The 14 Most Iconic Classic Cars
Robb Report’s definitive guide to the most important cars of the 20th century.
Reducing all the world’s great cars to a list of just 14 is a somewhat thankless task, and is sure to upset a few (many). However, when curating this heady list of vehicles below we’ve taken into account not only collectability, design, racing heritage and cultural impact. These are the cars that remain icons in an industry filled with watershed moments.
Here, in no particular order, Robb Report’s 14 most iconic classic cars.
Mercedes-Benz 300SL Coupe
The 300SL needs little introduction. From 1954-57 the coupe turned the motoring world on its head.
Its ultra-light, tubular design and gullwing doors were standout features, however, it was the ground-breaking engine – a 3-litre overhead camshaft straight-6 engine – that really captured the imagination.
Capable of 179kW and 294Nm of torque, the engine catapulted the 1500kg car to a top speed of 263km/h, making it the fastest production car of its time.
Aston Martin DB5
Crossing the cultural zeitgeist, the Aston Martin DB5 is the most recognisable motorcar produced by the marque thanks to its starring role in the James Bond film, Goldfinger.
Championing many of the attributes of its predecessor – the equally handsome DB4 – the DB5 saw an enlarged, all-aluminium engine attached to a five-speed transmission that produced 210kW and propelled the car to 233km/h. A spritely figure.
From 1963 to 1965 only 1059 units of the DB5 were ever produced and today it remains a coveted piece of English motoring history thanks to its performance, good-looks and bona fide star power.
Ferrari 250 GTO
Produced from 1962 to 1964, the Ferrari 250 GTO has become the holy grail for Prancing Horse fans. Powered by Ferrari’s Tipo 168.62 Colombo V12 engine, the GTO offered 250cc’s of displacement resulting in 221kW and 294nm of torque.
The formidable grunt was paired with a smooth, aerodynamic design, which promised speed and stability. Now, the aluminium bodywork is instantly recognisable thanks to its long, low nose, and distinctive air intakes.
It was enough to see Ferrari win the over 2000cc class of FIA’s International Championship for GT Manufacturers in 1962, 1963 and 1964. With thanks to its curved lines and racing heritage the GTO is now arguably the most coveted collector car in the world – with a 250 GTO selling for US$70 million in 2018.
The British sportscar was manufactured between 1961 and 1975. The ‘series 1 cars were initially built with 3.8-litre six-cylinder engine that produced 198kW and sent the car to a top speed of 241km/h.
Porsche 911 (930)
No classic car list is complete without a mention of a Porsche 911. The Robb Report team debated at length about which iteration was favoured, ultimately landing on the 930. Produced from 1975-1989 the car carried over much of its initial iconic shape but was made, broader, angrier. The 930 catapulted Porsche into rarified air, producing at the time the fastest production car available in Germany at the time.
It also was the first of the 911s to be turbocharged, with Porsche badging the vehicle as “Turbo” at the Paris Auto Show in October 1974, taking the total output of the engine to 191kW and 329Nm of torque.
The Lamborghini Countach was the poster child for 80’s excess thanks to its outrageous “Italian Wedge” design and performance figures.
Produced from 1974-1990 the Countach was designed by Marcelo Gandini and was the first production car to incorporate scissor doors.
However, it doesn’t make this list for that alone, the earlier models – such as the LP400 saw a 276kW V12 in the middle of the car which gave the car a top speed of 288km/h. It was a supercar like nobody had yet seen with its ostentatious design, loud engine notes and searing performance – the weighing 1000kg dry, it saw 0-100km/h in 5.4 seconds.
Ferrari had long been lauded as the pinnacle of motoring, but it was losing its edge against Lamborghini’s wild designs. Enter, the F40. From 1987 to 1992 the mid-engine rear-wheel-drive sports car was built to celebrate the Italian marque’s 40th birthday.
The result was a 2-door, wild winged, supercar producing 352kWfrom a 2.9-lite twin-turbocharged V8 that powered from 0-100km/h in a little over 4.7 seconds and offered a top speed of 321km/h.
Those are impressive numbers, even by today’s standards, but that’s not why fans of the car love it so dearly. It’s the imposing design, iconic pop-up headlights which make it such an emblematic car of the time.
Renault 5 Turbo
Confused about seeing a Renault on this list? This isn’t your run of the mill hatchback. The Renault 5 Turbo was one of the first ‘Hot Hatches’ ever produced, built between 1980 to 1984, it was the fastest production car rolling out of France.
A boxy, aggressive body kit, once again designed by Marcello Gandini, ensured it turned heads. Meanwhile, the engine sits mid-mounted in the modified chassis, producing 118kW with a max torque of 221Nm through the rear wheels.
More important than its stats was its importance WRC, for which It was produced for homologation purposes and is representative of rallying through the 80’s and all that it was.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider
Alfa Romeo is oft referred to as the car enthusiast’s car. The marque for true petrol heads and collectors. Few cars depict the Italian stylings and beauty like the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider. Inside the unibody construction, saw an Alfa Romeo Twin Cam straight-four aluminium alloy engine capable of 46kW.
While it doesn’t sound like a lot, that power proved plenty for a car that weighed only 960kg, especially with the top down, rolling through the Italian hills.
BMW E30 M3
The first BMW M3, based on the E30 3 Series, went on to create a series of iconic cars from the marque.
Originally produced to meet homologation standards for Group A touring rules, the new car featured an aggressively designed front splitter, sill panels and a range of other aerodynamic changes.
Produced from 1986-91 BMW used its own S14 four-cylinder engine which produced 147kW and gave the model a 0-100km/h time of 6.7 seconds and a top speed of 235km/h. However, today the car is prized for its balanced weight distribution and ability to dart around a race track.
Produced from 1992-1998 the McLaren F1 is the most modern car on this list. Designed by British manufacturer McLaren Cars, the supercar would go on to become the world’s fastest production car, reaching 386.4km/h – a record It would hold for the following 12 years.
The McLaren F1 shocked the car world with its mind-bending speed – which it achieved courtesy of a 6.0 litre 12-cylinder BMW engine producing 461kW. The car became a watershed moment, light-years ahead of the supercars that we now know so well.
It could be argued that the American motoring industry of the 50s and 60s could lay claim to multiple spots on this list. While there are many great designs (think Thunderbird, Impala, Corvette and other muscle-car classics) none took on the greats of Europe like the Ford GT40.
Its David vs Goliath battle in the 24 Hours of Le Mans permanently etched this car’s story into automotive history.
Only 105 Ford GTs were produced with only 7 of the road car only Mk III cars built. This later model was powered by a 4.78-litre engine offering 228kW of power
The Datsun 240Z, or Nissan Fairlady Z or Nissan S30 as It was known around the world, was produced from 1969-1978 and is one of the most influential sports cars to be born out of the Japanese market.
Designed to compete against the European sports cars, the Japanese marque aggressively priced its new car that offered sleek styling and modern engineering.
Inside its stylish coupe body – that borrows its design cues from the jaguar E-Type – came a 96kW Datsun, 4-cylinder engine and proved a hit in overseas markets and sees its lineage of ‘Z’ cars continue through the Nissan brand to this day.
Bugatti Type 57S/SC
The cars in this list are framed by a level of mythology that runs deep into car culture. Like Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee, the mystique surrounding the Bugatti Type 57C Atlantic, in particular, La Voiture Noire (Jean Bugatti’s favourite car) and its disappearance, grabs car collectors’ attention.
Produced from 1834 to 1940, the French marque released a lowered version of its already popular 57C car. These went on to become some of the more iconic cars Bugatti produced. Only 43 lowered cars were produced and only two supercharged ‘SC’ cars were built with output at its maximum of 150kW. Today, the Atlantic Type 57s remain one of the world’s most collectable cars.
Subscribe to the Newsletter
Recommended for you
Price, essentially, is upon request. Restomods of the 1980s supercar can cost more than $3 million.
By Bryan Hood
September 17, 2021