A ‘best of’ list is by its very nature a compromised mix of objective and subjective factors tinged with the tastes of the person compiling that list. When it comes to a list as vast and multi-faceted as the most iconic German cars ever built there are undoubtedly going to be a few controversial choices.
One thing that is for certain though is that Germany has been hugely influential in the motor industry, aside from actually inventing the car in the first place there has been a continuous stream of technically advanced and historically significant vehicles from a variety of German manufacturers.
To make our list each entry must have made a significant impact on the motor industry either through introducing new technologies or by dominating its segment. With 134-years of motor cars to choose from and a number of worthy motor manufacturers, the list could easily have run into triple digits, but after much consideration, we have whittled it down to what we felt were the best of the lot.
Benz Patent Motor Car- 1886-1893
The first internal combustion vehicle as we know it is generally recognized to be the Benz Patent-Motorwagen,
Built in 1885, it was a rudimentary machine but laid the groundwork from which the Mercedes-Benz motor company was born and was instrumental in getting the motor industry started.
Volkswagen Beetle 1938-2003
Few other vehicles have had as profound an impact on the motor industry like the original VW Beetle.
Borne out of a need to get the German people mobile during the ‘30s, Adolf Hitler approached Ferdinand Porsche to design a true people’s car.
The resulting rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive ‘Bug’ became a worldwide success with over 21-million produced over a 61-year production run.
BMW 328 Roadster 1936-1940
This little sports car was developed by BMW to compete in various sporting events around the world and it proved to be a very successful racer indeed.
The Second World War put an end to production and it would be many years before BMW would build such an aspirational vehicle again.
Porsche 356 1948-1965
Developed from the Beetle the original 356 was another Ferdinand Porsche design but this time it was by the younger ‘Ferry’ Porsche.
While layout wise it bore much in common with the Beetle the 356 was developed into a very successful sports car and later versions were very quick in their day.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL 1954-1963
In hindsight, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL was quite possibly the first supercar ever.
Combining a racing-derived fuel-injected 215 bhp 3.0-litre inline-six engine with a beautiful body gave it head-turning looks that have only got better with age.
The gullwing doors may make the coupe the one that most people will recognize but it is the later roadster with its uprated suspension that was the better car.
Porsche 911 1963-present
There is possibly more written about the 911 in all its iterations than just about any other car around. Introduced 1963 to replace the 356, it has evolved into the most successful sportscar of all time.
While there have been dozens of excellent models, it is perhaps the last air-cooled 993 models that best combine the modern and the classic aspects of the design the best.
BMW 02 Series 1966-1977
If it wasn’t for the 02-series BMW may not be around today. Derived from the larger and more expensive ‘New Class’ saloon the 02 cars offered a sporty driving experience along with solid reliability, not something that was a given back in the ‘60s.
Variants such as the fuel-injected 2002 Tii and manic Turbo added spice to the mainstream models.
The 02 eventually matured into the 3 Series which continues to be the core product in BMW’s vast product range.
Mercedes-Benz S-Class 1972-present
In terms of technological innovation, the S-Class has long been the benchmark by which other cars are measured.
Each generation introduces safety and technology firsts that redefine the motoring landscape.
The second-generation W126 models proved to be the most successful in terms of sales and they remain sought-after today.
Volkswagen Golf GTI 1974-present
The first-generation Golf revolutionized the small car segment and with the introduction of the powerful GTI variant, invented the hot hatch sub-segment.
Today just about every major motor manufacturer has a sporty hatchback in their range but the GTI is still the model that they are all compared to. If we had to choose we would get all predictable and go with the original.
Audi Quattro 1980-1991
The original Quattro may not have been the very first car to introduce all-wheel-drive to production cars but it refined the system and revolutionized the world of rallying in the process.
Just about every modern fast Audi features a Quattro drivetrain and even its competitors now offer all-wheel-drive versions of their models.
BMW E30 M3 1985-present
BMW M models tend to be great drivers’ cars and the original E30 M3 was one of the very best.
The sharp handling and motorsport-derived inline-four combined to offer a driving experience that continues to impress today.
The 197 bhp 2.3-litre motor may not have made it a rocket on the road but it was quick for its day and on the track the E30 M3 was practically unbeatable.
BMW M5 1985-present
The M5 introduced us to the world of the saloon car that could not only accelerate like a sports coupe but handle like one too.
The E39 V8 M5 with its 400 bhp 4.9-litre motor is considered by many to be the best of the lot.
Porsche 959 1986-1988 and 1992-1993
The 959 was a rolling technological showcase for Porsche, derived from a Group B rally car, at 197 mph it was the fastest car in the world when it arrived in 1986.
Featuring twin-turbos, all-wheel-drive and aluminium and Kevlar composite body panels, this car set the template for future 911s for decades to come.
Bugatti Veyron 2005-2015
Surely the Bugatti nameplate is as French as blue cheese, white flags and Citroen 2CVs?
That may be true of Bugatti’s of old but the Volkswagen Group has been at the helm of this iconic auto manufacturer for years and the Veyron would never have existed had it not been for their financial and technological know-how.
Its immense performance figures may have been eclipsed by a handful of more recent hypercars, not least its Chiron successor, but the Veyron will forever remain the first production car to breach 1,000 bhp and attain a top speed in excess of 250 mph.
All this in a package as easy to drive as your Golf GTI, now that is truly impressive.