Best cars in the world

Updated: June 30, 2007

This sounds like the beginning of a very childish article, where a man suffering from an inferiority complex is supposed to post lots of shiny pictures of big cars featuring angry chrome grilles, flames paintwork and 1,000-hp engines. But that is not the case here.

Best cars are definitely not hybrid inventions of crazy hobbyists. Nor are those the hand-made sport beauties like Ferrari or Porsche. Best cars are simple everyday things that have influenced and revolutionized the automotive mainstream. In fact, this article is a personal insight into the culture and history of the cars.

What makes the best car?

This is highly subjective. In my case, most of the specimens you will see here have a personal touch. They will be vehicles that I have grown up seeing rumbling down the street in my childhood. Or vehicles that have left a profound impact on humanity, as simplistic as such a statement could be. Or just super-cool cars.

Some of you may not share my taste. Others may yet comment along the lines of "Nothing new there, compadre." True. You can read about these cars on thousands of other websites, with author adding his bit of ego to the grand story. But if writing about things already said were a crime, then I should have stopped long ago ... This gallery is my time window of coolness and style.

Without further ado, here's the Magnificent Seven.

Citroën 2CV

Citroen 2CV
This image is taken from Wikipedia and is distributed under GNU FDL license

Citroën 2CV was designed as a car to replace cattle in the service of the French peasants. With the concept dating back to the 30s of the last century, 2CV became a national bestseller almost immediately of going on sale.

It was a simple, ugly car that was given no chance by the critics that valued the car in superlatives. But for the common Frenchmen, 2CV was a highly affordable and highly reliable miracle that revolutionized the life style of the middle class. The vehicle's popularity was so high that waiting lists stretched for years and tens of variants were subsequently released.

2CV has small, air-cooled twin-cylinder four-stroke engines with power rating from titanic 9 hp to colossal 33 hp. These engines were extremely reliable; they had no complex parts and very few things could go wrong.

The car was spartan in build and design in almost every aspect. The windscreen wipers were mechanical, the windows had hinged flap-up panes and the canvas roof opened like a sardine can. First version were powered up by a crankshaft, the commodity of an electrical starter being considered a surplus luxury. The vehicle was rugged and served well on any terrain. It had very good performance off road and served in many armies as a light reconnaissance vehicle. There's a rumor that even the most reckless driver could not bring 2CV to careen, although I have not had the honors of verifying this.

Last Citroën 2CV was produced in 1990. With around 9 million examples produced, it was not the best selling car during the 42 years of existence, but it left a definite impression on the European auto industry, which has since then produced many small, low-cost, low-consumption cars aimed at envisioning the practical simplicity of the 2CV.

NSU Prinz

NSU Prinz
This image is taken from Wikipedia and is public domain

NSU Prinz is not a well known car, except to the real connoisseurs. Despite its somewhat ugly, boxlike looks, which might have looked posh half a century ago, Prinz was a masterpiece of vehicle engineering.

It was highly reliable, robust - and very, very fast. The first versions were powered by small 2-cylinder 583cc engines developing 30 hp, which allowed the small, agile Prinz to reach top speed of 120 kph, making it one of the fastest cars of its time.

The last model, NSU TT, had a 4-cylinder 1177cc engine that produced a staggering 78 hp. This allowed this little monster to reach top speed around 160 kph and accelerate 0-100 kph in just 13 seconds! Even today, NSU Prinz is considered a high-performance car, with very good handling, cornering and overall performance. It had a solid 45/55 front-rear weight distribution, which is a very good figure for a rear-engine car.

HINT: Any proud owner of a 'modern' badass car is welcome to peruse the brochure of their favorite model. You might be surprised to discover that your expensive toy could not beat an ugly, old NSU in a 'traffic light' race. Sounds annoying, doesn't it.

Prinz was a very popular car. After Volkswagen bought the NSU company, they quickly retired the little car, because it threatened the Beetle. Apart from its premature demise, Prinz signified a serious change in the quality of cars that came from the Volkswagen factory, probably making it one of the premier manufacturers that it is today. By the way, if you wish to crush some ego, this is the absolute right car to do that.

Austin Mini

Austin Mini
This image is taken from Wikipedia and is distributed under GNU FDL license

Mini was born out of a dire necessity to address the serious fuel shortage crisis that havocked Britain after the unsuccessful war against Egypt in 1956. However, just like another crisis-born child, the de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bomber in WW2, which was built from wood due to shortages of metal, the simple and spartan Mini proved to be a great success.

Mini was designed to be cheap. It had to use an existing engine and be tiny - just under 3 meters. On the other hand, it had to have a sufficiently large cabin. This combination of supposedly clashing objectives led the Mini's designers into creating a versatile car.

To conserve space, the engine was mounted transversely in the front and a front-wheel drive employed - effectively setting a standard that many modern cars follow.

Mini was instant success the moment it was launched. It was affordable, offered solid passenger space and had a gutsy engine that promised good performance. The vehicle's lively character was vividly portrayed in the classic 1969 movie, The Italian Job, with Michael Caine in the lead role (and Benny Hill as the Professor), where three Minies in Union Jack colors humiliated an armada of Italian police cars, in a clash between the English criminal elite and the Mafia - then there was only one kind ...

The car also starred in Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean series, where it often humiliated Reliant Robin three-wheeler, another member of this Magnificent Seven. The majority of Minies run on a 998cc engine that allowed the little car to reach a record 145 kph. Mini was produced in many variants by many manufacturers throughout its life. It was retired in 2000 - to be succeeded by the new Mini, which attests to its great popularity.

Fiat 500

Fiat 500
This image is taken from Wikipedia and is distributed under GNU FDL license

Fiat 500 is probably the father of the modern urban car. This miniature vehicle was designed to address the problem of huge traffic jams and little parking space in Italy in the mid 50s.

Fiat 500 is even smaller than the Mini, at only 297 cm. The first version was powered by a 479cc engine with only 13 hp. Nevertheless, it turned an instant hit, being extremely cheap and reliable - and very easy to park.

The car was very popular and resulted in a Europe-wide trend of small and economic cars. Its bigger brother, Fiat 600, was copied and built under license in the former USSR and Yugoslavia.

Experienced drivers and good fortune could push Fiat 500 up to about 100 kph, but in the congested cities, it served its purpose well, with a fuel consumption of about 5 lit/100 km. It was simply built and had the air-cooled engine, which meant the chance for a breakdown was rather low.

One of the most annoying (yet fun) attributes of the car was that it did not have a fully synchronized gearbox. This meant you had to fully stop to shift into the first gear. But if this practice was still maintained today, there's a fair chance it would have kept some of the 'so-called' drivers off the roads. Fiat 500 was not for the meek.

The little car is embodied in generations of great (small) successors. It set the standard for urban car that is widely popular today. It was also a very convenient solution to the oil crises - many years before started happening on the worldwide scale. A new Fiat 500 will be launched in 2007.

Reliant Robin

Reliant Robin
This image is taken from Wikipedia and is public domain

Reliant Robin does not sound like a car that should have made this list. But that's not true. What makes Robin a real candidate is a combination of many factors.

First, it had a tiny 850cc engine that resulted in a fuel consumption of about 3 lit/100 km! Second, it was a three-wheeler. Third, it was so ugly that it cut through the floor of ugliness all the way to the other side, into the realm of eccentric beauty - what is called the buffer overflow, in technical terms. Finally, it cast in the best British TV series ever, Only Fools and Horses, as the moyen de transport of the Trotters Independent Trading Co. (New York-Paris-Peckham).

The car also took a beating in Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean series, another great BBC production, where it often lost battles to Mr. Bean's Austin Mini.

Reliant Robin was not an easy car to drive. The single front wheel mean significantly reduced stability during cornering. However, in my vocabulary, this is a major plus. If only more cars were three-wheelers, so fewer spoiled people would be driving and polluting the roads.

Despite obvious disadvantages in the fields of beauty and safety, it was a rather reliable utility vehicle. It had quite a solid luggage space and boxy design allowed for easy loading of bulky cargo. Breakdowns were few and fuel consumption was nil. Robin was produced until 2001, modernized many times. The latest version even had electric windows and a CD player. With 40 hp, the car could reach a solid 135 kph. Reliant Rialto 2, the successor, had the engine with decreased power (only 37.5 hp), but it could go up to 165 kph! Imagine the terror of driving that at max. speed. Who needs bungee, base jumping or parachuting when you have Reliant Robin available?

Volkswagen Beetle

VW Beetle
This image is taken from Wikipedia and is distributed under GNU FDL license

Volkswagen Beetle was one of the most popular cars in history. It was produced from 1938 till 2003; it even served in the WW2.

A total of more than 21 million Beetles were produced, all over the world, and was manufactured in many countries under a whole dictionary of aliases.

One of the reasons for its huge success was the simple design, excellent handling and superior performance. Compared to its major competitors, like Mini, Beetle was much stronger and faster. Its air-cooled boxer engine had a distinctive, aggressive purr. Combined with twin exhausts, it gave the car a sportish look. It even topped the sales on the rather conservative US market.

The car was powered by relatively large engines, ranging from 1200 to 1500 cc. Final models, produced in Mexico in early 2000s had a 1.6L engine. It produced 45 hp and allowed the Beetle to reach the top speed of about 125 kph. One of the few downfalls of the car is its relatively high aerodynamic drag.

Beetle is also one of the more popular cars with customization fans. The engine can be easily replaced, which allows for a great share of imagination (and engines). The 'old' Beetle was succeeded by the New Beetle in 1998.

Citroën DS

Citroen DS
This image is taken from Wikipedia and is public domain

Imagine someone offered you a car that could fly. You would most likely be shocked.

This is the impact Citroën DS had when it appeared in 1955. It was a car so far technologically advanced that even today, it can be considered quite modern. For drivers back then, it was a frightening, fascination innovation.

Citroën DS 19 was the first car to introduce front disc brakes, power steering, directional head lights, and most importantly, the hydropneumatic suspension with automatic leveling and ground clearance. To this day, Citroëns are famed for the phenomenal quality of ride, superb handling and cornering.

It was so ahead of its time that the manufacturer was forced to introduce a stripped-down version to assuage the terrified drivers.

The first models were underpowered, but the performance was compensated by the advanced suspension, which allowed the vehicle to remain level and retain constant speed through tight corners. This system is largely responsible for saving French President Charles de Gaulle's life in an assassination attempt, allowing his DS 19 with bullet-riddled tires to speed away largely unaffected.

DS 21 had a bigger, stronger engine - and yet another revolutionary invention. It had electronic injection, already in 1970. Just for reference, most cars still used carburetors in the early 1990s. The final version, before Citroën declared bankruptcy and was bought by Peugeot, had a 2347cc 141hp engine. This car had the top speed of about 200 kph and could accelerate 0-100 kph in about 11 seconds. Pretty impressive, eh? How wish I were rich enough to have one.

Although Citroën DS is no longer in production for more than 30 years, it is still a formidable piece of machinery that could handle well against modern giants. It comes as no surprise that the car was voted the third best vehicle of the 20th century, topped only by the ancient Ford T and Austin Mini, which is one of the Magnificent Seven. Last but not the least, it was the coolest car I've ever seen as a child.


That's it. My favorite cars. Or rather, things to have when I get old (and rich).

Other super cool cars that deserve mention, but are not quite so cool to be among the Seven:

Alfa Romeo Alfasud, for the exceptionally precise steering and classy looks, Aston Martin DB6, for making one work harder to earn money, Ford Transit, for being No.1 choice with British criminals in the 60s, Jaguar S-Type, for being absolutely adorable (we're talking the old version), Lada Niva, for being the toughest jeep in the world, Lamborghini Countach, for creating a whole new level of coolness, Mercedes 300SL, for introducing gullwing doors, Renault 4, for being posh despite its small size, `koda 1000, for being a really cool car, Trabant, for being edible, Volkswagen Transporter, for being one of the better utility vans ever, Wartburg 353, for fathering Melkus RS 1000.


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