Find out how DTW ranks the best cars from the 39th to 30th. This list is definitive, by the way. All decisions are final.
39. Another stunning car from Fiat: practical, modern and easy to drive. The doors were essentially the same as those found on the Lancia Thema, Alfa Romeo 164 and Saab 9000. No other mid-size family saloon could make that claim. The Croma was galvanised from sills to roof and resisted rust like no other Fiat before it.
38. Fiat followed up the success of the first generation Croma by asking Giugiario to style their ’00s take on the large family car. Avoiding the conventions of such cars, the second Croma straddled two size classes and resembled a mix of MPV and estate. In one year alone it sold more than 65,000 examples. For the picky UK market it was a special order car after its first year on sale. Note the stylish grille and distinctive lights, hallmarks of Il Maestro’s assured touch. The underlying architecture came from GM as part of Fiat’s tie-up with the US auto combine. No Opel Vectra ever looked like this.
37. The Toyota Crown married the best of American and the best of Japanese styling in a European package. Smooth to drive, loaded with equipment and powered by a silken petrol six, this was a car for customers who wanted to break the conventions of traditional upper class motoring. This car set the template that was eventually solidified by Lexus with the peerless LS400 saloon. In many ways, the lessons that Toyota learned in making the Crown formed the foundations for the success of Lexus in the US if not the EU. No Granada, R25 or even Mercedes customer would get the same smooth-running, bullet-proof durability of the Crown. Now highly sought after too.
36. The Leyland wedge (a.k.a the Princess and later Ambassador among others). Harris Mann set off a trend with reverberations that are reverberating to this day: the rising beltline. While it shocked motorists in the ’70s it came to be almost the norm. The fastback shape astonished drivers used to the conservative profiles of Marinas, Cortinas and Victors. Note the way the lower line of the sideglass curves up under the side-mirror so as to flow along to the base of the windscreen. A much copied detail!
The trapezoidal lamps also broke conventions. These days all lamps are specially shaped. In the 70s it was unheard of. Also unheard of were the spaciousness and airiness of the car which competed against a raft of very cramped and conventional saloons such as the Peugeot 305, Opel Kadett and BMW 316. The Princess name harked back to the 4.0 litre Princesses of the ’50s and ’60s but the ’70s iteration represented affordable luxury for everyman. The later Ambassador version had a hatchback.
35. The thirty-fifth best ever car is Maserati’s 1974 Khamsin. Not to be confused with the Karif, Kyalami or Kubang. Maserati didn’t make a V8 in this mould for another 20 years. In a way that was good because the Khamsin was hard to handle, cramped, fragile and thirsty but very, very fast in a straight line. Only a Porsche 911 comes close in terms of character.
34. Don’t mistake this for the Opel Vectra of 1995. The 1999 Saturn L200 added V6 appeal to the Saturn mix of economy and practicality. Unlike previous Saturns, the L200 had a standard steel body and was not made in the Saturn factory but somewhere else in the GMpire. If not as good-looking as the refined Vectra “B” (1995-2002), the L200 showed what GM USA could do with expensive engineering from its Ruesselsheim Opel subsidiary: ruin a brand’s USP and wreck the German styling too. Fittingly, Opel Insignias are now replacing American-designed Buicks in the US and may do for the Tri-Shield what the Vectra “B” did for Saturn. Quite truly a historic car.
33. The 1992 McLaren F1 is notable for its three abreast seating pattern and for being styled by Peter Stevens.
32. Honda’s 1990 NSX has an aluminium body, a V6 and handling tuned by Ayrton Senna. If it has a proclivity to chew rear tyres, it is also as easy to drive as a Civic but possibly more rewarding than most of its more pedigreed peers. The NSX is as much a shibboleth as a car: it divides car enthusiasts like a Solingen steel blade cutting a slice of Jeremy Clarkson’s greasy bacon. Think of it as a rich man’s Prelude.
32b. The 1975 Rolls-Royce Camargue. With its distinctive Paulo Martin lines and powerful V8, nothing came close enough even for comparison. Perhaps Bristol’s formula had a passing resemblance but the styling was not nearly striking enough for the money asked at the time. It may have been controversial when it appeared but now it is among the most talked-about Rollers of the 1970s.
31. Only the Germans really got this car, the Cologne-V6 powered Sierra Sapphire. It marks the end of the era of big, cheap RWD Fords with six-cylinder power. After this came the front-wheel drive Mondeo and the “modern age” of Blue Ovals which attempted to mix it with the German big three but were handicapped with power delivered to the wrong end of the car. Ford took a major wrong-turn here as from this point on a big V6 in a mid-size car made no sense as it ruined the handling. One of Ford’s few proper own-goals this, but a big one. The next error was to drop the Granada, a move that came at the end of the decade.
30. And in at number three-oh, the much-maligned Jaguar X-type. If Ford hadn’t messed up with the Sierra then this car might have had a chance. It’s still brilliant though. If you cut the X-type in half the word “aspiration” is written all the way through (longitudinally). It offended purists but charmed motoring writers, at least until some time in 2003 after which time the consensus against it hardened for no reason I can discern. However, in its 2.0 litre 4-cylinder guise it offers Jaguar luxury for Mondeo prices. In its 3.0 litre six-cylinder guise it offers Mondeo-driving (albeit with 4WD) for Jaguar prices.
The pick of the bunch is the diesel estate. This is a sure-fire future classic alongside the Rover 75 and Rover 800i. A Subaru Forester does the same sort of thing but lacks the image.