All cars have a shelf life. Blend performance with unique design and, as with the VW and its Beetle, you can knock out variations on a theme for 65 years. But toy with expectations too much and you end up with the Renault Avantime, a car shelved after a year when it became clear consumers couldn’t love something that looked like trigonometry homework, and was as pleasant to drive.
The Avantime’s wake was a celebratory affair. But other cars pass too soon, condemned by oil markets, production costs, or a propensity to kill pedestrians. These are the vehicles cast adrift by progress, unable or unwilling to adapt to changing tastes, and made iconic by their obstinacy.
Consider the Testarossa shorthand for any vehicle with headlights that emerged from its bonnet like a shark’s fin. That wasn’t the only shared characteristic. When they proved equally lethal (to pedestrians, not divers), car designers were suddenly left scrambling for less deadly ways to bestow sportiness on cars like the Honda Prelude saloon, whose hidden lamps distracted from performance Augustus Gloop would find sluggish.
The Testarossa, however, was a worthy wearer of the pop-up crown. A symbol of 1980s excess it forged a reputation beyond Miami Vice because its beauty wasn’t skin-deep; those side strakes and elongated bonnet hid an engine that hit 62mph in 5.3s and would roar on to over 180mph. Which would force a smile onto your face, were one not already guaranteed.
1959 Cadillac DeVille
Before escalating oil prices made fuel consumption as important as aesthetics, manufacturers built cars big. The DeVille was the epitome of an excess-driven decade; almost six metres long and two metres wide, it was like someone had bolted wheels onto a battleship, then added enough chrome to signal the US’s nascent space programme.
But what separated the DeVille from other road boats was its tailfins, which made the Caddy look like a Great White that had lumbered onto the freeway. Their shrinking through the 1960s onward marked motoring’s decline from an extravagance to an ordeal, as roads grew clogged, cars shrank and the American automotive industry crumbled.
Had Doc Brown never fitted his DeLorean with a flux capacitor, odds are it would have been remembered as a dud, not an icon. The pet project of playboy inventor John DeLorean, it tanked on launch in 1981, victim of production delays, a slumping economy and performance that couldn’t match its striking design.
The company went bankrupt while its founder was on trial for cocaine trafficking and those power and handling issues remain, but nostalgia has mellowed opinion. Look at the DeLorean’s gullwing doors, multispoke wheels and its glimmering, stainless steel body, and the only thing that matters now is getting it to 88mph.
The most beautiful car ever made (an opinion we share with Enzo Ferrari) is, technically, still available. Though Jaguar discontinued the E-Type in 1975, its ability to make grown men weak-kneed inspired a company called Eagle to build its own updated E-Types, fixing the 50-year-old car’s engineering foibles but keeping the iconic design.
Its latest version is the Speedster, built bespoke from aluminium instead of steel, with sports suspension and a rather punchier engine. Unfortunately, it costs well over £600,000. So you’d best ask Santa very, very nicely.
Land Rover Defender
Not dead yet, but this British icon is approaching the light. European safety regulations mean that its 67th birthday was its last – next year it steers to the great car park in the sky.
In that time Land Rover has produced an iteration for any occasion. Country sports? Get an old one in British racing green and glide through the mud. Shopping in Knightsbridge? Get the 60th anniversary SVX special edition that was only available in black. Gunning down wildlife in an inaccessible outback? This year, Khan Design created a 6-wheeled Landie, the Flying Huntsman, which came complete with tartan bucket seats and a flatbed for storing everything you’ve shot. A fitting eulogy.