Making a list of the best cars of all time can be difficult. Designating any such list is a subjective process. So is interpreting the word "best" itself. Is the best car the best-performing track car? Is it the most engaging driver's car? The best car could also be the car that best read the market and foreshadowed where things were heading.
With this best cars list, we're looking for the most influential cars, the cars that mattered. These cars broadened ideas about what a car can mean and shaped what became the modern car market. Supercars and sports coupes deserve their recognition. But so do SUVs and trucks, which are now the default vehicles most people buy.
We restricted this list to cars that entered the market from 1970 onward for ease and modern relevance. Tracing technological developments back more than 50 years can get a bit tenuous, as undoubtedly influential as inventions the Model T's mass production process or the Volvo's three-point safety belt were to the modern automobile's development.
From practical compacts to flashy transport fit for Hawaii-based, high-living private investigators, here are the ten best cars from the 1970s.
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The Beetle may be Volkswagen’s iconic people’s car, but the Golf is the car that has defined the brand over the past 50 years. Affordable, practical and fun to drive, the Golf may be the best all-around value car ever made. And it spawned the sportier Golf GTI, perhaps the ultimate daily driver.
Original MSRP: $3,300
The Range Rover debuted as the “car for all reasons” in 1970. It featured a timeless design and off-road capability, and it redefined the SUV as a fashionable luxury vehicle for a night on the town — not just mucking about a country estate in wellies. It’s also the main reason Land Rover became a brand.
Original MSRP: $2,109
The R107 was an old-school roadster: Two seats. Monstrous V8. Leather seats. Wood paneling. Mercedes tuned it for the ride home after red meat and cigars rather than precise cornering at the Nürburgring. The R107 would be on the shortlist for iconic 1980s cars, which tells you how long it lasted because it entered production in 1971.
Original MSRP: $12,150
The 2002 set the tone for modern BMW in the late 1960s, a tiny little coupe that could dust American muscle cars of the era. The Turbo model in 1974 was Europe’s first turbocharged production car and bumped the power up to 170 hp — about 70% more than the base model. BMW only made 1,672 of them. Any in good condition will fetch well into the six figures.
Original MSRP: $6,600
It’s hard to pick just one Porsche 911. But we’ll go with the 930, informally referred to as the Widowmaker, which was the first 911 Turbo. The production version emerged — as many great cars have — as a homologation requirement for it to go racing. The 930 had power. It had performance upgrades. And it had what became iconic 911 styling features such as the whale tail.
Original MSRP: $26,700
The 308 GTB challenged the Ferrari paradigm — being a mid-engine V8 instead of a V12 — and was so successful it became the paradigm. Aesthetically, it was a perfect blend of classic Ferrari looks with the trends at the time: It delivered legitimate performance. It was reliable. And Tom Selleck driving the Targa S version may have been as (if not more) important to the Ferrari’s bottom line than its racing lineage.
Original MSRP: $45,000
The first Accord was a small hatchback, not dramatically better looking than cars like the Ford Pinto that came before. But its combination of reliability, practicality and surprising sportiness forever changed what a small car was supposed to be in America, and which brand you bought it from.
Original MSRP: $3,995
The CJ-7 was the last Jeep CJ before the name changed to Wrangler. And it made that vehicle far more civilized, adding a longer wheelbase for better road stability and what were then-novel features, like a hardtop and full-sized steel doors.
Original MSRP: $4,299
We talk about how the Land Cruiser gets heralded often. But the progenitor of much of the Toyota truck mystique was the Toyota pickup, aka the Hilux. This generation set the tone with its utter indestructibility, while the truck line led to the Tacoma. And dabblings with a covered truck bed led to the 4Runner.
Original MSRP: $4,748
Mercedes tried to build a utilitarian, military-grade body-on-frame, off-road vehicle. They ended up with one that spawned a ruggedly handsome, seriously capable civilian SUV that — defying all common sense — grew into the brand’s most desirable vehicle, and is now being launched as its own sub-brand.
Original MSRP: $26,325