I was reading the latest copy of Road & Track and the cover story baits you into the edition promising a list of the top 50 coolest cars in the last 50 years. I eagerly paged through the rag until I landed on a wonderful picture of Dan Gurney’s American Eagle. Fair enough, I love that car. Then things got a little weird.

I’m not sure how any “list” could miss the 1968 Lamborghini Miura is beyond me but they did—apparently the Lincoln Continental Convertible was a cooler car.

So it made me think, as there were a few Formula 1 cars on the list,  about a list of the coolest Formula 1 cars in the modern era. As you can imagine, that list would be very subjective and even the most odd chassis would be someone’s favorite.

Instead, I thought I would simply ask for you to tell us what you think was the coolest F1 car in the modern era. No need to list 50 of them, just the one car that you think is the coolest of them all. Sure, technical achievements, titles won, speed, or simply looks all play a factor but you tell us why you chose it. I’ll start:

Coolest car of the modern Formula 1 era is…

Lotus 49


For me, this car exemplifies the very DNA of F1. Technology in the aluminum design monocoque and departure from the space frame happened earlier in the decade but this was an all-new evolution and an incredible design. The engine was part of the stress-bearing structure and that engine was the pinnacle of push in the Ford DFV.

It won two world titles and was stunning in the hands of Jimmy Clark, Jochen Rindt and Graham Hill. There’s no wonder I like the American Eagle Weslake as they are similar but the Lotus 49 was the one I loved the most.

Perhaps the fact that the man who won the world title the year I was born drove it adds some bias to my decision but I believe that two of, arguably, the greatest drivers in F1 drove the 49 in Messrs. Clark and Rindt.

Now, having said that, please know that I have loved many F1 cars over the years. The Lotus 72 is another of my all-time favorites along with the Eagle and the Tyrrell 6-wheel as well as the Ferrari 2004 and the 2006 BMW, the Ferrari Shark Nose, the Jordan 7 Up car and the Prost AP02, a slew of McLaren MP’s and Ferraris and…oh hell, you get the point. It’s really tough to narrow it down. There’s even some Matras and other privateer cars such as Williams and others that I love. Don’t get me started on Sports cars either!

After all of that, the Lotus 49 was the first one to make a huge impression on me as a young boy and there it remains. Seared into my memory as the first incredible car. What’s yours?

An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry focusing on technology integration, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • Remember, just tell us which is THE coolest car and why. I know all of you could pick 50 at least.

  • Husker

    – Jordan 191 (1991)
    – Williams FW14B (1992)
    – McLaren MP4/4, 4/6 4/8 (1988, 91, 93)
    – Ferrari F189, 643, 412T and F1-2000 (1989, 91, 95, 2000)
    – Lotus 98T (1986)

    Easy to see in what era my true love for F1 lies. ha!

    But really, Lotus 49 and a lot of those cigar-shaped cars of the 60’s are absolutely beautiful and the very DNA of F1 IMO. Some of the 70’s are spectacular. Martini Brabham BT44 anyone?

    Mid 80’s to mid 90’s for me, all the way.

    Nowadays it is clear F1 has become more of a “make them as ridiculous looking as you can” contest sadly.

    • Husker

      Ah damn! You asked just for ONE above my comment. Sorry :P

      Ok then.

      Jordan 191 from 1991.

  • S Gross

    Lotus 72, breakthrough technology, looked so different from anything else when it began racing. Won the very first GP I saw, 1970 USGP.

  • Matthew Snyder

    I’ve always felt the Eagle-Westlake Mk1 and the Ferrari 156 “Sharknose” were just about the coolest cars ever. I believe the Sharknose was the first Ferrari to have the engine behind the driver, and the Eagle was (and remains) the only car to score a win for a driver in a car of his own construction. (The rest of its racing history is littered with ‘Ret’ marks)

    Growing up a child of the 80s and early 90s my touchstones were the McLaren-Honda MP4/6 and the Ferrari 412T1 (the launch version, with the teardrop radiator opening). The McLaren held off Mansell/Williams in ’91 to get Senna his third and final World Championship, but the Ferrari was nothing special, winning only one race. For some reason, it just resonated with me.

    I have a hard time calling any car of the post-’98 narrow-track grooved-tire era ‘cool’, and I’ll root for the Ravens before I can ever look longingly at a contemporary F1 car. (#SteelerNation)

  • Matthew Snyder

    And much love for the Jordan 191; there was just something remarkably ‘right’ about that car. But Senna wasn’t driving it, so……. yeah. ;)

    • Tom

      Schumacher was driving it though…

  • Rapierman

    Well, admittedly, the Ford Mustangs were always my favorite, though the Pontiac Firebirds / Trans Ams were a close second. Then again, I grew up with the American Muscle Cars.

    • Ground Effect

      Late 60s, early 70s Trans Am and Can Am racing was awesome. Dark blue Penske/Donohue Chevy Camaro.

    • My first car was 1969 pontiac firebird convertible…wish I still had it. :(

    • Ground Effect

      The Donohue Porsche 917 CanAm was great too… although the Kiwi Orange McLarens of Bruce and Denny running up front in the early years of Can Am pretty great too.

  • Ground Effect

    Lotus 79… two words, Ground Effect.

  • Lotus 72 has a huge place in my heart. First Corgi toy car I ever got…still have it. :) &9 was awesome too.

    • Ground Effect

      I almost went with the Lotus 49B from early ’69 with the double high moveable wings… death machines though they were.

      • Ground Effect
      • Loved that version. Right around Hill and Rindt era and they looked great in red. :)

        • Ground Effect

          Rindt my all time favorite driver… sadly during that era many of my favorite drivers did not survive… tough to be a fan sometimes back then.

  • cconf1

    Gotta go with the homer pick of the MP4/4

    and the Lotus T72 :)

  • Mike Steck

    wow, great discussion question. Undoubtedly for me, it was my becoming aware of F1, the era and music, believe it or not.
    The Matra MS80 was one of the most beautiful machines I ever saw. In the hand of JYS, securing a WDC in 1969, also a incredible year for me in music being my first band and beginning to play guitar in a live setting.
    Oh yes…and I remember putting up Angela Dorian’s Playmate of the Year 1968 on my wall in 1969. Of course, fantasy things sometimes are just that…fantasy. And after learning that she is in reality in state prison for manslaughter shooting a X in the face at close range, I have a more realistic view of what beauty is.
    The Matra MS80 is much safer.

  • Steven M

    OOH!! Hard to choose… Ill narrow it down to 2 eras for me. Eagle Westlake, that car is SEXY!! And more recent, the Williams FW19, it was the last Williams before the went narrow, and to me, its just stunning. Theres many other though

  • Rob

    Only 1… That is soo hard but I just have to go with the absolutly bonkers 6 wheel Tyrrell (shame they got the 4 on the wrong end of the car but hey :-) ). I mean what’s not to love.

  • I love that six wheeled Tyrrell! When I told my wife there was an F1 car with six wheels she just looked at me like I was a crazy person.

  • Gjermund

    I have to go for the Ferrari 643, or is it 191? Well anyways, here’s a photo of the car It should be the Ferrari F1, driven by Prost and Alesi in 1991

  • Tom

    I’m a sucker for pre-F1 times and my absolute favorite is the “Mercedes-Benz W25 Stromlinie” which was a one off version of the W25 for the 1937 AVUS extravaganza, closely followed by the “Auto-Union Typ C Stromlinienwagen” for the same occasion. And yeah, if I could choose to visit one race in history, it most certainly would be the 1937 AVUS Grand Prix…

    Also really cool is of course the post-facelift Mercedes W154 from 1939, as it looks really modern. Post-war F1 cars like the Ferrari 625 which came 15 years later are clearly heavily inspired by the W154 (or the W154’s smaller brother, the W165 from the same year, another one-off car to race in Tripoli which changed the rules to exclude the German cars and ensure an Italian victory…but then Mercedes built the W165 for that race only).

    But in order to do this topic any justice, let’s look at F1. I guess my vote goes out to McLaren’s MP4/2 with the Williams FW16 being a close second…

  • Philippe

    So hard not to pick at least 10. I’ll go with two then.

    The best looking one for me is the 1994 Ferrari:

    And the 2004 Ferrari, wich was basically the fastest F1 car ever built.
    It pretty much still holds every fastest lap record on almost every circuit it’s been.
    It’s one of the most successful car ever buit. (15 wins, 12 poles, WCC, WDC and 2nd)
    And it looked pretty good too!

  • Southern Hippie

    I’ll also give it up for the FW14B. Unfettered application of available technology, instead of limits on what can be brought to bear. Pure tech-geek ecstasy.

  • Kaltenbach

    If there is one car I have to pick it would be the McLaren MP4/4. That was the car that defined Formula 1 for me. When I was younger F1 cars were the automotive equivalent of fighter jets. Fast. Agile. Fragile. No car described this better for me than the MP4/4.

    P.S: Oh by the way Todd: Go Hawks! SB-XLVIII Champions! (a little late however).

  • Jim

    I have a favorite car from every era so in order to pick just one I had try and pick a period in F1 which I found most interesting and for me it has to be somewhere between 1969 and 1971. For me the Formula 1 cars of the 1960’s were the most elegant where the cars of the mid 70’s on struck me as being very aggressive and then you have that pocket between the two where the cars are caught in the middle. They began to sprout wings yet still stayed true to that classic cigar shaped body. Coupled with some of the tracks they raced on like Nordschliefe and Montjuic Park and you have a fascinating period in F1. The car which really captures that era for me has to be Jacky Ickx’s Ferrari 312.

  • So hard to narrow it down…
    From the broad sense of “modern era” I have to second the motions for the Lotus 79. I exclude the 49 because it wasn’t the first monocoque; it just was the first with a DFV, so that was more of an engine win than a car win.
    In terms of pure tech, the FW14B is always the winner.
    From the era in which I started watching F1 I’d have to put a vote in for the Renault R25 – I’ve always loved its looks; It was the last of the great V10 cars; and it had the trick mass-damper.

  • Schmorbraten

    The McLarens from the Newey/West era
    F2003GA and other Ferraris from that era except maybe the F2002

  • Tom Firth

    Cosworth’s experimental 4wd car.

  • Joseph Simmons

    Two cars from the pages of Rory Bryne and Ross Brawn
    The all conquering Ferrari F2004 and Benetton B195 which was only F1 car with “whitewall hubs”! #Keep fighting Michael

  • Sorry to be late and boring, but the Lotus 49 was my pick before even getting down to yours. The monocoque is one of the greatest innovations of the sport in terms of performance.

    But, you should get started on sports cars… Expand on the topic and go all out with a full 50. That would be an amazing list.

  • While not the coolest car of all time, Merc’s W05 is compelling. It struck me under the Bahrain lights, and again as the car’s braked and accelerated through T16. Opening myself to huge criticism…

    It’s the best-looking car since the 2006 season. In this era of broomstick noses and overly-full rear side pods, the Merc has that blend of grace and sculpting and and grace I remember and revere the 2000-2006 cars for. There’s a sense of motion, even when stationary. That lean, low body line arching over the lovely low nose and down the side pod, the sharp-edged aggression of the engine cover/sharkfin as it slopes 45 degrees, aping the Ferrari 248F1 I also find beautiful; it blends the masculine muscle and feminine prettiness that defines all great-looking cars. There’re no jarring incongruities, no fat, no disproportion. Even the gigantic rear wing fences add a sense of motion and stance to the car, and reducing the front wing width has done wonders for balance.

    I disliked the porcupine-spike flow conditioners of ’07-08, the 09-13 cars irked with the snowplow wings and the connected-sharkfins. I also lamented the high-nose aesthetic.

    11990-2000 cars look look overly blocky to me (except the 191 Jordan, which is undoubtedly pretty, but needes more muscle.) I don’t consider pre ’90 cars modern, although the ’30’s and some of the ’60’s were the most beautiful ever IMO. And… I also prefer the narrow track to the wider cars.

    So, it’s between the 2000-2006 cars and the Merc, and the earlier cars rode on the grooved tires which ruined the look for me. The overly-wide fronts really bothered me.

    If current Toro Rosso cut off that ridiculous protuberance it’d also be up there, perhaps the Red Bull as well, although it’s engine cover extends too far rearwards before sloping down.

    So W05 is that cool, helped by livery refinements. The silver *seems* more reflective/less matte and greasy, and plays off better w/ the green and now black highlights, which are placed and applied to subtle and again pleasingly-cohesive effect.

    *Hides in shame from rock-throwers*