It’s personal, the list of the best-looking cars ever, and everyone’s got their own take on it. It probably depends a lot on when you grew up, but even if I was steeped in the '70s I still wouldn’t find all the Broughams, half vinyl roofs and opera-window coupes of the period at all attractive, even if they were upholstered in Corinthian leather.
Here’s my very personal list of five great-looking cars, and excuse me if it concentrates on the '50s and '60s — they were a golden era for automotive styling.
Jaguar E-Type. The E, unveiled in 1961, was shaped by racing, not by the design boys, and it’s remarkable that they got the lines so absolutely perfect. There’s not a bad angle on the car, which explains why a blue roadster was added to the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection in 1996. The E-Type was designed by Malcolm Sayer, who also penned the D- and C-Types for the track (including the 24 Hours of Le Mans). The earliest Es are the best looking (and most valuable), with covered headlights and even outside hood locks. Safety regulations ruined the lines (with big fat rubber bumpers, among other atrocities), and the last V-12 cars are kind of ungainly.
BMW 507. For the life of me, I can’t understand why the 507 isn’t bootlegged in the same way as Carroll Shelby’s AC Cobra. If anything, it’s even better-looking, though a stellar price ensured that this V-8 powered roadster is a very rare bird (albeit one capable of 136 mph). The $6,300 price was less than half that of the contemporary Jaguar XK-140, another beautiful car. Even Aston Martins were much cheaper. But Elvis had no problem buying one, and it was chicken feed for Prince Rainier of Monaco and the Aga Khan. Only 250 were built. The two-seater 507, which looked like it was hitting 100 when parked, was designed by the aristocratic Albrecht Graf Goertz (who’d apprenticed to noted designer Raymond Loewy). Goertz’ other claim is to have also helped launch the Datsun 240Z, an icon of a very different type. Today, the BMW 507 is a $500,000 to $1 million car. So why not a contemporary clone?
Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato. Forget about the current V-12 Zagato. The car I’m talking about was a version of James Bond’s car, massaged by Ercole Spada at the Zagato factory and first shown in London in 1960. Zagato and Aston were both very low-volume companies, and the Zagato was never going to be a regular production car — only 25 were planned, and just 20 actually built. The DB4 was handsome, but the Zagato version was brutally good-looking; like the E-Type it was shaped in a wind tunnel to win races. Four of the cars were lightened to full competition specs and did hit the track. The car’s six-second zero to 60 time doesn’t sound fast now (you could beat it in a V-6 Camry), but it was plenty quick in its day. If you love the shape but aren’t the Aga Khan, be advised that there were Sanction II and III replicars built by the two companies in the 1980s, and many clones on lesser Aston chassis. But even those command silly money.
1939 Delahaye Type 165 Cabriolet with coachwork by Figoni and Falaschi. There is, literally, only one of these, and it’s in the Mullin Collection in California (when it’s not being taken to concours d’elegance events around the world. Connecticut-based Manny Dragone, who’s traded many a classic French car, calls it “the most beautiful piece of automotive artwork ever made.” The car, Art Deco personified, represented an extreme approach to streamlining. When it was first shown at the World’s Far in 1939, “the modernity and sublime beauty of this car’s styling drew throngs of admirers from the public and the press,” Mullin says. Despite its gorgeous looks, this Delahaye went through many indignities, including having a Cadillac engine stuffed under its hood, getting stuck on a used car lot in Hawaii, and abandoned in a Fresno, Calif., garage. Now it’s the toast of Paris again.
Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster. The 300SL “Gullwing” is the one everybody knows, because of those endlessly novel top-hinged doors. But the cool looks came with a cost — the windows didn’t really open, and the thing got unbearably hot on the road. The roadster version was the better option. The 300SL (first shown in 1954) was originally a race car, but it made quite an impression on the street after Benz importer Max Hoffman convinced the factory it was a good idea. The roadster version came out in 1957, and instantly became an object of desire for every red-blooded car enthusiast. Pictures don’t do this car justice. I owned its baby brother, the 190SL, but have always wanted one of the much beefier 300s. Dream on, pal, they’re selling for serious money now.
You need to see at least one of these on video, so here's the Aston Martin:
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