. The 2CV will always be a legend for its spectacularly ugly yet endearing quality.