DTW’s Top Twenty Three Great European Cars – Part 4

We continue this tour of the greatest European cars at number ten. The competition gets fiercer as we near the top.

1968 BMW 1600 GT: classicvirus.com

In this section Opel, Maserati, BMW and Austin do battle. And one other marque… Read on to find out how the great European cars of the late 20th century were rated.

I don’t think one can resist the urge to question some of these ratings but for the moment they are final. Feel free to make suggestions as to alternatives.

Number ten is the 1968 BMW 1600 GT. This is a BMW and a GT and so may be said to epitomise in miniature form the core of the European car philosophy. The delicate styling challenges Opel’s GT for outright prettiness (making it an unusual BMW). The car had a four-speed manual box, with power sent to the rear-wheels for agile and responsive handling. The semi-trailing arm rear axle with coil springs helped this aim. The engine displaced 1.6 litres and produced 77 kW.

It was small: just over 4 metres long (like a Copen) and low. The top speed may not seem much today. In such a small car 118 mph must have seemed supersonic. Frua designed the svelte coachwork, so it’s a typical BMW blend of German engineering and Italian flair. Rating 88/100.

1980 Austin Metro: thismoney.co.uk

Number nine must be the 1980 Austin Metro. If the Italians are among the best known for small cars, the British too must be accorded some recognition for this little entity: small, efficient and front-wheel drive. It is part of a long tradition of Anglo-Saxon no-nonsense, slightly charmless designs. The car survived the retirement of the Austin marque and it found new life as a luxury mini, the much-missed Rover 114. Rating 89/100.

1986 Opel Combo: YouTube

For number eight the selection pressure has been intense, with several quite different cars vying for this spot. As it turns out, the Opel Combo “A” (1986-1993) won the tussle. The Americans don’t have a vehicle like this. They prefer open trucks. This is a very European creation: the practical van based on the front wheel-drive mid-sized hatch. As ever, Opel did very good job of blending the box to the front of the car. Eventually these cars grew into vans in their own right but at the same time many firms gave up making them themselves and engaged in cross-brand joint ventures. Rating: 89.5/100

1976 Maserati Kyalami by Frua. Image: picautos

Number seven can only be a Maserati: not good enough for the top five but memorable nonetheless and not without charm. Who would not want to drive this car? Who would really want to own one and no other car? That’s the Maserati character. Great, but no thanks. How European. Rating: 89.6/100

1950 Jowett Jupiter: octane.co.uk

Number Six: only 900 Jowett Jupiters were made between 1950 and 1954 but they left a lasting mark. “Three class wins at Le Mans and one in the Monte Carlo rally proved the Jupiter’s worth and attracted enthusiast buyers”, write the staff at Octane. For me this car is inescapably British. It looks tough and robust and, unusually for English cars of the period, the form-giving is quite refined. Yes, there is an underlying blockiness to the car yet the soft forms draping it suggest a dynamic capability. It’s a really tiny car made in tiny numbers. They aren’t cheap either. Rating: 89.99/100

Author: richard herriott

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

10 thoughts on “DTW’s Top Twenty Three Great European Cars – Part 4”

  1. The BMW GT isn’t a BMW but a Glas that just happened to have its engine and rear axle replaced with BMW parts. The bodywork is nearly pure Glas.

    1. When you get lyrical about the car’s looks, honour should go where it’s due and that is Glas, not BMW.

  2. So four years of Glas GT followed by two as a BMW, following its November 10th 1966 acquisition of the Glas firm, makes this gawky car one of Europe’s top 23 cars based on rigorous examination of its engineering and technical competence?

    Got it. I’m certain thousands might not. Many of the picks thus far proposed I personally find obscure. Proponents for the Ford Orion (employing the same wheeze as VW used to produce the 1980 Jetta but some years later, that is to tack a boot onto a hatchback with all the skill of an apprentice metalworker three weeks on the job) will be delighted at the rigorous evaluation standards used to pick this giant of innovation out of a crowd of tin boxes.

    To my mind, the Metro stands out as a monument to the A-series wheezer’s last gasp. The Jowett series stands out as products of an underfinanced company stretching too far and not making it – the Australian owner’s club, whose service literature I had read before in several hours of disbelief, merely cement that feeling in me. It was the ultimate bodge but reported by the patrotic UK press of the time as a world beater. Still, Enid Blyton loved the look of the convertible as Noddy and Big Ears tootled around in one for years.

    1. Do I detect a small bit of scepticism about DTW’s evaluation? Frankly, given the remarkable effort expended in gathering this list I am almost tempted to suggest that I find that skepticism to be nearly something that one might perhaps say was tantamount to approaching the vicinity of
      bordering on the almost impertinent. Maybe I should have proposed the Vauxhall Belmont?
      The Ford Orion was very European – can you name an American FWD hatch that was turned so efficiently into a sedan as the Escort\Orion?

  3. Dave: I suppose you could say Glas laid the foundations but the car as shown is a BMW. The point though is not who made it but that that iteration – the 1968 – exemplifies a great European tradition of sporty GTs better than the similar car Glas made.

    1. Glas didn’t just lay the foundation. They had Frua design the car and built around 5,500 of them under the name of Glas GT with a leaf sprung live axle and their own OHC engine.
      So it’s not a big wonder that the car looks unusual for a BMW.

      BMW just added their kidney grille and the round rear lights to the body and their M10 engine cum semi trailing arm suspension and produced around 2,000 of them.

    2. And what about the simply sublime BMW 5 series GT? It’s got the letters G & T in its name (like a very popular alcoholic beverage), it’s got a fastback derrière, it’s ‘not for everybody’ – how can this NOT be high up this list?

    3. Kris: you’re dealing with one of the few slightly automotive-aware people in the solar system who doesn’t hate the new GT. And, we haven’t got to the top five yet so there’s still a chance.
      In all seriousness, the GT has an excellent interior. It ought to be a Renault or Ford though.

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