When it comes to innovation, design, performance, and luxury, the German automotive industry is second to none. Even after the onslaught of the Japanese manufacturers at the end of the previous century, German cars are going strong, and nobody seems to be able to stop them. It all started over a century ago, though. There is no shortage of legendary German cars in human history, beginning from the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, widely regarded as the first modern automobile.
Yes, the first modern car in the world was also German, coming from Mercedes-Benz, a manufacturer that still produces competitive luxury cars. And it’s not just the Patent-Motorwagen that was impressive for its time. Seemingly in every decade in the history of the automobile, the Germans have introduced a new innovation that drove the industry forward. Most of the car technologies that we take for granted today were invented in Germany by one of its largest manufacturers.
This treasury of hundreds of advances the German automotive industry made in the past century, made us write an article about the Top 10 legendary German cars ever made. Honestly, it’s a list that’s very short – we can make a Top 50 list almost as quickly. However, on this list, we’ll try to keep things simple. The cars listed here must be significant for the automotive industry in one way or another. A great example of that is the Volkswagen Beetle. That car that wasn’t very advanced, even for its time, but still had a significant impact on the industry as a whole.
Quick disclaimer here – the list will be ordered chronologically, starting from the first German legendary car to the latest.
- Benz Patent-Motorwagen
Benz Patent-Motorwagen: The first internal combustion automobile
Widely regarded as the first production car in the world, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen started a revolution that signified the 20th century. After Karl Benz patented this vehicle, many companies followed suit by introducing their designs and takes on the modern car. Only a few decades later, the roads were flooded with cars, and seemingly everybody had one.
The Benz Patent-Motorwagen had a 1.0-liter four-stroke gasoline engine with only 1 cylinder, suitable for only 2/3 horsepower. It was also a three-wheeler and could only transport two people, but remember, we’re talking about 1886 here. The Patent-Motorwagen also had many new inventions, like steel-spoked wheels, steel-tubing frame, and rear beam axle.
The car wasn’t a big success – the market simply wasn’t ready for a car. However, it was a messenger of things to come in the future. A future where almost every family owned a car and was free to go wherever they wanted.
- Volkswagen Beetle
Volkswagen Beetle – Goodbye the legendary beetle
The Beetle might not be the best car in the best car in history by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s definitely one of the most significant. Designed to be cheap to buy and maintain, the Beetle was everywhere in Germany and later Europe. It was so successful that production didn’t stop until 2003! Yes, you can buy an old-school Beetle that’s only 16 years old today!
The Beetle was introduced in 1938 when it came with a 1.1-liter flat-four engine and 4-speed transmission. Later through its production cycle larger displacements were presented, going up to a 1,6-liter engine. The Beetle was notable for its rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout. Almost 19 million Beetles were sold throughout its lifecycle, and many of them are still driving on the roads today.
- Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing – The sports car of the century
The 300 SL Gullwing is often cited as the most beautiful car ever made. The competition for that title is extreme – the Jaguar E-Type and Citroen DS are also beauties. However, the 300 SL is also known for other technological advancements that were so far ahead of its time. The most apparent progress was the Gull-wing doors, which opened up, like in racing cars.
The second one, perhaps more significant for the auto industry, was the introduction of fuel injection. The 3.0-liter straight-six had Bosch mechanical direct fuel injection, which improved power significantly – with 220 horsepower, this was one of the most powerful engines of its time. The 300 SL Gull-wing was produced from 1954-1957 (Coupe), and 1957-1963 (Roadster). Only 3,258 units were built, so good luck finding one today.
- Volkswagen Karmann Ghia
The Wildest Volkswagen Karmann Ghia in the World
The Karmann Ghia is derived from the Beetle and borrows the RR layout (rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive). However, in the flesh, it was a vastly different beast. This car is significant for its bodywork, which was far ahead of its time. The lines on this car weren’t possible with the machinery at the time, which is why VW called Karmann for help. Instead of machines, every Ghia’s bodywork was entirely made by hand.
While the Karmann Ghia is undoubtedly sexy, even by today’s standards, it isn’t what we’d call speedy. Power came from the same 1.2-liter from the Beetle at the time, and later from 1.3-liter, 1.5-liter, and 1.6-liter engines. The Karmann Ghia was produced from 1955 to 1974.
- BMW 507
The BMW 507 is one of the most sought-after classic cars on the market
The 507 is a super-sexy roadster that tried to offer the driving enjoyment of the 300 SL Gullwing, at a much lower price point. It is also the car that launched BMW in the stratosphere and made it one of the most popular car brands. It was produced from 1956-1959, and only 252 units were built. Today, the BMW 507 is one of the most sought-after classic cars on the market.
The 507 was equipped with a 3.2-liter V8 engine in the front that developed 150 horsepower. The power was sent to the rear tires via a 4-speed manual transmission. Interestingly, BMW lost money on every model sold, but it still left a significant mark on the auto industry at that time, simply because Elvis Presley drove one.
- Porsche 911
Porsche 911 – The car has strong and flexible performance
One of the longest-running production cars in the world, the Porsche 911 still manages to catch attention everywhere it goes. The first model, introduced in 1963, made Porsche what it is today. With the same RR layout as the Beetle, with a flat-six engine behind the rear wheels. Thanks to that configuration, the 911 drives like no other car on the road today, and drivers seem to love the feeling it provides.
The design also remains mostly unchanged, even 50 years after the first model came out. Porsche produced many legendary 911s, including the Carrera RS, 930 Turbo 3.3-liter, 964 Turbo, 911 GT3, etc. Porsche also offers all-wheel-drive versions today.
- Volkswagen Golf MK1
The Volkswagen Golf Mk1 is the first generation of a small family car
The first Golf was designed to succeed the Beetle as the people’s car in the VW’s lineup. It had a completely new layout. The engine was now in the front, and the front tires were driven. The Golf also offered much more space inside, it as quicker, quieter, and safer. The MK1 Golf was so good that its competitors in Europe seemed like they were caught out off-guard.
The first Golf was introduced in 1974 with a 1.1-liter engine that developed 50 horsepower, which was excellent for the time. Later, more powerful versions were introduced, including the VW Golf MK1 GTI, which has a 1.6-liter engine with 110 horsepower, a remarkable figure for the time. The GTI is highly sought-after today as a classic.
- Mercedes-Benz 560SEL 6.9
Mercedes-Benz 560SEL 6.9 – The ultimate luxury car during that period
The 560SEL 6.0 is arguably the most advanced car Mercedes-Benz has ever made, relative to the time it was introduced. This luxury sedan is competitive even to some modern automobiles with its focus on superior comfort and quietness.
Thanks to the hydropneumatic self-leveling suspension and extensive sound insulation, this monster of a car simply glides over the road. Hell, it even used the same hydropneumatic system for other stuff in the car, like opening the windows, for example. Many people that tried it say that the windows are much quieter and faster than the best modern electric alternatives.
The Mercedes-Benz 560SEL 6.9 was also very powerful. The engine had a displacement of 6.9-liters in a V8 configuration that developed 286 hp. The power was sent to the rear tires via a smooth 3-speed automatic transmission.
- Audi Quattro
Audi Quattro – The car made a reputation for Audi
Before the ‘80s, four-wheel-drive was only used in SUVs and off-road vehicles. However, everything changed with the introduction of the Audi Quattro. With this car, Audi showed us that the all-wheel-drive system has many benefits for passenger cars, and especially sports cars. Thanks to the Quattro all-wheel-drive layout, this car demolished every competitor in the World Rally Championship in the ‘80s.
The production model was introduced in 1980 with a 2.1-liter five-cylinder engine that developed 200 hp. It accelerated from 0-62 mph in only 7.1 seconds and developed 136 mph. Later, Audi introduced a 2.2-liter model with 200 hp and more torque and 2.3-liter engine with 220 hp.
- BMW M3 E30
BMW M3 E30 ruled the Touring Car series back in the Eighties
In the ’70s and ’80s, you could own a sports car and a passenger car. BMW changed that with the M3 – a sports sedan that was based on the regular 3-Series. This car not only captured the hearts of enthusiasts worldwide in 1986, but it also spawned the most successful racing division of any manufacturer, the M-Division.
The M3 E30 had a 2.3-liter gasoline engine in the front that developed healthy 192 horsepower. The power was sent to the rear tires via a 5-speed manual transmission. The performance was excellent for the time – 0-62 in 6.9 seconds and a top speed of 146 mph.
We tried our best to include legendary German cars that are meaningful and important to the automotive industry. We’re also aware that there are many other automobiles that can be put right into the list, and we won’t complain if you tell us which are they in the comments section below.