Mixing Speed With Style: The Most Iconic Racing Cars

Anthony Peacock
18 Jun , 2020

What springs to mind when watching a racing car being driven to within an inch of its life around a circuit? Speed and power for sure, but also style. There’s a certain finesse when a car is thrown about by some of the world’s most skilled drivers, which some would call beauty in motion.

Throughout history, a plethora of fascinating racing cars have piqued imagination, stimulated minds and garnered passion for the sport. Here are five of the most stylish cars from the past: each with their own unique stories and folklore.

Lotus 49

Formula 1 in the 1960s was very different affair to the modern equivalent, but technical innovation was just as important then as it is now.

The Lotus 49 was new for 1967 and, after a season of mechanical misfortune the previous year, the team and its star drivers – Jim Clark and Graham Hill – were looking for better luck.

The combination of a superbly dynamic chassis and custom-built Ford Cosworth DFV engine (which would win races right up until the dawn of the turbocharged formula in the 1980s) delivered it.

Clark took the car to victory on its debut at the Dutch Grand Prix, without even having tested it previously. The Lotus 49 won the championship the following year, 1968, and then again in 1970.

Lancia Stratos

The Alitalia-branded Lancia Stratos, which pounded the roads of the World Rally Championship in the 1970s, was revolutionary when it was launched and remains a fan favourite today.

In the hands of Italian Sandro Munari and Swede Bjorn Waldegard, the Ferrari-engined Stratos won three consecutive WRC titles between 1974 and 1976.

The design of the car was almost futuristic, but perfect for the forward-thinking mindset of a racing driver. Low to the ground and pointed in its aero, it was a mighty machine on the WRC scene, but also in rallycross and racing.

Auto Union Type D

Auto Union (now known as Audi) was one of the leading lights in the pre-war period with its Type C. Development of the Type D did not produce the same sort of success, as Mercedes-Benz entered a period of utter dominance in 1938 and 1939.

But the Type D was still an innovative piece of machinery. The original Porsche-designed V16 engine was modified into a V12 when the Grand Prix regulations changed ahead of 1938, meaning three-litre supercharged engines were the norm.

With Tazio Nuvolari at the wheel, the team was able to score victories that might have seemed unlikely in the face of Mercedes opposition. The maverick Italian was nearing the end of his illustrious career but was still able to pull off wins at Donington Park and Monza in 1938 with his imposing Auto Union, adding the Belgrade non-championship race in 1939.

Audi Quattro

A cornerstone of the Group B rallying era, the Audi Quattro was a trailblazer which turned the World Rally Championship into a full-blown four-wheel-drive turbocharged formula. Audi has always been renowned for its innovative approach to racing and this period at the start of the 1980s was no different.

Four-wheel-drive was actually allowed before the majority of the WRC field moved away from two-wheel-drive, but the benefits were not necessarily seen by the other manufacturers at the time. Audi, on the other hand, did see them and following early success became the experts at getting the most out of their ground-breaking system, delivering world titles for Walter Rohrl and Stig Blomqvist.

Ferrari P3

Curvaceous, fast and sexy: the Ferrari P3 had pretty much everything. When you think of Ferrari, you think of performance, elegance and tradition. The P3 had all of this in abundance and it helped to promote the brand across the globe, following its success on the track as well as some of motorsport’s most epic road races.

It looked like nothing else on earth. With elegant wheel arches, a distinctive dome-shaped centre section, and an aggressive aero package, it was a true beast of a car.

Eventually converted into the next-generation P4 car, the P3 won the 1000 kilometres of Monza race in 1966 and the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1967. The latter victory was a dominant result for Ferrari, and something of a revenge after the Italian squad’s humbling defeat to Ford at the previous year’s Le Mans 24 Hours.

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