Most Iconic Cars of the Past 50 Years

Mustaffa, great oil baron of the Middle East dropped by my place the other day for a casual chit-chat over snacks, hot tea and lots of sugar cubes. We talked about a great many things – politics, sports, are fuel prices going to spike again (his reply: You think I know affairs like this? Just because I’m in the business? Ya Allah!), Japanese food, Muammar Gaddafi’s penchant for gold dashikis and Condi Rice, and the odds of winning the million dollar prize in McDonald’s Monopoly game, among other things.

Still, I knew Mustaffa didn’t stop by just to check out my 2-bedroom 1.5 bath home. He had a burning question for me that I, the self-proclaimed car guy, could smell from the moment he stepped out of his impossibly stretched limo. So I pushed, and found out that he was planning on expanding his personal car collection from 60 to about 75, give or take. In short, he wanted my opinion on what he should procure. Now, Mustaffa knows that I’ve always been an outspoken detester of his collection:

Me: What the dealee-o, Mus?

Mustaffa: Huh? What did I do?

Me: If you want my help…if you want a Smithsonian-worthy collection, you have to let me make the call this time. I’m tired of the butt load of outlandish one-off pieces of junk you’ve amassed in your multi-story marble garage. No more gold-plated Humvees or any Jaguars from the 80s, ya dig?

Mustaffa: Fine [mumble, mumble]. Well, what do you have in mind?

Me: The bestest cars from the past 50 years, give or take. Further back than that and people tend to mix true exclusivity with the stifles of nostalgia.

Mustaffa: Do what you must, my friend. You are wise beyond belief, so I will entrust this task to you. Your undoubtedly useful service will be rewarded with a lifetime supply of organic garbanzo beans as you requested.

Me: (Long silence)

Mustaffa: What?

Me: …You have some cookie crumbs in your mustache.

Anyway, fast forward to today. The dateline is fast approaching and my rustic friend is understandably eager to know what made the cut and what didn’t. After exhaustively picking the brain of, well, my own brain, and researching countless bedroom wall posters (don’t ask), I’ve readied a list of 15 (actually 16, because I couldn’t help myself) production cars that I feel would make Mustaffa’s thwab turn yellow with glee. My criteria is simple: what car represents a balanced amount of beauty, performance, timelessness, collectability, purpose, panache and significance. If you feel any different, chime in with your suggestions and I’ll consider parting with some of my garbanzo beans with you, give or take.

In no particular order (I’m not playing favorites here):

1955 Citreon DS

A legend lives on. Self-leveling oleopneumatic suspension, self-leveling directional headlights, affordable, reliable, luxurious, a form so timeless and scrumptious, and sporting French flair by the bucket loads. A tour de force that still looks revolutionary and relatively modern today than it did back in the 50s. This is one collector’s car that I wouldn’t think twice about using as a daily driver.

2012 Lamborghini LP700-4 Aventador

The danger of placing a brand new car in this league of extraordinary vehicles is that there are so many unknowns, especially after the honeymoon period is over. Some pertinent questions will come to the fore, such as, will it look dated in 20 years (answer: No), does it personify Lamborghini/super car/technological/functional/Italian/I-want-one-now values (answer: Oh, yes), will its value plummet or rise (answer: Let’s just say you won’t find one on Craigslist, except maybe a wrecked one), and finally, will Jay Leno buy one (answer: No. He’ll buy two).

1961 Jaguar E-Type

The seminal Jag in terms of design and performance. With its long, taut hood, chiseled nose and svelte rear overhang wrapped in a compact, yet sexy shell with long swooping fenders, the E continues to influence open-top car designs till this day. Even Enzo (that’s Mr. Ferrari to you) once said that this is the most beautiful car ever made. ‘Nuff said.

1961 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB

To be honest, if I had an extra $5 million lying around – which is how much the 250 GT is worth today – I wouldn’t buy it. That would be just plain silly and seriously, that kind of money could go to better causes. But I digress, this Pinin Farina classic makes the list because of its Jekyll and Hyde persona. Its day job involves ensconcing its passengers in comfort, speed, exclusivity and class. In other words, an honest-to-goodness grand tourer. The 250 GT is also able to earn its keep by moonlighting as an accomplished track car, what with its Columbo V-12, balanced chassis and 150mph terminal velocity.

1968 Lamborghini Miura

I’ll take one in yummy lime green (Miura Verde), please! The predecessor to the Countach is far more purposeful and sinewy than Manuel Uribe on a celery diet. Even the chassis is a work of art; how they shoehorned that transversed V-12, transmission and diff into its snug mid-engined nook is something to behold. By no means compromised, as it was designed to be a respectable road car with racing genes, combined with a soundtrack to match. Driving one has the ability to turn boys into men, and make Asians like myself grow thick, wiry facial and chest hair where I couldn’t before.

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray Coupe

Something about this car just oozes desirability and performance, inside AND outside. At home on the road or on the track, the Sting Ray reminds one of the heyday when the Americans took the game to the Europeans, leaving them blushing when it was time to bring the cows home. Those slippery flowing fenders, hidden quad lamps, the fastback top deck with compound-curved divided rear windows, the twin-cowled dash with beautiful instrumentation, and numerous improvements over the regular Corvettes, among other things, make for a car that will remain in cognoscentis’ wish-lists for a long time to come.

1958 Aston Martin DB4

Bond drove the DB5, which we all think was awesome (the car, I mean). The DB4 is prettier, IMHO. It might not have had ejector seats or was used to find Pussy Galore, but I dare you to find a more scrumptious set of curves and creases (the car, I mean). In many ways, this DB (short for David Brown, the owner of Aston Martin for a large part of its history) was the first truly classic Aston. All-roundedness was its forte, without resorting to harsh brutality or other compromises to achieve its mojo. ‘Power, beauty, soul’ indeed.

2008 Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione

The compact Otto cilindri, or 8C, was already an Alfa icon even before the first of the 500 units rolled out of the factory. Typical of almost any Alfa design, voluptuous and simple lines of the body stand out among the crowd of hard-edged supercars of the post-Enzo era. What’s most remarkable is how the company was able to sell its entire run of the six-figure dollar car in 14 days, having never offered a car more expensive in its entire history than its family sedan-based Brera. A car of noble Italian stock, this is. It has the right looks, right sounds, and right amount of special.

2009 Ferrari 458 Italia

Sure, the McLaren MP4-12C is marginally (but debatably) a better driver’s car, BUT the Italia has the aural and visual charisma of a proper Prancing Horse. It’s one of those things you can’t put a finger on, yet you know it the moment you see or hear one of these cars in action. The 458 is in this list because it, well, just look at the thing – Ferrari lovingly fused looks and function by using its traditional svelte curves with Lamborghini-esque faceted and hard-edged shapes.

2006 Audi R8

A car that will be discussed through the annals of time. Half space ship, half unobtanium, the R8 is NOT your budget Lamborghini Gallardo (on which it’s based), but instead is a very special AWD transportation device. You can drive one of these across the continent in comfort, stop to spend a day flogging it at a racetrack, then after a quick tire change, cruise down the French Riviera without looking out of place. Needless to say, valets will never grow jaded over this thing.

1965 Shelby GT350

’64 Mustangs may have been nice and all, but Shelby came along and gave it some teeth. Sure, it’s rough-riding and tiresomely loud on long trips, but a mad 306bhp powerplant fused into a desirable yet light (2800 lbs) fastback shell with an original sticker price of $4600 (when other cars of the same caliber cost 3-4 times more)? What’s not to love? Well, the fact that there are only 562 in existence and most of them are spoken for. And even if you did find one on sale, refinancing your house and selling both your kidneys still won’t get you close to one.

1992 McLaren F1

It took its place on the walls, dreams, pictures, and desktop backgrounds of almost every teen and adult on the planet. The F1 is the mother of all supercars. The supercars’ supercar. Ron Dennis and Gordon Murray instantly created an icon, brimming with innovation, technology and functionality (3-passenger cell with driver in the middle). An easy car to drive slow or fast (at 240mph it still holds the record as the world’s fastest normally aspirated production car) in the straights or bends, nothing comes close to this kind of cool.

1964 Ford GT40

Forget the new version. The original was (and still is) smaller, lighter, lithe and honed to perfection. A direct rebuttal to Ferrari’s dominance in the racing circuit (as well as Enzo’s heated refusal to be acquired by Henry), it showed that a Yank could beat the Europeans at their own game; it took 1-2-3 place in the ’66 Le Mans. Doesn’t hurt that it looks like a million bucks either.

2004 Aston Martin DB9

When the silhouette of a car is penned by Ian Callum and then Henrik Fisker, you can probably guarantee it’s going to a looker. That fact, plus being a byproduct of the financial infusion from parent Ford, the DB9 is considered the first of the completely modern Astons – graduated from cottage industry to serious manufacturer. It’s not just about status quo either. The car excels at delivering an unrivalled sense of well-being from the moment you clap eyes on it. Then there’s the glorious bark of the 6.0l V-12, and the idea of an Aston that handles well is, well, a much-welcomed revelation.

1999 Pagani Zonda

From zero to hero. It took exactly 1 day for the world to take Pagani seriously as a maker of beautiful, intense and very capable supercars. Carbon fiber everywhere, with design inspiration from Silver Arrow F1 cars, a hand-built Mercedes AMG V12 that howls, and topped with a copious load of Italian flair – seeing (and hearing one) pass by makes mortals fall to their knees… well, not really, but you get the idea. Juan Manuel Fangio helped develop this thing, for crying out loud. How’s that for caché?

1967 Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale

Often deemed as one of the sexiest cars of all time, it’s not hard to see why. Franco Scaglione made his mommy very proud when he penned the Stradale (Italian for ‘street’). Heck, I included an extra photo just to show simple, but appropriate details such as the gorgeous intake horns of the 2.0 V8 peeking through the rear glasshouse. It’s not just about looks either. Toss a track in its way and the Street drives like stink all the way up to 10,000rpm to the tune of a pack of growling pit bulls. Unfortunately (or fortunately), only 18 were made mostly because it cost 7 times more than the average car in its day.

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5 thoughts on “Most Iconic Cars of the Past 50 Years

  1. Nice photos and great cars. I am the man who knows nothing about cars; I just drive them and Love to drive fast on German highways (Autobahnen).

    I just wondered 1965 Shelby GT350. Already in 1966 Shelby Cobra CSX had 800 hp. What do You think is much if we are thinking powers of modern days?

    I have photos from it in my post:

    American car show

    In the same post I have photos also from Shelby GT500 Supersnake. It has also 800 hp.

    Happy blogging!

  2. Hi Aaron….found your site on a google search. do you know who owns the rights to that E-Type shot? interested in using it in an ad for a client. can you let me know? thanks

    michael

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