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The top 100 German cars of all time
The top 100 German cars of all time
3 years ago
BMW M3 (E30)
It wasn’t the first BMW Motorsport product, but to some it’s the definitive M car. Designed and built to go racing, the E30 M3 could be the best saloon car of the 1980s.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.3
In 1968, Mercedes-Benz took the 6.3-litre V8 engine from the 600 and shoehorned it into a 300 SEL. The result was the ultimate Q-ship and a super-saloon that was years ahead of its time. It also paved the way for AMG…
When you build the fastest estate car on earth, your place in the top 100 German cars of all time is secured. It may have looked like an Audi 80 Avant, but the RS2 was part Audi, part Porsche and 100% brilliant.
Volkswagen Golf (Mk1)
Back in 1974, the Volkswagen Golf changed the face – and shape – of the family hatchback sector. Across seven generations, the Golf has gone on to do rather well.
Porsche 911 2.7 RS
The first Porsche RS, and arguably the best of all. This homologation special sold out within weeks and, since first debuting in 1972, has wowed everyone who’s driven one with its amazingly pure and intense drive. Oh, and delighted owners who’ve seen their investment skyrocket…
BMW M3 CSL (E46)
The E46 BMW M3 was good, but the CSL cranked everything up to 11. It was lighter, stiffer, quicker and more hardcore. If you’ve driven one, you’ll understand. This was an exceptional driving machine.
Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9
If the Mercedes-Benz S-Class was the chairman of the board, the 450 SEL 6.9 was the CEO, chairman and president, all rolled into one. It featured hydropneumatic suspension and ABS brakes as standard.
Fire up the quattro! Long before Gene Hunt was being politically incorrect in British show Ashes to Ashes, the Audi Quattro was cementing its reputation as a hero of the 1980s. It helped to make Audi what it is today and revolutionised four-wheel drive road cars.
Love it or loathe it, there’s no denying the Volkswagen Beetle had a huge cultural and social impact on the 20th century. The original ‘people’s car’ was a product of Nazi Germany but went on to become a global phenomenon.
The Opel GT is arguably one of the prettiest cars ever to emerge from Germany. It had the styling of the Corvette, but was based on a lowly Opel Kadett.
Surely one of Giorgetto Giugiaro’s greatest creations, the M1 was BMW’s first mid-engined supercar. Only 456 cars were produced, a fact that simply stokes the flames of desire further.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL
The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL is as much a work of art as it is a car. Its roots lie in the hugely successful W194 race car, with the US importer convincing Mercedes-Benz to build a road-going version. A star was born in 1954 and the rest is history.
The original Audi TT is a car that seems to get better with every passing year, looking every inch the concept car made reality. A cast-iron future classic.
Alongside some of the more illustrious names mentioned in this feature, it would be easy to scoff at the inclusion of the Volkswagen Up. But it’s the most convincing and well-packaged city car you can buy and Volkswagen deserves huge credit for making a £10,000 car feel so special.
Porsche 911 3.2 Club Sport
The Porsche 911 almost died in the 1970s. It was saved and, throughout the 1980s, the rebirth got underway. Forget the 959 supercar, the most amazing driver’s 911 of the 80s was the simple, lightweight 3.2 Club Sport. An underground icon – how long before its brilliance is rediscovered?
BMW 3.0 CSL
Perhaps one of the most famous homologation specials ever built, the BMW 3.0 CSL was stripped out for track use, but was as happy on the road. The Batmobile was the ultimate incarnation.
Mercedes-Benz W116 S-Class
Almost certainly one of the greatest cars of the 1970s, if not the 20th century. The W116 S-Class was lavish, technologically advanced and built to survive a zombie apocalypse.
Boasting the most effective aerodynamics of any production car, lightweight construction, flush-glazed side windows and the option of four-wheel drive, the Audi 100 was an understated trailblazer of its day.
Volkswagen Golf (Mk4)
Believe it or not, the fourth generation Volkswagen Golf revolutionised the family hatchback sector. It will go down as one of Ferdinand Piech’s greatest achievements, with the Golf upping the game in terms of quality and refinement.
In the NSU Ro80, we have a case of what might have been, but it has to go down as one of Germany’s top cars. It was well made, it drove superbly and, had NSU mastered the rotary engine, it might have been destined for greatness.
The fact that the BMW 328 was one of the 25 finalists in the Car of the Century award tells you all you need to know about the roadster. In its day, the 328 was the most advanced sports car on the planet.
To some, the Mercedes-Benz W123 is the greatest car of the 20th century, offering the hallmarks of the S-Class to a more general audience. Hugely popular in North America and Europe, the W123 has developed an iconic status in Africa, where buyers love its bullet-proof reliability, soft suspension and simple mechanics.
Volkswagen Corrado VR6
One of the greatest front-wheel drive cars of all time and a classic in its own lifetime. Take a look at how other coupes from the same period have aged and compare them with the Volkswagen Corrado. Enough said.
Porsche 356 Speedster
Ironically, the Speedster was designed as a ‘budget’ 356, stripped of standard equipment and featuring a cut-down windscreen that could be removed for racing. However, the car’s sleek, low-slung style means it is now the most sought-after (and valuable) of 356s today. Porsche later resurrected the Speedster name on the 911.
Choosing the best BMW M5 for the top 100 German cars feature was always going to be tough. Do we opt for the finesse and originality of the E28 or the all-round greatness of the E60? Throw the E34 and E99 into the mix and we’ve got the recipe for an epic group test.
Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR
Once upon a time, the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR was the world’s most expensive production car, so you were guaranteed to win at least one round of Top Trumps. Its price – back in the late 1990s – was a cool $1,500,000.
Even today, the Audi A2 looks like a futuristic city car, but its styling tells only half the story. The aluminium construction meant it was super-light, giving it eco credentials well ahead of its time. The front of the A2 featured a ‘service hatch’, giving easy access to the oil, screen wash and dipstick.
Karmann-Ghia: it just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Underneath the beautiful styling you’ll find a humble Volkswagen Beetle, so Ghia deserves great credit for creating something so alluring. That it never performed as well as it looked hardly seems to matter.
Porsche Carrera GT
Porsche’s latest hypercar, the 918 Spyder, is a technical masterclass, but the 2004 Carrera GT was strictly old-school. It boasted a naturally-aspirated 5.7-litre V10 and rear-wheel drive. Performance was brutal: 0-62mph in 3.5 seconds and a top speed of 205mph.
You have our permission to spend your entire lunch hour gawping at the beauty that is the BMW 507. And once you’ve collected your jaw from the floor, feel free to turn to Bing for more images. #breaktheinternet
We asked 100 third-world dictators to name their best German car of all time and the result was the Mercedes-Benz 600. The long-wheelbase Pullman was the vehicle of choice for world leaders, good and bad
The Audi R8 is as in demand today as it was at its launch in 2006. The second generation R8 was launched earlier this year, taking all the best bits of the first model and refining the edges. The ultimate everyday supercar?
Volkswagen Scirocco (Mk1)
The mid 1970s was a period of rapid change for Volkswagen, with the Scirocco the most visually arresting demonstration of the transformation. Giugiaro’s pert and neat styling was a masterpiece.
Porsche 930 Turbo
Hairy-chested monster or misunderstood masterpiece? The original (and long-running) Porsche 911 Turbo blew onto the scene in 1975 and became Germany’s fastest-ever production car that gained a wild reputation for being an uncontrollable beast. The reality is that it’s anything but: a fast, fun car that, for new 911s, seems to have set a bit of a trend.
BMW 1 Series M Coupe
To some, the BMW 1 Series M Coupe is the spiritual successor to the E30 M3. Think of it as a car that offers the immediacy and intimacy of a classic BMW with the modern tech of a newer model. A legend in its own short lifetime.
The SSK – which stands for Super Sport Kurz, German for Super Sport Short – was the last Mercedes-Benz designed by Ferdinand Porsche before he left to form his own company. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, this was the definitive sports car.
Audi R10 TDI
In 2006, the Audi R10 TDI was the first diesel car to win the Le Mans 24 Hour race, securing its place in the history books.
Volkswagen Polo G40
A supercharged Volkswagen Polo, what’s not to like? The G40 is criminally underrated and deserves to be held up alongside the Golf GTI and 205 GTI as a performance icon of its era.
‘Budget’ Porsches have a chequered history, but the mid-engined Boxster was a smash hit – both in terms of sales and critical acclaim. The original car was launched in 1996 and is now into its third generation (having spawned the equally desirable Cayman coupe along the way). Many consider the nimble Boxster a more satisfying drive than the current (991) 911.
BMW 2002 Turbo
If the 1 Series M Coupe is the modern day E30 M3, the 2002 Turbo was the 1970s equivalent. It was Europe’s first mass-produced turbocharged car and only 1,672 were built. Just don’t mention the turbo___lag…
Mercedes-AMG GT S
Assuming you can handle its width – not easy in some towns and cities – the Mercedes-AMG GT S is a supercar you can live with on a daily basis. The soundtrack is intoxicating and it looks like nothing else on the road.
Audi Sport Quattro
This was the road-going version of the Group B WRC quattro, with 200 built to meet homologation rules. The shortened wheelbase gave the Sport Quattro its unique looks.
Benz Patent Motorwagen
No look at the top 100 German cars would be complete without the Benz Patent Motorwagen. It’s widely regarded as the first automobile and it was completed in 1886. The world’s first long-distance journey – from Mannheim to Pforzheim – took place in 1888.
Opel Senator 3.0 24v
The Opel Senator – known in the UK as the Vauxhall Senator – was thrust into the nation’s living rooms as the star of Police, Camera, Action! British police forces loved the 3.0 24v version so much, they stockpiled cars for use after production of the Senator had ceased.
Porsche 911 997 GT3 RS 4.0
If you were lucky enough to buy one of the 600 4.0-litre GT3s Porsche made just a few short years ago, you could have tripled your money by now. Powered by a feral 500hp flat-six that was closely related to the 911 RSR race engine, many regard this as the greatest 911 ever made.
The BMW Z1’s standout feature has to be its doors, which drop down into the sills. The Z1 handled well and was powered by the same engine you’d find in the BMW 325i.
The 190 was a hugely successful car for Mercedes-Benz, taking the fight to the BMW 3 Series and paving the way for the popular C-Class. It’s a classic car you can use everyday.
Choosing the best Audi RS4 will always be tough. The first RS4 was introduced in 1999 and was seen as a successor to the RS2 (seen here on the left). We’d probably take a B8 Avant (2012-2015) or B7, which was available in saloon, estate and cabriolet form.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
Ask the world to name the definitive GTI and we suspect most people would point to the Golf. The MK1 Golf GTI was the first proper hot hatch and there have been one or two startlingly good versions to follow. The MK2 and MK5 stand out as high watermarks.
Sure, the Trabant was hardly a great car, but for millions of East Germans, it was a passport to mobility. When the Berlin Wall feel, thousands of these Duroplast-bodied two-stroke engined vehicles headed west.
Porsche 968 Club Sport
The Porsche 924 became the 944, which became the 968 – and then, the Club Sport. From black sheep of the family to possibly the greatest driver’s Porsche in the real world. They literally don’t make them like this anymore, which is why 968 Club Sport are starting to get very expensive indeed…
BMW New Class
The BMW 1500 – and later 1800 and 2000 – transformed an ailing business and secured the future of the Bavarian firm. The ‘Neu Klasse’ or ‘New Class’ cemented BMW’s reputation as a builder of sports saloons.
No, the Unimog is not a car, but we simply have to include it. Unimog is an acronym for UNIversal-MOtor-Gerät, with Daimler Benz taking over production in 1951. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of trucks.
Despite looking like an Audi 200, the Audi V8 featured unique panels and a host of detail changes. Its 3.6-litre 32-valve V8 engine was formed by fusing two 1.8-litre Golf GTI engines together, giving the car a 0-62mph time of 7.6 seconds. Although not a big seller, it paved the way for the Audi A8.
Volkswagen Type 3
Another Beetle spin-off and a Volkswagen that scores highly in the cool department. It was far better than the Beetle and over 1.8 million units were sold. All it lacks is the iconic status handed to the Beetle. Cue the Golf…
Opel Omega GSI 3000
In the UK, you’ll know the Opel Omega GSI 3000 as the Vauxhall Carlton GSI 3000. Think of it as an affordable Lotus Carlton, only without the explosive pace and near-mythical status. A proper Q-car and one that’s well worth seeking out in the classifieds.
Launched in 1986, Porsche’s first supercar lived in the shadow of the rawer and more outrageous Ferrari F40. But while the Ferrari aroused the senses, the 959 was a technological tour-de-force. It had adaptive four-wheel drive and ‘zero-lift’ aerodynamics. Oh, and a 197mph top speed.
If the BMW i8 is anything to go by, the future of the supercar is in good shape. ‘Butterfly’ doors, terrific pace, low emissions and space-age looks elevate the i8 to level other hybrids cannot reach. The feel good factor associated with the i8 is huge.
Mercedes-Benz SL ‘Pagoda’
How do you improve on the near-perfection of the original Mercedes-Benz SL? In truth, you don’t, but in the case of the R113 – known affectionately as the ‘Pagoda’ – you come very close. Such a pretty car.
Auto Union (A to D)
The Auto Union race cars – types A to D – were the hugely successful racing cars that went head-to-head with the famous Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows. Early cars featured V16 engines, which were later replaced with V12s.
Volkswagen Lupo GTI
A strange choice? Perhaps, but in the Lupo GTI, Volkswagen created a modern-day version of the MK1 Golf GTI. A heavy ‘scene tax’ ensures prices stay rather high.
Porsche 918 Spyder
If you hear the word ‘hybrid’ and picture a Toyota Prius, think again. The 918 Spyder harnessed battery technology, plus the small matter of a 608hp V8 engine, to deliver gobsmacking levels of go. Porsche’s fastest road car hits 62mph in 2.5 seconds and doesn’t stop until 210mph.
BMW Z3 M Coupe
If the BMW M3 is too, well… obvious, the Z3 M Coupe could be the car for you. Featuring the same straight-six engine you’d find in the M3, housed in a body based on the Z3, the M Coupe came from the left field. Its ‘breadvan’ styling is an acquired taste.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR
The Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR is a racing car steeped in history, most commonly associated with Stirling Moss and the Mille Miglia. There was also an ‘Uhlenhaut Coupe’ version, a hardtop racing car built for the 1956 season. Sadly it never saw competition use and instead became the personal transport of designer and motorsport chief, Rudolf Uhlenhaut.
Volkswagen Golf Rallye
By today’s standards, the Volkswagen Golf Rallye might seem a little tame, but as the 1980s were making way for the 1990s, this was kind of a big deal. A fat-arched, supercharged, four-wheel drive Golf designed for Volkswagen to go rallying.
Porsche Cayman R
Lighter, more powerful, bellowing like a racecar: the amazing Cayman R was a complete bolt from the blue from a company that always discreetly said the 911 would be its ultimate enthusiast driver’s car. Somehow, though, the Cayman R has been allowed to challenge the 911 GT3 – and, in many eyes, better it…
Daimler AG lost many billions during the development and subsequent production of the Smart (Swatch Mercedes ART) car, but we shouldn’t let that cloud the issue. As a unique take on urban transportation, the Smart is without peers.
We’ll never really come to terms with James Bond driving a BMW, but in the case of the Z8, all is forgiven. Designed in a way that harked back to the stunning 507, the Z8 has aged beautifully. Better today than it was new?
Look, hear us out with this one. While the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter may lack the racing pedigree or performance klout of the other cars on our list, there’s a fair chance one of these has delivered something to you. As one of the world’s most popular vans, it has to be included.
Volkswagen Type 2
Transporter, Kombi, Microbus, Bus or Camper, whatever you call the Volkswagen Type 2, there’s little doubting its significance. As iconic as the Beetle, production of the T2 continued until 2013.
Porsche 718 RS 60 Spyder
Porsche is soon to revive the 718 name on forthcoming four-cylinder versions of the Boxster and Cayman. The original 718 was a compact, open-cockpit racing car. The pretty RS 60 version seen here took victory in the legendary Targa Florio road race.
BMW 3 Series
As the world’s most successful premium car, the BMW 3 Series warrants a place in the top 100 German cars of all time. Over a 40-year period, it has provided the benchmark for all premium compact saloons.
Known as the ‘AMG Hammer’, the Mercedes-Benz 300E is a performance icon. In its day, this thing could keep a supercar quiet and yet it offered the practicality of a standard four-door saloon. A proper legend.
Designed to consume one litre of fuel per 100km – the equivalent of 282mpg – the Volkswagen XL1 is a striking vision of the future. The XL1 weighs a feather-light 795kg and can travel up to 50 miles on battery power. Yours for a mere £100,000…
Porsche 911 GT1
Porsche decided to go GT1 racing in the mid-1990s. It created a radical racer that shared a few bits with a road-going 911, but was otherwise a bespoke racer. Pesky rules mandated road-going models had to be built though: enter the ultra-rare, ultra-expensive Porsche 911 GT1 road car. The ultimate 911?
BMW E30 Touring
Another unlikely choice, but the way in which the original 3 Series Touring was conceived is the stuff of legend. Max Reisböck – a BMW engineer – wanted a wagon version of the E30 BMW, so he created one for himself. BMW liked his work so much, they put it into production. Brilliant.
The Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen is the German equivalent of a Land Rover Defender, with a very high price tag. Development started back in 1972, with initial work taking place at Steyr-Daimler-Puch in Austria.
Will history recall the Volkswagen Phaeton as a success or failure of the Ferdinand Piech era? Time will tell, because while there’s no denying the Phaeton is a luxurious ‘Dub’, it has hardly been a commercial success.
Porsche 550 Spyder
Just 90 Porsche 550 Spyder were built and the most famous is unquestionably the one in which James Dean met his untimely end. It take attention away from what a great racer the lightweight Spyder was; today, the 550 (and Dean) are still remembered by innumerate custom-built replicas.
BMW New MINI
Controversial? Definitely. Indeed, BMW has spent the last 15 years trying to convince us the new MINI is as British as fish and chips and a wet weekend in Skegness. It’s built in Britain, but you can thank/blame (delete as applicable) the Germans for its success.
Mercedes-Benz W140 S-Class
In the 1990s, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class was the ultimate in luxury and innovation. The list of technical highlights is as long as your arm. The S-Class truly was a vision of the future.
Porsche 911 Carrera RSR Turbo
This was the racing car that gave birth to the road-going 911 (930) Turbo. Wearing Martini stripes and a huge rear wing, it allowed Porsche to test turbo technology at Le Mans – proving it could be reliable for customer cars. It also looked awesome…
BMW 7 Series
It’s easy to forget the furore surrounding the BMW 7 Series at the turn of the millennium. Designed by Chris Bangle, the E65 was as controversial as it was dramatic. But the passing of time suggests Bangle got more things right than he did wrong.
Volkswagen Golf R32
The fourth generation Volkswagen Golf GTI was more boulevard cruiser than B-road tamer, but the R32 helped to elevate the MK4 to greatness. Like a successor to the Golf Rallye, the R32 became an instant legend.
The DKW Sonderklasse – or 3=6 – was a front-wheel drive saloon car launched at the 1953 Frankfurt Motor Show. The Auto Union car went head-to-head with the Volkswagen Beetle.
In a stroke, the BMW i3 changed the face of the electric car segment, bringing premium branding to a fledgling sector. It also helps that the i3 delivers the same rear-wheel drive dynamics of a ‘standard’ BMW.
Mercedes-Benz 190 Evo II
The Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 felt like a DTM touring car for the road and it went into battle with the BMW M3 and Ford Sierra RS Cosworth. The Evolution I and II models feature the wild styling to go with the electrifying pace.
Again, we’re being slightly controversial here, because there are other Porsche models that could, and perhaps should, oust the 914/6 from its berth. But with every passing year, the appeal of the Volkswagen-Porsche seems to grow stronger.
A beautiful name for a beautiful car. That the Borgward Isabella is all but forgotten is a travesty, because here was a car that was well engineered and a treat to drive. A shame that it has taken the me-too BX7 SUV to rekindle interest in this historic marque.
Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG
Oh how we love a good Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. In truth, we could have filled half the gallery with AMG products, but for its superb blend of practicality and performance, we’ll give the nod to the C63 AMG.
Ruf CTR ‘Yellow bird’
In March 1987, the Ferrari F40 became the first road-legal car to exceed the 200mph milestone. Weeks later, the Ruf CTR ‘Yellow Bird’ hit 211mph, securing its place in the history books. Children across the world cleared a little corner of their bedroom wall for this modified Porsche 911.
This stunning 1939 Horch 853A Special Roadster sold at the 2012 RM Auctions Monterey sale for a cool $5,170,000. August Horch was a former Benz employee who founded Horch & Cie in 1899.
The Isetta was an Italian-designed microcar built under licence in many countries, including Germany. BMW made the design its own, first with the 250 and later the 300 and 600. The first BMW Isetta rolled off the production line in April 1955 and 10,000 units were produced in just eight months.
The lightweight DKW Monza featured a polyester body and superb aerodynamics. These factors helped it secure five world records… in a single day.
Opel Manta B 400
In Germany, the Opel Manta was a popular as the Ford Capri was in the UK. But like the Capri, it suffered from an image crisis as it neared the end of its production life. We love a good Manta, especially the Group B Manta 400.
Wiesmann GT MF5
Powered by BMW’s wonderful 5.0-litre V10 engine, the Wiesmann GT MF5 was quite a car. With its Gecko badge perched on the bonnet, the GT MF5 could reach a top speed of 193mph, sprinting to 60mph in under 4.0 seconds.
Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows
Dominant. That’s a good word to describe the famous Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows of the 1930s and 1950s, such as the legendary 1937 W125 pictured here.