It is not easy creating a car that is not only a luxury toy bu also an iconic success for their manufacturers. However, sometimes it happens and more than luxury toys these unique cars are statement pieces with a big impact. Discover the 10 most important luxury cars of the last 40 years with Design Limited Edition!
Some cars may have had a limited run but still influenced future models or pulled struggling automakers back from the brink. And yet other cars were major missteps or missed opportunities for luxury brands and continue to serve as important cautionary tales. Whether they’re categorized as the good, the bad, or the ugly, the cars here were important as pioneers and game-changers in the luxury segment.
1974–1990 Aston Martin Lagonda (Series I through IV)
The Aston Martin Lagonda was cutting edge during its time, both in terms of its sharp “folded paper” design and its futuristic digital dashboard. Created by British car designer William Towns, the four-door Lagonda was a saving grace for Aston Martin during an economic downturn. Despite its controversial looks – which Bloomberg Businessweek included on its list of 50 ugliest cars of the last 50 years – there was immediate demand for the innovative car thanks to its powerful V-8 engine, digital instrumentation, and exclusivity (only 645 units were ever created).
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1979–1990 Maserati Quattroporte III
The Maserati Quattroporte III was the poster child for Italian luxury brands during its time, with everyone from Sandro Pertini (the Italian prime minister) to Rocky Balboa driving one during its run from 1979 to 1990. The Quattroporte III had a lavish interior, a V-8 engine, and a sportier rear-wheel drive, which was a winning combination for Maserati.
1977 Lincoln Continental Mark V
The Lincoln Continental Mark V is a coveted collector’s item in part because it was a hallmark standard of the ’70s and ’80s trend of automakers collaborating with fashion designers to release special-edition luxury cars. With kitschy Designer Editions from Cartier, Givenchy, Pucci, and Bill Blass (who notoriously created dummy tanks to fool the German army during WWII), the Continental Mark V had unique paint colors, vinyl roofs, trim, and interiors—with a designer stamp as the cherry on top.
1990–1994 Mercedes-Benz 500E
The Mercedes-Benz 500E was considered a wolf in sheep’s clothing during its run from 1990 to 1994, thanks to the high-performance V-8 engine hidden underneath a relatively unassuming exterior. The 322 hp 500E was ping-ponged between two Mercedes-Benz and Porsche plants during its hand-built assembly and produced in limited numbers: Just 1,528 units were imported to the United States between 1991 and 1994. In 1995 Mercedes-Benz reduced the horsepower to improve fuel consumption and emissions, and also renamed the car the E500 to match the rest of the lineup’s naming scheme, so the uniquely crafted 500E is a classic collector’s item today.
Maybach seems to be doomed as an underappreciated virtuoso in the ultra-luxury automotive class. In between a history of manufacturing engines for tanks, aircraft, and more, Maybach experimented with making lavish vehicles before being purchased by Daimler-Benz in 1960. For decades, Maybach took a backseat to Mercedes-Benz, mostly creating special editions of the automaker’s cars. In 1997 Maybach finally got the opportunity to step into the spotlight with the 57 and 62 ultra-luxury sedans, meant to compete with cars like the Rolls-Royce Phantom. The cars were meticulously assembled for nearly four months with a heavy focus on handcrafting and customization, and the automaker described the 57 and 62 as being designed like a “private luxury jet for the road.”
2002–2006 Volkswagen Phaeton W12
With its Greek mythology–inspired name, the Volkswagen Phaeton would have been more appropriately dubbed the Icarus due to its overzealous conception. Although the Phaeton shared platforms and systems with upscale cars like the Bentley Continental GT and Audi A8, its performance was lacking. Sales were so bad in the United States that Volkswagen pulled the Phaeton’s plug in North America just a couple years after its debut in 2002. While the Phaeton continued production for 15 years on other continents, it still underperformed in sales.
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2003 Cadillac Sixteen Concept Car
Many automotive aficionados still mourn what could have been with the Cadillac Sixteen concept from the 2003 North American International Auto Show. The ultra-luxury concept was the brainchild of Bob Lutz, who wanted to create a limited-edition halo model for the brand. With a sharp design that was a major crowd-pleaser, a powerful V-16 engine, and a high price tag, it could have been just that—if Cadillac had ever actually turned it into a production model. Sadly, the Sixteen remained a concept only, even though Cadillac incorporated many of its design cues into its lineup. We think that if Cadillac had moved forward with the Sixteen, the automaker would be ahead of the curve instead of playing catch-up to its luxury competitors.
2003–Present Rolls-Royce Phantom VII
Rolls-Royce describes the Phantom as “The Best Car in the World,” and considering its popularity with affluent buyers, it’s hard to disagree. The seventh-generation Phantom, which was launched in 2003, helped the struggling automaker reinvent itself and soon became the anchor model of the brand. With unique features like a retractable hood ornament, suicide doors, and hidden umbrella compartments—as well as seemingly endless customization options—the Phantom VII is the ultimate in bespoke automotive luxury.
2003–Present Bentley Continental GT
Unlike the Volkswagen Phaeton—with which it shares a platform—the Bentley Continental GT has been a massive success story for the Bentley. The Continental GT was the first version of Bentley’s signature grand tourer to be mass produced, making it less expensive and more attainable than its predecessor, the Continental R. The result was an expanded customer base and a bevy of accolades, like being named the most significant production car design at the North American International Auto Show EyesOn Design Awards after the car’s debut in 2003.
2009–Present Porsche Panamera
For many Porsche purists, deviating from the automaker’s best-selling two-door sports cars with the debut of the Panamera in 2009 was blasphemous. However, the Panamera grew in popularity as the public came to appreciate the way the full-size sedan combined high-performance chops with a roomy, luxurious interior that caters to both drivers and passengers. The Panamera helped pave the way for other four-door Porsche models like the Cayenne and Macan to become big sellers for the automaker, and the most recent version for the 2017 model year was given an attractive facelift and can come in 13 different variants, including E-Hybrid, Turbo, and Executive models.
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