Pity the humble saloon car. Most popular of all the car types, if we’re going by sales, and yet somehow the most derided. Old Father Time loves convertibles and coupes, it would seem, but when it comes to cars with four or more doors, history is not kind. Perhaps this is because the humble saloon car is the workhorse of the nation, always the commuter bus, never the weekend getaway car. Perhaps it’s because an awful lot of saloon cars are plain rubbish, as I discovered all too recently when I hired a Dodge Avenger. Whatever the reason, we think the humble saloon car deserves a better retirement. So, coinciding neatly with our current special offer on perhaps the greatest saloon car of all time – that’s the Jaguar Mk2 – here is our list of the best saloon cars of all time.
1. Jaguar Mk2
Find a four door, three box saloon that looks better. Such a car does not exist. From any angle the Mk2 is beautiful, a combination of sinuous lines, acres of chrome and a veritable gentleman’s club of an interior. Factor in a pair of throaty engines in the form of the 3.4 and 3.8 versions of the venerable XK lump and you have a car with show and go. The Mk2, like every other Jaguar in history, has a slightly dishevelled respectability, equally at home with Morse or Withnail and I.
2. Rover SD1
It was designed almost as a joke – BL management turned down David Bache’s original sketches so in frustration he took them at their word and that word was ‘radical.’ The svelte SD1 was quite a departure for super-staid Rover clientele who nevertheless took to the new car in droves, with demand far outstripping supply. Despite a relaxed approach to build quality BL struggled to make enough and those that it did make tended to fall apart quite quickly. It was flawed in a multitude of ways but the now-rare Rover remains one of the nicest looking saloon cars of the last 30 years.
3. Peugeot 604
French people quite like big, soggy cars and few came bigger or indeed soggier than the 604, a car built for plutocrats. And Francophiles. It is hard now to image that Peugeots used to be quite aspiration but in the 70s and 80s that was the case – solid and well built, they offered British customers a distinctly conservative sort of Gallic flair. The 604 was designed by Pininfarina in the boxy 70s style and owes a fair amount to the contemporary Fiat 130. It is handsome, bereft of unnecessary styling quirks and, I think, very neatly done for a saloon.
4. Audi 100
Remarkably, there was once a time when Audi was more than just a marketing brand. in the 80s the company genuinely adhered to Vorsprung Durch Technik, offering car buyers properly innovative cars like the Audi 100 and Quattro. The 100’s calling card was aerodynamics, achieving a low CD factor with flush glass and a very simple, flowing body style. The aim was efficiency and good economy, which the 100 largely achieved. That it also met these utilitarian goals whilst looking good says a lot for the design team. The 100 ushered in an era of aerodynamics that has never really ended, despite giving us the Ford Sierra along the way. The 100 Avant looked even better, but isn’t a saloon so isn’t on the list.
5. Ford Cortina Mk3
Ford is king of the saloon, of course, and the Cortina mk3 is one of its best efforts. Some prefer the earlier models but for me nothing beats the Coke bottle ‘Tina. In the 70s saloon car design was all about hips, nobody is quite clear why, but it was the Cortina mk3 that started it. The Cortina brought Transatlantic styling and a lot of chrome and faux timber to the British masses. And it had the full house of 70s glamorous styling features – twin headlights, vinyl roof and Rostyle wheels.
6. Triumph 2500PI
For about 3 minutes in the 70s Triumph could have been the British BMW – stylish cars, decent power and reasonable handling. The PI and its smaller sibling the Dolomite Sprint had the world at their feet. The 2500PI was neatly styled by Michelotti with a big glasshouse and attractive detailing, all matched to a decent chassis and advanced fuel injected straight six engine. Inevitably, with so much going for it, it was built badly and equally badly marketed. A shame, because it was really rather good. And the estate version even better.
7. Jaguar XJ6
Not content with creating the most beautiful saloon car in the world (see 1.) Jaguar can reasonably lay claim to bringing us the second most beautiful saloon too. The XJ6 in Series 1 or 2 form is arguably almost flawless. It looks like no other saloon car of the time yet looks so right – svelte but conservative, low and sporting. The XJ6 looks good from every angle – so much so that it is a wonder why values haven’t picked up before now. It also drives brilliantly – smooth and relaxed. You sit low in small seats, a legacy of William Lyons’ fixation with seats that don’t sit above the window line. The interior of the first cars is lovely, later cars a bit compromised. But nothing, not even the super light steering, can really detract from the XJ6’s presence. A shame that Jaguar kept regurgitating the shape with diminishing returns.
8. Morris Minor
The car that got Britain motoring or a fried egg on wheels if you prefer. The key to the Moggy Minor’s success was its sheer rugged simplicity. It was spacious, easy to drive and went on and on. The trouble was, of course, that Morris and BL got a bit hung up with the on and on bit. Rather than replace it, Morris kept the Minor in production for over 20 years, developing several body variations. In the early 70s BL finally woke up and realised it was time for change. Naturally, too much change was to be avoided so they created the Marina, which was simply a Morris Minor with a new body, and not a very good one at that. So the Minor’s basic design stayed in production until the early 80s with the Ital.
Discover what made the Minor magic – we have a fleet of five convertibles and Travelers for hire in Yorkshire, Devon and Cotswolds from £95 per day. http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk.
9. Saab 900 Turbo
It will come as no surprise to those familiar with my Saabophilia but, viewed through a freshly cleaned pair of rose tinted glasses, the 900 makes a good case for saloon car honours. In rare four door form the 900 Turbo is neatly but conservatively proportioned, long nose and curving tail managing to look distinctive and Scandinavian in a world of Euroboxes. But it is the turbocharged 4 pot 2 litre engine that catapults the 900 into the higher echelons of saloon cars. Quicker than a 911 from 50 to 70 and better engineered than virtually anything around in the 80s, the quirky Saab is the offbeat saloon car choice for architects with children.
We have two Saab 900s available to hire – a 3 door T16S Aero in the Cotswolds and a T16S convertible in Yorkshire. Both available to hire in 2014 from £95 per day. Find out more by calling 01527 893733 or visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk.
10. Citroen C6
What no DS? Undoubtedly then DS is a great car, brilliant even, but it’s not for me. I’m not keen on the looks and it feels a little too overblown. The C6, however, is much different. It is beautiful and cleverly detailed without forsaking Citroen’s quirkiness. It continues the fine tradition of big wafty French saloons seemingly only used by politicians and car journalists. A scary used purchase but so irresistible.
We’d love to hear what your saloon car greats are.