Cars are like fine wine, the internet, and a mother’s love – you could live without them, but would you really want to? True to the human spirit, anything worth doing is worth doing to excess, and this may explain why in the United States, there are more cars than drivers. The love affair with the automobile spans more than 125 years, and just like all love affairs, it’s been an assortment of good and bad; the ability to travel long distances in comfort, an explosion of technological growth, traffic jams, and auto accidents.
From Karl Benz’ 1885 gas-powered three-wheeler to Pagani’s $2+ million Huayra BC, this century-plus love affair has produced triumph, innovation, and a raft of offerings that will never go out of style. Let’s take a look at the top 30 cars that still make our hearts race and our pulse quicken as if we’ve caught a glance for the very first time.
Maserati A6G CS Berlinetta
The A6 was available between 1947 and 1956 with a straight six and your choice of 1.5-liter or 2.0-liter engine. The A6 was eventually converted to a single-seater with a 12-cylinder 2.0-liter engine and in 1953 won the Italian Grand Prix. This Maserati’s racing chops were second only to its sexy lines and taught proportions. The A6G CS was one of the last designs by the Maserati brothers before their departure from the company.
The French Talbot-Lago was pressed into production as the new flagship model for the struggling manufacturer. It featured elegant 2×2 coachwork, a 4.5-liter engine, and was powerful and expensive. France’s socialist government imposed heavy taxes based on engine capacity, which essentially destroyed France’s luxury car industry overnight. As a result, only 51 of the Lago were manufactured, and today, they are rarely seen outside of a museum.
Aston Martin DB2 4KMIII
Reminiscent of Bentley’s Lagonda, the DB2 was produced between 1957 and 1959 and it featured the standard fixtures of the automotive industry in that day, along with the addition of the then-new hydraulic clutch. Ian Fleming, author of Goldfinger, designated the DB2 worthy to be driven by his international man of mystery, James Bond. In the film version of Goldfinger, a DB5 is modified to give the appearance of the DB2.
Aston Martin DB4
Yet another Aston Martin makes the timeless style list, and for good reason. Its sleek tube design was characteristically un-British, turning heads and upsetting the apple cart in the best possible way. It would prove to be the model after which Aston Martin would style cars for decades to come, and created an industry standard for solving issues that had bedeviled previous generations of automobiles.
International Scout 4X4
A precursor of the modern SUV, the 4×4 design became the standard for those who encountered the rugged terrain of the Australian Outback or the demanding deserts of North America, Asia and Africa. The International Scout was synonymous with adventure and became symbolic of freedom fighters, daring journalists, and science and medical professionals who risked life and limb by going directly to the heart of challenging regions of conflict.
Largely credited as the car that kicked off the muscle car competition era of the 1960s, the GTO is loved and revered for its power, torque, speed and status. The GTO was the dream child of Russell Gee, Bill Collins, and John DeLorean, who collaborated to build a car that was not meant for the nuclear family, but rather for those who embraced raw street performance and the unbridled strength of a car that could take a quarter mile in 12.8 seconds with a trap speed of 112 mph.
2004 was the first year for the iconic design of the Gallardo, with its sleek and imposing lines and mechanical excellence that was second to none. Gallardos were produced for 10 years. The Gallardo was the first Lamborghini to offer the hydraulic semi-auto transmission, which opened up the market to drivers who had eschewed the stick. Selling at around $279,000 new, the Gallardo was not within everyone’s budget, but for the true Lamborghini aficionado, dropping that stack of Benjamins was but a labor of love.
Maserati Gran Turismo
Abandoning the four-seat arrangement in favor of the 2×2 design, the Gran Turismo proved to be spacious and fun to drive, while still offering the power of a V8 and convenience of an automatic gearbox. Part of Maserati’s Grand Touring line, the Gran Turismo is as beautiful as it is legendary. With a tapered nose, a grille that harkens back to the A6G CS, and sills that pinch and roll under the front end, it is striking in design.
This 1990s street legal racer focuses more heavily on speed and performance and less on style, but nonetheless brings its own unique style – lines that are perhaps less than graceful, a rather odd shape, and a sharp angle here and there. It features a 3.2L engine and six-speed manual transmission and gets up to 22 mpg, lending the NSX a balanced blend of speed and efficiency. If it were a girl, it might be the last one in the bar at closing time, and that’s a shame, because, for the NSX, it’s what’s under the hood that counts.
The S8 debuted in 1996 and it’s been a contender for many reasons, including great craftsmanship under the hood and great lines. The S8 was the first to use an aluminum chassis in a sedan, lightening it up, creating improved weight distribution, and improving power. Perceived as conservative and sedate, the S8 twin turbo V8 is ready to take on all comers.
The M3 is part of BMW’s 3 series, in production since 1985. The “M” indicates the car’s special Motorsport status thanks to unique design from BMW’s in-house team. That design includes a more responsive and powerful engine, improved systems for handling, braking and suspension, aerodynamic enhancements, lighter components, and interior and exterior accents with an “M” emblem.
Chevrolet Chevelle 396 SS
Red striped tires, simulated hood scoops, swagger marks, special trim, enhanced structural features, and a crazy amount of horsepower all came together to create what is now a signature trophy car in the muscle car scene. The Super Sport was Chevrolet’s ticket into the muscle car battle of the sixties, and it did not disappoint with its powerful 396 ci V8 and 325 hp.
With seven generations under its belt beginning in 1953, the Chevrolet Corvette has set the standard for American sports cars. Manufactured in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the Vette is a favorite of the Baby Boomers, but younger folks haven’t written it off, as there is no denying the beauty and craftsmanship of a breed that has stood the test of time.
Yet another climber that has weaved its way indelibly into the fabric of American culture, the Mustang has proven its appeal and longevity. It made its debut at the World Fair in New York in 1964 and has been embraced by car enthusiasts ever since, thanks to its superior racing profile. Sure, your parents may have made out in a Mustang once, but Jim Morrison also owned one! Eminem owned one too, but let’s not hold that against Mustang.
The F40 was designed to commemorate Ferrari’s 40th anniversary and was the last car personally approved by Enzo Ferrari. It followed Ferrari’s GTO and offered greater power, thanks to a 2.9L turbocharged engine. The ground clearance of the F40 was so low that Ferrari required their designers to raise it on consumer demand. When the F40 debuted 27 years ago, it was Ferrari’s most powerful and expensive car, with an MSRP of $400,000.
Dodge Power Wagon
This workhorse began rolling off the production line in 1945, and what was known as the Power Wagon then is the beloved Dodge Ram of today. Dodge set the bar for utility and toughness in light trucks, and they have set the industry standard to which trucks aspire. As soldiers returned home from WWII, the Power Wagon offered a familiar feel to what they’d grown accustomed to in the military, creating a niche market for non-military vehicles with a military design and appeal.
Honda Civic SI
The SI hit the market in 2001, and this sport injected model was offered in North American and Japanese markets. The SI trim package of the Civic offers stiffer sway bars, a 6-speed manual transmission, and a 2.0L engine. In the last 10 years, the SI has seen improvements in functionality, but they’ve stayed with the tried and true unique aesthetics of the SI, such as the gear shifter with distinctive red stitching, darker wheels, and edgy lines.
The E-Type was first introduced in 1961 and it saw a comeback in 2014. It was kind of big deal during the sixties and seventies, favored for its craftsmanship, aesthetic appeal, and affordable pricing. A variety of models was available over the years, including a Grand Touring Coup, two-seater convertible, and four-seater with a longer wheelbase. The Telegraph ranked it the most beautiful car ever made, and Enzo Ferrari agreed.
The Skyline debuted in 1969 and was revered for its ability to dominate the racetrack. In its first four years on the Japanese race circuit, the Skyline scored 50 victories, 49 of which were consecutive. It was retired in 1973, but resurfaced in 1989 for a special run of just 2,000 cars. The 1989 run included unique trim stitching colors, a 186 mph speedometer, signature gold valve covers, and a wicked 330 hp engine.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 45 years since the world was graced with the first 911, with its iconic form and performance. It is one of the longest running productions in automotive history and shares a few similarities with its ancestor, the VW Bug. Both share the same designer and an air-cooled rear engine. The 911 has outlasted the Bug and it is still a presence on the avenue, highway, and racetrack.
The Mazda RX7 was first conceived as a way for Japanese consumers to avoid the higher taxes levied against larger cars. However, soon North American consumers also fell in love with the RX7 because, while lightweight and compact, it still proved to be a powerful sports coupe that tickled the fancy of those who had been forced to throttle back due to the gas shortages of the 1970s.
The Supra, also known as the Celica, was in production for 25 years, beginning in 1978. Toyota showed a real commitment to keeping it fresh with the Supra, offering annual updates to the original design that consistently made them better. 1994 saw the introduction of a very impressive Mark IV that offered a unique rounded body style and torque powerful enough to impress even the most jaded driver.
The 1955 Mercedes 190 SL featured the same engine weight and quality of previous Daimler-Benz offerings, but what made it distinct and different was a lighter body that included aluminum, a first for the manufacturer. It also included a larger trunk, space which had previously been sacrificed for a larger fuel tank. While power and performance dominated in classic cars, the 190SL showed a real sense of practicality and a new era of sensibility.
Mercedes-Benz 560 SEC AMG
A flagship offering from Mercedes-Benz, the 560 brought an iconic form along with a number of new safety features in its day, including the first seat belt pretensioners. It must be remembered that as late as the 1980s, even headrests which reduced death due to cervical impact were still not standard on all vehicles. The 560 was one of Mercedes longest running models, in production from 1979 to 1991.
The 280ZX was powerful and stylish, with a larger 2.8L engine and a Bosch Jetronic fuel injection system. Its true performance was dampened by the ever more demanding emissions requirements of the 1980s. This model was popular on the street racing circuit and served as the pace car at 1977’s Long Beach Grand Prix. Several trim levels were available, and a 3-speed variant of the standard 5-speed transmission was offered, but production on this car was relatively low, despite its loyal following.
Debuting at the 1996 Tokyo Motor show as a concept car, the S2000 was in production for 10 years, beginning in 1999. Its name is indicative of the engine displacement volume, as was the custom with 1960s roadsters. It featured a four-cylinder in-line engine, and a rear wheel drive system with a rigid, lightweight chassis.
This mid-size luxury crossover SUV began production in 2002 and was Porsche’s first V8 since 1995. Its second generation was introduced in 2010, and it has since seen a refresh and the introduction of a plug-in e-hybrid version. Upon its release, some had their doubts about a Porsche SUV, however, Porsche proved that performance is still number one, as demonstrated by the outstanding power and handling of the Cayenne. A special version of the Cayenne, the Transsyberia, was produced for the Transsyberia rally, with a run of just 26. A street version was later offered to commemorate Porsche’s victory in that rally, with a run of 600 that included a 405 hp direct inject 4.8L V8 engine.
There’s no denying the appeal of this compact 5-door hatchback all-electric vehicle. It is the highest selling electric of all time, with over 17,000 units sold in 2015. With a 107-mile range on the batteries in the 2016 models and 80% capacity charge in 30 minutes with quick charging, some of the fears that scare consumers away from electrics have been addressed by the Leaf. Its stylish front end is characterized by a sharp V design with large headlights that slant upward, creating a distinctive blue internal reflective design. Stylish, all-electric, and good for the planet – who says we don’t win anymore?
Tesla Model X
If you need to get seven people somewhere fast, you can also do it in comfort and style with the all-electric Tesla Model X crossover, which is capable of 0-60 mph in a scant 3.3 second. In addition, with a 250-mile range between charges, drivers also dig the all-wheel drive, high-tech cabin, and those always cool falcon wing doors. There’s even an optional autopilot semi-autonomous driving feature available. A 532 hp engine is powerful enough to save you from embarrassment should you reach a stop light the same time as a supercar.
Hand built in France, the Veyron convertible is constructed of high-quality materials such as titanium, carbon fiber, aluminum, and magnesium, and is the most expensive car in the world, at $2.5 million. It’s also the fastest, clocking a mind blowing 259 mph. Some have speculated that Bugatti sacrifices performance for aesthetics, but the Veyron is the perfect harmonious blend of technology and elegance. You’ll find 1,001 hp under the hood, and that top speed of 259 mph – that’s restricted to protect the tires. One can only imagine what it could do without those restrictions. The build is rife with aerodynamic features engineered to adjust to the car’s speed. Ettore Bugatti’s motto was “Art, Form, and Technique.” The Veyron lives up to the best of all three.