The most beautiful German cars

06th June 2024
Russell Campbell

Germany has developed a reputation for being the world's leading car builder famed (or at least, was famed) for engineering its cars to within an inch of their lives. But a builder of pretty machines? Meh, not so much. If you want beauty, the perceived wisdom is you chap Italy’s door first.

Here, though, we’ll break free from the perception that Germany only does bold and brash things by highlighting some of the prettiest cars to come from Europe's industrial heartland. There are obvious candidates from Porsche, Mercedes, and BMW, but also some cars that may have slipped under your radar and we’ve catered for a wide range of budgets all without the word ‘Mansory’ ever crossing our lips. These are Germany’s nine most beautiful cars. 


Porsche 356 Speedster

Sometimes, the best styling is effortless, and none more so than the Porsche 356 Speedster. From its curved nose to its upright headlights, tiny wheels almost lost in its flanks and pea-shooter twin exhausts, the Speedster harks back to simpler times when you could turn up at a race in your road car, win it, and drive home with the trophy in the passenger seat. 

Being owned by Steve McQueen – someone who knew a little bit about being cool – and starring as Kelly McGillis' ride in blockbuster Top Gun secured the 356’s place at the ice-cool end of popular culture, but it's most famous for providing the base that would grow to be the Porsche 911 – could there be any greater reason to worship at its altar? Obviously not. Clearly, our debt of gratitude to this car cannot be overblown.


BMW 8 Series

BMW has made some stunning cars in its time, from the 507 sports car to its Z8 successor, the Concept Skytop recently revealed, plus coupés like the E9 CSi and E24 6 Series. Personally, the E31 8 Series has always held a special place in my heart since it cropped up in a primary school montage session far too many years ago. Whether it was its tiny grille, huge bonnet, or the contrast of its sleek lines and boxed wheel arches, it made an imprint on my young mind that remains today. 

Now, it's the exact opposite of what you'd expect of a car born in the middle of a recession – exuberantly long nosed and with a V12 that flew in the face of an emerging fuel crisis. With wallowy suspension and a leaden feel, the 8 Series never lived up to its Ferrari-baiting reputation, but as the world's first V12 manual, we’ll defend its GT credentials to the end. 


Porsche 964 911 Turbo

Showing that good looks are very much a subjective notion wrapped at an impressionable time in your life, I've had a soft spot for the 964 911 Turbo since watching a young Tiff Needell dance a Mint Green example around the haloed Tarmac of Millbrook Proving Ground. The 964 captures the essence of a fast 911 and bottles it, combining the small proportions and sculpted lines of a classic 911 with a cartoon-like whale-tail spoiler, oversized wheel arches, and split-rim alloy wheels with steam roller rear tyres.

As Tiff demonstrated, the Turbo cut through Millbrook's handling circuit like a figure skater, accelerating from 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds, hitting 175mph flat out, and braking from 70-0mph in under 100 feet. To an 11-year-old me, this proved that the Turbo was the consummate do-anything supercar. 


Wiesmann GT

Think classic car for the modern era and one name is guaranteed to come up – Morgan. Morgan is famous for stubbornly sticking to tradition to the point that people will tell you it has a chassis made from wood – in fact, the ash frame is merely used to mount the bodywork. But what if you want a swoopy, pre-war design built in Germany? The Wiesmann GT is the answer.

The Wiesman has a similar shape to the Morgan, with a body that looks like an open-wheeler with fairings covering its wheel, a grille that stretches the vertical axis of the car's nose, and a sloping rear end that looks like it was designed to strap a spare wheel, too. Under the period features and glass fibre body, coupé models hide a thoroughly modern bonded aluminium tub and a BMW V8, which means it's good for 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds and a 174mph top speed. 


BMW 2002 Turbo

Given its current offerings, you could be forgiven for forgetting that BMW was once known for producing timeless shapes that look great in a period and only get better with time. The E46 3 Series and E39 5 Series are prime examples, but we wanted something a little bit more special for this list – the 2002 Turbo. The 2002 is like a four-wheel checklist of BMW styling cues, covering everything from the famous twin headlights and kidney grille to the Hofmeister kink and stacked tail lights. 

Aside from not having M badges, the engine is the 2002's biggest surprise. There’s no hint of a creamy-smooth straight six - instead you get a turbocharged four that gave the 2002 a top speed of more than 130mph and 0-62mph in seven seconds. 


Porsche 904 Carrera GTS

While Porsche is famed for the 911, our next entry on this list looks nothing like the legendary sports car. Motorsport doesn't always breed good-looking vehicles – we have a list that details this phenomenon – but sometimes, a car like the 904 Carrera GTS comes along to prove that motorsport and alluring aesthetics can go hand in hand. 

Street legal, the 904 could be driven to race meetings, compete on track, and then be driven home again. It wasn't short of success, winning the 2.0-litre class in the Manufacturers World Championship in 1964 and '65, and the prototype class in '64. It featured a four-cam flat-four engine that produced 182PS (134kW), which meant the Porsche could get from 0 to 62mph in under six seconds and top 160mph. 


Volkswagen Karmann Ghia 

While cars like the BMW 2002 set the tone for a lineage you can still see in BMWs current flock, you'd need to look long and hard at the Karmann Ghia to find any commonality between it and a Volkswagen Golf you can go out and buy today. VW's masterstroke was hiring Ghia to design the body. The Ghia's bulbaceous front end and body lines that separate the front and rear wheel arches are unique in the car world, with the possible exception of the Chrysler D'Elegence (unsuprising given that Ghia designed the prototype).

At one stage, the Ghia was the fastest car in Volkswagen's lineup, but with a top speed of 82mph, you wouldn't call it sporty. It was simple, though, with air-cooled Beetle underpinnings that make this stylish machine an ideal starter classic for learning basic mechanics. 


Mercedes 300SL Gullwing

The Mercedes 300SL was already one of the prettiest cars ever made, but Mercedes had to go one step better by adding gullwing doors, which meant it looked like no other car then or since, apart from its spiritual successor, the SLS. 

SL standards for Sports Light, but, unlike almost every SL since, that meant something in the SL300, which weighed 1,500kg – not bad for a 3.0-litre straight-six coupé with the luxury expected of a Mercedes. While the 300SL was luxurious enough to pass as a Mercedes road car, it had a pure racing pedigree that can be traced back to the W194 Grand Prix machine. The 300SL was conceived when American importer Max Hoffman pitched the idea of a high-performance Mercedes, betting the house with a 1000–car preorder that prove too tempting for Mercedes to ignore. 


Audi TT

The best-looking cars needn't cost several million pounds like a Mercedes 300SL; decent examples of the Audi TT can be picked up for a few thousand. It's amazing (and slightly worrying for this writer) to know that the TT is over 25 years old because it still looks fresh. Circles inspired the exterior and interior because, according to Torsten Wenzel, who brought the TT to production, they provide the "perfect graphic shape".

Unfortunately, the TT was less than perfect to drive. Based on the MK4 Volkswagen Golf, the Audi’s handling edged towards the boring side of dull, though perhaps besides high-speed lane changes which erred towards the lethal end of exciting. At more than 100mph, the car’s back end could go light, spearing you off the road with no warning. The issues cost the lives of numerous German Autobahn users and forced Audi to retrofit a rear spoiler and ESP. 

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