There are fewer things more aesthetically pleasing than a perfectly poured pint of lager, or a symmetrically manicured lawn. Well-designed cars are one of them, and while there are plenty, few make it to iconic statuses quite like these.

Now taste is subjective, but the basic principles of style aren’t. Ask any designer and he’d tell you that proportion, symmetry, and shape are just a few of the many elements that are required to produce the perfect work of art, and automobile design isn’t spared from this law. Cars rarely make it from a sketch to the production line unscathed by stringent safety laws and budget constraints, and many are reduced to a generic compromise. The cars on this list have not only made it into production with their aesthetic integrity intact, but also remain awe-inspiring today despite technological advancements and fleeting consumer tastes.

Now mostly heralded as important ambassadors for their brands, these design icons stand as bold statements of intent and heritage, and a cultural representation of its era.

Lamborghini Countach

Its wedge shape, scissor doors and pronounced angles were anything but practical and made parking a nightmare, but boy was the Countach the stuff of dreams for gearheads in the ‘80s.

design icons cars lamborghini countach

Styled by a young Marcello Gandini (also designer of the Miura) — who was then inexperienced in the ergonomics of automobile design but at the same time unhindered by them — the Countach was born with pronounced angles comprised entirely of flat, trapezoidal panels.

design icons cars lamborghini countach

The upward-opening doors are now a Lamborghini trademark, and its outrageous styling has become precedent to the other models that followed.

Jaguar E-Type

Perhaps it was its first introduction to the world at the 1961 Geneva Auto Show that the E-Type was already catapulted to iconic status. With a sleek, fluid body that tapered at all the right angles, there was a sophisticated simplicity despite its exotic shape, a style that many others lacked during its time.

design icons cars e-type

Its long dash-to-axle proportions really showcased the power under the hood, and as a car that had more power for half of the price of other exotics then, made it a force to be reckoned with on the road too. Inarguably one of Malcolm Sayer’s most notable work throughout his career as an aircraft and car designer, the E-Type is still the poster child for an era of fabulous sports cars.

Delorean DMC-12

When the aggressive shark fin-esque wedge design started waning in popularity after the ‘70s, there was one that gave it one last push before pedestrian safety regulations would deem them too unviable for manufacturers.

The legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro — one of Italy’s most famous car designers — began working on the Delorean DMC-12 during a time when wedge-shaped cars were all the rage. So when it was released seven years later in 1981, it was already seriously outdated; the market had already turned to the svelte Porsche curves.

design icons cars delorean

The Delorean DMC-12 wasn’t exactly pinup material because of its tall ride stance and massive wheel gap. And while its engine appeared to be nestled under the huge bonnet, was actually in the rear, compromising on the performance of its V6, so it wasn’t exactly a contender on the roads either.

However, this didn’t stop the only model under the Delorean badge from becoming a bona fide movie star. Its gull wing doors and angular stainless steel body are easily the most recognisable things in the movie, besides the Nike self-lacing shoes (and Doc’s crazy hair, of course).

Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB

As far as bedroom poster accolades go, Ferrari ranks up there with the likes of Lamborghini and Porsche, so to pick one that’s iconic in design is tough. However, the 250 GT SWB Berlinetta is an easy contender for top spot for having just the right amount of dramatic flair, without messing around with proportions. This Maranello masterpiece first saw light in 1959 at the Paris Motorshow as the evolution of the 250GT Tour de France.

Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB

Developed by the same team that brought you the Ferrari 250 GTO, the car’s shorter wheelbase allows for tidier proportions and minimal overhangs. Its fascia is kept functionally minimal, with fenders that gently curve down the flanks before giving way to a hike-up over the rear wheel arches. The fastback roofline always gives the car the illusion of motion even when stationary, and further accentuates its low-slung body lines. Other achievements include making almost all of the “greatest Ferraris of all time” lists.

Volkswagen Beetle

The bug-eyed Herbie might’ve had six Hollywood films to its name, but its design harks back to pre-war Germany when Ferdinand Porsche was commissioned to create a rear-engined car for the masses in the late ‘30s. So evolutionary was its design, that the current Beetle still stays relatively true to its original shape more 80 years later.

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It’s been widely argued that it was New York advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach’s simplistic and iconic ads that made its design such a success, more so than Volkswagen itself. It changed the perspective on how a car should be shaped and how big it should be. Now-famous ads such as “Lemon” or “Think Small” still resonate amongst the masses today. In fact, Ad Age ranked the “Think Small” campaign as the number 1 advertising campaign of the 20th Century.

Throughout its life it’s spawned a variety of styles, becoming larger, water-cooled, and front engined, all while still retaining the original shape and fun entry-level appeal. Although no longer in its heyday, the design lives on in the hearts of consumers all the world thanks to its ’60s pop culture appeal and enduring lovability.

Ford  Mustang

The ‘Stang owed its iconic status to the ‘60s (like the Beetle and E-Type), and it single-handedly created the “pony class” of American muscle cars. Classified as affordable sporty coupes with long hoods and short rear decks, it wasn’t long before the Mustang spawned competition the likes of Chevy’s Camaro, Pontiac’s Firebird and the Dodge Challenger — all of them sporting similar silhouettes.

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Launched into creation by the famous automotive executive, Lee Iacocca, the Mustang was one of the first sports cars produced for the middle-class, and is now known worldwide as a symbol of American automotive design. Special editions of the car have been featured in equally iconic films such as Gone in 60 Seconds and Bullitt, and it’s fair to say the big V8 muscle Mustangs commanded as much attention as their Hollywood co-stars.

Having gone down a slippery slope in style, the original design was re-launched by Ford — albeit with a contemporary twist — in the mid-2000s, rekindling the hype it once commanded. The new models now not only light up the rear wheels on the drag strip, but can also go around corners like their European competitors. A first for Mustang and proving that legendary design language can co-exist with performance befitting its time.

Shatricia Nair
Senior Writer
Shatricia Nair is a motoring, watches, and wellness writer who is perpetually knee-deep in the world of V8s, tourbillons, and the latest fitness trends. She is fuelled by peanut butter and three cups of coffee a day.