duPont Registry's Top 100 Cars of the Century

Story by Benjamin Greene

Originally published by Dupont Registry:

In 1999, the duPont REGISTRY held a survey where it asked its subscribers and the visitors to its web site to pick the 10 best cars of the century. Using those opinions, along with the picks from a number of notable people like Mario Andretti, Don Panoz, Carroll Shelby, and Reggie Jackson, it compiled a list of the top 100 cars of the century and dedicated a special book to its cause (in a way it was the precursor to our annual editorial-based Exotic Car Buyers Guide). The book hit newsstands before the turn of the century and was a great success. Today we are going to take a look back at that list and reminisce on what cars were picked and why and compare it to how those cars would probably rank exactly 10 years later.

Taking the number one spot on our top 100 list was the Lamborghini Diablo. Unveiled in production trim in Monte Carlo in January 1990, the Diablo was in its ninth year and still being produced at the time the book was written. We praised the “devil” for its “staggering 530 bhp from the…5.7-liter V-12,” and “0-60 mph acceleration under 4 seconds.” In the review we wrote “Lamborghini is rumored to be working on the next generation supercar. Though it’s hard to believe, they will create an automobile that will surpass our number one car in speed, power, and aerodynamic style.” Of course none of us knew the Lamborghini Murciélago was going to be so fast and so powerful and garnish as much admiration from the motoring public with its stout 580-hp 6.2-liter V-12 engine as it did. However, looking back, we can’t help but think that if a Lamborghini were to make the top ten list, shouldn’t it have been the Lamborghini Countach? A model that has influenced the styling of all the company’s cars for the past 40 years.

Lamborghini Diablo Number One

Number two on our list was the McLaren F1. Produced from 1995–1998, we called it the “King Kong of the automotive world,” because of it could accelerate “faster than a speeding bullet (3.2 seconds),” and “speeds from 0-100 mph in a blistering 6.3 seconds.” We were astonished to hear that the F1 is capable of “reaching 240 mph: a speed unheard of in a production vehicle.” Although it did set a world record of 240.1 mph in 1998, the McLaren’s title was soon broken by a few top-speed demons including the Koenigsegg CCR and the SSC Ultimate Aero Twin Turbo and, of course, the current Holy Grail of supercars: the Bugatti Veyron 16.4.

McLaren F1 Number Two

Number three on our list is still a shocker: the Dodge Viper GTS Coupe. Introduced in 1996, we can only speculate it made the list because the new fixed-roof car was still fresh on everyone’s mind. At the time we loved the Viper’s “all-aluminum, 8-liter V-10 engine producing 450 bhp and 490 ft/lb torque” even though we did admit that it “takes a steady foot to keep the nose pointed straight under hard acceleration.” The Viper should have made the top 30 list, but not the top ten. 

Dodge Viper Number Three

Number four on our list is the Ferrari F50. As one of 15 Ferrari models that made our list, we were absolutely smitten with the F50’s “carbon fiber construction,” 513 bhp, and acceleration through the quarter mile in 11.6 seconds. We believed that the man himself, Enzo Ferrari, would be proud of what his company built despite not being around to see it produced and that statement holds true to this day. Today the Ferrari F50 is not as loved, despite being just as capable, as the F40 and Enzo supercars and would probably sit lower on the list if compiled in 2010.

Ferrari F50 Number Four

Number five on our list is another entry from the prancing-horse company: the Ferrari F355. At the time we were more surprised it made it into the top ten than the Viper, writing “F355 at number 5?" but concluded by stating that "for those that have driven the F355, this ranking is no surprise.” We loved the car for its “4.6 sec. 0-60 mph and…top speed of 183 mph,” its “extra intake valve” which increases “both the power and efficiency of the engine,” and the fact that it “is polished enough to be an everyday driver. No other Ferrari before the F355 could make this statement.” Although the F360, F430, and 458 are leaps and bounds better, the 355 started the company down a new path to success and is still one of the more enjoyable Ferrari models ever produced.

Ferrari F355 Number Five

Number six (and probably number seven and number eight as well) on our list is almost a necessary item; like no top ten all-time car list would be complete without it. The 300 SL Gullwing was and still is one of the greatest cars Mercedes-Benz has ever built, so much so that it now has a 197-mph $183,000 supercar dedicated in its honor. With its gullwing doors, long hood, and short and compact stature, the 300 SL Gullwing is as much a “design marvel” as it is a breathtaking sportscar (the same can be said for the current SLS). We were enamored with the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing calling it “among the most revered automobiles in history” because it had “the automotive world’s first fuel injection system,” and “was the fastest production car in the world in 1954." Today it would be hard to decide if the current supercar should rank higher than the car that inspired it.

Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing Number Six

Next on the list and sitting at number seven is a classic American muscle car, the second-generation Chevrolet Corvette. Still one of the best bang-for-the-buck picks, the Chevrolet Corvette has always been as affordable as it is powerful. Sporting “450 bhp” from the “mighty 427 big block engine, known as a Rat motor,” the Corvette proved on the track that it was more than just a timeless and breathtaking design exercise; that it was as capable as the Shelby Cobras and Jaguar XKs of the time as it was captivating to the eyes. It ranked the highest out of a number of Corvette generations that made our top 100 list and looking back today, we say it still deserves that title.

Chevrolet C2 Corvette Number Seven

The Shelby AC Cobra should have probably ranked above the Dodge Viper since the former inspired the latter. Nonetheless it sits at a respectable number eight on our top 100 cars of the last 100 years. There is no denying the Cobra’s capabilities and unique design. It is a true masterpiece and no further proof needs to be provided than the countless number of replicas that have been produced in its honor. It is the back-to-basics supercar that we all wish we had, but at the same time all worry we could not control without today’s gadgetry. We praised the overgrown 427 and how it enabled the lightweight roadster to go 0-100-0 in just 14 seconds and we were infatuated that the “Cobra hit 60 mph in less than 5 seconds, the engines screamed through the largely unmuffled side pipes.” Even today, an automotive enthusiast’s life may not be complete without a quick stint in at least a replica Shelby Cobra with a big motor under its hood.

Shelby Cobra Number Eight

One of the most lovable, enjoyable, and yet practical supercars on our list sits at number nine: the Porsche 911 Turbo. Unfortunately the votes went to (you can probably blame the Porsche-philes) the 933 air-cooled version. Not a horrible mistake, but the water-cooled version introduced in 1999 in the U.S. has since proven its worth. We praised the 993 Turbo because it could not only “rocket in a straight line, but also…pull a full G of lateral acceleration…And stopping this beast is no problem because of the 4-piston caliper ABS system.” It does have its history and there is no denying the 911’s air-cooled engine makes some of the best sounds to ever come from a sportscar but the water-cooled engine moved the 911 into a new era of expansion, profits, usability, and efficiency.

Porsche 993 Turbo Number Nine

Finishing up our look at the top ten sits the infamous Ferrari Testarossa. We advocated the car’s unique styling, especially its “claw-like strakes running down each side of the car…formed a grill for the massive air intakes leading to the engine in the rear.” That flat-12 engine helped it “achieve a new level of performance and handling.” We called the car more practical too: “more comfortable, easier to drive, and could hold luggage.” We concluded that the Testarossa was “a pinup in the 1980’s that lasted well into the 1990’s. The Maranello succeeded it in 1997, but some claim no car could ever replace the remarkable Testarossa.” Instead the 550 Maranello came in at the spot just below it.

Ferrari Testarossa Number Ten

Ten years have passed since this list was first compiled, yet so many things have changed. Some of these cars don’t hold enough muster to stay on this list today, while a plethora of cars produced between 2000 and 2010 almost need to be added. So if we were to compile another list of the top 100 cars from the last 110 years, what would change? What would stay the same? Here are some of the questions that have been running through our heads: Would the Nissan GT-R push its way into the top ten? Would the Stingray ‘Vette be knocked off by the current generation and its ZR1 supercar? Would the Bugatti Veyron take home the grand prize? What about the Gallardo and how it moved the brand from selling hundreds a year to thousands a year? Where would the 458 Italia, F430, and F360 fall?

Below are the remaining cars from our top 100 list. We went ahead and crossed out those that we feel no longer belong.

11. Ferrari 550 Maranello
12. Chevrolet C5 Corvette
13. Ferrari F40
14. Dodge Viper RT/10
15. Lamborghini Countach
16. AM General Hummer
17. Chevrolet C 1 Corvette
18. 99–03 Porsche 911 996
19. Vector M12
20. 64–68 Ford Mustang
21. Acura NSX
22. Plymouth Prolwer
23. 67–69 Chevrolet Camaro
24. 62–64 Ferrari 250 GTO
25. Shelby Series One
26. Lotus Espirt
27. 90–02 Mercedes-Benz SL
28. Porsche Boxster
29. Jaguar XKE
30. Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR
31. Porsche 930
32. Ferrari 365 GTB/4
33. Bentley Azure
34. 95–98 Porsche 993 911
35. Porsche 959
36. Ford Model T
37. Chevrolet C4 Corvette ZR-1
38. Chevrolet C3 Corvette
39. Jaguar XJ220
40. 55–57 Ford Thunderbird
41. Aston Martin DB7
42. Bentley Continental T
43. 57 Chevrolet Bel Air
44. BMW M3
45. 92–99 Mercedes-Benz S-Class
46. Porsche 911 GT1
47. Ferrari 348
48. Duesenburg Model J
49. Plymouth Barracuda
50. 94–98 Saleen Mustang
51. Bugatti EB110
52. Original Volkswagen Beetle
53. New Volkswagen Beetle
54. Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder
55. Ferrari 456 GT/GTA
56. Jaguar XK8
57. Nissan 300ZX
58. Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph
59. 93–98 Toyota Supra
60. Mercedes-Benz SLK
61. 63–89 Porsche 911
62. Ferrari 288 GTO
63. DeLorean DMC
64. Ford GT40
65. Pontiac GTO
66. BMW 8-Series
67. Dodge Charger
68. Ferrari Dino
69. BMW 7-Series
70. Cord Model 810/812
71. 62–65 Shelby / AC Cobra
72. 69–70 Ford Mustang
73. Lexus GS400
74. Tucker Torpedo
75. Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost
76. Chevrolet Chevelle
77. BMW M Coupe
78. Chevrolet Camaro
79. Buick GNX
80. BMW 5-Series
81. 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air
82. Ferrari 308 GTB / GTS
83. Mercedes-Benz E-Class
84. 93–99 Pontiac Firebird Trams AM
85. 57–58 Ferrari 250 Testarossa
86. 67–73 Lamborghini Miura
87. 93–95 Mazda RX-7
88. Bugatti Royale
89. De Tomaso Pantera
90. Jaguar XK120
91. Ferrari 275 GTB/4
92. Porsche 356
93. Oldsmobile Cutlass 442
94. 91–98 BMW 3-Series
95. 64–65 Pontiac GTO
96. 71–95 Rolls-Royce Corniche
97. 63–64 Studebaker Avanti
98. Lincoln Navigator
99. BMW Z3
100. Cadillac Eldorado