100 Cars That Changed Motoring

Everyone has a favorite car. It could be their first car, or the car they took on their first date, or the car they always wanted to own but could never afford. Looking around today’s new-car showrooms, there is plenty of dream machinery, from the Ferrari Enzo to the Porsche 911 Turbo and even the all-new VE Commodore, which is just about to hit the road.

We are genuinely living in a golden age, despite the price of petrol as modern technology has made all cars safe and reliable and relatively economical, forcing companies to put the focus on performance and style and comfort and luxury.

The cars of 2006 stand up to any comparison. But they are not the all-time stars. How can a Ford Falcon compare with a 1960s Mustang, or a BMW-built Mini Cooper threaten the swinging ’60s original from BMC?

Modern four-wheel drives are perfect for shopping and school runs, but it was the original Land Rover and the Willya Jeep, which put off-roading on the map. Growing up, I dreamed about a Holden Torana XU1 or a Ford Falcon GTHO. But I love the idea of a Volkswagen Beetle, because that was the car I owned first and took to my heart, or perhaps a stove-hot Datsun 1600, because I used one to win rallies and hoon around in my 20s.

But which is the best car of all? It depends how you rank them, and their place in history. Personally, a Mercedes-Benz E55 station wagon would do every job I need for the rest of my motoring lifetime. But it’s not a classic, and cannot be compared with an original Porsche 911 or the first Audi Quattro or even the Toyota Prius that introduced the world to petrol-electric hybrid motoring.

And what about the Aussies? The XU1 and GTHO are the top choice with muscle-car fans, but are they more significant than the world’s first Ford ute, or the original Holden, or even today’s Territory or VE?

Listing the top 100 is tough and controversial, but it is a great way to put the history of the automobile into focus. This is how I rate them:

1. Ford Model T
This car put the world on wheels and also in many ways, replaced the horse. It was basic, cheap, reliable, and it could do almost anything and go anywhere. Henry Ford also used his T to introduce mass production to motoring.

2. Austin Mini
A brilliant idea, which was perfect for its time. The original Mini was conceived in the 1950s, but rocked through the swinging ’60s as a fun city runabout which was cheap and cheerful. It also began the trend towards space-efficient front-wheel drive.

3. Volkswagen Beetle
Reigned as the world’s best selling car for decades because, like the Mini, it was basic and affordable. It could also tackle almost any terrain and was easy and cheap to fix. And the shape still a classic, and a car you want to hug.

4. Toyota Corolla
The car that put Japan Inc. on the motoring map and paved the way for every car a company which has followed it since Toyota rolled it out in the 1960s. It was affordable, fun and reliable at a time when most other cars were big and clunky.

5. Citroen DS
A futuristic shape with advanced technology and a hydraulic suspension system that defeated the world’s toughest roads. Still looks contemporary today, 50 years after it hit the road, although Ciroen is still a quirky brand.

6. Ferrari 246 Dino
One of the classics from Enzo Ferrari’s company and a personal favorite. Not as collectible as some of the V12 supercars, but a sweet looker which rang a 12 year old’s bell when a friend bought one with the proceeds from a lottery win.

7. Willys Jeep
The original four-wheel drive was developed for World War II battlefields. Drive one today and you will be stunned by the agricultural feel and the lack of seat space, but it proved cars could go anywhere with the right gear.

8. Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost
One of the benchmark cars in the history of motoring, as it was so luxurious at a time when most cars were so basic. Rolls-Royce still has a pre-1920s model as its flagship car and it still says everything about the brand.

9. Audi Quattro
Proof that all-wheel drive as important for safety and performance as off-road ability. It steam-rolled the world rally championship, allowed huge power to be fed to the road and paved the way for everything from the Subaru Impreza WRX to the Porsche 911 Turbo in 2006.

10. Toyota Prius
The world’s first production hybrid car lost money, but proved a point. It showed Toyota was totally committed to new-technology power-trains, with a plan to build one million a year by 2010 and will go down in history as a benchmark car.

11. Fiat 500
Recently voted the world’s sexiest car in Britain and typically, wonderfully Italian. A Vespa scooter with two more wheels.

12. McLaren F1
The benchmark for supercars and unlikely to ever be topped. Brilliant in every detail, including three-seat cabin and its BMW V12 engine.

13. Range Rover
Proved that four-wheel drives did not have to be workhorses and began the transition to today’s Sport Utility Vehicles.

14. Porsche 911
An icon since the 1960s, which has evolved into one of the world’s most desirable cars, yet never lost its classic shape.

15. Honda Civic
Began as a little jewel of a car, which put minimalist motorcycle thinking into a car. Did for Honda what the Corolla did for Toyota.

16. Citroen 2CV
French workingman’s car with oddball looks but bulletproof in every area. Now a collector’s classic.

17. Ford Mustang
The blueprint for the affordable American muscle car. Starred from the 1960s and still running tough.

18. Chevrolet Corvette
Has been a King of the Hill car since the 1950s, as well as an American style classic. But never drives as good as it looks.

19. Lexus LS400
Arrived in 1989 and put a bomb under Mercedes and BMW, changing the definition of quality and customer service.

20. Benz Patent Wagon
The very first car looks spindly and simple today but must have been a revelation in the 1800s. Also made Berta Benz the world’s first woman driver.

21. Chrysler Minivan
Established a new breed of family transport in the US in the 1980s.

22. Jaguar E-Type
As British as James Bond, the original design is a classic and marks the ’60s in the same way as the Mini.

23. 1950s Chevrolet
Introduced the small-block V8 to the world and changed motoring for a generation of Americans

24. Mazda MX-5
A brilliant re-work of British sports car thinking and now the most popular of its type in the history of motoring

25. Holden 48-215
The first all-Australian still rates #1 in the local history books. Laid the foundations for local car making and put Aussies on the road.

26. Volkswagen Golf 1976
Benchmark small car, which set the formula for compact hatchbacks, as well as introducing the funky GTi

27. Citroen Traction Avant
A car for students of motoring history, as it had a monocoque body in the 1940s and also put front-wheel drive into mass production

28. Ferrari Enzo
Wicked looks and outrageous performance. What more could you want from a Ferrari?

29. Ford GT40
Created by Henry Ford when he failed to buy Ferrari in the 1960s, steam-rollering the Italians in the classic Le Mans 24-hour race.

30. Lancia Lambda
The only 1920s car I have driven with good brakes and a reasonable gearbox and engine. Must have been very advanced in its day.

31. Mercedes S-Class 1981
This was the car that introduced the world to the life-saving advantage of anti-skid braking, previously only used in aircraft.

32. Ford Territory
A breakthrough car in Australia, which takes family motoring in a new direction. Done brilliantly on a tiny budget with the Falcon as a base.

33. Datsun 1600
A Japanese copy of the BMW 2002 but much more important as it was fun, affordable and bullet-proof. Still popular after 35 years.

34. 1932 Ford V8
A milestone car in the history of the Blue Oval brand, which has also become the basis for thousands of hot rods around the world.

35. Volvo P120 Amazon
It was 1959 and the Swedish carmaker was already making its reputation for safety with the first set of standard three-point safety belts.

36. 1940 Oldsmobile
The first car with a genuine automatic gearbox, opening motoring to many more people and setting the path to today’s self-shifters.

37. 1959 Cadillac
The car with the signature fins was a style icon in its day and still represents the excesses of the times.

38. Toyota LandCruiser
Opened the outback in Australia and has surpassed Jeep and Land Rover as the benchmark four-wheel drive.

39. Mercedes SL Gullwing
Just ask Lindsay Fox, who has dozens of the tri-star brand. The most memorable model in Mercedes’ history.

40. Aston Martin DB5
James bond drove one. And, when Bond was played by Sean Connery, that was enough without the machine guns and ejector seat.

41. The Batmobile
A dream car for generations of youngsters, but the best of the best is the car from the television show not the outrageous movie caricatures.

42. Ford Australia ute 1933
The world’s first utility really was developed and built in Australia. Holden contests the claim but it was a first for the blue team.

43. Bugatti Royale
The world’s most expensive car is art on wheels. Less than a dozen were built by Ettore Bugatti in France before he went bankrupt.

44. Lamborghini Miura
The first serious challenger to Ferrari was made by an Italian tractor company, but looked glorious and flew.

45. Nissan Skyline GT-R
Godzilla was an amazing car in the late 1980s, with a turbocharged engine and all- wheel drive, even if touring car fans at Bathurst hated it.

46. BMW M3 E30
The original M3 was a screaming pocket rocket, with a six-pack engine which transformed the German compact into a powerhouse.

47. Datsun 240Z
One of the benchmark Japanese cars, although it can be seen as an E-Type clone. Fast, good looking and, more importantly, cheap and reliable.

48. Honda NSX
A failed attempt to rival Ferrari, which nevertheless scored high for style and performance. Ran for far too long.

49. Toyota 2000 GT
Few were made but it was a brilliant car from a company, which has done very few true sports cars. Antithesis of Camry bland.

50. Ford Falcon GTHO Phase III
The absolute definition of an Australian muscle car, complete with a successful Bathurst pedigree.

51. Holden Torana XU1
The giant killing compact that launched Peter Brock’s career at Bathurst. A real power pack and uniquely Australian.

52. Jaguar D-Type
Best known as a classic LeMans winner, but also led the worldwide introduction of disc brakes.

53. Ford Model A
Not as famous as old Henry’s T, but another of the original affordable cars which made motoring popular.

54. Tucker Torpedo
A weird car developed by an eccentric, complete with a helicopter engine, but great looks.

55. Ferrari 275 GTB
A piece of automotive art, with a truly special V12 engine and a supermodel’s body.

56. ZIL
The Russian limousine through the Cold War era is part of communist history, but no-one would really want one.

57. AC Cobra
Another classic, created by stuffing an American V8 into a British sports cars.

58. Hyundai Excel
The car that put Korea on the map and also led the world into the era of $13,990 disposable cars.

59. DeLorean
Not a great car, not even a good car, but became a movie star in the Back to the Future series.

60. Cord 512
Not very well know outside the USA, but my pick as one of the most gorgeous cars of all time.

61. Jaguar MkII
The fastest four-door car of its era, until the Aussie GTHO, and still a great looker today.

62. Land Rover
The British take on the Willys Jeep was also born for war, but has worked hard for generations as a benchmark mud-plugger.

63. Mazda RX-7
Best known for its rotary engine, which has become a Mazda signature. Fun to drive but a bit flimsy.

64. Holden Commodore VB
Holden’s sea change car from the 1980s killed the Kingswood but led the company to its current success.

65. Ford GT
The born-again GT40 is now the hero car for a new generation, with modern safety and performance but a retro body.

66. Peugeot 203
One of the toughest and most dependable cars from the French company.

67. Stanley Steamer
Ran up a blind alley as motoring went to petrol power, but a wonderful piece of history.

68. Rolls-Royce Phantom
The current Rolls-Royce is a brilliant device, maybe with a bit too much bling.

69. Austin 7
A tiny little British car, known as the “Dixie“, was popular in its time.

70. Volkswagen Kombi
What can you say? Surf, sun, sweet-sweet days of escape and Aussies exploring Europe on a budget.

71. Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic
A truly fantastic looking car, from a company, which was always a style leader.

72. Morris Minor
A British baby car, which won a lot of friends before the Mini.

73. Mitsubishi Magna
Trumpeted as a “new class of car”, the original Magna was fresh and good, but time — and the Commodore and Falcon — beat it.

74. Lotus 7
The original minimalist sports car, from the brilliant mind of F1 guru Colin Chapman in the 1950s. Still built today and still being copied.

75. Holden Monaro 1969
The original Monaro was born during a golden age and is remembered as a hero car, not for the three-speed manual base model.

76. Leyland P76
A good idea done very badly, like so many products from British companies. Now seen as a classic.

77. Holden Monaro 2000
The new-age Monaro was much more than a Commodore coupe and tapped a rich vein of car culture.

78. Mercedes 540K
A beautiful car which was very fast and very refined for its time, but got a bad rap because it was German in the lead-up to World War II.

79. SS100
A great Jaguar with an unfortunate name, which was also dropped following World War II.

80. BMW 318i
When the German company put an affordable price tag on its 3-Series in the 1980s it created a classic and a showroom magnet.

81. Chevrolet Corvair
A flawed American car, which helped start the safety revolution when Ralf Nader featured it in his book Unsafe at any Speed.

82. Renault 1914 Taxi Cab
Few cars can claim to have changed history, but the Renault did as it ferried troops to the front line that changed the course of World War I.

83. Alfa Romeo GTV
A 1960s car with a gorgeous rounded body and a lusty four- cylinder engine. Helped build the brand in Australia.

84. Jenson Interceptor FF
Almost unknown now, but the high-performance British coupe was an all-wheel-drive pioneer.

85. Porsche 959
The first civilized supercar, with massive speed that was tamed by all-wheel drive.

86. Ferrari F40
An all-out road racer that was barely civilized enough for regular roads. Now a collector’s classic.

87. BMW M5, 2005
Proof that modern electronics can tame an F1-style V10 engine and turn a mid-sized luxury car into a brilliant driving machine.

88. Ford Fairlane Skyliner Convertible 1957
A wonderful example of American excess, right down to the electric folding roof.

89. Jaguar XK120
The everyday British sports car for the upper classes. Still looks good today.

90. Bugatti Veyron
The fastest car in the world in 2006 is totally over the top, but proves it can still be done with enough money and enough egos.

91. Mercedes-Benz A-Class
New idea from the world’s oldest carmaker, which also put the emphasis on city cars before most rivals saw the need.

92. BMW 328
Another surprising old-timer, which is a great drive.

93. Jaguar C-Type
Overshadowed by the D-Type in the history books, but a brilliant British success.

94. Maserati Khamsin
The least-known of Italy’s supercar companies created a front-engine hero with great looks.

95. Saab 96
The first headliner from the Swedish company was a rally winner despite a tiny two- stroke engine.

96. Peugeot 404
Conservative, upright body was nothing special but the 404 was tough and dependable.

97. MGB
Dream machine for a generation, promising great fun and good looks but loaded with lousy engineering and quality problems.

98. Dodge Charger
The thundering coupe starred in the Dukes of Hazard and NASCAR racing, with all the usual American grace and elegance.

99. GM EV1
A failed experiment in electric motoring which was too early and badly underdone.

100. Datsun 120Y
This car is only on the list for one reason _ so I can give it a kick. Which it deserves. A horrible little thing.

Originally published by Sunday Herald Sun, August 13, 2006. Paul Gover, motoring editor

1 Comment

  1. Rob

    Like the list, but describing the BMW E30 M3 as having a “six-pack” is a little misleading. The S14 engine in the M3 is an incredible 4-cylinder beast…

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