With such a variety of vehicles available around the world today, there are great differences of opinion over the attributes which are needed for a car to become a style icon.
The word ‘icon’ is often overused, but in the case of the motor industry there has been a select number of cars which have earned that title. And one of those is the Mini.
That title is justified by the fact that well over four million have been sold since the first car appeared in 1959. It has been replaced once – by the Metro – but, in 2015, the MINI is still going strong.
And while the latest iteration of the car may be vastly different from Sir Alec Issigonis’s original design, his successors have stuck to the original intention, to build a car with mass appeal, which is in tune with a wide range of potential buyers.
Motoring style through the years
What is considered cutting-edge style in motoring terms is much like it is in most other subjective fields. In other words, it changes according to contemporary tastes and fashions.
So while some cars might have been lauded for their style in their time, the passing of the years has not necessarily been kind to them, and they are now considered purely period pieces, and a reflection of what was seen to be cutting edge and desirable at the time.
Several surveys have been carried out to find the most stylish cars ever produced, and while the results are, by their very nature, subjective, there is general consensus that certain cars are, or have been, widely regarded as particularly eye-catching, or boasting a look which has taken them outside their core market, and given them clear, mass appeal and desirability.
So what is a truly stylish car?
Men’s style magazine GQ might be considered to be well-placed to judge such a question, and it has carried out its own research to pinpoint the most enduringly attractive cars. Its research, while comprehensive, cannot be considered to be complete, however, as it only considered models from the last 50 years in its survey, carried out in 2010.
It split its findings into decades, and came to the following conclusions for each:
- The 1960s. This was a time when the space race was in full swing, and aeronautical design began to have a real bearing on that of cars too. As a result, we saw enduringly stylish cars such as the Mercedes Benz 230 to 280SL two-door convertibles. With their removable hard tops, these were seen as the apogee of ‘cool’ in an era when such a quality became something to aspire to.
- The 1970s. While it was strictly introduced right at the end of the preceding decade, it was in this one when the Jaguar E-Type really caught the imagination. And when even Enzo Ferrari, the mastermind behind so many of the Italian marques finest efforts, says this was “the most beautiful car ever made”, then there must be some credence to his view.
- The 1980s. Sports cars were essential features of just about every big box office film in this decade, and one car which epitomises the style – and indeed, thanks to British TV detective series Ashes To Ashes, has seen its appeal be revisited, is the Audi Quattro. Its beauty was more than skin-deep, however, as it was the first mass-market all-wheel drive sports car.
- The 1990s. The decade in which sports cars became supercars was when the McLaren F1 blurred the lines between the cars we all knew from the racetrack, and what was legal for driving on the road. Just 100 of these were made, and all cost more than $1million (about £600,000) – although they’re worth much more than that now, simply because they are so sought-after.
- The 2000s. The new millennium saw everyone hanker after a little more style to go with the increasing technical sophistication of what they were driving. And the way many looked was – backwards. As a result, we were brought the MINI Cooper, as the marque’s new owner, BMW, aimed to appeal to the American market as much as the Europeans who had loved the original. And it has paid off handsomely, with the British-built car becoming a sales success in these markets and many more.
Yes, beauty is subjective. But it’s a quality which everyone clearly appreciates, and when a car manufacturer ‘gets it right’, then it can reap huge benefits in terms of sales and, more generally, its reputation among buyers and owners, whether or not they can afford the car in question.