In the more than 130 years since 1885, German manufacturers have had plenty of time not only to develop Europe’s largest car market but to create many cars which undoubtedly deserve the term “iconic”. A short selection of models we think qualify for inclusion on the list is what follows.
These are some of the greatest German cars
Audi was the first manufacturer to react to a 1979 change in World Rally Championship technical regulations. Based on the contemporary 80 Coupe, the Quattro, became the dominant car in the sport almost immediately and left rivals scrambling to keep up. They soon did, forcing Audi to create several evolutionary models like the fearsome short-wheelbase Sport Quattro. The Quattro’s performance both in rallies and at the Pike’s Peak hillclimb in Colorado had made it as near legendary as any car can be., Road-going versions are greatly sought after, while the name (with a small initial “q”) is still used by Audi to denote four-wheel drive vehicles.
BMW has used M3 as the title of its fastest 3-Series cars for more than 30 years across five generations. With their screaming four-cylinder engines and their phenomenal success in both rallying and circuit racing, the earliest models were perhaps the most iconic. The only World Touring Car Championship held in in 1987, was won by Italian driver Roberto Ravaglia in an M3. Later versions have been celebrated as very fine high-performance road cars. M3s have been built with saloon, coupe and convertible body styles. The current model, in production since 2014, is available only as a saloon. Following a change of naming policy by BMW, cars previously known as M3 Coupes are now sold as M4s.
Mercedes SLR McLaren
This was a joint project with Mercedes and the much smaller McLaren company, of which Mercedes was a shareholder at the time. The SLR is eye-catching for its very long nose and seats mounted near the rear axle. It had a supercharged 5.5-litre V8 engine which drove the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic gearbox. There were few versions, in either coupe or open-topped roadster body styles, but they all could accelerate from 0-62mph in under four seconds and had top speeds more than 200mph. The SLR McLaren was on the market from 2003 to 2010.
As a replacement for the smaller 356 Porsche introduced the 911 in 1963 and has been building it ever since. With time, there have been many detail changes, but several features remained true to the oldest and newest examples. These include prominent headlights, the low bonnet, downward-swooping rear body line and a six-cylinder engine mounted behind the rear wheels. Turbocharging first appeared in 1975 and was not used for entry-level models until 40 years later. Porsche considered abandoning the 911 in favour of the front-engined 928 in the late 1970s but was unable to do so because of customer demand.
The first model produced by smart (a joint effort involving Mercedes and watch company Swatch) was a city car. It is not much more than eight feet but it had a remarkable amount of room inside for a driver and one passenger. Plenty of room, eh? Nobody else was building anything like it in the late 1990s, and it quickly gained an enthusiastic following. It was named the fortwo to distinguish it from newer models such as the completely different forfour, a sister car to the Mitsubishi Colt and the mechanically similar roadster. The current model was developed in conjunction with Renault and is a close relative of that company’s Twingo.
Conceived before World War II, it remained very popular until at least the 1960s, stayed in production in Europe until 1978 and with few major changes to the original design as still being built in Mexico as recently as 2003. It procided cheap and reliable transport, but it also became a car that people loved. Over 20 million were built, making this the most widely produced car in history. The Beetle was ranked at number four in the 1999 Car of the Century awards.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
It was a much more modern alternative to the Beetle in 1974. Now it is the best-selling car in Europe by a substantial margin. The high-performance GTI version was introduced in 1976. The name still has a lot of resonance four decades later even though the cars are now quite different. In the current generation, the regular GTI is no longer the fastest Golf.
Volkswagen’s truly iconic models were the first two generations of the Type 2, built from 1950. VW is still building Transporters to this day, in many styles from pickups to camper vans. Mechanically similar to the Beetle, the Type 2 found favour with people who simply wanted a very practical and in many cases multi-purpose vehicle as well as with members of the counterculture movement in the 1960s. European production stopped in 1979 to make way for a third, much less rounded, Type 2. The earlier version wasn’t finally phased out in Brazil until 2013.