Top 100 Coolest Cars of all Time
Picking 100 of the coolest cars is harder than you think, a task made even more difficult by the multitude of opinions of all the Cars.co.za writers, who are self-proclaimed car anoraks. This is what we have come up with, after many arguments and fall-outs.
Before we delve into the list, a word of caution. You are unlikely to agree with everything that we've included, even we didn't agree on every car listed here. Cool is not an easy thing to pin down, but some cars just exude a sense of occasion; they elicit nods of approval as they drive by or emit soundtracks that make your spine tingle. It can even come down to just how good the darn things look.
100. Lamborghini Urus
The Urus is cool because it's a Lamborghini SUV, something that last existed in the early Nineties when the St’Agata-based firm experimented with the LM002 “Rambo Lambo” (but only built a few more than 300 units). The Urus sets the benchmark for what a super-SUV is meant to be: stupendously powerful and crazy fast. It looks sharper than a butcher's cleaver and is fitted with a 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 engine that produces 478 kW and 845 Nm of torque. It will sprint from 0 to 100 kph in a blistering 3.6 seconds and reach a top speed of 305 kph. This is an SUV, remember. The fun doesn't stop there though, because if you are willing to take your Urus into the wild, it will happily oblige. The Urus is an absolute beast.
99. Peugeot 205 T16
This little French number is here because it was created by Peugeot purely for homologation purposes (in order for a manufacturer to enter Group B rallying, it had to produce 200 roadgoing examples of the car its rally car would be based on). While it looked like an ordinary small Peugeot, it shared many parts from the rally car including its engine, albeit in detuned form. The rally version dominated, with back-to-back championship wins in 1985 and 1986. Now imagine that pedigree in a road-legal family hatchback. The mid-mounted 1.8-litre turbo made around 147 kW and 255 Nm, and power went to all 4 wheels. With a kerb weight of around 1 145 kg, performance was frighteningly fast for the time. While most petrolheads were lusting after the Volkswagen Golf 2 GTI at the time, the 205 GTI was widely regarded as the benchmark.
98. Lotus 7
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Lotus 7 must be tired of all the compliments. A radically stripped-down version of a design that debuted in the early Seventies, the original has spawned a thousand copycats, which continue to be built to this day. Providing the closest thing to a single-seater racing car experience for the road, the Lotus 7 is very uncomfortable, but ferociously fast and nimble. An incredibly low centre of gravity and low kerb weight means that the car could make do with smaller, naturally aspirated engines for an even purer driving experience. With all the suspension components exposed, the car could be easily tweaked for track use. That silhouette is instantly recognisable and we think you’d be hard-pressed to find a true petrolhead who wouldn’t want to have a Lotus 7 in their ultimate garage. Pic: Caterham Seven
97. Lykan Hypersport
As far as limited-edition hypercars go you don’t get many (if any) more exclusive than the Lebanese-produced Lykan Hypersport. Manufactured in Dubai, UAE the Lykan was the third most expensive car in the world at the time of production – it would have set you back close to US$3.4 million (the equivalent of R49 million)! Standard kit included jewel-adorned headlamps with titanium LED blades containing around 420 diamonds, a holographic display system with interactive motion features and gold-stitched seats. In terms of performance a mid-rear-mounted twin-turbocharged 3.7-litre flat-six, good for peak outputs of 582 kW and 960 Nm, culminated in a near-400 kph top speed.
96. Ferrari 430 Scuderia
This model was revealed at the pinnacle of the Maranello-based F1 team’s success. It brimmed with F1 tech and was developed by one Michael Schumacher to be a track car that could make the odd trip to the shops. It was some track car too; it beat the Ferrari Enzo’s lap time around Ferrari’s Fiorano test track. And, that time from what was essentially Ferrari’s entry-level model, all thanks to lightning gear shifts from Ferrari’s F1 Superfast 2 transmission, 100 kg less weight and a clever e-differential. A nerdy Ferrari for sure, but one you didn’t want to mess with.
95. Opel Speedster/Vauxhall VX220
Sceptics thought that ever-sensible Opel would never be able to pull of the Speedster, which was based on a Lotus Elise chassis. It first came with 108 kW (later upgraded to 149 kW), but because it weighed just 875 kg, it was an elemental drivers’ car and delightful track toy. Critically acclaimed, and by virtue of being more powerful than the period Elise, the Speedster/VX220 won numerous awards for design and performance and was slightly more practical and easier to live with than the Lotus. Unfortunately, it was never officially made available in South Africa.
94. Mercedes-Benz U4000 Unimog
Mercedes-Benz markets an exhaustingly broad portfolio of products, but none are cooler than the Unimog. Officially the world’s best off-road vehicle since 1947, Unimogs have such amazing ability that they’ve never had any rivals. Mercedes doesn’t even do much to market them because nothing else compares and customers know what they are getting. The list of Unimog specific off-road innovations is remarkable. Mercedes engineers wanted to give it true “fallen-log-proof” ground clearance, so they thought, “why don’t we put gears in the wheels, thereby raising the side-shafts above hub-height?” Other brilliant Unimog specific engineering feats include a steering column and pedal-box which is left- to right-hand drive convertible, a first-to-reverse rocking transmission function, which enables the Unimog to, in most instances, extricate itself in the extremely unlikely scenario of getting stuck. And to avoid the toil of getting out in mud, or scorching heat, to deflate or inflate tyres, the Unimog has a central tyre pressure management system. The accessories are otherworldly too. How many brochures offer you a selection of hydraulic crane mounts or 4 individual suspension seats, available from the factory?
93. Plymouth Prowler
The Plymouth Prowler is what happens when a design team gets given free rein. It’s not often the case that the production car looks almost exactly like the initial concept, but Chrysler turned every kid’s hot rod sketch into a real-life car by releasing this gem in 1997. Yes, it should have had a better gearbox and a V8 engine (instead of a 160-189 kW V6), but it has to rank as one of the coolest looking cars of all time. The Prowler came with many luxury features but did have a tiny boot. Owners could, however, order a matching trailer for extra luggage space.
92. Aston Martin Vantage V12 manual
The Aston Martin V12 Vantage is cool mostly because it exists. In an era of downsizing and flappy paddles, “V12” and “manual” are very rarely seen together. But in a beautifully crisp middle finger to modernity, Aston Martin shoved its largest engine into its smallest car and gave the driver a gear lever. This resulted in one of the lairiest cars ever and turned the svelte Vantage into a ferocious supercar. Only a handful were made and the lucky owners are probably custodians of the last V12 manual supercars ever made. Heck, it could even be the last manual supercar ever made...
91. Wiesmann MF5 Roadster
When BMW was involved in F1 in the Noughties, the Munich-based marque produced a screaming 5.0-litre V10 (mated with an SMG III transmission) and installed it in its E60 M5 super saloon and E63/E64 M6. That’s all good, but what if you found the M5 humdrum and the M6 Coupe and Cabriolet, well, unsightly? And what if you had a wad of cash in your pocket and didn’t want to see a brilliant V10 go to waste? Well, German specialist sportscar manufacturer Wiesmann, which was founded in 1988 by Martin and Friedhelm Wiesmann (hence the MF model nomenclatures) builds handmade, fibreglass-bodied sportscars powered by engines and transmissions officially supplied by BMW. Only 55 units of the MF5 Roadster, with its sublime retro-inspired contours, indulgent detailing and best of all, glorious Bavarian V10 soundtrack, were said to be produced. With an excellent power-to-weight ratio, the Wiesmann could catapult from 0 to 100 kph in 3.9 seconds and go on to a top speed of 310 kph. Be honest, who wouldn’t want a boy’s own rapid ragtop made by a company with a gecko for its emblem?
90. Jaguar F-Type Project 7
When you try to recreate something as iconic as a D-Type Jaguar, things can go very wrong. With the Project 7, Jaguar kept the trademark single roll hoop design and plugged it onto an F-Type chassis. Then they gave it the most powerful engine ever bolted into a Jaguar and limited production to just 250 units worldwide. Jag wanted to make it a proper throwback model, so there is no roof, which saves weight, and reworked the suspension to make it a bit more of a track-focused tool. Even if you never take it to a track, you can just stare at it all day long.
89. Lotus Elise 1.8k (1996-2001)
Lotus is a brand forgotten by many, but if you value the purity of driving, the launch of the original Elise was a monumental occasion. There’s nothing spectacular about its speciation, but for the low weight, which was only 725 kg – and the design, which still looks contemporary and striking, more than 20 years later. The chemically bonded chassis was technologically decades ahead of anything else and that made for a road car with levels of agility, fluidity and driver feedback that have, perhaps, never been equalled. As an ownership prospect, the original Elise was brilliant too. Its 1.8-litre naturally-aspirated Rover engine was charmingly uncomplicated, which meant these 1st-generation Elises proved utterly reliable and although they only had 88 kW, the balance of performance was perfectly harmonised with all other components.
88. VW Corrado G60
In between the 2nd and 3rd generations of the Volkswagen Scirocco (the former of which was regrettably never sold in SA), VW produced a svelte coupe based on the Golf MK2 platform, named the Corrado, which instantly became the poster car for local Volkswagen fans. The supercharged 1.8 litre engine only made 118 kW from the factory, but was infinitely tunable. The Corrado graced the cover of many performance car magazines in the ’90s, but the G60 didn’t just look good – performance enthusiasts agreed that it was one of VW’s best driver’s cars. VW later produced a 2.8- and 2.9-litre VR6 versions, but although there are a handful of imported examples in our market, the brand did not officially sell the Corrado in SA.
87. Mercedes-Benz SLS
If there's a brand renowned for paying homage to its classics, it's Mercedes-Benz. The SLS is a nod to the iconic 300SL Gullwing, which is highly likely to appear elsewhere in this list, and features outrageous gullwing doors, which open upwards, giving it a look not too dissimilar to that of an eagle swooping on its prey. It was powered by a 6.2-litre naturally-aspirated V8 engine with a claimed top speed of 315 kph. It made a tremendous noise at full throttle that sounded like a Highveld thunderstorm, but it was awkward to drive around in an urban environment thanks to its long nose. It was also one of the few vehicles assembled by hand, at the same facility Mercedes-Benz uses for G-Class and the first vehicle built entirely by Mercedes-AMG. The final coolness factor? F1 driver David Coulthard had a hand in developing the car.
86. Alfa Romeo Giulietta/Giulia Sprint Speciale
Whether in early Giulietta spec (1.3-litre engine) or the later Giulia (1.6), these diminutive Alfas are highly desirable these days because of their limited build (around 1 400 of each), and their beautiful design. Conceived to be competitive racers, the Sprint Speciales were incredibly aerodynamic. Their 0.28 drag coefficients were unbeaten for decades and helped them achieve high top speeds with comparatively little power from their very vocal twin-cam engines.
85. GMC Syclone (1991)
Ford’s Ranger Raptor is a desirable bakkie, but if you seek the ultimate in sleeper single-cab cool, it’s this General Motors Syclone. When you name a product with purposefully incorrect spelling, it had better be good and GMC’s engineers made sure the Syclone didn’t disappoint.
Wonderfully impractical, it was built as a pure tarmac robot-to-robot racing machine, shod with tyres completely unsuitable to even the most moderate of gravel routes. Despite a complete lack of any off-road or workhorse functionality, the Syclone featured a permanent all-wheel-drive system purely in the interests of ensuring optimal traction during dramatic bursts of acceleration. It was the first bakkie equipped with ABS and that was quite a necessary safety feature, as the GMC’s 4.3-litre V6 engine boosted to 209 kW, good enough for a 0-100 kph time of 4.5 seconds. To put that in perspective, that was faster than a comparative 911 Carrera of the day.
84. Renault R8 Gordini
Successor to the Dauphine, the R8 retained a rear-engined, rear wheel drive layout, along with tail-happy, ‘widow-maker’ handling. But, as before, Amedée Gordini was called in to work his magic. Initially powered by a lightly breathed upon 1.1-litre, 1966 saw the addition of double headlights, a five-speed gearbox and a re-engineered 1255cc motor. These enhancements turned the blue-hued twin white striped tyke into a rally winner with a serious cult following. The man behind Gordini, Amadeo Gordini, was nicknamed ‘Le Sorcier’ (the Sorcerer) and South Africa’s 1979 F1 world drivers’ champion, Jody Scheckter, famously campaigned his creation.
83. Volvo P1800
For Volvo, a manufacturer renowned for its predictable, if inoffensive, blocky car designs (a reputation the Swedish firm was quite proud of, we might add), the sensually styled and the exceedingly elegant P1800 from the Sixties is a masterstroke. When a volume manufacturer of run-of-the-mill family cars produces something as delectable as the P1800, as Volkswagen did with the Karmann Ghia, it represents a source of guilt-free indulgence for collectors of exotic cars: no-one is likely to brand you a snob or conspicuous consumer when you’re at the wheel of a P1800! Styled by Pelle Petterson under the tutelage of Pietro Frua when the latter’s studio was a subsidiary of the Italian design house Ghia, the P1800, with its speedboat-like profile, plunging roofline, swooping chrome and subtle rear fins was produced by Jensen in the UK. It may be one of the most unSwedish Volvos ever produced, but the P1800 and its derivatives have proved very influential (the rear hatch of the C30 was inspired by that of the P1800ES, for example). Also, the P1800 was driven with panache by Roger Moore in The Saint on TV.
82. Bugatti Veyron
It’s not very pretty, is it? 10 out of 10 for drama, but the overly bulbous shape has not aged terribly well. But, come on people, the Veyron was conceived to do one thing: hit 400 kph without breaking a sweat (or break down). The swansong of Ferdinand Piech, the outgoing boss of the VW group and Ferdinand Porsche’s own grandson, he wrote down a list of demands on a napkin, handed it to the engineers and wished them well. It took well over 7 years to get it right and by the time they’d got the Veyron to market, the Volkswagen Group lost hundreds of thousands of euros on each car, despite the million euro price tag. However, it did everything they claimed it would. The Bugatti was an all-wheel-drive, quad turbo, W16 monster that simply bludgeoned the air in front of it on its way to its frankly ridiculous top speed. Horrendously expensive to own, and probably prone to high depreciation, I don’t know many people who want to actually own a Veyron, but I think every petrolhead on earth would love to drive one.
81. Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz
Regarded by many as the most recognisable Cadillac of, possibly, all time, the 1959 Eldorado Biarritz convertible is the perfect poster child for a period in '50s and '60s America when chrome and big fins were the order of the day. It has starred in many a TV series, Hollywood movie or music video due to its outlandish styling. Under all of that chrome is a 6.4-litre V8 with around 260 kW on offer. Will any modern American car ever be able to match this Caddy’s coolness?
80. Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato