Throughout the history of the car, there have plenty of iconic designs that are either cherished or loathed. Those in the former are what most remember fondly, with cars like the Lamborghini Countach and Jaguar E-Type being labelled as design classics.
These days, cars like those mentioned are valued at well above their original retail price at launch, making them unattainable by most people. While rarity, historical significance and distinctive engineering features are factors that can increase a car’s desirability, it’s safe to say that design plays the biggest role, given that sight is the first of the human senses to be stimulated when it comes to cars.
It should also be noted that it did take time for some cars to be labelled as future classics, and not all of them will see their values increase over the years. With that in mind, if you were to invest in a car right now in the hopes that it will be a (valuable) future design classic, what should you buy?
Well, world-renowned car designer Frank Stephenson sounds like the perfect person to take advice from, and he has presented his thoughts in a video posted on his YouTube page. Before getting into it, you should know that Stephenson is considered by some to be one of the greatest car designers of the modern era.
With a career that spans three decades, he started out at Ford, where he penned the double rear spoiler on the Escort RS Cosworth, before joining BMW. During his long tenure at the German automaker, he was responsible for designing the original X5, followed by the new MINI hatchback.
Stephenson would then go on to design cars for Ferrari and Maserati like the F430, MC12, Quattroporte, followed by mass-market models like the Fiat 500. He was also involved in McLaren’s rise in the sports car segment, designing cars like the MP4-12C, P1, 675LT, 570S and the more recent 720S. These days, he runs his own independent design company, having left McLaren in 2017.
With a long CV, surely Stephenson knows what he’s talking about, so cars made the cut? In his video, he lists a few potential future design classics that are still “affordable,” with the first being the Z4 Coupe. The E86 model made its debut in 2006 and carries on the legacy of the previous E36/8 Z3 “clown shoe” design. Offered initially with a 3.0 litre straight-six, the Z4 Coupe later received the M treatment that netted it more powerful 3.2 litre unit.
Next up is the Honda S2000, which is already increasing in value today. First introduced in 1999, the two-door sports car had a perfect 50:50 weight distribution and was powered by a high-revving 2.0 litre VTEC engine. The latter offered a specific output of 124 hp per litre, the highest of any mass-production, naturally-aspirated engine at the time, and the S2000 was also one of the very first cars to get a digital rev counter.
Stephenson also mentions the Alfa Romeo Brera, which he has a soft spot for since he owned two units before. Designed by Andreas Zapatinas, who was working under Giorgetto Giugiaro at the time, the 2+2 coupe had the looks but lacked the performance to match. On season nine, episode two of Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson basically described it as pornography.
A French car also caught Stephenson’s attention, particularly the Citroen C6, which boasts a striking rear three quarter that showcases a concave rear window and distinctive taillights. He calls it a “presidential car on a pedestrian budget,” praising the spacious and comfortable interior. Around 23,000 were made, and the C6 was the official car of former presidents of France.
Another Honda that is believed to be a future icon is the CR-Z. A modern take on the classic CR-X, the CR-Z made its launch debut in Malaysia in 2011, with the facelift arriving two years later. Available only with a hybrid powertrain, Stephenson says it is an “excellent evolution of what made the CR-X such a great design icon of its time.”
Moving on to something we didn’t get, it’s the Vauxhall/Opel Astra GTC VXR, which packed a 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 276 hp. Stephenson says this car combines performance and looks into one absolutely desirable package, highlighting some of the distinctive lines on the body.
For those with larger budget, there’s the Porsche 911, specifically the 997-generation model, which was the last to get naturally-aspirated engines and hydraulic power steering. The 997 saw a return to circular headlamps rather than the “fried egg” look of the previous 996, which Stephenson says will please the Porsche purists.
Honourable mentions, which may or may not cost a pretty penny now, include the first-generation Focus RS, the Lotus Elise, the fourth-generation Golf R32, the E38 7 Series and another Honda, the EP3 Civic Type R (based on the seventh-generation Civic hatchback). Do you agree with Stephenson’s picks? Remember, design is a subjective matter, so what other cars do you think will be a valuable future design classic? Share your thoughts in the comments below.