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…

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents -

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

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