Generally, European classic cars deliver a welcoming aura of flair and sophistication that can seem far beyond the scope of the automotive industry. Several of these cars were assembled by hand, allowing for much more time and attention to detail in contrast to more common cars that saw mass production.
In essence, these vintage European cars possess a state of quality that’s seldom found in the modern world, but still exists. Not that these cars were by any means the most reliable of their day. Far from it, in several cases. Even so, these cars have stood the test of time for reasons far beyond reliability. Their craftsmanship, power, style, and historical impact have left a lasting impression on the automotive community.
10 1970 Alpine A110
Designed by Giovanni Michelotti, the original Alpine A110 was first conceived in 1963 as a rear-engined sports car that utilized numerous components from Renault.
Over time, the Alpine A110 would continue to evolve as it conquered various European rallies. Later versions came equipped with a Renault A-Type four-cylinder, which was cast in aluminum and not only increased power, but also helped with the odd balance from its RR platform. This helped Alpine secure several victories, including the 1971 Monte Carlo Rally, and soon cemented the car’s status as one of the greatest rally cars ever built.
9 1967 Jaguar 420
The Jaguar 420 was a sports sedan produced by the Coventry-based manufacturer for just under three years, from August 1966 until the end of 1968. The essential idea was to add a new sedan to Jaguar’s lineup, which would be smaller than the S-Type, but still retain the 4.2-liter inline-six engine that was also shared with the E-Type.
Re-badged and sold as the Daimler Sovereign, the Jaguar 420 proved to be a capable sports sedan, as it featured fully independent suspension on all corners. Journalists praised the 420’s impressive handling characteristics, as well as its braking and speed.
8 1957 BMW 507
The BMW 507 was meant to conquer the North American market, offering V8 power and an absolutely gorgeous design. The idea for the 507 derived from Max Hoffman, a US-based importer who’d basically talked BMW into filling the gap left between cheap, British sports cars and the mighty Mercedes-Benz 300 SL.
Thousands were intended to be built, but heavy production costs resulted in a run of just 252 units, making this one of the most coveted BMWs of all time.
7 1966 Maserati Quattroporte
The original Maserati Quattroporte was fairly unique when it debuted in 1963. Prior to this car, Maserati had virtually no experience with larger sedans, as well as the V8 engines that would end up propelling the Quattroporte.
Still, this sport sedan offered far more room and power than virtually anything else from Italy during its day. With a top speed of 143 mph, it’s easy to see why.
6 1969 Aston Martin DBS
Aston Martin toiled for years to create the original DBS as a replacement for the aging DB6. Although this model was first launched in 1967, it would take until 1969 for Aston Martin to finish the development of their 5.3-liter DOHC V8, which had been intended to serve as a stable for the DBS.
The extra work paid off considerably, as the DBS V8 of 1969 dished out a healthy 375 horsepower, putting this British grand tourer within the same power realm as American muscle cars of this same era. A top speed of 160 mph further added to the success of the DBS, which could ultimately lay down the groundwork for the V8 Vantage of the following decade.
5 1957 Facel Vega FV2B
For those unfamiliar, Facel Vega was a renowned French manufacturer that produced some of the world’s most luxurious cars throughout the 1950s. Against the grain of traditional French styling, these cars were utterly massive and easily comparable in size to the massive, American land barges of the era. Their quality remained far above, however, as Facel Vega’s hand built nature called for a degree of exceptionalism far beyond mass-produced, Detroit iron.
Still, under the hood was a familiar face, as the F2VB was powered by a 330-cid Hemi V8 that was sourced from Chrysler, along with the car’s three-speed automatic transmission. Later, Facel Vegas would become host to even larger versions of the Hemi, with the 392-cid unit being used in later versions, as well as the Max Wedge 413-cid V8. All told, only 74 Facel Vega F2VBs were built during 1956 and 1957, creating further allure for this French coupe.
4 1966 Lamborghini 400 GT
First debuting at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show, the Lamborghini 400 GT sought to take on the world and make a name for the Italian manufacturer, who’d dared to challenge Ferrari. After the initial launch of the 350 GT in the 1964, the constantly evolving world of sports cars caused Lamborghini to rethink their strategy, and consequently enlarge the engine to 4.0-liter for a total output of 320 horsepower.
Although the engine was new, the 400 GT shared much in common with the earlier 350 GT, but still proved to be more than enough to generate a positive response from the public. This same model year also saw the introduction of the legendary Lamborghini Miura, which caused the 400 GT to be widely regarded as a bit dated in comparison. Then again, that could also be said of virtually every other production car in the world in 1966.
3 1964 Ferrari 250 LM
The 250 LM is highly overshadowed by the legendary 250 GTO, which is a shame, as this was one of the earliest midship Ferrari sports cars ever produced and proved to be years ahead of its time. Essentially, the 250 LM was the berlinetta version of the 250 P prototype, initially built to homologate the mid-engined racer for the GT class at Le Mans. However, the FIA didn’t change their stance, rendering the 250 LM as a prototype.
Only 32 examples of the Ferrari 250 LM were ever produced, all between 1964 and 1966, one of which scored Ferrari an overall win at Le Mans in 1965, but would ultimately prove to be the last Ferrari to win the storied, 24-hour race.
2 1967 Iso Grifo
The Iso Grifo was a magnificently styled and lesser known European classic, designed by the great Giorgetto Giugiaro. Its bodywork had been coach built at Bertone, while engineering had been handled by Giotto Bizzarrini, a former Ferrari employee who’s partially credited with the creation of the 250 GTO.
This particular Iso Grifo gets its power from a Chevrolet 327-cid V8, producing 300 horsepower and mated to a ZF five-speed manual. Both Iso and Bizzarrini were fond of utilizing American engines for their cars, resulting in later Iso Grifos that would feature Chevy’s L71 427-cid V8, which Iso rated at 435 horsepower and touted a top speed of 186 mph.
1 1970 Monteverdi Hai 450
Although it’s widely obscure, the Monteverdi Hai 450 was one of the earliest supercars ever built, and nearly became one of the fastest production cars in the entire world. Built by the Swiss manufacturer, Monteverdi, the Hai 450 featured absurd power generated from a Chrysler 426 Hemi, mounted directly behind the seats. Monteverdi claimed an output of 450 horsepower, hence the car’s name, although there’s a strong chance that this figure is underrated, given the nature of the 426 Hemi’s true output.
Originally, only two Hai 450s were officially built, although the company’s founder, Peter Monteverdi, had claimed to have delivered as many as 11 cars. In the 1990s, two additional examples were crafted using spare parts, but were immediately destined for museum display duty. As far as top speed is concerned, the Monteverdi Hai 450 was capable of 174 mph, putting it well within the realms of Ferrari and Lamborghini.
Sources: Bonhams, RM Sotheby’s, Hemmings, Mecum, Bring A Trailer