It will come as no surprise to many enthusiasts to discover that the Jaguar E-type was recently voted the outright winner of a TV classic car show inspired poll to find the ten greatest classic cars of all time, as well as being declared the best ever roadster in a separate poll. Surprisingly, the E-type was the only Jaguar that made it into this top ten all-time favourites in which the classic Mini came second, closely followed by the Volkswagen Beetle and the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost in third and six places respectively.
The vote to discover the nation’s favourite classic car was one of several polls recently organised by the Discovery Channel to promote a new series of its popular classic restoration programme ‘Wheeler Dealers’. Sadly, the Mini and Beetle were the only two affordable classics in this debateable top 10 listing, which included a predictable selection of exotic motoring poster art such the Ferrari F40, Aston Martin DB4 and DB5, Lamborghini Diablo, Porsche 911 Carrera RS and Roll-Royce Phantom.
Although this interpretation of the nation’s ten favourite classics was selected from a list of 100 vehicles by 2000 ‘Wheeler Dealers’ fans, what made the Discovery Channel’s polls more interesting was a second vote for ten previously embarrassing cars that drivers were now proud to own. It was a surprise to see all models of Škoda occupying the number five spot (remember all those awful Škoda jokes that did the rounds back in the ‘Eighties?), and an even bigger shock entry in the poll of previously embarrassing cars was the ever-popular Morris Minor in second place.
Topping the poll, however, was the Ford Capri and coming in at number seven was the once much-maligned but now increasingly popular Austin Allegro. Past overheating issues had obviously left former owners feeling hot under the collar as the once troublesome but now highly desirable Triumph Stag was voted third, followed by the rear-engined Hillman Imp in sixth position. Other cars that had obviously embarrassed early owners in some way and were now included in the Discovery Channel’s top ten were the Austin Princess in at number eight, followed by the Citroën 2CV in ninth place and the Reliant Robin in tenth.
Controversial choices in the top 10 list of once most embarrassing cars for Ford fans were the Capri and Escort XR3i. Although these models were both extremely popular in their day, it’s a good example of how a car can fall from grace and gradual rise in popularity as it approaches and eventually gains classic status. Having said that, it’s what happens in the cheap as chips ‘banger’ area when a model reaches the bottom of its depreciation curve that affects how a particular model will be perceived in the future. Some cars are immediately accepted as future classics while others struggle to gain recognition, even though they caused a sensation when first introduced. This is especially true in the case of these two Fords, as current owners of these models have no doubt had to work very hard to shake off the XR3i’s and Capri’s unfortunate ‘boy racer’ image gained when both models hit rock bottom on the hallowed secondhand car depreciation curve.
A surprise entry at number two in the list of once most embarrassing cars was the Morris Minor. This was a model never really favoured by youngsters out to make an impression by burning up the high street and remains an odd choice on the list. Rather than embarrassing former owners, the Minor was one of those rare cars that quietly slipped into classic status almost overnight and is regarded by many enthusiasts as the grandfather of the classic car movement. In fact, early versions of the Minor (such as the split-screen convertible) were already becoming collectable while the final examples of the Minor 1000 were still rolling off the production line in the early ‘Seventies.
It was also interesting to note the majority of the cars voted for in these various polls were built in either Britain or Germany. Of the four French-built cars in the 100-strong list of the greatest car of all time, the Renault Clio Williams made number 58 while the Peugeot 205 GTi came way down the list in 63rd place. As the classic car market continues to boom, it’s hard to say just how high prices for desirable classics will go before the bubble eventually bursts. With supply currently outstripping demand for some models, cars that would have once been broken for spares are currently being restored for eye-watering amounts of money.
While all this is good news for specialist parts suppliers and restoration companies, prime examples of popular cars from the ‘Eighties and early ‘Nineties such as the Peugeot 205, Renault 5, Volkswagen Golf, Vauxhall Cavalier, Ford Mondeo and even the Austin Maestro and its smaller sibling the Metro are currently being salted away by canny investors and will no doubt become classic ‘barn finds’ of the future. The hotted-up versions of family cars will always be popular though, and there are many factors that turn an unloved base model into a desirable classic, the main one being nostalgia. It’s that little eight-lettered word that constantly drives our hobby forward, even though cars built in the last two decades of the 20th century are considered to be more complex to restore than their predecessors.
Although there have always been a number of cars once deemed too embarrassing to own and which have eventually morphed into highly desirable classics, it’s hard to believe that at some time in the future there won’t be dedicated owners’ clubs for models regularly snubbed today. Only time will tell which models rise to the top and in 30 years’ time basic offerings from manufactures like Proton and Daihatsu will no doubt find favour with a band of loyal enthusiasts.