Gordon Murray grapples with what makes humble cars into icons
Why do some car designs achieve iconic status and others sink without trace? And how do you spot future classics? Gordon has the answers…
Picking cars which will become future classics or – even better – achieve that ultimate automotive status of ‘iconic’ can be a black art. Expensive sports cars and supercars are easy targets, particularly when they are built in limited numbers – at the top of the sports car tree it is much more to do with brand and rarity. But, even so, a model’s style still plays a major role in the desirability equation.
For example, the Ferrari Mondial never won people’s hearts and even today it remains affordable (as classic Ferraris go). Yet it has the classic period Ferrari V8 and a reasonable set of clothes from Pininfarina. Compare this with the 1966 Dino which had a small capacity V6 and no Ferrari badge but still managed to captivate hearts and is now rapidly climbing the collectable classic car ladder.
For me, a much more interesting segment is everyday cars. In recent years several family saloons have been moving up the scale of collectability and it’s interesting to try and understand why. Some, such as the original Mini and the Fiat 500 or Cinquecento have already reached iconic status. Both these little cars have great proportions and endearing aesthetics but, perhaps more importantly, great packaging. I have a 1959 850 Mini and a 1968 Cinquecento and despite being 6ft 4in, I am quite comfortable in both.
Both these designs are what I call ‘single person cars’. In the case of the Mini, Alec Issigonis was the mastermind leading a very small team of engineers to produce what is the iconic city car. With the Cinquecento the central figure was an engineer named Dante Giacosa who, also working with a small group, produced another icon. Both these cars were designed by engineers and both have body styles which are universally accepted.
The next group of everyday classics that seem to be following the Mini and 500 is a bunch from the Sixties. The humble Ford family from that decade are rapidly becoming collectable and desirable – it fascinates me to see affordable family transport becoming so sought after.
The reasons are quite different from cars like the Fiat 500 and Mini. Some of the interest is nostalgic – I have a 1966 Cortina GT MKI that puts a smile on my face every time I drive it to work – and styling plays an important part. The 105E Anglia and the Escort MKI are both great designs but more importantly they are individual – unlike today’s common-ground styling.
But there is another factor with these early Fords: competition. All these cars were successful in racing and were easy to tune and modify by the average petrolhead – from the eminently tunable short-stroke 105E to the robust five-bearing-crank engine of the Cortina. This makes them even more desirable today because a whole new generation can buy and tune them.
So what do I think will be collectable or iconic in the future? From the Sixties there will undoubtedly be many more – my favourites are the Hillman Imp and BMW 700. But will we ever have iconic everyday classics from today’s new cars? I find them impossible to spot because so many lack the individuality that comes from a single person’s vision.
Why was the Mini’s design so successful? Partly because it came from the mind of a single engineer, says Gordon Gordon Murray is one of the most innovative automotive designers of his generation. He designed Gp-winning F1 cars for Brabham and Mclaren and the Mclaren F1 road car