Driven To Write’s All Time Best Cars Ever: 19 to 10

Here is part four of the much-heralded and long-awaited top fifty most brilliant cars ever. There are pub arguments waiting to be decided in the light of this.

2000 Rover 45 2.0 V6
2000 Rover 45 2.0 V6

19: Rover threw everything they could at the 45 in a game attempt to impede the sales success of the perennial Golf and evergreen Focus: wood, leather and a 2.0 litre V6. This car then is the spirit of the Battle for Britain, manifest in the metal of a car. Hmmm. You’d never think there was any 1992 Honda Domani underneath the reserved, Saville Row exterior of this classy vehicle. Above all, it was a Rover. 

2003 Rover 45 interior: wikipedia.org
2003 Rover 45 interior. Wood, leather, yes almost everything to fight VW, GM and Ford: wikipedia.org

18: It is not very widely known that Giorgetto Giugiario and Walter da Silva penned the 1978 FSO Polonez (below) based on a concept that became the Fiat 125. And it is also not widely known that the Rover K 1400 engine was used in this car towards the end of its long run. The Polonez platform was versatile, spawning an estate, van, saloon and pick-up. While it may lack the outright performance of most West European cars, it was robust and easy to service, much like early Porsche 911s.

1978 Fso-Polonez-1978-1986-Photo-01
1978 FSO Polonez: carinpicture.com

17: The 1999-2006 is here because it was one of the cars that put Kia on the map in Europe. Practical, spacious, well-priced and equipped with a powerful 2.5 litre V6 (supplied by Rover), it offered a cheaper alternative to VW and Ford´s Sharan/Galaxy combo.

2002 Kia Sedona: classycars.org
2002 Kia Sedona: classycars.org

16: W638 is how Mercedes-Benz afficionados know this vehicle. For everyone else it’s a Vito. Mercedes are well-known for their large and imposing vehicles and there is little that’s larger or more imposing than a Vito bearing down on you on the motorway, close enough to your exhaust to suck the fumes directly into the Vito’s immense, comfortable and practical cabin.

Volkswagen supplied some of the power for these leviathans. The same engine that has propelled Corrados into hedges backwards is used in some versions of the Vito. The mind trembles at the thought of how much fuel is required to push that much frontal area from Berlin to Neuilly-Sur-Seine in seven hours. For many, the Vito is the arch modern Mercedes: front-drive and with strakes down the sides.

1996 Mercedes Benz Vito: topsspeed.com
1996 Mercedes Benz Vito: topspeed.com
1974 Audi 50
1974 Audi 50: Audiworld.com

15: The first compact-class car to be made in Germany, claims Audiworld and over 180,000 units were made before production was cancelled in 1978. Who are we to argue? That’s the inimitable Audi 50 (above). If you think this car is just a warmed-over Polo, you’d be right but it was also part of a long-term strategy that rocketed Audi into the top-tier of car makers and which cost Peugeot its chance of ever being taken seriously as a maker of prestige vehicles.

14: By the time 1972 arrived. the ADO17 body had been on sale for a good six years. The 1972 Wolseley Six (below) was the finest iteration of the series which relied on Sir Alec Issogonis’ unique vision for its genesis. Front driven, spacious and like nothing else, the Six built the foundations that set Wolseley firmly on its 1970s course. Pininfarina had a hand in the design too. These cars are rather rare now and recall an era when unconventional engineering was de rigeur in the large car class.

1972 Wolseley Six: telegraph.com
1972 Wolseley Six: telegraph.com

13: Ford’s Consul aka the Granada. One could choose any one of the several series to bear this illustrious name as Number 13. It needs no commentary but invites plenty. We choose a 1975 Consul, run by our acting assistant editor-at-large Myles Gorfe. Long gone, the Granada and then the Scorpio defined a generation of driving for a legion of motoring fans. Even if you never sat in one, you knew someone who did and these once were so common as to be invisible. Now they actually are. Nobody did accessible executive motoring like Ford who knew their customers inside out and always had a vehicle that was right for them. Insiders say the 1973 3.0 V6 GLX is the one to go for.

1975 Ford Granada 2.0 L
1975 Ford Granada 2.0 L

12. The 1973 Oldsmobile Toronado is part of that range of cars that marked the zenith of American auto styling. The Olds here came with a choice of 6.6 and 7.5 litre V8s, the latter being the much-lauded Rocket that became part of Oldsmobile’s logo long after the firm was reduced to selling rebadged Chevrolets and undistinguished sludge like the 1980-1984 X-body Omega. It was as if Arnold Schwarzenegger was replaced half-way through a film by Danny de Vito. The car here, a Custom, has lavishly complex pressings, a grille larger than the Parthenon and a massive boot. No wonder people loved these machines. It’s a BOF car too.

1973 Olds Toronado Custom:thelastdetail.com
1973 Olds Toronado Custom:thelastdetail.com

11: The 2001 to 2008 Peugeot 307 (designed in-house) heralded a new era at Peugeot. It had a spacious and roomy cabin and much uprated interior trim compared to the smart-handling, elegant Pininfarina-designed 306 that it superceded. Made in France, Argentina and China, the distinctively styled 307 could be had in 3 or 5 door hatch versions, as an estate or as an eye-catching saloon which was made for the Chinese market. The pick of the bunch has to be the 4-cylinder in-line diesel to exactly capture the character of this archetypal mid-size family hatch.

The saloon version of the 2001-2008 Peugeot 307: autoevolution.com
The saloon version of the 2001-2008 Peugeot 307: autoevolution.com

11b: Alternatively there is the KA9 series of Honda Legends, sold from 1995 to 2004. While it looks deliciously anodyne, it packs an incredible amount of high technology but only one engine, a 3.5 litre V6. Essentially, Honda said, this is all the engine you need for a car like this. Wool upholstery was still an option. While Mercedes, Jaguar, Lexus, BMW and Audi fought it out for who could offer the largest displacement and most chrome adornments, Honda stepped calmly out of the fray and made a quieter, more agile vehicle for the thinking buyer. A car for connoisseurs.

1997 Honda Legend: remarkablecar.com
1997 Honda Legend: remarkablecar.com

10: Seat Cordoba estate. Not the saloon or the hatch. The estate in 1.9 diesel guise. This is pretty much all the car 80% of us will ever need. The 1992-2003 version shared mechanicals with the VW Polo but had some sparkle, some elan, some Iberian joie de vivre (or whatever that is in Spanish).

It´s another ItalDesign car, the 1992 Seat Cordoba estate: nettiauto.com
It´s another ItalDesign car, the 1992 Seat Cordoba estate: nettiauto.com

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

51 thoughts on “Driven To Write’s All Time Best Cars Ever: 19 to 10”

  1. With the exception of Tatra, I’ve generally been very dismissive of the cars produced by the Comecon countries on these pages. However, though I may dispute its No.18 position here (surely No. 21 would be more suitable), the Polonez was a smart attempt for its time to disguise the archaic 125p (whose underpinnings went back to the late 50s). Did Giugiaro and Da Silva work on it together, or did one do a facelift. It represented a lot of car (and even more oversteer) for not very much money.

    There’s a nice Polonez ‘review’ from Serbia here which also has relevance to Eoin’s ‘Car For Life’ piece.

    http://www.carsurvey.org/reviews/fso/polonez/

    1. You are very wrong about the position of the Polonez. If it goes to 21 it will put the Rover at 22 and upset all the associated rankings completely.
      Czechoslovakia was the only Comecon land with decent cars. What stopped Poland which had coal and steel and a ready market?

    2. My guess is that Poland didn’t have any automobile manufacturing capability pre-dating WWII, or there was nothing left of it. It’s one thing to build cars, quite another to build decent (or better) cars, even more so under central planning constraints .

  2. It’s surprising how little reaction this list garners so I am very grateful for those comments so far. You’d think a list would be real catnip for people keen to agree or argue about their favourite cars’ positioning or placement. The fact the list is so originally sequenced is not helping.

    1. I think the comments are far too authoritative for anyone to dare comment.

  3. Yes, Sam, you are probably right about the level of authority being unleashed here. The judgements are very finely tuned so Olds’ position relative to the Seat is virtually locked in, all things considered. I expect Wikipedia will start citing it.

  4. Hard to believe that the Wolseley could have been dressed in CX-like body panels … what were they thinking?

    One could consider the 45 as the spiritual successor to that car and is, in some respects, similarly tragic with hindsight.

  5. From memory, the “Land Crab” could have been dressed in a Pininfarina styled design which was clearly an inspiration for Opron’s CX. I’ll try to find a picture/ reference.

    1. After all that I must thank everyone for finding images. My question was based on a misunderstanding. I thought that SV meant that a new body for the Wolseley was intended, rather than it being one of that crop of CX-oids to begin with.
      The Pininfarina concept has to rank as the largest of missed chances. Some Brylcreemed clot at BMC retired knowing he had vetoed that in place of the actual 1100 body.

    2. I saw that Pininfarina Land Crab on AROnline (what a fantastic website, by the way) a few years ago. What a superb car that could have been. It should be cited in MBA studies the world over as an example of blinkered management.

  6. Well, this Seat Cordoba Estate was a fine car, but in comparison with the VW Polo Variant, he lacks the special german refinement and the teutonic timeless styling. Can this be compensated by some mediterrean emotions – i don´t believe so.

    If you want to see the explosion of creativity in car design after the end of the communistic era, just have a look at he Lada 2110 – a true inspiration for cars like the Toyota Prius Mark I or the Suzuki Liana or maybe – this fantastic eyecatcher from Peugeot above.

    1. Quite honestly, Markus. We welcome dissent and debate here but I really think that even daring to suggest the Polo estate came even within sight of the Cordoba estate is pushing our limits. The Polo is plain derivative and looks monstrous in comparison. It resembles a scaled-down Passat but also just apes the best of the Cordoba while adding nothing new
      Well done for reminding us of the Lada. It had a short life, didn’t it? I won’t fault them for having a go but that they didn’t hire external consultants to make a better fist of it shows they didn’t even know they didn’t know how to design a car. It makes one wonder what a proper Russian car should look like.

    2. …derivative of the original Audi 50, I’d say. So actually, the Polo is a warmed-over 50. What does that say about the Cordoba? And the Ibiza? And the Fabia? And so on…

  7. Wow, the suspense has been shot for places 10 to 1 : Volga, Wartburg, Volkswagen Polo, Opel Kadett; Porsche 911, Fiat 125, Lada Niva, Skoda Favorit, Honda Civic and Citroen CX. All originals for the copies that made places 20-11…
    Please let’s all make a donation for the author of this article, who clearly must be trapped by a communist regime for at least 30 years now in Northern Korea, some Cuban backwater, or Crimea. Let’s free the poor sod.
    What really got me into this altruistic mode is his heartbreaking plea that I will repeat now and here :
    Quite honestly, Markus. We welcome dissent and debate here but I really think that even daring to suggest the Polo estate came even within sight of the Cordoba estate is pushing our limits.

    No more pushing his limits !!! Get the poor sod free and give him some air and real food (for thought). And maybe a car, he has pedaled enough by now.

    Get real dude ! Your list stinks.

  8. Daniel: in the spirit of the list’s principles I have ask if VW’s designers have no shame, copying as they do the best of Audi and Seat. And it’s still going on! The Skoda Rapid and Seat Toledo are astonishingly similar. Lawyers must be involved.
    For me the Polo is just not as special as the elegant Audi.
    I am quite surprised at the amount of kickback this list is generating. The top nine is going to cause the fur to fly, I think.

    1. Well it was always going to be controversial. Stick to your guns and hopefully we’ll see a contructive debate develop. Alternatively, just remove the comments option on the next thread.

    2. The Audi A50 vs VW Polo story is actually inverse. The car was developed by Audi and then rebadged as a VW. The next revelation is: the first Golf was actually developed by Audi. This explains why there is nothing traditional VW about the Golf (no rear engine, not aircooled).

  9. With my serious hat on, the idea VW poached its two most significant cars changes one’s perspective. VW had cash but no ideas and Audi was the reverse. I wonder how much clash of cultures there was when VW took control over Audi.

    1. Volkswagen bought the Auto Union shares from Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes was always regarding the Auto-Union as an inferior manufacturer of poor cars. So the guys at Auto Union were probably happy to get a new owner which much more interest on their ideas.
      I remember Kurt Lotz was telling the story of his first day being CEO of Volkswagen. in 1967 He asked where the plans for the cars of the futures are. The answer was : Well, we had no plans, we have the beetle….

  10. That´s a great story Markus. I wish I had known that one ages ago. One gets the impression of Volkswagen as this unstoppable leviathan but this story reveals that they were a kind of super lucky cottage industry that happened to luck out with good managers just in time to stop going the way of Borgward,

  11. VW had a lot of luck in the seventies – that´s true.
    In the early seventies – VW was near to the end. The 1302 and 1303 were really thirsty and the VW 411 (4 doors, 11 years too late) or the 412 (12 years ..) were not competitive in any points.
    And the self-developped successor of the Beetle, Ferdinand Piëch´s EA266, was a desaster (remember they already built 50 units of this ugly piece of steel).

    So it helps VW a lot that they could use the technical knowledge of Audi and NSU.
    And there was another helper – the oil crisis. A lot of stupid Yankees were replacing their very big Gaz Guzzlers by the old but small (and actually not really economic) Beetle. So Volkswagen managed to switch their production into a modern car range without too many troubles.

    Borgward is another story – some Borgward maniacs believe the spirit of Borgward is still present in a Mercedes (because Mercedes is biuilding cars at the former Borgward halls in Bremen).

    1. Thanks very much for drawing my attention to this prototype. I Googled it and found a variety of cars; the one I think you´re referring to is a two door with an air-cooled rear engine. The photo shows two air intakes near the rear wheels. It is a prototype yet some of the choices are downright odd. VW had an injection of design talent which changed them markedly. I forget there must have been a time when VW was still learning how to handle design. That puts the subsequent products in proper perspective.

    1. Agreed. What is essentially a random list has become a fascinating little trove of information. It´s the readership that matters here! That´s what makes this enterprise so rewarding.

  12. It’s certainly true that the Nordhoff faction at VW found it impossible to see past the Beetle, but I think it’s easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to be dismissive of everything they came up with with. A cutaway of the EA266 reveals a mid-engined, four seater with a lot of luggage space. Was this actually such a dead end?

    A bit less tantalising maybe is the EA276, the car that led to the Golf, but with the VW Flat 4 driving the front wheels.

    And, although Audi engineers had to prove themselves with the 100 first, VW were their custodians from the mid 60s, so it’s not quite right to present the transverse, front drive package as something VW bought in from an outside source in desperation. And Audi aren’t adverse to ‘not-invented-here’ blindness, persisting with their nose heavy, longitudinal engined, front drivers for year after year.

    1. Yes, you can see the board saying “Do we really need to hire this Giugiaro guy? He’s not that well known is he, and our in-house team did a pretty good job with the EA276 after all?”

    2. IMO, Giugiaro´s masterpiece was the first Passat. He succeeded in giving the Passat (which was nothing else than a Audi 80 with a hatchback) an own personality and a VW-typical style. So the front-wheel-drive was successfully established at VW and the way was paved for the next front-wheel-driven Volkwagen (Scirocco, Golf, Jetta and so on).
      Remember the VW K70 – a very good car, but not accepted as a VW (Indeed it was a NSU).

  13. The complete fleet of EA266-prototypes was destroyed by Leopard tanks one day (only one car survives under mysterious circumstances) – this should be enough said about the virtues of this car. It was a desaster concerning maintenance, reliability, inevitable cabin heating – and costs.

    But the EA266 was beaten by a distance from the Polo Concept by Luigi Colani. Volkswagen´s CEO Schmücker asked the peacocky self-promoter Luigi Colani to create a new revoultionary small car. And he did his very best.

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