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