Some time back, DTW surveyed the world of cars to produce a definitive top 50 of all time. In this series, we narrow the field to European vehicles and present a run-down of the best Eurocars ever. The ratings are based on a weighted combination of engineering, styling, boot capacity and overall significance.
We will start off by a reminder of why a Seat, a Borgward and a Fiat are remembered as they are.
The dubious honour of trailing at number 22 in this list belongs to the 1991 Seat Toledo. That was the one that set the standard the others never quite lived up to. To find out more about the Toledo and the others you have to carry on reading…. so please do.
That Seat – the Toledo, the car that insiders know as the Typ 1L was on sale from May 1991 to March 1999 as a five-door hatch. This configuration created some clear blue water between it and the similar Jetta/Vento of the same time: the ‘ledo’s boot approached 551 litres if you crammed in things with enough force, possibly even 552 litres.
ItalDesign served up the crisp and distinctive lines of the car, setting down the main themes that have stayed with Seat to this day. The car lived in the era of intelligible engine displacements: 1.6, 1.8 and 2.o litre petrols and the inevitable odd-numbered 1.9 litre diesel intended for Malaga taxi drivers and duffel-coat wearers in Macclesfield.
Five speed manuals were standard and though it didn’t come across as a sporting car, it found an audience as warm performance car. The germ of Seat’s sporting image developed from this car. That happened because VAG really needed to find a way to distinguish the Toledo from its Audi and VW offerings, a problem it didn’t have before.
This example I found for sale for 500 euros:
You may have noticed DTW keeps coming back to the Toledo. It is something of a fascinating hybrid and almost certainly what we now often like to call a “game-changer”: built in Spain to VW standards, with ItalDesign input in a market sector geared to saloons, this five-door surprised and satisfied by turns. Future classic? Don’t say it too loud because then everyone will want one.
Number 21 – 1961 Borgward P100
Carl F.W. Borgward gmbh, the noted Bremen-based manufacturer presented this aristocratic carriage at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1959. These days we consider the position of the Audi/Mercedes/BMW triumvirate to be an inevitability. From the banks of the Weser in 1959 that did not seem so clear. Borgward was among Germany’s leading car makers.
In 1959 the world looked very different and if you wanted a well-made and bourgeois alternative to a Mercedes, then you went quickly hence to Borgward. No other German manufacturer came close in terms of engineering innovation. VW only made economy cars and BMW was toying with small saloons of considerable technical indifference.
Despite the production numbers remaining in the 4-figure range (manufacture only lasted under two years), the car has left a lasting impact. The car boasted (though modestly) a 2.2 straight six petrol engine and a 4-speed, syncromesh manual transmission. The tidy, reserved and almost mid-Atlantic styling disguised the car’s 4.7 metre length and 1.7 metre width.
Bremen built these cars to last, as evinced by the hefty, Jaguar-challenging 1650 kg kerbweight. Borgward wanted a car to serve the captains of industry thriving amidst the Wirtschaftswunder years: it could pull 100 mph and had “Airswing” air-suspension to cushion the rush from Aschaffenburg to Worms, for example. That feature appeared before Mercedes managed to offer a version of it on their own cars. It was perhaps the last of Borgward’s many firsts.
The car had to compete with stiff competition from Mercedes, whose 220E made much of the running. Even if Borgward borrowed something of the Anglo-Saxon habit of releasing cars with a tendency to teething troubles but the P100 did rather well in monthy-sales terms and had Borgward continued trading there are reasonable grounds to imagine that the car would have had a successful run and sired a successor.
Autobild Klassik dubs the P100 the “forgotten milestone”. There are only about 50 left out of the roughly 5000 made.
1983 Fiat Regata – To introduce this landmark car I have to go the Danish-language section of Wikipedia and translate this almost directly: “The Regata was a car made by Fiat. The car replaced the (respected and long-lived) Fiat 131 in 1983 and in turn was replaced by the Fiat Tempra”.
Production lasted six tumultuous years during which standards of design and engineering changed markedly and the hang-over from the national markets began to wane. Despite these vicissitudes, the Tempra kicked the shins of the Ford Orion, Volvo 340, Mitsubishi Lancer and even Volkwagen Jetta.
Interestingly, the car is related to the Seat Malaga which in Greece was sold as the Gredos: appropriate enough as the Regata’s rorty and torquey motors had no trouble with inclines and ascents. Due to the light steering they also thrived in the twisties of which the Gredos range has many.
Students of Seat history will also recall that the Regata was effectively replaced by none other than the Seat Toledo. What sets the Regata apart is the tidy and reserved styling and the broad range of engines, turning out between 65 and 100 bhp which meant that whether you were in search of economy or performance there was a Regata for you.
Unlike the VW Golf, the Regata had a boot – and a commodious one at that. Such was the appeal of the car that the Irish Ordnance Survey chose an image of one for the front cover of its 1:56,000 scale maps which are the ones antiquarians and landscape enthusiasts turn to today when exploring any of the Hibernian countryside not yet marred by ghost estates and shopping centres.
At the time of writing Autoscout had none at all for sale: that might mean that those who own them never sell them. Food for thought.