Design legends pick the greatest car design – Axon’s Automotive Anorak

30th October 2020
Gary Axon

As part of SpeedWeek presented by Mastercard, Goodwood hosted a unique and enthralling virtual automotive Design Forum. Three noted design experts discussed the greatest and most significant cars of all time, with vehicles split into three distinct categories: ‘The Democratisation of Motoring’, ‘Style Icons’, and ‘Technical Masterpieces’.


Hosted by Mai Ikuzawa – the London-based Japanese creative guru, car enthusiast, and daughter of motor racing legend Tetsu Ikuzawa – the trio included world-renowned architect Sir Norman Foster, leading ex-Apple industrial and product designer Sir Jony Ive and influential industrial designer Marc Newson CBE.

Via Zoom, the three designers engaged in a lively and passionate discussion about four carefully-chosen vehicles from each of the three themed categories, all aiming to agree on the most outstanding car in each sector. The final quartet of vehicles per segment were reduced down from an initial selection of 24 outstanding cars, agreed between the Duke of Richmond, myself and a handful of Goodwood colleagues.


The vehicles that didn’t quite make it through to the list of four finalists for each of the three car design forum categories were as follows:


The Democratisation of Motoring

  • Austin 7 – Britain’s answer to the Model T. As well as selling well in the UK, it was licensed globally, directly leading to the very first cars produced by BMW, Jaguar and Nissan/Datsun
  • Volkswagen Beetle – the world's best-selling car with a single body type, flawed in many ways, but still hugely popular
  • Honda Cub C50 – the best-selling vehicle in the world, with more than 100 million of this cheap and cheerful moped sold, the two-wheeler still remaining in production today
  • Renault 4 – Renault’s answer to the innovative Citroën 2CV. As well as its popularity in France, the R4 was also produced on five continents


Style Icons

  • Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost – combined engineering perfection with elegance and luxury to create “The best car in the world”
  • Ford Model B ‘Deuce Coupe’ – inspired a generation of hot rodders
  • Lancia Aurelia GT Pininfarina – the original GT car, and the racing drivers’ road car of choice in period
  • Lamborghini Miura – an icon that created the mid-engined supercar genre


Technical Masterpieces

  • Oldsmobile 'Curved Dash' – the first mass-produced car, which made motoring more accessible
  • Mercedes-Benz S Class (W116) – a German institution, which, since 1972, has brought an array of new safety features into the mainstream
  • Audi Quattro – revolutionised rallying, and made four-wheel-drive a civilised reality on the road
  • Tesla Model S – Tesla finally made electric cars usable, credible and cool, as well as introducing elements of autonomy

With each of the above vehicles rejected from the short-list of four, the cars that did make the it through to the finalist for each forum discussion sectors were as follows.

The Democratisation of Motoring

The final four cars that put the world on wheels and gave mobility to the masses consisted of the 1908-27 Ford Model T, the 1948-2016 Land Rover S1-Defender, the 1957-75 Fiat 500 and original mid-1960s Ford Mustang.

Remarking on the Ford Model T (the first true mass produced car), Sir Norman Foster said: “This was the shock of the new that heralded the industrial age.” Sir Jony Ive concurred: “A remarkable invention that successfully resolved the challenges of mass production.” Marc Newson added: “This is a car that inspires me, for its functionality, rather than its design.”

For the remain three cars in this category, the design trio made the following comments. On the Land Rover, Foster exclaimed: “A remarkable success, functional and anonymous,” and Newson “among the most iconic of modern vehicles.” Mention of the tiny Fiat aroused widespread smiles, Foster gushing: “It does more with less and is symbolically poetic in its purity.” Ives added: “I love its looks, one of the first designs specifically for mass production and narrow Italian streets, like a jelly mould,” with Newson concurring: “It describes the Italian aesthetic perfectly.”

On the early Ford Mustang, Foster: “It looks like it’s going fast even standing still,” with Ive and Newson agreeing: “It’s the best American dream car.”

Selecting an overall victor for the Democratisation of Motoring class, all three designers agreed on the Ford Model T, with Marc Newson also giving the cute Fiat 500 an honorary mention too as perfectly personifying the optimistic post-war spirit of Italy and the Italians.


Style Icons

This was pared down to the late-‘30s Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic, 1955-75 Citroën DS, 1961-75 Jaguar E-type and early Porsche 911.

Of the Bugatti, Foster said: “It’s a delicious luxury car,” Ive adding: “It’s remarkable and very ambitious” and Newson describing it as: “A very rarefied and exotic object.”

For the Jaguar E-type, Foster remarked: “It’s alive and every angle is perfect” with Newson nodding in agreement and Ive saying: “It’s a single idea that is beautifully refined.”

The early Porsche 911 also came in for praise, Foster saying: “Pure and fantastic” with Ive saying: “A wonderful affirmation of how good the original was” and Newson: “Strong DNA on which the Porsche brand was built.”

The height of praise was reserved for the unanimous Style Icons choice though, the unique and advanced Citroën DS, prompting Norman Foster to say: “Unbelievable, a gothic cathedral of a car,” with Jony Ive enthusing: ”Austere, reduced and simple, all in a confident and absurd forward-thinking vehicle.” Marc Newson chimed in with: “The first true futuristic car, very radical and still very relevant today.”


Technical Masterpieces

After the Citroën’s walkover, the Forum moved on to the final category; Technical Masterpieces, consisting of the pioneering 1886 Benz ‘Patent-Motorwagen,’ the obscure 1933-34 Buckminster Fuller Dymaxion, innovative 1934-57 Citroën ‘Traction Avant’ and influential 1959-2000 BMC/BL Mini.

Kicking off with the Benz, Foster said: “Truly the first, in a class of its own,” with Ive: “A very single-minded but difficult design decision.” Newson remarked: “From a momentous period of engineering innovation.” Fuller Dymaxion owner and fan Foster said: “It’s as radical and head-turning today as it was in the early 1930s, anticipating the Harrier Jump Jet.”

The other respected designers were more vocal about the Citroën Traction Avant, Ive saying: “A remarkable low-slung achievement,” with Newson agreeing: “Efficient with the personality of the car proudly displayed on its grill.” Foster said: “A stunningly brilliant concept.”

For the Mini, Foster enthused: “Pure innovation, created without any pre-conceptions and displaying wonderful lateral thinking.” Ive added: “The Mini is an extraordinary product that crossed into that rarified place of becoming an icon.” Unsurprisingly, the Mini took a clear victory in the Technical Masterpieces sector.


From the above expert conclusions of three of the world’s leading design experts, the overall consensus seemed to be that the 1950s was the finest era for car design, with two of the three category winners being devised and launched during that decade, with the ‘runner-up’ democratic Fiat 500 also being a child of that inspirational age.

If the three distinguished designer’s had had to select an over Design Forum winner, judging by their huge collective passion and enthusiasm for car, the 1955 Citroën DS would be the clear victor; a fine and unpredictable result, given such an exceptional selection of vehicles to choose from.

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