Today’s cars are likely to be the last of their kind. So which of them will we long for most in 50 years? There are plenty of great cars on the road today, but only a handful will become true classics. And trying to work out which will earn a spot in the history books is no easy task.
Autocar has teamed up with the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu to try to solve that problem. We’re hunting for five future classics that will be part of a special exhibition later this year. The idea is to find the cars that will be remembered 50 years from now.
We’ve compiled a longlist of 100 cars with future classic potential for you to choose from, and for some extra inspiration, over the next five pages, Autocar’s writers champion their own personal picks from those contenders.
To view the Autocar-Beaulieu Future Classics longlist and have your say, click here.
Safety regulations, fussiness, aggression and the SUV craze: so many things today combine to make a classically beautiful new car an ultra-rare thing, even from the most exclusive marques. Harking back to the days when manufacturers regularly had swooping, elegant bodywork created for their cars by Italy’s many carrozzeria, the Ferrari Roma is one of those ultra-rarities. Of course, with a V8 sending power to the rear and a prancing horse on the nose, you just know that it’s also going to have outstanding performance and handling. But even if it weren’t a Ferrari, it would still be a nailed-on classic. KC
The 992-generation Porsche 911 need not strive for future classic status: it was all but guaranteed such an accolade from the day it was launched.
Save for perhaps a bit of lingering dissent at the adoption of water-cooling for the engine of the ‘fried egg’ 996 car and maybe the option of a Tiptronic gearbox for the older 964, each iteration of Porsche’s coupé flagship has won over even the most ardent critics with a near-faultless ability to blend refinement, usability and stunning dynamics in one handsome and ever-recognisable package.
The sheer (and admittedly sometimes overwhelming) variety of 911s on sale today (Carrera, S, 4S, Turbo, Turbo S, GTS…) only serves to enhance the appeal of the latest, 992-generation 911. And if you’re careful with the configurator, you can end up with a blisteringly quick and infallibly composed sports car that will do 40mpg and blend into traffic effortlessly – qualities that will sustain its allure right up to (and probably past) its centenary. FP
Somewhat lost in the excitement over Renault’s revival of the 5 and 4 as two new small EVs is that they will effectively replace the Zoe, a model that deserves to be remembered as a classic in its own right. In its own quiet way, the Zoe has been transformative. Like the Nissan Leaf, the electric supermini showed a mass-market manufacturer could make a credible, compelling EV long before it was fashionable to do so. With each iteration it has taken a major step forward, doing much of the groundwork to prove the usability and practicality of EVs. And it remains a damn fine one. The latest Zoe can hold its own against the Volkswagen ID 3, Peugeot e-208 and most other rivals. Fun to drive, comfortable and stylish, it’s not just a great EV but a great car. That the Zoe remains among Europe’s best-selling EVs reflects its all-round excellence. While it’s great to see Renault resurrect a pair of classic models, I think that one day we will look back at the Zoe as one, too. JA
What are the requisite components of a future classic? It should be beautiful and it should be rare. It should be more than merely fast; it should be exceptionally special to drive, too. It should also come from a great brand with a great heritage, ideally one forged on the race track. At the time it was new, it should be better at whatever it purports to do than any other car in existence.
The more of these boxes you can tick, the more likely it is to be assured future classic status. But the thing with the McLaren 675LT is that it ticks every damn one of them. Even among all the exceptional machines produced by Woking in the interim, the original LT still holds its head high. A rare and special driving experience provided by a rare and special car. A future classic, in other words. QED. AF
Toyota GR 86
We haven’t yet driven the Toyota GR 86, successor to the beloved and occasionally misunderstood GT86, yet I can quite confidently say that it will be a future classic. With the 2030 combustion-engine ban fast approaching, how many more front-engined, rear-wheel-drive, lightweight sports cars are we going to see, let alone at a price that’s vaguely affordable?
Even if it turns out to be mildly disappointing in today’s context, the newest of this kind will be particularly desirable when we can no longer buy it new. Already today, the simple sports car is a rare breed, and values of used GT86s reflect that. Decade-old Toyotas should be worth next to nothing, but you will struggle to pick up the leggiest, Cat-C GT86 for less than £10,000.
Actually, given how much of a roll Toyota is on with the GR Yaris, I’m sure that the GR 86 will be brilliant in its own right. IV
In 2021, the Honda E is a slow seller as all of its brilliant qualities are overlooked due to one fundamental flaw: a limited electric range compared with that of its peers and for its price. For what is ostensibly a city car (by definition, usually a cheap-to-buy and easy-to-use runaround), such a flaw would limit mainstream appeal and wider adoption in any era.
In the future, though, all of that will be forgotten. Instead, we will only really remember its fantastic exterior design, its innovative interior and a drive that’s a real giggle, with standout features such as the tightest of turning circles.
The likes of the Kia e-Niro, Nissan Leaf and Volkswagen ID 3 may sit just behind the all-conquering Tesla Model 3 in the UK’s electric car charts, but how many of those mainstream offerings will we really remember in 10 or 20 years, let alone 50? Few, if any. But not so the E: its charm will always win through and ensure it is remembered long into the future. MT
Picking a Ferrari, Porsche, BMW M car or Morgan to champion from this list is a bit of a cop-out, isn’t it? I mean, of course they’re future classics. They’re cars of a status that could hardly be any greater as it is. Much better to pick a quirky little Japanese city car that a lot of people wouldn’t look at twice but whose deliverance to classic car status will be assured by the enthusiasm of those in the know.
If you know the Suzuki Ignis, you will rate and love it, and you won’t want to be parted from it. That’s why it’s a dead-cert collectible waiting to happen. Japanese car shows will be rammed with these, on special alloys and covered in stickers, in years to come. People will rave about how there’s nothing else like them. Because somehow there just isn’t. The Ignis has cheery, big-featured, flared-arch design charisma like almost no other microcar on the road. It makes a Renault Twingo look dull and conservative. But it also has a brilliantly packaged interior, a clever mild-hybrid powertrain and four-wheel drive to boot.
It isn’t particularly special to drive, but there’s an honest character about it that makes it really likeable. Frankly, if it were any dinkier or more roughty-toughty-capable, they would have to give it a special guest appearance on Paw Patrol. MS
To me, a future classic should be the high-water mark. The point at which all of the last 100-plus years of engineering knowhow reaches its zenith, and at which we will all look back with a misty-eyed “ah, remember that drive?”. And that can only mean the Alpine A110. Yes, a Ferrari will go faster, but it’s also all but useless in anything other than second gear. The Alpine is delightful all of the time. It drives beautifully throughout its gears, with a fluidity and connection that means you feel hardwired into it. A 30mph potter is as much fun as a 60mph blast. There’s something about the balance of the car, in the way the overall package fits together, that leaves everything else trailing. As if to prove the point, the next Alpine will be electric. Even the manufacturer itself knows the A110 can never be bettered. PW
Volkswagen Up GTI
You can keep your supercars, because the plucky Volkswagen Up GTI is my choice for a future classic. It’s the defining rocket that you can fit into your pocket, and I’m convinced it will receive similar plaudits to its renowned big brother in the years to come.
Yes, it may now be a similar size to the original Golf GTI, but the hot Up provides a more composed driving experience with an infallible ability to leave you smiling cheek to cheek – partly for the way it can be thrown into corners with your foot to the floor, and partly because of the immense value you get for its real-world performance. Sometimes less is more, and the Up’s 113bhp turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine proves that.
I’m intrigued to see what’s next for the Up GTI. Volkswagen is working on an electric ID 1 small car; could a GTX version of that capture the same magic? Who knows. But it’s highly unlikely to build another combustion-engined city car, making the Up GTI the last of its kind and something that will be remembered long into the future. JW
Today’s electric cars are united by their four-door Ferrari already make it a classic. HH ordinariness, to my eye. Their creators seem more concerned with investing in the battery and powertrain than doing anything radical with the concept. The BMW i3 is our era’s dazzling exception. It’s an amalgam of lightweight and sustainable materials in a highly original, amazingly compact shape. And for good measure, it meets modern safety standards and drives well for 2021 – even though the first left the line seven years ago. It will always be one of the boldest creations of the early electrification era, and for me that’s what makes it a classic. SC
Aston Martin DBX
The Aston Martin of 2071 will look radically different to the firm we know today – and the DBX will be held up as the model that started the transformation. Not only was the marque’s first SUV based on a new platform and made in a new factory, but it was also ultimately delivered with Aston under new ownership and being steered by a new CEO.
The pronounced styling and lavish interior give way to an involving and characterful driving experience that other high-riding exotics struggle to match. It is now central to a product plan that will include mid-engined hybrid supercars and fully electric models by the end of the decade. TM
Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
The automotive folk memory of what an Alfa Romeo should really be persevered despite decades of humdrum Fiat-based saloons. True, the 156 was one of the most original-looking cars, and it even had double wishbones holding the front wheels, but it was still a front-driver, like the equally distinctive 159 that replaced it.
Then the unexpected happened: the late Sergio Marchionne, ultra-hard-headed boss of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, decided to allocate the funds for a skunkworks (overseen by Ferrari’s technical director) to engineer a new rear-drive platform and deliver Alfa from decades of front-drive oblivion.
The ultimate expression of the Giulia project is the 503bhp V6 Quadrifoglio. It has the hallmarks of a real Italian supercar: exceptional poise and a precision edginess to every movement. It’s sharp, it’s wickedly fast and it feels half its weight in action. Limited sales of what might well be a four-door Ferrari already make it a classic. HH
BMW M2 Competition
The BMW M2 Competition isn’t rare, it hasn’t contributed much to the world of motorsport, and if you were to gather the finest performance cars in its price bracket, it would probably come off third or fourth best. None of which screams ‘future classic’. However, there are some things – very good things – you can’t ignore about this car.
Despite being the ‘junior’ M car, it uses a proper M division engine – one transplanted from the previous-generation M4. It can also be had with three pedals, and gosh does it look good on the road. It’s also truly usable, in its cabin ergonomics and its modest physical footprint, and then there’s the driving experience…
In my opinion, no other car on sale achieves the same blend of hot-rod antics and dynamic precision. You can put the M2 Competition wherever you want it and do so with relatively little jeopardy. It’s so exciting, it has plenty of pedigree and it’s pretty affordable, too. RL
Morgan 3 Wheeler
I can tell you that there’s a single nailedon, 100% classic certainty on this list, and it’s the Morgan 3 Wheeler. The reason I can be confident about that is this car, hand-built in tiny numbers, is a certifiable classic straight out of the box. Yes, it’s a ‘new’ car, but by looking vintage and being as simple and pure in conception as a bathroom tap, its appeal will endure, and it’s shorn of the complexities that will keep classic specialists crying into their on-board diagnostics modules late into the night in 30 years’ time. It’s simple, light, engaging and built for high days and holidays – just like the best classics. MP
Ford Fiesta ST
Given that in 50 years’ time, some of the youngest people reading this today will be in their 60s and 70s and that we always want what we couldn’t have when we were younger (read: skint), I’m choosing the Ford Fiesta ST as my 2071 classic, specifically the 2019 Performance Edition with a Quaife limited-slip differential, lowered suspension and Recaro seats, the lot finished in shouty Deep Orange.
Old hooligans will tell their grandkids that it was what folk called a ‘hot hatch’. After 40 years of humming obediently around clean air zones, their speeds limited by black boxes, their pulse will quicken as they settle into the driver’s seat, grasp the suddenly familiar gearlever (“what’s that for, Grandad?”) and dab the starter button to bring the old, still sweet-revving 1.6 Ecoboost triple to life. “I remember seeing one for 20 grand when I was a lad. They’re five times that now.” JE
When the history of early 21st-century motoring is written, one of the longer sections will detail the overweight life and troubled handling times of the SUV. The truth is that they weren’t all terrible. One was the Porsche Cayenne, and it was brilliant.
Here, dear hardcore ‘Zuffenhausen till I die’ enthusiasts, is the vehicle that saved Porsche. When it needed money to make 911s, this “sporty and all-terrain utility vehicle” came to the rescue.
The Cayenne, refined over three generations and much better now than even that first very good effort, can genuinely be regarded as a high-rise 928, a more practical 911 with the engine located at the correct end. Not only will it go off road and around obstacles (as Autocar can provide photographic evidence of), it will also yump just about anything. Plus, you can get a fridge in the back. Yes, it’s a sports car but bigger. Own one for posterity. JR
Ferrari 812 Superfast
Predicting a Ferrari will one day be a classic is a bit obvious, isn’t it? Maybe, but over the next 50 years, the rules of the motoring game will change beyond all recognition, so whereas most can see the link between the Daytona of the 1970s and today’s 812 Superfast, it’s unlikely there will be the same easily traced bloodline by deeply electrified 2071.
That will largely be down to what’s under the bonnet, which in the 812 Superfast’s case is the last-of-the-line, greatest-of-all-time internally combusted engine. No electrical assistance, no forced induction, just super unleaded ignited at atmospheric pressure to glorious effect. In 50 years’ time, people who grew up without spark ignition might just get the chance to experience this Ferrari’s scintillating, howling soundtrack and its 6.5-litre V12’s monstrous performance and the way it revs and revs to 8000rpm and beyond. And they might consider that, for all its faults, the reciprocating piston engine was actually a bloody marvellous thing. JD
Great cars that will become future classics
The top 30 modern classic cars to buy while you can
Find your perfect used car for sale