These types of lists come up all the time in different magazines and sites. We're not at all above playing that game. So we decided to share our thoughts. We are curious to see if it will provoke some responses.
There are only 2 rules:
1. Nothing can be newer than 1985 model year.
2. You've got to be able to put a license plate on it, and drive it on the street. And yes, you can pick the most liberal state laws to define what is considered 'streetable'. Except maybe Texas. We need a line drawn somewhere.
Picking the cars is the easy part. But of you're anything like us, you'll quickly find you've picked many more than 10. Then you have to start culling the list. Conspicuously absent is anything from Lotus, Lamborghini, Maserati. Even the GT40 — on of my all-time favorites — didn’t make the final cut. Tough crowd. It’s like deciding which of your children are to be sold off for scientific experiments. Unfortunately, in addition to the GT40, the 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder, 1951 Jeep Willys, and the 1967 Triumph TR250 didn’t make the cut. Yes, a Triumph TR250. Get over it. It's my imaginary list.
In no particular order, here are my choices:
1973 Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 RS
Let's be honest. It's no surprise to see a 911 on the list. It's an evergreen aesthetic. Of all the different permutations of 91 eligible for selection, I am partial to the ducktail Carreras. Well, actually I am very partial to the new Singer versions, but they don’t meet the criteria. The pre-1974 911 is, to me, the 911 in it’s purest form. I love the vents-under-lights, the rear treatment, and the more discreet, smaller bumpers, versus those DOT-mandated protrusions that came in 1974 and didn’t fully sort themselves out until the 993 version came along.
The interior is German -- elegance through simplicity. Oddly, to assess any one detail of this car, it feels easy to be critical. You’d find it hard to put in the company of the rarified air of some of the others. But the culmination of those elements... it just works.
1957 Ferrari Testa Rossa
It’s hard to not just propagate the list with 10 Ferraris. Yet even amongst the scuderia of Ferraris, the 1957-58 Testa Rossa is a stand-out. I’m partial to the pontoon-fender versions. Visually, it’s simply stunning. It’s like it was shrink-wrapped in aluminum. It looks like as if Ferrari took note of the Lotus Series 7, with it’s tapering nose, low belt-line, and put some Italian flavor to it, with a small-displacement V-12 under the bonnet. Where this selection varies from my others is that the aesthetic is very anachronistic for the time. Very few other car makers were still emphasizing the fenders so prominently. But it fits so well here. The skin is so tight the bonnet bubble looks almost awkwardly oversized. It needs to be that tall to fit the stacks. The interior is all business.
It’s pretty well-known that Testa Rossas are in some of the rarest air when it comes to their value. I, for one, can appreciate why.
1955 Jaguar XK-SS
Carroll Shelby may be known as the ‘big-engine-in-a-little-car guy’, but he was far from the originator of the idea. The Jaguar XK-SS wasnt first either, but it was a beautiful example.
One could argue that it lacks the elegant proportions of the long-bodied D-Type, of the E-Type, and you’d be right. But when you look at some of the visual details of the SS, like the headlights, grille opening, rear fender haunches, you see the E-type in it’s infancy. The E-Type wasn’t released for another 6 years.
Ultimately, it is a little lumpier than other classic car designs, but if you have any doubts about it’s place on the list, just remember this: It was good enough for Steve McQueen to essentially daily-drive it. Enough said.
1965 Shelby Cobra 289
Maybe it’s a cliche to have a Cobra on the list. I’m OK with that. But over time, my preference in which of the breed of Cobras has shifted. My desires have transformed from less of the borderline-cartoonish, swollen-fendered, hood-scooped big block models to the earlier, smaller engined, non-flared-and-scooped models. There’s such a simple elegance to it. Not that any Cobra could ever be mistaken for a sleeper, but if one was, this would be it.
That said, if any of you wants to rid yourself of one of those garish, puffy-fendered versions like the one in the below video, I suppose I’d be willing to make that sacrifice.
1967 Mustang GT Fastback
Originally, I had the 1965 Shelby GT350R on the list, but cut it. I think the 1967-68 version of the from-factory Mustang Fastback has had a larger impact on what we see and expect visually from our sports cars today. The Mustang was by no means the first car to utilize the raised rear fender line, or the long nose proportions. If anything, the Mustang looks like the Ford Designers had pictures of the Aston Martin DB4/DB4 GT and Jaguar E-Type on their walls. But that’s a story for another time, so hold on to that thought.
I propose is that the 1967-68 Mustang Fastback was so quintessentially important to American sports car design, that they are still trying to replicate that magic to this day. Ford itself has been trying hard, and with some commercial success, to re-capture the essence of that heritage since 1992. That says a lot about how right they got it.
1955 Lincoln Continental Mk2
If there is a car that feels like the random-factor on my list, this is it. Why a 1955 Lincoln Continental and not a Miura, for example? Consider the time. 1955 was right on the precipice of what was to become a decade-long American obsession with big cars, big chrome, and as much flashiness as designers could muster. Bigger wings! More lights! More chrome!
And yet, in that sea of visual noise, there was the 1955-57 Lincoln Continental Mk2. Simple, elegant, understated luxury. Minimal Chrome. Simple, yet communicative lines. Wait, is that a NACA duct on the top of the rear fender? Why yes it is.
It looked like the style the producers of the first seasons of Mad Men wanted to portray, but it did it 6 years before the timeline of that show began. Arguably the Continental Mk2 is the pinnacle of Lincoln’s design. Or at least since the 1939 Zephyr V-12.
1930 Mercedes SSK - 'Count Trossi’
Just look at it. It’s got the Deco-influence of cars of the era, with its long-swept fenders, like the Delahaye models of the time, but as only the Germans could execute. Slightly simpler, but arguably no less visually stunning.
1929 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 SS Spider
This Alfa is a bit of an outlier. There are prettier Alfas, and faster ones. But I think this one is more elemental. It is at the root of some of the core design cues that are still part of Alfa Romeo DNA to this day. It is raw and simple, and yet the visual details are so thoughtful. Just look at the fins on the manifold. Its sculptural down to the smallest detail.
1973 Ferrari 246 GTS
When I was in my early teen years, and my tastes expanded beyond the boundaries of 60s Mustangs, and the other poster-fodder cars, I fell in love with the Dino 246. As I researched it back then, people would say such disparaging things about it, emphasizing how it was not a Ferrari. How it was only a V6. How it was a bastard child. I didn’t care. It just spoke to me. In the late 70s / early 80s, when I stumbled across the 246, it was a dark time for automotive design. Sure, there were some exceptions, but there was a lot of unfavorable stuff. In that cacophony of straight lines and visual clutter, I saw the 246. It was a religious experience. Frankly, I think it had a big impact on why I became a designer. In my early teens I was trying to understand what made the 246 look like it did, versus the then-current model, the 308. I mean, I liked the 308, but come on…
So yeah. This on is personal.
1924 Bentley 3 / 8 liter
The Bentley 8 liter cars are just wicked. So you know what’s more wicked? Shoving one of those monster engines into the chassis meant for the much smaller 3 liter engines. Every time I see one of the new releases from the team at Blastolene, it always harkens me back to these old Bentleys. I just love them.
So there you have it, according to Paul. I'm sure you have your own. Go ahead. Tell us below which you agree with, or what we forgot.