Here’s a good subject for discussion as you wade through the mountain of turkey and sprouts this Christmas: what are the coolest cars ever made? Auto Express asked its readers to vote in a poll, and there are one or two surprises in the top 25. Sadly, the Sao Penza is conspicuous by its absence.
25. Mazda Cosmo Sport
For its styling, the Cosmo deserves a place here, but the Mazda is about more than just ‘Jet Age’ looks. The Cosmo Sport – known outside Japan as the 110S – was Mazda’s first sports car and was powered by the world’s first twin-rotor engine. Although the Cosmo was hardly a commercial success, it laid the foundations for future rotary-engined vehicles and a succession of sports cars.
In the book, Classic Japanese Performance Cars, Ben Hsu tells of how sales of the Cosmo were hampered by an extravagant price tag, with the factory producing just one hand-built car per day. Mazda would go on to build almost two million rotary-powered vehicles, including the RX-7 and RX-8.
24. Dodge Challenger
Think of the Dodge Challenger and the chances are you’ll think of the first-generation model, unveiled in 1969 for launch in 1970. Draw up a list of the top 10 car movies of all-time, and the Challenger R/T from Vanishing Point is likely to be somewhere near the top.
It was originally offered as a two-door hardtop or convertible, in base, SE (Special Edition), R/T (Road/Track) and T/A (Trans-Am) trim. Powertrains included an inline-six and a huge variety of V8s, including a 426 cubic-inch Hemi, developing 425hp. We suspect the bonkers current SRT Demon has thrust the Challenger name back into the forefront of people’s minds.
23. Aston Martin Lagonda
The Aston Martin Lagonda Series 2 was unveiled to the press at The Bell Inn, Buckinghamshire, on the 12 October 1976, before making its debut at the London Motor Show, later that month. Thanks to its wedge-shaped styling and futuristic (and overly-ambitious) equipment, some 200 orders were received, with customers unfazed by the anticipated £20,000 price tag. That’s around £220,000 in today’s money.
In Aston Martin: Power, Beauty and Soul, author David Dowsey tells of a troubled birth, hampered by production delays, quality issues and a workforce that struggled to make sense of the space-age electronics. The coolest Aston Martin ever built? Well, it’s the only one to make the top 25.
22. Vauxhall Lotus Carlton
Too fast for the road? Not when sections of the German autobahn remain derestricted, it isn’t. The Mk2 Vauxhall Carlton was an unlikely starting point for one of the most iconic cars of all-time, but Lotus turned an otherwise humdrum four-door saloon into a real-world hero, if you can class a 176mph supercar-slayer with a £48k price tag as ‘real-world’.
It upset the Daily Mail and sections of the police force, but such infamy only served to create a god-like status for this super-saloon, not to mention interest from less scrupulous members of society. A quarter of a century on, you might need to rob a bank if you fancy owning one.
21. AC Cobra
You can thank Carroll Shelby for the AC Cobra, as the Texan had the foresight to shoehorn a V8 engine into the AC Ace roadster. In doing so he created a legendary sports car and one with a fearsome reputation. You don’t earn yourself the nickname of ‘widowmaker’ without good reason.
The 4.2-litre Cobra 289 came first, before the wide-bodied 7.0-litre 427 arrived in 1965. In competition, it was hugely effective – a top speed of 185mph may have helped – but the road-going version was a financial disaster. That said, it spawned countless replicas and imitators.
20. Toyota 2000GT
The Toyota 2000GT was built by Yamaha and unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1965. Following high-speed trials and competition use, the 2000GT made its production debut in May 1967, with assembly outsourced to Yamaha. Power was sourced from a 2.0-litre Toyota Crown engine, while four-wheel independent suspension and alloy wheels were firsts for the Japanese car industry.
Considered by many to be the most beautiful car ever to emerge from Japan, the 2000GT famously appeared in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. Two open-top models were built for 007 in the 1967 movie.
19. Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R
The choice of the Gran Turismo generation, the Nissan Skyline R34 offered supercar-levels of performance in a PlayStation suit. Power was sourced from a 2.6-litre inline-six turbocharged engine, enabling it to hit 62mph in 4.7 seconds, before reaching a top speed of 165mph.
Its brutal performance was mated to a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, with sent power to the rear wheels, unless torque was required at the front. Add four-wheel steering to the mix and you’ve got the makings of one of the world’s most technologically-advanced driver’s cars.
18. Ford Capri
‘The car you always promised yourself’ was based on the humble Ford Cortina, but simply oozed sex appeal and glamour. Thirty years after the last Capri rolled off the production line, it remains as popular as ever, despite suffering from an image crisis at the end of its life.
It didn’t matter if you were driving a humble four-cylinder version or a more powerful V6, the Capri made you feel like a million dollars. Ultimately, it was killed by the rise of the hot hatch, but nostalgia keeps the legend the alive, and prices are still on the up.
17. BMW E30 M3
First shown at the 1985 Geneva Motor Show, the BMW M3 was designed to take the fight to the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16, which had launched a year earlier. BMW left nothing to chance, creating all-new body panels for the M3, with the bonnet the only carry-over from the regular 3 Series.
Powered by a 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine, the original M3 is regarded as one of the best driver’s car of all-time, and possibly the best performance saloon of the 80s. As its racing career developed, so did the need to create further homologation specials, which led to the Evolution and Evolution II models.
16. Alfa Romeo Spider
If the MGB was the quintessential British sports car, the Alfa Romeo Spider was resolutely Italian. Launched in 1966, sales were bolstered by its role in The Graduate, with the Dustin Hoffman connection sprinkling a little Hollywood glamour over the oh-so-pretty Spider.
It wasn’t cheap, but the Spider could boast a five-speed gearbox, all-round disc brakes and sophisticated suspension. This meant it enjoyed a lengthy production run, finally bowing out in 1993.
15. Range Rover Classic
Today’s Range Rover is almost unrecognisable from the original of 1970s, which boasted a hose-down interior, split tailgate and just two doors. Back then, it wasn’t designed to be a luxury off-roader, more a 4×4 that was at home on the road as it was off it.
With every passing generation, the Range Rover has become more luxurious, but unrivalled off-road ability has always been at the heart of the SUV.
14. Fiat 500
The Fiat Nuova 500 launched in 1957 and helped mobilise an entire nation, During an 18-year production life, nearly 3.8 million units were built at the famous Lingotto factory in Turin
Early cars featured so-called ‘suicide doors’, but these were phased out in 1965 amid safety fears. An estate version – the Giardiniera – was introduced in 1960, with the engine positioned under the floor.
13. Volkswagen Golf GTI
It might not have been the world’s first hot hatch, but the Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI was the first to be labelled as such. Its arrival signalled the end for cars such as the MGB, and heralded the dawn of a new era of go-faster, front-wheel-drive hatchbacks.
The recipe was simple: install a 110hp fuel-injected 1.6-litre engine from an Audi 80 into a Golf, tweak the suspension, and give it a visual makeover. Today’s hot hatches are more sophisticated and offer up to three times as much power, but none can rival the original Golf GTI for old-school thrills.
12. Mercedes-Benz 280 SL ‘Pagoda’
The W113 had the enviable task of following the first generation Mercedes-Benz SL, something it managed with startling ease. It helped that the SL was devastatingly pretty, with its hardtop earning it the nickname of ‘Pagoda’.
In truth, the second coming of the SL was more boulevard cruiser than it was precision instrument, but it remained a thing of beauty. This was also the first sports car to feature crumple zones and a rigid passenger cell.
11. Ferrari 288 GTO
The madness of Group B rallying led to the creation of the 288 GTO, because when the race series was cancelled, Ferrari faced a dilemma: cancel the project or press on regardless. It chose the latter, not least because the demand was so high. In total, 272 were built and it remains one of Maranello’s greatest hits.
Demand was so high, Ferrari sold each 288 GTO to order before the car went into production, with each owner treated to a sublime, race-bred, 400hp, twin-turbocharged V8 supercar. It’s the only Ferrari to make the Auto Express list, but it sits outside the top 10.
10. McLaren F1
When you find the McLaren in tenth place, you start to question what could possibly finish above it. “If McLaren was going to build a sports car, it would not only be the finest sports car the world had ever seen, but also the finest sports car the world was ever going to see,” said Ron Dennis.
Its 6.1-litre V12 engine generated so much heat, the engine bay had to be lined with the best heat reflector available: pure gold. The performance figures remain staggering, even today: a top speed of 240mph and a 0-60mph time of 3.2 seconds. It is, according to Auto Express readers, the tenth coolest car in the world.
9. Audi Quattro
The Audi Quattro can trace its roots back to the mid-1970s, when a group of engineers conducted test drives in deep snow in Sweden. A Volkswagen Iltis military vehicle was there for comparison purposes, and despite its modest performance, it managed to outmanoeuvre Audi’s front-wheel-drive vehicles.
Audi developed a four-wheel-drive system of its own, which made its debut as the Audi Coupe-based Ur-Quattro in 1980. It changed world rallying forever and thrust the Audi brand into the limelight. The Quattro remained in the line-up until 1991, but the badge became central to the brand.
8. Porsche 911
The Porsche 901 was unveiled at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show as the successor to the Porsche 356. But Peugeot objected to the use of its patented three-digit type designation with a zero in the middle, forcing Porsche into a renaming strategy. The 911 was born.
Originally built only as a tintop, the 911 was powered by a new 2.0-litre flat-six engine, developing 130hp. The rest, as they say, is history, and the 911 has remained in production ever since, establishing itself as an iconic performance car. Auto Express readers are a picky bunch, referencing the F and G models as the coolest of the lot.
7. Lotus Esprit
When it comes to the Lotus Esprit, Auto Express readers aren’t so particular, so you’re free to select anything from its near 30-year production life. The Esprit was unveiled in 1976, with drop-dead gorgeous styling courtesy of Giorgetto Giugiaro. In 1987, the Esprit was treated to a Peter Stevens makeover, before a V8 engine was added in 1996.
The 007 connection cannot be overlooked, with the Esprit appearing in two Bond movies, most notably The Spy Who Loved Me, which saw the Lotus plunging new depths and reaching new heights of exposure.
“By the time the Mini finally stopped production in 2000, it had regained some of the verve that made it so popular in the first place. It can lay claim to its place in our cool list, thanks to its innovative ideas that remain a cornerstone for nearly every small car on sale today,” says Auto Express.
The modern Mini was in development long before the classic Mini was given the axe. Will the BMW version ever appear on a list such as this? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.
5. Lamborghini Miura
There’s no place for the Countach, but the Lamborghini Miura secures a top five position in the Auto Express poll. It made its first appearance as a chassis at the 1965 Turin Motor Show, with designer Marcello Gandini claiming he and his team worked like “madmen” to turn an experimental prototype in a production car by the 1966 Geneva Motor Show.
To create something as stunning as the Miura in just four months is quite remarkable, and probably explains why the early cars were far more perfect. But the Miura evolved beautifully, as highlighted by the much-improved S and SV models.
4. Land Rover Defender
By referencing the 1948 to 2016 production life, the Auto Express poll embraces the Land Rover long before the Defender name was first used. The fact that it remained in production for so long is testament to its peerless off-road ability and affection throughout the motoring world.
“The Land Rover looks equally at home on the farm or in the city. Defenders have been used for all kinds of jobs, from remote Scottish farms to Home Counties building sites, as airport as fire engines, to tow boats for the coastguard and even in battle. The Defender really is the Swiss Army knife of utilitarian transportation,” says Auto Express.
3. Lancia Stratos
Spoiler alert: the top three is a battle between Italy, Great Britain and France, but you might be pleasantly surprised at the choices. Auto Express readers have fine taste, as demonstrated by the inclusion of the Lancia Stratos.
“Can you think of anything cooler than something as radical as the Stratos storming down a forest track, flames spitting from its exhaust? That’s what makes this a cool car,” says the magazine. Quite.
2. Jaguar E-Type
Finding the Jaguar E-Type in the top three is entirely predictable, but you might be surprised to find it having to settle for second place. Enzo Ferrari called it “the most beautiful car ever made” when it was unveiled at the 1961 Geneva Motor Show, and Jaguar has failed to build anything quite so beguiling in the subsequent 56 years.
Like most of us, the E-Type lost some of its edge with age, but the earliest cars remain a objects of beauty.
1. Citroen DS
This is it: the world’s coolest car, according to Auto Express readers. “If there’s one car that is the absolute epitome of cool, it’s the Citroen DS. It’s not the fastest or the most exclusive car in our list, but it certainly has style and clever engineering on its side,” says the magazine.
The DS also finished third in the Car of the Century poll, behind the Ford Model T and Mini, but ahead of the Volkswagen Beetle and Porsche 911.