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These are the best-selling interesting cars

The Corolla’s a sales juggernaut. But what about interesting cars from rare breeds?

  1. First and foremost, carmaking is a business. Unless our wires are as severely crossed as a home-built Westfield, car companies aren’t charities; they exist to make money. 

    So, if you ever wonder why we’re currently choking in a miasma of utterly dull crossovers and SUVs, it’s because that’s what makes money, because they’re figuratively flying out of the showrooms. Or, put more simply, it’s because You. Asked. For. It.

    Well, maybe not you, but certainly someone you know. And the drum we beat at TG about interesting cars is worn so thin that it’s in danger of becoming a tambourine, but we’ll do it one more time for posterity: if you can make the most mundane parts of your life more interesting and joyous, why would you not do that?

    Now, that doesn’t mean shelling out countless thousands on an 800 horsepower supercar. And it doesn’t mean that manufacturers have to take financial blows strong enough to cripple a second-world country, either. There really is a joyous nexus between affordability, profitability and genuine charisma – and it’s happened more often than you’d think. Don’t believe us? Well, a) we’re super offended that you think we’d ever lie to you and b) have some proof, you bunch of doubting Thomases.

  2. Citroen DS – nearly 1.5 million

    Perhaps the most interesting car of all time, the DS was an absolute sales juggernaut for something so ineffably unique. It also cemented Citroen’s reputation as a technological innovator and brilliantly idiosyncratic manufacturer. Citroen’s pioneering DS also spawned the exceptional Maserati-engined SM and wondrously comfortable CX, which pales only in comparison to the DS. But that didn’t stop Citroen selling 1.2 million CXes, or licensing its hydropneumatic suspension system to Rolls-Royce for use on its Silver Shadow.

    It really is hard to choose a single trait that makes the DS interesting. Is it the supremely wonderful and exceptionally complex hydropneumatic suspension system? The ‘Take me to your leader’ styling? The unmistakable mushroom brake pedal? We really can’t choose; the DS is interesting from its fibreglass roof to its swivelling headlights. 

  3. Ford Mustang – 9 million

    The Mustang proves, perhaps better than anything, that technological prowess and quirky idiosyncrasies aren’t the only paths to interestingness: this was a simple car, based on current saloon models and launched by a major manufacturer. On those merits, it never really deserved to be interesting. But the passion of the people behind it and the tremendous, quintessentially Sixties design of the original – not to mention Ford’s spot-on read of the American car market in the 1960s – ensured that one million Mustangs were sold in just the first 18 months. 

    The original Mustang was the car of America in the late 1960s, effortlessly cool and perfectly positioned to harness (sorry) the country’s seemingly limitless optimism and renewed wealth. Roles in Goldfinger, the original Gone in Sixty Seconds and, of course, Bullitt cemented its position as the original ‘Pony car’. In fact, the phrase ‘Pony car’ was coined in the Mustang’s honour, referring to its affordability, desirability and sporting image. The Mustang really was the everyman’s hero.

    Since then, it’s grown, shrunk, been watered down and pepped up to suit the consumer demand (or government regulations). Nevertheless, the recipe of simplicity, rear-drive and big-car-for-little-money hasn’t changed. There’s also the small matter that the first generation basically defined American cool, and, by now, everyone’s conveniently forgotten about the misses in the Mustang’s back catalogue and focused on the hits. Oh, and let’s not forget that the Stang became Ford’s best-selling car since the Model T. And, correct us if we’re wrong, that shifted one or two in its time. 

  4. BMW 3 Series – 14 million

    Ever heard the phrase ‘tough follow-up album’? Well, imagine the task on BMW’s hands to create a successor to the 2002. The 2002 fostered BMW’s reputation as the purveyor of giant-killing saloons; now, as a veritable giant itself, BMW’s continued success relied on ensuring the 3 Series was every bit as unassuming and sportscar-embarrassing as its predecessor. 

    And, in case you were looking the other way, they pretty much redefined nailing it. For example, the 2002 (and 1602) lasted for 11 years; the 3 Series has been running strong since 1975, with no signs of stopping yet. Each and every generation of 3 has been a sports saloon par excellence (and we’re not just saying this in deference to editor’s E36 328i Sport), immediately relegating every other manufacturer to the status of ‘challenger’. No, really – think about it. Everything is a 3 Series rival. Well, either that or…

  5. Porsche 911 – 1 million

    … this. C’mon. You know it’s true. 

    What can we say about Porsche’s seminal sports car that hasn’t already been gushed a thousand times over? Erm… how about the fact that anything with the words ‘classic’, ‘Porsche’ and ‘911’ is worth umpteen millions of pounds these days? Nope, that’s been covered. Hm. Maybe that it’s the yardstick by which all contemporary sports cars have been, and continue to be, measured? Nope. Uh, how about that, since its introduction in 1963, it’s defined the ‘everyday sportscar’… nope. Not that either. 

    Ah, we’ve got it. The Porsche 911 is proof positive that ubiquity need not equal dullness, that the essential rightness of a machine is not diluted by its reproduction. The fact that Porsche has sold more than a million 911s does nothing to damage what the 911 is, what it does and how flipping good it is. So, that’s it – regardless of its reputation, its interminable – and often indecipherable – model list and its frankly absurd values in the increasingly depressing classic car market, the 911 is truly special. 

  6. Volkswagen Golf – 30 million

    The Golf – or Rabbit, to the Americans among us – is another case of Germans absolutely nailing that difficult second album. After Volkswagen rose from the ashes of World War II on the backs of the Beetle and Kombi, Vee Dub knew it was time to retire the ancient air-cooled Beetle and replace with something more of its time and less… well, linked to National Socialism. 

    And, while BMW built the 3 Series on the strong foundations of the 2002, Volkswagen tore the floor up and started from scratch, to torture a metaphor. So, out went old-school air-cooled and in came transversely mounted, inline four-cylinder engines, water cooling and front-wheel drive. And, in the process, they perfected the template of the family hatchback, as put forward by the Renault 4. And that’s the secret right there – Volkswagen wasn’t the first to build a hatch, nor a hot hatch, but they finessed them both until the Golf became the default answer to almost any question. Need a car? Golf. Need a family car? Five-door Golf. Need a fast car? Golf GTI. 

    So far, we’ve only really covered what makes the Golf good, rather than interesting. And there lies the real secret of the Golf’s true success – it brought real driving pleasure to the masses. Yes, a Corolla is every bit as reliable, commodious and reasonably priced, but the Golf offers you one more thing: fun.

  7. Alfa Romeo Alfasud – 1 million

    Yeah, okay. Get it all out now: all the jokes and apocryphal anecdotes you have about the ’Sud – even if they were inherited from your dad, because you weren’t old enough to have actually been there at the time. Don’t feel too bad; we weren’t either. But our dads told us stories of otherworldly levels of apathy from the Neapolitan workforce; of unpainted and untreated cars left outside, exposed to the elements, then given a lick of paint and sold while rotting from the inside out. 

    And, hyperbole aside, this is all fairly accurate. But the story that’s overlooked among the the anti-Alfasud invective is just how good the ’Sud could be. That’s because Alfa did more than it had to with the ’Sud, in that curiously anti-accountancy way that earns them a soft spot in our hearts. Case in point: an economical family car with inboard disc brakes to reduce unsprung mass and improve handling. 

    The ’Sud also had a boxer engine, which gave it super-slippery aerodynamics and a low centre of gravity. And, even though it was Alfa’s small, cheap, front-drive family car, advanced suspension and four-wheel disc brakes made it one of the sweetest-handling cars of the day. Former ’Sud owners still get misty-eyed when remembering just how revolutionary it was, how tenaciously it handled and how generous it was in doling out feedback and entertainment. 

  8. Cadillac De Ville – nearly 4 million

    What does ‘Americana’ mean to you? If you’re of our vintage, you’ll probably think, “Oh, I remember that album. It was massive back in the day. Hm, I wonder if the Offspring are still around… oh, good grief, they actually are.”

    But, before Dexter Holland’s spiky hairdo and curiously high voice redefined Americana for the modern generation, the term referred to the idealised American cultural identity: a house with a white picket fence. Levi jeans. The local milk bar. Apple pie. Baseball. Coca Cola. And, of course, Cadillac. 

    Yes, the Caddy sums up the American ideal, perhaps even more than the Mustang. There’s an an unassailable sense of optimism, joie de vivre and even hubris about the 1959 Cadillac De Ville. The engine was massive because petrol was cheap and big displacement meant big power. The De Ville was nearly six metres long and more than two metres wide, because the roads were big and there was no shortage of American steel, unlike… well, roughly all of Yoo-rup. It also weighed more than two tonnes, because… well, see points one and two, and also because it sported the latest in luxury – power brakes, steering, seats, windows and roughly everything else. There was no concession to economy, which is about the most American definition of luxury it’s possible to conjure. None of this careful curation nonsense that everyone else bangs on about, just the corporeal manifestation of ‘nothing exceeds like excess’. 

    And, when confronted with the kind of largesse a Caddy De Ville offers, it’s hard to not want a slice of that slice of unabashed Americana.

    Image: Jonathan Stonehouse

  9. Holden Commodore – more than 3 million

    The Holden Commodore certainly didn’t start off as an interesting car. And now, having garnered the hatred of about 50 per cent of all Australians, we can now continue the lesson. 

    If you look at the car in the background – the original Holden Commodore – you’ll notice that it’s basically a mashup of an Opel Senator and an Opel Rekord. Which is precisely how it started off. Then, as the old story goes, when testing the Opel in outback Australia, it was reduced to its component parts by the incredibly rugged landscape. 

    Undeterred, Holden added Tonka-like strength and a range of comfortingly large engines – the smallest in the range was a 2.85-litre, which was larger than anything offered in Europe – and the Holden Commodore was born. Despite its recipe – big, friendly engine and rear-wheel drive – it still wasn’t interesting

    In fact, the Commodore owes its interestingness to none other than Tom Walkinshaw. Holden Special Vehicles, the creator of such gems as the Vauxhall VXR8 (nee: HSV GTS), started as a partnership between Holden and Tom Walkinshaw Racing to take the Commodore racing on a global scale. And, okay, it wasn’t very good when confronted with cars like the Sierra Cosworth, Skyline GT-R or BMW M3. But a happy byproduct of the… er, ‘mitigated successes’ of the racing Commodore was the idea of a road-going performance Commodore, just like the glory days of the 1970s when the cars that raced around Bathurst were the same you could buy from your local dealer.  

    And, in perhaps the only documented case of trickle-down economics, regular Commodores started to be imbued with the performance credentials – and spirit – of the big, friendly V8 supersaloons. In fact, even up to the Australian-built Commodore’s final years, it was impossible to buy one with less than 250 horsepower. It’s enough to make you forgive the Australians for Jason Donovan. Almost.

  10. Ford Falcon – more than 3 million

    It’s hard to mention the Commodore without its opposite number. And, much like Holden’s effort, it was never really all that interesting to begin with. Now, with 100 per cent of the Australian population now apoplectic with rage, let’s continue.

    Much like the Commodore, the Falcon was the product of Australians adopting an American brand (and in this case, a nameplate) and then going completely off the reservation with it. 

    Now. Full disclosure time. I’m an Australian and my first car was a Ford Falcon, which was the about the most hilarious way to tempt the Grim Reaper I’ve ever found, short of waving one’s wedding tackle at a Great White. The car in question, a base-model 1994 GLi, was not what you’d call advanced. There was a 4.0-litre straight six up front, good for about 210bhp and 265lb ft. This was channelled through a five-speed manual to an open diff, live rear axle and six-inch-wide tyres. And this meant that, even in the dry (it is Australia, after all), it was entirely possible to provoke ridiculous powerslides and absurd levels of tyre smoke from every corner. And, as an 18-year-old, it felt vital that I always did that.

    But, in the cold light of day (it is London, after all), I have to admit that it wasn’t genuinely interesting; the joy was derived from behaving like a fool, which is fun in just about every old rotter you come across.

    So, just like the Commodore, it was the crucible of motorsport that made the Falcon interesting. In the 1970s, Ford, Holden and Chrysler were throwing every performance trick in the book at their top-tier performance saloons. Why? To win at Bathurst, of course, because winning on Sunday meant selling on Monday. So, armed with a 5.8-litre V8 that was good for 400bhp – in the 1970s, remember – the planned Falcon GTHO was a 160mph, four-door saloon car. But a series of do-gooders decided that everything was too powerful and too dangerous and the so-called ‘Supercar Scare’ put an end to Australia’s power wars. Instead, the Germans did it three decades later without any undue fuss. Not that we’re bitter or anything.

    Again, let’s remember that this was the era when the UK’s performance Ford was the RS2000, with one-third the displacement and a top speed of 108mph. Let’s also remember that the few GTHO Phase IVs that were actually built before the public furore scuppered a full production run are more powerful than the Lotus Carlton, which came along 15 years later (and created its own public outrage). It took years for Ford to return to its big-power mantra, but when they did, there was the small matter of that same 4.0-litre straight six as my wayward blancmange, tinkered with and turbocharged to the tune of 436bhp and 425lb ft. Ah, the local boy did good.

  11. Jaguar XJ – 900,000 or so

    Okay, we’ll admit that the big Jag’s had a long, long time to rack up its almost-but-not-quite 1 million sales. In the same amount of time, the Toyota Corolla (ah, what’s a big-seller list without it?) amassed 45 million sales. In fact, Toyota sells more Corollas in a single year than Jaguar managed to shift in 50. But, in case this wasn’t already abundantly clear, popularity is not equivalent to merit. See also: Jedward. 

    Anyway, back to the Jag. 

    The XJ is a car that says something about its driver. However, unlike so many other cars, it says something different every time. Curious? Let us explain in three simple examples.

    A gold XJ40? A chancer of the highest order.

    A jet-black 4.2-litre supercharged XJR? Someone who believes they’re the real-life Brick Top. Possibly because they are. 

    A 59 plate diesel? He’s probably taking you to the airport.

    And it’s that incredibly personal – and personable – nature of the XJ that singles it out among the equally capable, but somehow inherently less loveable, luxury cars. 

  12. Land Rover / LR Defender – more than 2 million

    If the Caddy defines post-war Americana, then the Landy defines post-war England. Still shackled by the economic and mineral privations after World War II, everything we made had to be economical with resources and built to handle anything. And this necessitated quite a bit of good old British ingenuity.

    In the urban environment, it spawned the Mini; in the countryside, the Land Rover was born. Now, if you believe the stories, the Land Rover was only ever meant to be in production for a few years, to help Rover get back on its feet and back to the business of making real cars.

    If that was the plan, we’re glad they had the good sense not to stick to it. Land Rover as we know it is built on the legacy of this simple, useful, practical and thoroughly unflappable machine. These days, Land Rover is the default choice for everyone from high-end chauffeurs to Gymkhana mums, from rap royalty to actual royalty. But we’ll get to the phenomenon that is the Range Rover in good time. 

    Regardless of its ultimate fate as a city runabout for the Knightsbridge elite, the Land Rover remains resolutely focused. And that’s the heart of its character – it makes no apologies for its agrarian purpose, its choice of function over form or its steadfast refusal to move with the times. And what do you know? The times moved to suit it. Now, perhaps more than ever, we love the Landy.

  13. Saab 900 – 900,000

    We still miss Saab. Yes, we know the advertising was ridiculous, the image of its drivers was of dentists and architects, and the company ended in financial ruin, but there was something so unique about the way Saab did things.

    And it’s hard to describe the original 900 – the last proper Saab, before GM got their hooks in towards the end of the 1980s – as anything other than unique. Go on – give it a crack. Styling? Unique – just look at that wraparound windscreen. Construction? Uniquely – and famously – tough. Engineering? How does a 45º canted engine, connected to a front transaxle that’s suspended by double wishbones? In the luxury sphere, that was definitely unique. Engines? Well, maybe you got us there – not unique, but fuel injected and turbocharged in the 1970s, before it was the done thing. And besides, Saab’s own 99 created the first turbocharging craze, so chalk that one up to Saab anyway. 

    To be unique doesn’t necessarily mean being interesting – for instance, you could be uniquely dull – but Saab’s inspired design and principles means that the 900 remains a unique – and uniquely interesting – car.

  14. Mazda MX-5 – more than 1 million

    If we asked you to name a small, simple, reasonably priced, lightweight, rear-drive sports car, how long would it take you to arrive at the Mazda MX-5? Hopefully not too long, because that’s an eerily specific set of parameters. We’re guessing that you’d either pick it first, pick it directly after the GT86/BRZ twins or roll straight into yesteryear and come back with something like the TR6 or MGB.

    But none of its predecessors or competitors has ever enjoyed the success of the MX-5 – more than a million of the things have brightened the lives of happy owners since its debut in 1989. It, as has been covered more times than Wonderwall, was the marriage of the brilliant British small sports car package with Japanese focus and attention to detail. The result? The manifestation of pure brilliance, regardless of year, generation or engine choice. OK, you could still stuff parts of it up – Mazda offered an automatic gearbox, for instance – but even an automatic MX-5 isn’t entirely ruined. 

    Throughout its long life, it’s never been anything other than pathologically engineered to produce the largest enjoyment from the simplest recipe. The fact that it’s also as unkillable as you’d expect a Mazda to be only further cements its living legend status. And, in case this isn’t already abundantly clear, we love it. 

  15. Mazda RX-7 – 811,000

    Time for a little more disclosure – the car we’ve pictured here, the FD, only sold a fraction of its predecessors. Yep, the very best of the RX-7s was also the least popular, selling a comparatively paltry 68,000 to the combined 743,000 of the FB and FC that came before it. This is despite the FD arguably representing the peak of the RX name (including the RX-8) 

    The FD sported sequential twin-turbocharging – one for good throttle response and another for big power – that meant the diminutive 1.3-litre rotary engine had an oddly flat torque curve, but was also capable of revving to 8,000rpm and making up to 274bhp on the way there. OK, so UK-spec ones had to make do with 7,000rpm and 237bhp, and you’d never accuse the 13B engine of delivering ‘meaty torque’, or whatever keen helmsmiths say, but there’s such joy in having to work a car to extract the most from it, even if that highly technical, highly strung nature does mean that the RX-7 requires more, er… ‘involved maintenance’ than its contemporary competitors. Rotor seals, the Achilles’ heel of all rotary engines, fail on a ‘when, not if’ basis, requiring rebuilds with alarming regularity. 

    Yes, we’re banging on about the most recent, rarest one, but the formula is much the same in each generation of RX-7: quirky rotary engine, rear drive and fantastic dynamics. Sure, the second-gen was more GT than sports car, but the essential formula is still there for anyone brave enough to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – in this case, engine-out rebuilds.

  16. VW Type 2 – 12 million

    Quick – what’s the least-interesting car shape? SUV? Crossover? Nope. Close, but no cigar. The humble – and by God, is it humble – people mover is perhaps the least-interesting body shape ever. Not that crossovers aren’t doing everything physically possible to steal that crown; it’s just that there’s an inverse ratio in transport that decrees that the more passengers a chosen vehicle can take, the less interesting it is. Case in point? The bus. Regardless of how well engineered or technically brilliant a new bus is, it’s still such a joy-sponge that only the truly strange find it at all interesting. But a motorbike? Very interesting. The BAC Mono? Unnervingly interesting. Crossovers, as much as it turns our entrails to say this, are therefore more interesting than even the best of the MPVs – even the Nineties Toyota Previa, with its mid-engined layout and ‘Supplemental Accessory Drive System’, which allowed for a front-mounted alternator, power steering pump and other ancillaries, is less interesting than a crossover. Unconvinced? Well, it is a bitter pill to swallow. But carmakers aren’t launching new, technologically advanced people movers at an unprecedented rate, are they?

    The Type 2, however, is somehow immune from this otherwise all-encompassing clause. 

  17. Honda Super Cub – 100 million

    “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.” That’s the advertising tagline that Honda used to advertise its adorable little motorbike. 

    And, given the fact that Honda’s sold 100 million of the things, it seems more than likely that “you’re almost statistically guaranteed to meet another Honda owner on a Honda.” Yeah, it doesn’t have the same ring to it. We know.

    So what, you might be wondering, makes a diminutive commuter scooter so interesting? Well, it was designed by Soichiro Honda, who, as the New York Times reported in his obituary, “built one of the world’s biggest and most innovative auto companies from the ruins of World War II”. He was also an unerring badass who openly contravened his own government. Long story short: they wanted him to build nothing but bikes, and for Japan to only have a small number of car manufacturers (i.e. mostly Toyota). Mr Honda disagreed, and you can fill in the rest of the story. 

    But what about the Super Cub? Well, that’s far simpler – motorbikes are fun. Wind in your hair is fun. Going wide-open throttle and not being in danger of breaking speed limits/sound barriers/important bones is fun. But ‘proper’ motorbikes have a dangerous air about them, a dark connotation that you, the rider, are up to nefarious deeds. And while that’s basically the entire selling strategy of Harley-Davidson, not everyone wants those allusions every time they ride. And so we come back to the “nicest people on a Honda” bit. The Super Cub was the joy of motorbiking, without the attendant baggage that comes with it. It is fun, truly democratised. 

    Yeah, it’s not a car, either. We noticed. Honest.

  18. BMW Neu Klasse – 1.2 million

    It’s hard to remember, especially these days, that BMW once had something to prove. It’s even harder to fathom BMW as trailing behind the competition and harder still to think of them losing money hand over fist. 

    But it was the case until this, the joyous ‘Neu Klasse’, took BMW from a sickly pup trailing the pack to the alpha wolf in a single leap. No longer the purveyor of antiquated metal, it blew its competition into the weeds and relegated Mercedes to old-fuddy-duddy status. Yep, it really was that huge. 

    The bulk of this breakthrough was thanks to the shorter, sportier 1602 and 2002, but the advanced underpinnings of the entire Neu Klasse revitalised BMW and transformed it into the powerhouse we know and love, a manufacturer synonymous with performance and cutting-edge tech. So, respect your elders and all that. 

  19. Fiat 124 – 20 million

    Yep, if you can believe it – 20 million 124s. But this is Fiat, after all, a company that became the backbone of Italy’s triumphant technological revolution – and perhaps, one could argue, the country itself. It’s like that old saying – “When Fiat trembles, Italy trembles”.

    But, in terms of interestingness, the most important thing about the 124 was that it was more car than it needed to be. Yes, you could argue that Fiat created that point of difference to sell more cars – and you could argue that it absolutely worked – but there were no losers in that scenario. We got free-revving, happy, rorty engines, advanced suspension and brakes (for the time, kids) and Fiat got to sell 20 million of the things. And strike a deal with some communists to take a share of the profits from about 14 million more 124-based Ladas. 

    And then there’s the small matter of the original 124 Spider. Be still, our quivering loins.

  20. Range Rover – more than 1 million

    Rover. Remember them? No, not Land Rover, purveyor of impossibly cool SUVs, but old Rover. The car your nan, or perhaps your elderly neighbour, drove. In 1998.

    If the original Land Rover forged the brand’s reputation as an unstoppable off-road workhorse, then the Range Rover cemented a new one – the original luxury off-roader. All the comforts of a well-appointed saloon, combined with the rugged ability to ford rivers and clamber over mountains. And let’s not forget that the Range Rover did this decades before the luxury SUV-crossover craze had overtaken almost all else in the motoring landscape. Yes, it started off in a comparatively spartan specification, but as the definition of in-car luxury evolved, so did the Range Rover. Minted individuals now cross-shop the things with S-Classes. Enough said.

  21. Fiat 500 Nuova – more than 4 million

    It’s basically impossible to have a list of the best-selling interesting cars without mentioning the Cinquecento somewhere in the mix. Yes, the 124 sold in far greater numbers – and was much more advanced – but the 500 is perhaps the best example of synergy ever recorded. 

    So, what is synergy, apart from a buzzword overused by overenthusiastic and underhanded marketing types? It’s the theory of something being more than the sum of its parts. For instance, a modern Audi is exactly the sum of its parts – it is good because the parts are good. This, it must be said, does not include the new RS5, which is less than the sum of its parts. But what about extracting more than what went in?

    It wasn’t even three metres long, and its engine fell short of 500cc engine for which the car was named. The roof was half fabric; not because it’d be fun to have a soft top, but because steel was expensive and in short supply. Across the entire car, Fiat’s engineers and designers found ways to do more with less, while still pushing the boat out with tech like all-aluminum engines and independent suspension. And, whether by default or design, the result was nothing short of joyous.

  22. Toyota Celica – more than 4 million

    Let’s get one thing out of the way first: the only reason we ever had the Toyota Supra was because of the success of the Toyota Celica. So that’s really enough to be grateful for already. 

    Right, with that out of the way, we can continue with what makes the Celica interesting, then.

    The very first Celica was actually Toyota‘s reaction to the Ford Mustang, which was no shortage of a success itself, as we may have mentioned. So, the styling was pretty derivative, to say the least, but the engines were much more economically sized, compared to the big bruisers in the Yank tank. By which we mean they were all small four-cylinders, a trend that continued until the Celica’s demise.

    That meant the price, and performance, was well within the reach of regular folk. It was, much like the GT86 is now – and the MX-5 has been since its launch – a sports car for the people. Democratic performance. Fun without ruinous expense. And that‘s the kind of thing that makes it A-OK in our books. 

    Sure, the switch to front-drive does nothing to curry favour with the oversteer enthusiasts in our office (i.e. basically everyone), but the all-wheel-drive, turbo GT-Fours are perhaps the most-forgotten gem of Japanese performance silliness. Like all Nineties Japanese performance cars, there’s much to be found with a little tuning and fettling. How much, you ask? Well, an easy 350bhp and 350lb ft is on the table, channelled through a rally-bred four-wheel-drive system. Or 250bhp if you leave well enough alone. But we bet you won’t. 

  23. Mini (the original one) – more than 5 million

    Did you really think we’d sign off this list with anything other than the British institution that is the original Mini? Unlikely.

    The Mini, as far as we can tell, was born out of British haughtiness. Now, bear with us on this – the head of BMC hated the influx of cutesy little Euro cars into Britain and decided that Britain could do better.

    So, he laid down a set of parameters for a British-built new city car, one that’d be perfect for the metropolitan streets and lanes of London and immune from the skyrocketing fuel costs. And, as you’ll already know, it had to seat four while still retaining the outside dimensions of a bar fridge. 

    Because of that, the Mini had an advanced transversely mounted engine which shared its oil with the gearbox – much like modern motorbikes – as well as front-wheel drive (a relative novelty at the time) and tiny rubber cones as opposed to springs. This, along with placing the wheels right out at the corners of the car, combined to give the Mini its famed go-kart handling – a trait that’s been exploited by its marketing team for the sixty-odd years hence.

    This then, just like the Fiat 500, was another perfect example of doing more with less, and of getting out more than they put in. And, just like the 500, it became a cultural icon and a paragon of its country’s design and engineering nous. Oh, and did we mention it’s incredible fun?

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