Automobile Magazine can say with a straight-face that a Studebaker Starliner
is more beautiful than a Duesenberg J Roadster bodied by Murphy?
I was reading through Automobile magazine’s September cover story again last night while in “the reading room.” Titled “The 25 most beautiful cars of all time,” it was an interesting look at not only the obvious automotive icons, but also the best and worst styling trends.
Seeing that I can’t even agree with myself 100-percent of the time, it won’t come as a surprise that I found the list to have its faults. I will give the team at Automobile credit, though, as it wasn’t just another list of all the same information as a zillion others of slow news day past.
Some selections were no-brainers…or at least were not going to offend anyone. This list included Bugatti Type 57S Atlantic, Jaguar XK120, Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, Jaguar E-Type, Cisitalia 202 Coupe, Alfa Romeo 8C 2900, Bentley Continental S1, Talbot-Lago Figoni et Falaschi coupe, Lamborghini Miura, and Mercedes Benz 500/540K Special Roadster. I’ve seen each of these cars up close and inspected their lines. They continue to look amazing from any angle. Most importantly, these cars have turned heads and have made enthusiasts weak in the knees throughout their entire lives.
Then there are some entries in the list that I think are beautiful, but maybe not quite enough to justify placing in the top 25. This group includes:
- Maserati Ghibli – As gorgeous a vehicle when it debuted in 1967 as it was at the end of production in 1973. Wide and flat, it looked like a Ferrari Daytona’s kid brother. The issue is that the Ghibli has never even been considered the prettiest Maserati. In my mind the 3500GT or AG6 Zagato both place higher in terms of overall beauty. Both (along with the Mistral Spyder) are considered more iconic among Maser faithful.
- Buick Riviera – At least Automobile chose the 1963-1965 first generation, rather than the bloated boat-tail from a decade later. The Riv might be one of GM’s prettiest post-war coupes. I personally have always loved the clean, sporty lines and luxurious look. But given the overall value of Rivieras (stuck in the $10,000 range,) this means that it is not beautiful enough to be coveted…as a result it would be hard to include on the list. Part of the value issue is that nobody other than Conway Twitty and your neighbor’s rich uncle actually owned one, so it’s one of those cases of “it’s hard to be nostalgic about something you never saw in the first place.” Beyond this, there just are many other wonderful designs out there that rate higher — including Buick’s own 1953 Skylark Convertible.
- Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona and Ferrari 275 GTB/4 – I’ve honestly never thought the Daytona was that pretty. (Wait for curses, boos and other jeers to silence…) Part of its allure was that amazing performance. Again, the Daytona wasn’t that unique looking – the Maser looked just like it. As for the 275 GTB/4 — it was striking – like a scantily clad runway model, but it was overlooked in the lineup until values of the Daytona peaked. Just like the Maserati, neither of these cars have really ever been considered the best-looking ponies even in their own stable. I challenge anyone to say the Daytona is more beautiful than a 250 GT Spider California…or that the 275 GTB/4 is more amazing than a 250GT Short Wheelbase Berlinetta. Keep in mind that none of these would find themselves unloved in my garage, but this list is about choosing the best of the best.
· Lincoln Continental MKI (’40-’41) and MK III 1961 – There is absolutely no doubt that both the original Continental MKI and suicide-door 1961 model are important designs. The original Continental was built to Edsel Ford’s European-inspired specifications as one-off vehicle that he could drive while vacationing in Florida. This prototype was so widely loved by Ford’s country club buddies that he decided to put it into series production. It was voted as one of the prettiest cars of the century back in the 1950s.
Even though I’ve logged quite a few miles in a 1948 MKI Cabriolet Convertible (with its slightly heavier grill treatment,) I’ve never really found the car to be that beautiful. Basically, here’s the problem: unless you remember a time when running boards were the standard, the MKI doesn’t seem groundbreaking as it does to the 70-and-older set. To non-farsighted eyes, the MKI can even look a bit dumpy.
As for the ’61, it is a mean-looking, luxurious ride. Most, however, seem to like the slight facelift of the ’64 better. I would love a black ’64 convertible with its Remington Microscreen front grill. Few cars are as instantly identifiable, yet so understated.
But both the MKI and MKIII fall behind the glorious 1956-57 MKII. At $10,000 they were the most expensive American cars you could buy. Totally handmade, the MKII has always been as timeless as a tuxedo with a black tie. It never drove as well as it looked, but most Hollywood hotties aren’t Harvard grads, either.
· Chevrolet Sting Ray 1963 – Anytime I see Sting Rays show up on a beauty list, I always look at the years selected. It figures that again it’s just 1963, which means everyone is stuck on that split window. Well, here’s a news flash – if you take off the split window bar and the hood vents, you have a 1964, which is the least desirable of the mid-year Vette stable. The most desirable is the 1967. So, how do we reconcile all this?
Since almost nobody gives a crap about the hood vents, we’re talking about the image value of that split window. Zora Arkus Duntov hated that stupid thing so much, he made Bill Mitchell take it off for ’64. People like the vertical shark vents for ’65-’67, plus that great “stinger hood” offered on ’67 big block cars (plus a handful of small block cars got one when normal hoods weren’t ready in time.)
Are the Sting Rays really more beautiful than the 1958-1960 cars? My tastes go towards the solid axle Vettes, but I also quite enjoy the Sting Rays. Let’s just say that the 1963-1967 cars are deserving of the top 25, but it certainly isn’t one that’s cut and dry.
· BMW 3.0CS 1971-75 – Automobile went out on a limb on this one. I commend them for their knowledge and taste. The 3.0CS is as elegant as it gets for a Nixon-era closed coupe. I just about walked into traffic staring at one entering The Empress hotel in Victoria this summer. The 3.0CS (plus the CSi and CSL) looks so damn classy, yet nimble and sporty. Just one problem – if Automobile didn’t make room for the 507 roadster, the 3.0CS is then just the place-holder for the better Bimmer.
507 has all the 3.0’s elegance, plus one can literally get lost in all the amazing design details. The wheels, the steering wheel, the dash, the gauges – they all work together or on their own.
· Cord 810/812 – Again, we’re talking about a landmark car design here. I’m probably the only one in the world that might question it, except that I don’t honestly feel the look has aged as beautifully as everyone says it has.
It was the first car with hideaway headlights. The coffin nose looked mean. The turned aluminum dash was mind-boggling – and those headlight actuating knobs look like jewelry. There were no running boards (years ahead of the Continental.) In roadster form it was sporty as American cars got. My issue is that the car wasn’t as beautiful as the L-29 it replaced — which was one of the lowest American cars of its day, due to the front-wheel-drive arrangement. Also 810/812 sedans looked downright awkward with the square nose and bulbous passenger compartment.
· Lotus Elite 1957-63 – A gorgeous car that only impresses a spectator more when they learn it’s fiberglass without a steel chassis of any type. Again, there’s nothing wrong with including it, except that the Lotus Eleven has always been considered prettier by Lotus fans. The problem arrives in the definition of the list. The Elite was a road car that was intended to be raced on the weekends. The Eleven was a race car that was street legal only to classify for production racing status.
Come to think of it…if we’re allowed to have production racers on the list, I’ll remove the XK120 and throw in the Jaguar D-Type/XKSS racers of the same era! Toss me a Ford GT40 and a Porsche 906 (or 908) as well.
Now we get to that part of the list where I wonder what the hell were the writers at Automobile smoking? They have included a list of cars that simply don’t add up.
· Oldsmobile Toronado 1966-67 – What a monster. Sure, it was a little cool and still looks crazy today…but “beautiful?” I don’t think so. There car looked too damn heavy. There are probably more people who think the 1958 Thunderbird “square bird” is deserving of the Top 25 than the ‘Nado — which is to say that there must have been a senior editor at Automobile who threatened to fire anyone who didn’t include the Olds.
· Nissan 300ZX 1990-96 – The only way I can explain this is that there are some younger staffers here that wanted one modern import on the list. C’mon, though, the 300Z? They were, and continue to be, handsome cars – assuming it wasn’t a 2+2 model with the stretched wheelbase. Handsome ain’t enough to make the list of 25. Heck, the 1993-1995 RX7 is universally praised as a much prettier design, but I guess it must have been docked points for the smoke cloud that always accompanies the exhaust system tied to the rotary engine.
· Studebaker Starliner 1953-54 – There’s one pushy Studie fan in every crowd. Yes, I know it was a slippery shape. I know they went like stink through a Grateful Dead tribute concert. Nobody…and I mean nobody, will convince me a Starliner was, is or ever will be one of the Top 25 most beautiful cars. If anyone challenges me, I’ll come up with 500 prettier cars.
And I’m sorry Studie-friends, but I’ve never liked the polarizing looks of the Avanti either. I think Avantis are great driving cars and appreciate them for what they were (and continue to be 40+ years later,) but I’ve always found them visually baffling. To get a really impressive-looking Studebaker, I go back to the 1929ish President, which had a number of wonderfully styled bodies.
· Cadillac 60 Special 1938-1941 – I’ve spent many an hour discussing the 60 Special with my father, who appreciates its place on the list. Like the Continental MKI, the 60 Special is a generational thing. It looks like every other 40’s car to anyone not old enough to remember the 1930s. Credit goes to Bill Mitchell for creating a truly fresh design that was impressive in its day. It just carries nowhere near the requisite wow factor for making the list. Not to take anything away from the 60 Special, as it is still one of the best touring cars for Classic Car Club of America, being comfortable, reliable and easy to drive.
· Jaguar XJ6 1968-1979 – Just because the styling of the XJ6 is still the basis for modern Jaguars isn’t enough for making the list. Actually, it’s more of an indictment of the meager minds running Jaguar these days, and a good indication why the company has been a money-pit for Ford since the buyout. Again, this is a case of a nice looking car not even close to being the cutest kitten of the litter. Give me that D-Type/XKSS entry I asked about previously…or how about that little pre-war gem the SS100 sports roadster?
So what do I feel are flagrant omissions from the list?
There simply isn’t enough emphasis put on the gorgeous iron put out in the Classic Era by custom coachbuilders. I agree that the Talbot-Lago deserves a position, as does Figoni et Falaschi’s other work with Delahaye and Delage. In terms of American cars, I can’t fathom that not a single Duesenberg, Packard, Cadillac, Chrysler Imperial or other top-line manufacturer with Murphy or Le Baron coachwork was included. Instead of trying to pick a favorite, since the cars were made-to-order, I’ll simply say “1932 open cars (roadsters, convertibles and phaetons) from Murphy and Le Baron.” This way, we get the Duesenberg J, the Imperial CL, Packard V12, and Caddy V16 – all of which were offered with bodies of similar design — meaning timeless beauty.
How about the Ferrari 308GTB or 246GT Dino? Both are considered among Pininfarina’s best work, with every angle offering a perfect perspective. As entry-level Ferraris, their values are well above many V12 models due to widespread appeal. The icing on the cake is that both cars are as wonderful to drive as to look at!
AC Cobra? The Cobra’s appeal isn’t just in its performance. It also happens to be one of the best sports roadster designs ever. It still looks so fantastic that forty years later it remains the most widely copied car in history. I’d even argue that the small number of Cobra Daytona Coupes also could make a case for deserving their own position.
Finally – there’s the AMC Pacer…nah, just kidding