Germany certainly had a head start when it came to building cars. The father of the modern automobile, Karl Benz, got most of the glory but, at the end of the 19th century, other Germans were making huge strides as well, including Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach.
Over the course of the next 120 years, the fortunes of car manufacturers would ebb and flow; Italy would become synonymous with style, the US would get mass production sorted, but German manufacturers managed to shine in all the major automobile sectors.
Here are five classic models that prove the Germans may well be unbeatable when it comes to cars.
Power to the people – the Volkswagen Beetle
Out of Germany’s darkest years came the world’s most successful car. In 1934, Adolf Hitler tasked Ferdinand Porsche with developing a cheap car for the people. Design work didn’t finish until 1938, and mass production was delayed by the second world war but, by the time production of this little air-cooled icon ceased in 2003, more than 21.5 million had been built, a record for a single-platform car which is unlikely ever to be broken.
Drop-dead gorgeous – Mercedes-Benz 300SL
Perhaps the most handsome car to have come out of Germany, the gull-wing doored 300SL was also the fastest road-going car in the world when it was launched in 1954. Those amazing doors weren’t the only thing unique about the car – this was the first production car with fuel injection.
Let’s go crazy – Audi Quattro
With four-wheel drive, turbocharged fun and that hunky, chunky design, this is the Audi that redefined rallying and became an instant classic in the process. We’ll have a Quattro A5TDI in silver, please. Or a Sport Quattro – if you can find one!
Let’s go affordably crazy – Volkswagen Golf GTI
Helped start the hot-hatch movement and remains a firm favourite with drivers the world over. Hard to believe now that the Golf was VW’s replacement for the Beetle.
Mission impossible – Porsche 911
With its engine hanging over the rear axle, like its cousin the Beetle, the 911 was at risk of being pensioned off years ago. But 911s have improved with every new model (OK, build quality was a bit ropey in the late ’90s…), Porsche engineers have made it more and more drivable and it remains one of the classic ‘driver’s cars’. With its distinctive profile, distinctive sound and distinctive driving characteristics, this could be the definitive sports car – and proof that great engineers can build great cars, even when the engine is in the wrong place.