Distinguishable by their features and outlines alone, these cars need no introduction. Here we discuss what it is that makes them so instantly recognisable.
What do two Brits, two Germans and one Italian have in common? The answer: individuality on the grandest scale. There are countless thousands of cars that look undistinguishable from one another. Without wanting to name names, the list of hot hatches, cheerful compacts and sports saloons that could all pass for one another is never-ending, a giant pool of substance over style.
And then there are those examples of automotive excellence that combine style and substance to great effect, the ones that blazed a trail and spawned waves of imitators in their wake. The ones made famous and paid tribute to throughout all forms of popular culture.
So iconic are these examples that the vast majority of people with even a passing interest in cars can recognise them simply by viewing a silhouette or rough sketch of them. Be it their entire shape or specific parts such as a wheel arch, headlights, front grille or spoiler that make you say, ‘ah yes it’s a…’, these cars are true icons that will always be remembered for being unmistakably unique.
Years of production: 1987-1992
Number produced: 1315
Considered by many to be the greatest road-going Ferrari of all time, the F40 is also arguably the most instantly recognisable. Whereas the (equally iconic) 250GT shares a lot in common with other sports cars of the time, the F40’s unique star-shaped alloys, effortlessly curved front end and retro spoiler could belong to no other. Just over 1000 were made, making them not only extremely rare but also extremely valuable. Depending on the condition, their price can vary quite drastically. This one , for example, can be yours for a little less than £370,000.
Years of production: 1963-present
Number produced (to 2013): 820,000
Throughout its 50-year history, this is one car that has changed relatively little in terms of the basic design concept. It came fifth in a 1999 poll for Car of the Century and was only one of two in that five that remained in continuous production. Rear-engined and air-cooled (until 1998), there is none like it. Its design is perhaps the sleekest and most natural of all sports cars, the models of the 1980s and ’90s in particular. From the raised tubular wings culminating in simply spherical headlamps, to the angular rear windows and ducktail spoiler that rose when travelling above a certain speed; the 911’s features have been frequently copied but seldom bettered.
Years of production: 1961-1975
Number produced: 70,000
Voted the most beautiful car of all time by The Daily Telegraph in 2008, not to mention top sports car of the 1960s by Sports Car International in 2004, the E-type is an iconic example of British car manufacturing. Even Enzo Ferrari considered it to be the most beautiful of all time. It was successful not just for the way it looked but also due to the fact that it offered high performance at a relatively competitive price. Its most distinguishing feature is unquestionably the elongated front end. The design of the aforementioned Porsche 911 certainly borrowed from the E-type and it looks just as beautiful in convertible form as it does as a hard top.
Years of production: 1959-2000
Number produced: 5,505,887
More gatherings, conventions and rallies have been dedicated to the humble Mini than perhaps any other car throughout history. Voted the second most influential car of the 20th century, the distinctive two-door machine was originally designed for the British Motor Corporation. A space-saving front-wheel drive layout influenced a generation of car makers and the sheer individuality of its shape has meant that manufacturers dare not copy it. While Porsche undoubtedly once again borrowed from the design of the headlights for its 911, the Mini’s truncated rear, flattened windscreen and overall box-like shape mark it out from any other automobile.
Years of production: 1938-2003
Number produced: 21,529,464
The original bug may have looked a little like a pram but it’s always been a respected and revered car. Flared wheel arches, perfectly curved front end and that distinctive engine rumble notify those nearby of its presence, with its shape being second only to the Mini in terms of recognisability. Immortalised throughout the Herbie film series, the real life car had just as much character and life as its onscreen cousin. Even the new Beetle has retained the style and sophistication of the original.
- Ford GT40
- Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
- Lamborghini Diablo
- Ford Mustang
- Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic
- Cadillac Coupe de Ville
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.