Hot Wheels, Indeed

Here to Eternity: The 50 Most Iconic Cars in Motoring History

December 2, 2011 Cars By Photo by GP

Ford Shelby Mustang GT350/500

These beefed up versions of the standard Ford Mustang emerged in 1965 as essentially street legal race cars with the aid of Carroll Shelby, himself. Over the course of production, they eventually were moved to in-house production directly by Ford. What started out as an attempt to create a unique performance vehicle with some modifications from the standard car has resulted in generations of a true American icon (as exemplified by the coveted “Eleanor” in the movie Gone in 60 Seconds). Heavier, more brutal and yet more refined in character, the current 2012 top of the line version (the Super Snake) boasts a face-ripping 800 horsepower, up from the original 289 hp in 1965.

Ferrari F40

Quite possibly the ultimate driver’s Ferrari. Built in the days when traction control, ABS and other driver assist tech was for sissies. Lean, light, fast and positively ferocious, the F40 made mincemeat of cars with more horsepower due to its singular purpose of being a rocket powered street razor. The huge and purposeful rear wing both keeps the car planted and makes it visible from a mile away. No AC and no radio so you can hear the sonorous twin turbo V8 rasping its pipes at 471 orgasmic horsepower.

Mercedes-Benz 300 SL

In 1955, the 300 SL took the world by storm, positioning itself as not only one of the most beautiful cars ever made but also as the fastest car of its day with the world’s first direct injection gasoline four stroke engine. The Roadster with its curvacious gullwing doors made the car that much more exclusive. Today, it commands up to three quarters of a million dollars at auction and we think its worth every penny.

Volkswagen Beetle

An automotive hippie magnet, the Beetle could just be the most recognized car in the world. Built in colossal numbers for a world market, the Beetle was unsafe, underpowered and just plain unimpressive, except that it looked like nothing the world had ever seen. It was the car that made people happy just by looking at it. Don’t even get us started on the New Beetle. We think the 3rd try will be “the cleaner” and make us forget the tragically flawed but ever so successful designs of the first two.

Citroen DS

You might consider it a dowdy European taxi of sorts, but the Citroen DS gave its driver instant class and sophistication combined with technology and utility. This wonder was introduced in the 50s and went on to see 20 years of production. Possessing the world’s first front disc brakes in a production car, along with self-leveling suspension and self-leveling directional headlights, it was truly revolutionary. If you’ve seen it in person, you know how well it has stood the test of time. And this is one case where being French is truly a very good thing.

Porsche 356 Speedster

Brought into existence by Ferdinand Porsche himself, the 356 is considered Porsche’s first production vehicle. A direct relation to the VW Beetle (say it isn’t so), the 356 was built it both coupe and Speedster forms from the 1940s through 1965 It wasn’t a speed machine, with only a flat-4 engine, but the design was both simple and classic. In various racing iterations, it made itself additionally famous in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Mille Miglia and still brings upwards of $300,000 at auction. Most importantly, it gave birth to the Porsche 911. Talk about good genes.

1969 Mercedes-Benz 280SL Roadster

Elegantly simple and achingly beautiful, the 280SL Roadster had a smooth inline six engine with either a 4-speed manual, 4-speed automatic or a wonderful ZF 5-speed manual. With an upgraded M130 170 horsepower engine, the car had enough kick to be quick but not surprisingly so. American models were upgraded with fancy imperial gauges and chrome bumper guards and essentially transitioned the car from sports convertible to luxury grand tourer. It clearly exuded wealth and sophistication from the driver’s seat and the car found huge success with nearly 20,000 versions sold in America. It’s a beautiful example of what a roadster should look like, no matter what generation it’s from.

Acura Legend

The Legend was the first Japanese sedan to move into the luxury sedan market that was dominated by the Germans in the late 1980s and 1990s. Long, smooth and utterly reliable, it was the first flagship released under the Acura luxury brand and everyone, including the Germans, took notice. With a butter-smooth V6 that could kick 60 in under 8 seconds, a low curb weight, responsive throttle, expanses of fine leather and a ride to rival Mercedes and BMW the Legend became just that. The leaders in the luxury car segment started making their own changes as a result. It still sells as the Legend outside of the states and sadly goes under the boring Acura RL name here.

Land Rover Defender

The SUV for the ages, the Land Rover Defender is the benchmark for a capable SUV. Low tech and all the more glorious for it, the Defender conquers rocks, mud and snow where others fear to tread. Carried over from the Land Rover Series I, II and III, the Defender 110 and 90 (indicating wheelbase lengths) modernized the original by adding an upgraded interior, beefed up and more compliant suspension and more powerful engines. Production in the U.S. sadly ended in the 1990s but used models are still much-coveted. Let’s hope for a new version within the next year or two. Please carry over the jump seats.

Ferrari 250 GTO

If you have one of these, you’re pretty damned special (and phenomenally wealthy). It was only produced for a few years in the 1960’s for GT racing and roadgoing models for homologation. The 250 GT SWB was the springboard for the iconic GTO, which is not a bad place to start. With its 3.0 liter V12 engine, characteristic hood, front fender and rear fender vents, the GTO was both purposeful and gorgeous. It is considered one of Ferrari’s most beautiful designs, though it was never penned by any one person. The last one sold for nearly $20 million.

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