The most beautiful classic cars aren’t just common vehicles but rather pieces of art, with each one representing a unique place and time in human history. While every car manufacturer goes through swathes of designs over the years, only a few standouts achieve the status of becoming true classics. They may rise to fame either by chance or thanks to their sheer popularity, but the reason they stay famous is most often because of their pure aesthetic beauty.
In this piece, we’re going to take a look at some of the most beautiful classic cars ever manufactured and talk a little about the history of each one. Each car on this list has been chosen because it stands above the other greats of its time, and presents something truly unique, something yet to be replicated or improved upon today. So buckle up, get comfortable, and enjoy this ride through the styles and sensibilities of some of the most incredible cars-gone-by.
A Brief History
Car designs have evolved massively throughout the decades, all the way from the inception of Ford’s boxy Model T to the smooth-lined Tesla models taking to our streets in recent years. Across time, distinct phases have emerged, with cars becoming boxy during some and more rounded during others, always in a cyclical fashion.
It’s the complexities of each decade that always define the aesthetics of car design. In the 1930s, it wasn’t just the art deco movement that gave rise to rounded, aerodynamic vehicles but also the Great Depression. Aerodynamic cars are favoured in times of high fuel prices, just as boxier cars emerge in times of plenty. That’s why we see modernist, straight-lined vehicles becoming popular again in the 60s and the late 70s and why the fluctuating economies of the 90s bring us back to rounded models once again.
Still, circumstances aren’t everything. To become a true classic, a car must be symbolic of a time in history and, paradoxically, utterly timeless. Think Aston Martin’s DB5 of James Bond fame, classic sports cars like the Volvo P1800, or even memorable concept cars like the stupendously sleek Phantom Corsair. These are vehicles famous across the world, with lines and detailing that linger in the mind long after their inception. That’s what makes them truly beautiful classic cars, and the same can be said for all of the vehicles you’ll find below.
1957 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing
Voted the ‘Sportscar of the Century’ in 1999, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing is a truly iconic coupé that many consider one of the top classic cars of all time. This superfast sportscar is based on the company’s 1952 W194 racer, which shot to fame in the early 50s by winning various races across the world. These included the Carrera Panamericana, in which the W194 won despite having a vulture fly straight through the windscreen.
The 300SL model was designed to bring the speed and style of the W194 to consumers across America, and the final product retains much of the original racer’s aesthetics. A sleek, stripped-back tubular frame gives the car a smooth, unbroken sheen in its trademark silver-grey, and the iconic gullwing doors are so striking that they quickly became an unofficial part of the car’s name. These days, the Gullwing is sought out by collectors all over the world, and its timeless look has gone on to inspire many of Mercedes’ mass-market cars over the years.
1960s Jaguar E-Type
The 1960s Jaguar E-Type is a truly iconic sports car that calls to mind all the best elements of the swinging 60s. This sexy roadster is all about smooth lines and fine accenting, with a long nose and a low-top profile that give it a sleek and sultry silhouette – even Enzo Ferrari described it as the most beautiful car ever made.
The aerodynamics of this vehicle are everything, with mathematically precise curves that mimic those used in the RAF’s WWII fighter planes. The simplicity of the design is what makes the car so memorable, and the British sensibilities on show are undeniable; after all, this was the car that Austin Powers himself drove through the streets of London in International Man of Mystery. Take that, James Bond!
1964 Aston Martin DB5
Speaking of Bond, who could forget the Aston Martin DB5? Even those who don’t know the name of this beautiful old car will know it on sight, not least because it’s making its triumphant return in 2021’s No Time To Die. Another car with an esteemed history, the DB5, is an evolution of the DB4 series. The DB4’s lightweight grand-tour design is carried over into the DB5 itself.
It’s clear why Bond would opt for such a car; the DB5 is a supremely stylish vehicle with a masculine design characterized by its curved body, prominent headlights, and statement front bumper. The silver birch colorway popularized by the car’s appearance in the Bond films combines with its silver grille and sculpted headlights for a look that’s all about light. Everything here is reflective, polished, and smooth, and that’s why it’s such a joy to see the DB5 in motion.
1956 BMW 507
BMW’s 1956 roadster, the BMW 507, takes the popular futurist style of the time and adds a dash of European sophistication for a sporty, rounded car with a premium finish. The 507 is a convertible with a gorgeous rolling chassis, most of which is based on BMW’s pre-existing components that they were seeking to repurpose at the time of the 507’s inception.
A pointed bonnet gives it the look of a racer, while the short overall frame makes for a punchy, compact style. The engine is punchy, too, with a powerful V8 that enticed celebrities like Elvis Presley into owning one for themselves. His model had to be painted red because so many admirers were leaving lipstick marks on the car when he left it parked up at night – talk about rock and roll!
1955 Ford Thunderbird
This precursor to the muscle car was one of Ford’s biggest risks and biggest successes back in the 50s, becoming America’s second mass-produced sports car at the time. As it’s lovingly referred to, the Thunderbird, or ‘T-Bird,’ is a stylish hybrid sportscar convertible that tried to take all that America envied about European sportscars and bring it to a bigger market.
As such, there are a lot of models out there, including 4-door and 6-passenger varieties, but the classic T-Bird is a luxurious 2-seat convertible with a pointed nose and sharp tailfins that lend it that snazzy 50s look we love so much today. Built for comfort over speed, Ford gave this car a larger profile than most sportscars of the time, and this lends it a bombastic silhouette that’s hard to miss.
1938 Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic
It may be one of the oldest cars on this list, but the 1938 Bugatti Type 57 is still well-beloved to this very day. This coupé sports an extraordinary curved design focused on two huge front fenders and a pair of covered back fenders that give it a profile unlike any other car on the planet. The whole thing looks like a Fibonacci spiral, and its apparent perfection has inspired legions of superfans over the years – even though only three were ever made for paying customers.
Another top classic car only produced in small numbers, the Lamborghini Miura, is a stunning 2-door coupé in sportscar style with a delicate S-curve top line that defines its overall look. A fastback car with a sloped rear roof and gently curved fenders, it was designed against the wishes of Ferruccio Lamborghini by three of his top engineers.
They would take to the drawing board during the night, building the tight design to match racing specifications for enthusiasts and professionals alike. When Ferruccio, at last, discovered their work, he agreed to bring the Miura to fruition, proving that the visionary beauty of this car, once drawn up, could not be stopped from becoming a reality.
Aston Martin DB4
The DB5 could not exist without the DB4, and it is the car that started it all, opening up the production line to some of the top classic cars of all time. Super lightweight and built around a tube frame body, this Italian-designed car was the talk of the town when it was first unveiled at the 1958 London motor show. It’s easy to see why, as the European-style coupé looks just as good today as it did all those years ago, all thanks to its clean lines and the smooth curves of its bonnet and gently sloping roof.
This powerful 60s muscle car is still being iterated upon today, and with good reason. The Shelby GT350, first released in 1965, is not just supercharged in terms of its engine. It also sports a powerful low brow over its headlights which lend it a devilish, determined look, and the gills on the rear of the roof add that sportscar style that makes it feel so fierce. The bonnet scoop interacts brilliantly with the car’s typical dual-stripe paintwork, and the double grille gives it a snub-nose that you wouldn’t want to stare down in a fight. It’s a fantastic classic muscle car, with a lot of bite still left in it.
There’s something about classic sportscars that fictional spies seem to love, and this time around, it’s Roger Moore’s Simon Templar who favours the Volvo P1800 above all else. This Italian-designed, English-made car is very similar to some of the other 60s coupés we’ve seen so far, but there are a few key details on its bodywork that really set it apart from them.
Take note of the graceful steel rear bumper and the unique design of the front bumper, separated at its center. The bulbous grille, poised perfectly on the car’s nose, lines up directly with the center of the steel-rimmed headlamps, making for a symmetrical, compact design. All of this is complemented gracefully by the silver steel lines running the length of the car’s chassis, which brings out the visual component of its aerodynamics.
Ferrari 308 GTS
The classic Ferrari, if ever there was one, the 308 GTS is a 70s legend made famous by Magnum PI. It has a flat bonnet with flush venting and a bevelled center, all built around the car’s core feature; those retractable headlamps that seem to spring up from nowhere. They’re what makes the car unique in the mind’s eye.
The Targa topped roof gives this small car a lot of versatility, and the angular design of its front bumper contrasts spectacularly with its cylindrical side vents. This contrast is everywhere in the 308 GTS, from its straight wheelbase to its curved top line, to the fastback design of its rear roof, where prominent vents are once again used for both colour and material contrast.
Known mainly as a popular competitor to the Jaguar E-Type, the Austin Healey 3000 took the smooth lines of its contemporaries and beefed everything up for a thick, curvy coupé that packed in a vast amount of power for its time. It’s a sophisticated, short-bonnet car with a racer-style silhouette and an extremely compact 2-seat chassis that puts all of the weight towards the vehicle’s back.
The Healey 3000 was a reliable competition car in its time, winning many a rally and race, and it’s renowned amongst motor enthusiasts for its tight handling and rapid acceleration. In fact, it’s still raced in classic car competitions to this day, where it performs remarkably well for its age.
1966 Shelby 427 Cobra
Another racing-style classic car that used Ford’s famous V8 engine, the AC Cobra 427 from Shelby, is a classic 2-door roadster with a recessed grille and a large hood scoop originally conceived in the 60s. Above all it’s a playful car with a small windscreen and race car silhouette that exemplifies Carroll Shelby’s flashy, fun designs.
In many ways, it was Shelby’s attempt at creating a Corvette-killer for Ford, and the 427 is the third edition of this classic car. It has distinct wide fenders and a large grille opening that set it apart from the previous editions, and in its blue and white-striped colorway, it’s symbolic of the AC Cobra line as a whole.
1969 Boss 429 Mustang
Born from NASCAR engine designs way back in 1969, Ford’s Boss 429 Mustang is one of the most iconic muscle cars around. Eight hundred fifty-nine of them were produced back in the day, all with stark black interiors and five exterior colour options: Wimbledon White, Royal Maroon, Candy Apple Red, Black Jade, and Raven Black.
This car owes a lot of its power to its racing origins, and even the interior followed suit, with a forged setup not unlike a NASCAR vehicle and limited space due to the massive engine in the car’s front end. The car’s exterior is powerful, too, with a pointed bonnet that includes a large hood scoop now synonymous with classic Mustangs and beautiful side venting that flows right from the sharp nose all the way to the car’s rear fenders.
1969 Ferrari Dino 246 GT
The Dino 246 GT is a stunning sports car with a Berlinetta body and Targa top that, in many ways, is a lot more complicated than many of its contemporaries. There are many competing lines here that work because of the compact size of the car, from the separated front and back bumpers to the rear venting and statement rear window that add such great accenting to the body. On top of this, you have the large flared front fenders and the rimmed wing mirrors, rear lights, and exhaust. It’s a wonderful car to look at and gives you a lot to take in, while the optional Campagnolo wheel alloys that were often seen with it lend it a classy finish.
1969 Dodge Charger
The Dodge Charger is another iconic car with a truly unforgettable look. Just look at the headlamp and grille set up first of all; it’s so carefully designed and put together that the rest of the car can rely purely on its lines without any need for extra accenting. The way the grilles and nose of the car have been perfectly lined up means the gentle box of the hood adds a lot of momentum towards the overall silhouette, and the fastback rear makes the eye follow that line, always moving forward.
That’s one of the real strengths of the Charger. All of its weight is at the back, and the long, boxy chassis feels so much lighter as a result. It speaks to a need for speed, and you can see why it was such a popular stunt vehicle in classics like the Dukes of Hazzard and Steve McQueen’s Bullitt.
1962 Ferrari 250 GTE
Marketed as a luxurious sportscar for the middle and upper classes, the Ferrari 250 GTE was a 4-seater, fairly boxy version of the coupés of the time. It sports a wide front grille emblazoned with the Ferrari logo and clean silver front and rear bumpers that add a splash of metallic style to the subtle overall shape of the vehicle. Interestingly, Ferrari managed to get such a tight style with 4-seats inside. The straight-edged venting by the fenders and prominent headlights work with the sophisticated profile of the car.
Delage D8-120 S Aerosport
The Delage D8-120 is a truly vintage classic car that ran with its original 1933-look all the way through its various iterations up to the start of the 1940s. It sported an ultra-traditional design with a bespoke coach body and highly exaggerated fenders, along with an elegantly extended bonnet symbolic of the time.
The 120 S Aerosport was the last iteration of the D8 before the onset of World War II, during which time the car finally ceased to be manufactured. This featured a highly sophisticated pillarless construction that wouldn’t be replicated for another ten years, and it’s a true shame that so few cars were ever made, with less than 14 ever built and only seven left in existence today.
Originally known as the baby Duesenberg for its similarity to the American-made Duesenberg line, the 1936 Cord 810/812 is a futuristic take on the classic cars of the 30s with a low profile and a more compact design than its contemporaries. This lovely classic car has a few unique design features that make it stand out from similar models, including the circular holes cut in its alloys which were meant to increase airflow to the breaks. The lovely tinted yellow driving lights are also a nice touch and are such a rarity today.
The car’s doors were mirrored for the sake of function and ended up looking beautiful as a result. The venting and piping by the front fender is once again a functional choice that ended up adding so much personality to the final product. The same can be said for the large front vent and the dual-frame windscreen, and that’s what’s so beautiful about the 810/812; it’s a car that’s gorgeous not just because of its design but also down to a series of compromises and coincidences that all ended up working in its favour.
The Countach is absolutely Lamborghini’s poster car, down to its shockingly sleek, angular, low-profile design. Even in the 2020s, new vehicles are still being designed that are desperate to mimic its tight lines. This car looks almost exactly like its concept drawings, with hardly a spare inch of space to be seen and sharp curves that give it a sharp front-end.
The black side ducts and vents are the emblems of the car that make its simple lines pop, and the pop-up lights are as ever a futuristic touch to this space-age design. The slashed angle of the fenders is a clever way to add space for the wide wheels, but they also add flair to every inch of the design, and the slotted rear of the top with its Periscopio window is truly unique amongst classic sportscars.
Another concept car with a stunning silhouette, the Phantom Corsair, was one of the most beautiful cars of all time, even if it never made it to the mass market. With a strong focus on aerodynamics, it paired fully-enveloped wheels with a panelled aluminum body for a vehicle that looks more like a piece of art-deco history than a real car. The car’s interior sported an aeronautical theme which added to its capsule-like nature, and the powerful engine provided 190 horsepower, which was remarkable for a car in the late 30s.
Sadly, only one Corsair was ever made, as its designer, Rust Heinz, died in a car crash aged just 25. While his work was cut short, the car’s legacy lived on for many years, and it remains famous for its elegance almost a century after its creation.
Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato
Another precursor of the famous DB5, the DB4 GT Zagato, is one of the most sought-after variations of the DB4 line. It sports a short chassis, silvered headlamps, and a powerful engine that made it highly desirable at the time of its release. Its lightweight overall construction is still an impressive feat of engineering many years after it was designed. While the hood scoop of the original DB4 GT is iconic in its own right, the ridged hood variation on the Zagato gives the car a unique profile unlike any other seen at the time.
The Maserati A6GCS is a stylish vehicle with a unique profile thanks to the flush grille at the end of its endearingly long nose. The elegant Berlinetta body gives the racer a clean, curved silhouette with an extremely streamlined front end. The visible exhaust piping beneath the main chassis exudes a sense of barely-concealed power within this punchy vehicle. Only four were ever made, and the unattainability of the A6GCS only serves to make its existence even more beautiful.
1958 CORVETTE C1
The famous Chevrolet Corvette had a rocky start. Still, it went on to become the envy of every other car manufacturer in the world during the 60s, when Chevrolet began to bring updated models to the consumer market en masse. The original Corvette C1 may have been a little rough around the edges. Still, it is undeniably eye-catching, with its latticed headlamp design and rounded bonnet that flows beautifully into a stylish concept grille.
The straight lines of the car paired with its rounded front and back gave it a statement silhouette unique for its time. The chrome stylings of the 1958 edition with its four headlamps and metal trunk spears meant that it was in many ways the car of the day. So much so that, for many, Corvette is a name synonymous with the onset of the 60s.
PORSCHE 356 SPEEDSTER
A nimble, lightweight speedster inspired by Porsche’s previous designs like the Volkswagen Beetle and Auto Union Grand Prix cars, the Porsche 365 was a mass-produced model designed to bring together the worlds of consumer driving and track racing. This stylish coupé sports a fully curved design with no hard lines, instead opting for a completely streamlined approach that adds to its aero dynamism.
The low windshield could be removed for weekend racing, while some models included a fold-down top for driving in the sun. The steel ridge on the car’s hood and various venting elements, including a large vent on the rear boot, add some art deco flair to the design, while the classic bug greenhouse chassis is as iconic today as it was way back in the 40s.
FERRARI 250 TESTA ROSSA
Like the Maserati A6GCS, Ferrari’s 250 Testa Rossa sports a long nose with exaggerated curves along the front and rear fenders. What sets this car apart is its unique ‘pontoon fender’ racing geometry. It has a ridged, vented hood reminiscent of the art deco-style concept racers of the 30s and a low-lying spider chassis complemented by a high rear racer’s head ridge.
The Testa Rossa, meaning ‘Redhead’ in Italian, was powerful for its time, with a V12 engine capable of delivering a top speed of 167mph. As fiery as its name would suggest, the 250 won many races and rallies throughout the late 50s, and early 60s, including 10 World Sports Car Championship runs, making it one of the most successful and stylish sportscars of its age.