Our national automotive icons so far include:
United States – Ford Mustang
France – Citroen DS
Great Britain – Jaguar E-Type
It’s time to move to the automotive powerhouse that is Germany. Germany is known for robust, quality designed products but for some, they might seem to lack some soul. Creating an iconic car involves passion, flair and a willingness to step outside the square, at least just a little. Some would say that those more emotional, daring traits are not typically German. I say the list below proves that they’re being a more than just a little unkind.
So, can the Germans make an automotive icon? Absolutely. I think you’ll find the choice will be a very difficult one on this occasion.
As usual, I’ve nominated 5 of my own and you can make your suggestions in comments before I post the poll in a few days time.
Here are my five nominations. And because the Germans like order, they’re listed alphabetically
Audi Quattro (Ur)
Audi changed the face of rallying and in many ways, the face of motoring, with the release of the Quattro in 1980. The name Quattro Ur is used to distinguish between the car and the 4WD ‘Quattro’ system used on it for the first time (hence the Ur descriptor).
In rallying terms, Audi blew nearly everyone off the map. The Quattro was the first vehicle with four wheel drive to win the WRC constructors championship, in 1982. From then to now, every vehicle to take the championship has been a 4WD vehicle. That’s revolution. The Quattro took out the constructor championship in ’82 and ’84 and the 1983 and ’84 drivers championships were won in Audi Quattro.
In regular motoring terms, the Quattro made it possible, even fashionable, to have a passenger vehicle with 4WD that could perform well and still offer good ride, handling and reliability. 4WD had previously been simply a utilitarian device for getting big loads across difficult terrain. The Ur changed that forever and the abundance of 4WD vehicles on the road now are all descended from what Audi did.
Sit back and enjoy some Quattro/Rohrl goodness from the magically scary days of Group B….
I was tempted to single out the M3 here, but the listing really belongs to the 3-Series over all, because it’s the 3-series that has made BMW the premium automotive powerhouse it is today.
The three series started with the E21 in the early-mid 1970s but it was the E30 in the early 1980s that really set BMW up for world success. The E30 had the right mix of proportions, class, engineering and equipment, and the fact that it launched the mighty BMW M3 didn’t hurt, either.
Since then, BMW have built on their dominance in the sport-sedan sector, winning award after award for a precision driving experience that put wheels on their advertising slogan – the Ultimate Driving Machine. The 3-series was a massive cash-cow for BMW right up until the launch of the X-range of vehicles, which have since taken a co-leading role in terms of the global BMW sales pie.
If you haven’t seen the BMW film “Star” then do yourself a favour, sit back and enjoy the next 7 minutes with the BMW
Mercedes Benz 300SL Gullwing
If you ever needed an example of the Germans doing beauty as well as engineering, here it is. The gullwing remains as one of the true examples of automotive elegance to this day.
Built in 1954 as a street version of one of Mercedes’ racing vehicles, the 300SL featured a number of firsts. It was the fastest production car of it’s time, was the first direct injected motor vehicle and was the first Mercedes to sell the bulk of it’s built quantity in a country outside Germany.
Today, the gullwing is a collector’s dream with a price to match.
We will read next about the Volkswagen Beetle, designed largely by Ferdinand Porsche and his son, Ferry. Ferdinand Sr’s grandson, also named Ferdinand but known to the family as ‘Butzi’ is known for being the man behind the 911 (and later, the man behind the company – Porsche Design – that can sell you a gym bag for €290).
The 911 took the design idea behind the Beetle – a rear-mounted air-cooled boxer engine – and turned it into a sports and design masterpiece. The standard journalist joke with each new iteration of the 911 is that Porsche designers have the easiest job in the world because it rarely, almost imperceptibly changes. Of course, that’s mostly because it doesn’t need much changing, but where’s the punchline in that?
Porsche nearly ditched the 911 in favour of the 928 back in the late 1970′s. As fine a car as the 928 is, we can all thank the gods of horsepower and handling that they didn’t. The 911 has been the standard bearer for the company over the last 49 years and will most likely remain as such well into the future.
The 911 below is from the 964 series and belongs to a mate of mine in Sweden. It was a pleasure to film and an even greater pleasure to drive. An outstanding car.
The people’s car has origins dripping with light and shade, with links to evil authoritarians, brilliant engineers and even some conquered foes. More than 21 million Beetles were made over the vehicle’s lifetime and assembly plants existed in more than a dozen locations around the world.
The first few Beetles were made under the Nazi regime at the end of the 1930′s but proper production didn’t commence until after the end of WWII and even then, it was a fortunate re-start. The British tried to entice some of their compatriots to make the car but it was deemed unattractive and no British manufacturer could put together a business case for the car. It was their loss. The last Beetle ever manufactured was made in Mexico, in 2003, nearly sixty years after post-war production started in earnest. That car now sits in the Volkswagen museum.
The Beetle itself has been used in art, film and in countless customisation projects for on- and off-road use. Its basic design and engineering inspired other Volkswagen and Porsche classics in years to come, as well – the Karmann Ghia, the Kombi, the Type 3 wagon and all of the early Porsche range, as well.
I think the biggest compliment that one can pay to the Beetle is that it almost immediately transcended its roots to become one of the most influential and most loved vehicles of all time purely on its strength of purpose, the brilliant simplicity of its design and the resulting quality of its execution.
Those are the house nominations.
What say ye? Is there a German icon I’ve missed that needs to be included in the poll?
Comments are open.