The Top 25 Most Beautiful Cars Debate

Duesenberg J Murphy

Automobile Magazine can say with a straight-face that a Studebaker Starliner
is more beautiful than a Duesenberg J Roadster bodied by Murphy?


fourwheeldriftI 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


14 Responses to The Top 25 Most Beautiful Cars Debate

  1. The 1965 Buick Riviera is the coolest car of all time! Well, at least the coolest car I ever owned.

  2. 67GT500 says:

    What’s wrong with the 300zx’s? It won many awards each year. RX-7’s look like Ford Probes to me.

  3. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with 300Zs. Actually, let me take that back — the two-seaters are fantastic vehicles, but the 2+2s just don’t look right due to the extended length.

    The point, though, is that many cars are beautiful, but that doesn’t necessarily justify a position on the list of the Top 25 Most Beautiful Cars of all time. The 300Z is a perfect example — great performance, wonderful lines, reasonably comfortable…BUT there are most definitely 25 other cars that are more jaw-dropping. The fact that Z purists didn’t particularly flock to the 1990s generation of 300Zs (because they felt the car was too fat and too expensive,) just makes the case for its inclusion far less convincing.

  4. stupidkid says:

    I might just be a stupid kid but to me the BMW Z4 M Coupe is absolutely gorgeous. It has a lot of the same visual characteristics like that of the Mercedes 300SL or the Jaguar E-type except with a modern touch. Too bad I haven’t seen this car on any top cars lists. I may not know what I’m talking about but in my opinion it should not be forgotten.

  5. The interesting thing about beauty is that it doesn’t require one to know of which he speaks to offer a valid opinion. Don’t downplay your opinion simply because you like the Z4 M Coupe and you happen to be younger. If Ford, GM and Chrysler spent a little more time wondering what the younger generation liked, instead of simply selling-out to the nostaligic whims of Boomers, they might not be in such horrible financial shape.

    That being said, I can’t say I agree with you. I’ve never been able to enjoy the M Coupes (either generation.) The Z4 coupes simply have way too many curves and angles competing for the eye. I’m not a Bangle-basher by any means, nor do I discount the value of the fixed top on a performance car, however, the package just doesn’t do it for me, as well as many others.

    But you’re certainly allowed to love the Z4 M Coupe’s look without having to make apologies. I’d suggest that if you like this car, check out BMW’s 507 as an example of what most enthusiasts and journalists point to the company’s best work.

  6. john says:

    Can you please list me some of the cars that were out in 1990? Hmmm fox body mustang…YUK…..Iroc camaro..are you kidding?!….dated corvette, dated supra, and a dated 3000gt. Besides the fact that the car was a re-inventing design that shaped the icons of today, and besides the fact that lamborghini took the headlights of the 300zx and used it on the diablo (look at the diablo headlights..the carbon fiber strip is to cover NISSAN) The design is timeless simply put! The car will still roll down the street, it will still be confused for a brand new car, and it still breaks necks. There was more reasoning than just “jaw dropping” designs to add a car to a list. Its called automotive revolutionary design…you should look into it.

  7. John,
    I think you have totally missed the point of the list. The topic was the “Most Beautiful Cars” of all time.

    Yes, compared to most other cars of the early 1990s, the 300Z was beautiful. There are other better 1990s designs, including the 93-95 RX7 and the successful 3-series BMW that ran through most of the decade. (Give me an M3 or 328 convertible on the list before the 300Z). The Porsche Boxster is also a better looking car. This isn’t like the MLB All Star Game, though, as not every team has to represented. Therefore, the 1990s isn’t on the list.

    No, it isn’t anywhere as beautiful as probably 75 to 100 other cars. As it mentioned in the article, the 300Z was a good looking car. We have no issue with that. I personally spent quite a bit of time in a 1991 300Z. As a evolutionary design, it isn’t nearly good enough to place it among the best.

    Indeed, I’d take the 240Z before the 300Z on a list of beautiful cars. While all the elements were stolen from other cars, the 240Z combined them in a nearly perfect package (except for those bloody-awful wheel covers) that literally killed the British sports car industry.

  8. Bill says:

    Actually the Elite did have a steel frame. It was an X frame with just a narrow steel section running through the center of the car between the passenger and driver. It joined the front and rear suspension, and joined to the fiberglass tub that supported the body and interior. The seats, floor, and other stuff might not have been mounted to it, but the car would not be able to run without it since the suspension and drivetrain did.

  9. Unfortunately Bill, you are mistaken. The X-Frame was introduced on the Elan Series I — it looked like a tuning fork with the engine in the center of the fork and the rear suspension across the handle.

    The 1970s wedge Elite had a frame, but the only type of metal reinforcement in the original Elite was the windshield support. All the suspension bits, including the famous Chapman Struts bolted right into fiberglass, which is why the rear mounting points are usually the most in need of repair and reinforcement.

  10. Bill says:

    Right you are.

    I totally agree with you that they picked the wrong Jag. I’m surprised the E-type didn’t make it. It’s almost iconic. I don’t think it is the most beautiful jag, but I’d think that they would. I’d put the XK120, C type, D type, and maybe even the 140 ahead of the E-type. Several other jags would come between the E-type and their choice.

  11. Your Dad says:

    1. While I always have liked the immediate pre-war Caddy’s I would agree that they aren’t in the top 25.

    2. With respect to the Studebaker Starliner –you have to judge it in the stream of history. It is similar to your observation that the lovers of BMW Z cars don’t appreciate the breathtaking design innovation of the 507. When Raymond Lowey designed the Starliner it was revolutionary and set a new design mold the details of which were much copied.

    3. Just to keep you honest: Actually, the Lotus Eleven came as a usable street machine–judged by English sports car standards. The Club model could be ordered with an untuned Ford engine and full weather gear. Having driven the Club (though with Coventry Climax), I am not sure that I would have enjoyed driving it from John O’Groats to Landsend. However, everyone knows the Brits are nuts for sporty cars and if people drove Fairthorpe Electrons on the A-40, a Lotus XI Club would be a piece of cake (or is that a crumpet)

  12. “Dad”,

    The debate is about “The Top 25 Most Beautiful Cars of All Time”, not the “Most Influential” or “Best of Its Era”. Given the topic, the Studie simply doesn’t make the cut. If the list were of groundbreaking designs, it would have to be included.

    As long as you’re trying to keep me honest on the comment regarding the Lotus Eleven, I’ll do the same for you. The comment still holds true: the Eleven was designed specifically to be a sports racer. Yes, it was “road legal” in Lotus Eleven Club form — which was the entry-level version, but it was no more road legal or designed for regular road use than a Porsche 904 — also a purpose-built racer. Justifying any car as being road legal and usable in the British sense means little or nothing, especially considering the crazy race-spec vehicles (Ariel Atom, Radical, X-Bow) that are being produced to roam the English tollways these days.

  13. Darren Troccoli says:

    What about the 1967 Cougar Convertible?

  14. SN says:

    The 300ZX is a great looking car and is IMO better looking than a lot of other cars on that list (for example, the Lotus Elite). Other cars I think should have been added:

    – Datsun 240Z
    – Lotus Esprit Twin Turbo
    – BMW M3 (E46)

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