Designing a great-looking car is a tricky business. For a start, the rules are pretty strict - a wheel at each corner, an engine, room for at least two people – and creating something that is pleasing to the eye and significantly different to your competitors is not easy.
Proof of how difficult it can be is clear throughout automotive history and there are some catastrophically bad efforts out there. Take the East German Trabant, for example. A car that looks like it was commissioned by a communist sub-committee responsible for making life even more grim for inhabitants behind the Iron Curtain, the Trabant appeared to have been designed with a brick as its main inspiration. Of the hundreds of other shocking examples to choose from, special mention should go to the UK’s monstrous Austin Allegro and Morris Marina from the '70s, and just about any of the oil tanker-sized sedans churned out in the US in the late '70s and early '80s.
However, although automotive history is laden with duds, there are a few cars out there that are nothing short of works of art. And while it can be difficult to say what exactly it is that makes a car beautiful - as the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder - we reckon these ten cars, listed in no particular order, have got what it takes.
Britain has a pretty good history when it comes to the two-seater sports car and there is no period when this was more apparent than the swingin’ sixties. Aston Martin, Lotus, Austin Healey, Triumph, Morgan, MG and plenty of other small manufacturers spent the decade producing incredibly sleek and sexy machines that are as much icons of the period as Mary Quandt mini-skirts, Beatles albums and James Bond movies.
But the car most often associated with this period is, of course, the E-type Jag.
A sensation when it was unveiled in 1961, the E-type quickly established itself as the sexiest car on the block and it still looks the business today with its long, sweeping lines giving it a graceful look that is impossible to deny.
More than 70,000 of the E-types were sold before production ended in 1975 and the car is rightly considered a design masterpiece.
Not convinced? How about this then . . . a 1963 Roadster is a fixture at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
ASTON MARTIN DBS
What’s the best-looking Aston Martin?
Many would say the DB5 – the most famous ‘James Bond’ Aston Martin – or perhaps the earlier DB4. Both of them are beautiful machines, no doubt, but it is the DBS, produced from 1967-72, that takes top spot.
A fantastic example of the Grand Tourer, the long hood of the DBS, complete with scoop, hints at the potent straight-six engine hiding beneath, and its tapered rear end works brilliantly. More muscular-looking than the contemporary E-type, the DBS was used as James Bond’s car in the 1969 film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but really made its mark on the public consciousness in the early seventies when a mustard-coloured model was driven by Roger Moore’s character Lord Brett Sinclair in the TV shows The Persuaders.
In that show, Lord Sinclair’s partner in crime-sleuthing was Danny Wilde, played by Tony Curtis. He drove a Ferrari Dino 246 GT, a car that some might argue should be on this list instead of the DBS.
It shouldn’t. And it isn’t.
Today, Lamborghini is not a name we would necessarily associate with subtlety - since the 1970s the company has been producing some of the most outrageous-looking machines ever to tear up the streets. From the madness of the mid-'70s Countach to the truly bonkers Centenario of 2016, the lunatics have been in charge at the Lambo design asylum for decades. We’d still love to own one of these thunderous beasts, of course, but it would be hard to argue they are in any way pretty.
Go back in time a little further, however, and Lamborghini was producing cars that didn’t just make your jaw scrape the sidewalk but made your heart beat a little quicker too. And the Miura, produced from 1966 to 1973 is the standout.
Flowing lines and nice touches like the recessed headlights, give the Miura the look and feel of a graceful speedster rather than an out-and-out fire-breathing monster. Its looks were a little deceiving though - the air scoops just below and to the rear of the doors give a sense of the power of the 4-litre V12 engine that sat just behind the driver’s cabin and the Miura was the fastest production car of its time, capable of hitting 280km/h and reaching 100 km/h in 6.7 seconds.
After seven years of production, this beautiful machine was sidelined in favour of the Countach.
DE TOMASO MANGUSTA
Yet another Italian stunner makes the list.
Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro at Ghia – a man who was named Car Designer of the Century in 1999 – only 400 Mangustas were produced between 1967 and 1971 but they made a lasting impression.
Powered by a 4.7-litre or 5-litre V8, the Mangusta was powerful, could run close to 250km/h, and it had some lovely touches. It was wide and low, and the hood lipping out over the headlights was subtle while giving the car an aggressive look. The mid-mounted engine was accessible via gullwing doors which gave the back window an unusual split appearance.
There was some moaning about the car’s handling abilities but you could forgive almost anything to be seen monstering through the streets of Rome in a car that oozed this much style.
Not actually a production model, the Y-Job was the first concept car from a major manufacturer. Built in 1938 under the creative guidance of GM’s design maestro Harley J. Earl, the Y-Job laid down the rules for all future concept cars – a test-bed for new technology and a way to gauge the public’s reaction to new styling and design ideas. And its influence on automotive design, especially of American cars, is clear.
As for the tech, that was pretty special too and the Y-Job previewed a number of features that would subsequently become common, including power windows, disappearing headlamps, a concealed power-operated convertible roof and flush door handles. Power came from a Buick 320 cubic inch straight 8 and, unlike some concepts, the Y-Job was a fully working machine. In fact, after it had done the rounds of auto shows, the car became the daily driver of its designer. Lucky bloke.
FERRARI GT 250 SWB CALIFORNIA SPYDER
The Italians have a flair for car design, of that there is no doubt. Lamborghini, Ferrari, Pagani, Alfa Romeo and others, along with their coachbuilding cousins at companies such as Carrozzeria Chia, Pininfarina and Bertone have been making jaws drop across the world for generations with the artistry of their creations.
Of course, even the best make a mistake from time to time and it’s not impossible to find a four-wheeled turd befouling the glorious Italian automotive landscape (take the magically uninspired stylings of the 1980s-era Maserati Quattroporte, for instance).
Ferrari have unveiled some unimpressive cars too during their long existence. However, you don’t become the most desired name in the automotive world without doing plenty right and there are myriad Ferrari models to choose from that could arguably be on this list. However, for us, the 1960 GT 250 SWB California Spyder is the pick.
Successful on the racetrack and popular with the rich and famous (actors Steve McQueen and James Coburn both owned one and it is the car featured in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) the California Spyder has all the features of a class sports car – a long hood, two seats and a drop top – but with a special something we can’t really put our finger on that makes it stand out from the pack. A rarity – only 56 were made – the SWB Spyder commands an astonishing price when they come up for auction with one selling for more than $US17 million early in 2016.
Ford hit a home run with this, the modern supercar that pays homage to one of the company’s most famous creations – the four-time Le Mans-winning Ford GT40 from the 1960s.
Sticking closely to the styling of that wonderful car, as well as the current racing version, the new GT is low, wide, aggressive-looking and powerful. The 3.5-litre, twin-turbocharged V6 engine will give the GT 600hp of wallop and thanks to its lightweight, carbon fibre construction, that 600hp will convert into plenty of speed. The GT also has active aerodynamics, dual clutch transmission, butterfly doors . . . and so on.
OK . . . so it’s powerful, quick and with only 1000 due to be produced, rare and expensive. A proper supercar then.
Most importantly though, it is just damn good-looking.
ALFA ROMEO 33 STRADALE
We’re back with another two-seater, mid-engined sports car from Italy. This time, the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale from 1967.
Quite where Italian car designers were getting their inspiration is a mystery but they were world leaders in creating incredibly sexy cars and the Stradale has perhaps the most beautiful lines of any car ever created.
From the nose that lies so low it nearly caresses the ground, the Stradale’s body sweeps over elegant teardrop headlight covers and then high over the front wheels before swooping down across butterfly doors to end at a short, beautifully proportioned, wedge-shaped rear. The small rear screen offers a great view of the potent V8 engine and the whole thing is wrapped in beautiful deep red packaging.
Based on the equally stunning race car, the Alfa Tipo 33, the road-going Stradale was very light and very quick, with the power generated by its 2-litre V8 producing 230hp and propelling the car to 100km/h in 5.5 seconds on to a top speed of 262km/h.
The Stradale is incredibly rare with only 18 examples ever built, which means if one should ever come up for sale . . . well . . . only billionaires need apply.
FORD MUSTANG MACH 1
Ford gets another mention with the 1971 Mach 1 Mustang.
The Mach 1 was the performance-option package of the Mustang and the second-generation version, brought out in 1971, saw Ford’s designers fully embrace its muscle car reputation, making it look as powerful on the outside as it was under the skin.
And it was the Mike Tyson of the road – big, brutal and quick, and snorting fire from a range of V8s that reached all the way up to a quite ridiculous 7-litre monster. With engines like that it’s no wonder the car had a front-end as long as a football pitch.
The 1971 Mach 1 found fame in the Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever with Sean Connery leading the Las Vegas PD on a merry chase around the Vegas strip and, memorably, through an apparently chock-full parking lot.
Subsequent Mustangs got less and less interesting, with the models of the 1980s being particularly forgettable. Fortunately, Ford seems to have rediscovered its mojo in recent years and the current, sixth-generation, Mustang is most definitely a return to form.
Plenty has been said about the awesome engineering brilliance of the McLaren F1.
The best and lightest components, including a carbon fibre chassis, were used in the car’s construction and a truly monstrous BMW-built naturally-aspirated 6.1-litre V12 engine was squished into the back that, along with aerodynamics that gave the car a drag co-efficient of just 0.32, propelled the F1 to a sphincter-loosening 390km/h – making it the fastest car in the world at the time.
Inside, the F1 had a clever seating configuration, with a central driving position and two passenger seats slightly behind and to the side, which offered great visibility for the driver.
Unbelievably quick, with brilliant handling characteristics to match, the F1 was, and in many ways still is, the gold standard of supercars . . . talking of gold, the precious metal was used to line the engine bay to reflect heat.
In their efforts to make the ultimate sports car, the wizards of McLaren not only made a car that outperformed everything that had come before, they also made one that just looked magnificent. The proportions and styling are perfect and even though it is more than 20 years old, if it were to be revealed at a major motor show today there’s a good chance it would still hog the limelight.