What Makes a Car Iconic?

Modernism has played a critical role in the transformation of communities and society as a whole. Modernism has brought about the emergence of new technologies and modes of transportation such as light rail, air travel and advanced motor vehicles. Motor vehicles have becoming iconic similar to architecture that denotes the transformation of society from the medieval period into modernity. Iconic cars usually denote a superlative object as they have distinctive elements of perfection.

In essence, scholars have noted that iconic cars, similar to other objects that denote a superior social status, have a distinctive feature of attraction at first sight. Smoothness has been termed as an element that illustrates the perfection of an object as opposed to being rugged ragged which is associated with human operation in assembly processes. Additionally it can be noted that iconic cars usually denote the prevailing social attitudes and trends such as modernity, feminism and empowerment. In addition they also denote wealth and social status of the existing and future owners of such vehicles.

The materials used in the development of iconic cars can be termed as oriented towards promotion of elements if lightness and magical transformation. Speed in iconic cars is defined as being minimally aggressive, athletic and evolving from a relatively primitive form into a classical form that depicts elegance. The spiritualization of iconic or classic vehicles is evident through the material and quality of the body and glasswork that is common amongst iconic automobiles. Thus iconic or classic automobiles can be termed as humanized forms of art. Traditionally, vintage or iconic carts have been a perverse for the bestiary of power and assumed a spiritual role in the life of the owner[1].

Furthermore, iconic cars usually suggest the interaction between driving and alchemy of speed. In exhibition settings, iconic automobiles endure intense exploration, and amorous studiousness, given that this forms a critical tactile phase in the discovery process and is a moment when the vehicle is exposed to touch. Touch is a demystifying human sense as it exposes the user to an intimate engagement with the object or automobile. In relation to the bodywork of an iconic automobile, its bodywork usually consists of interactive lines of union, palpated upholstery, tried seats, and caressed doors, fondled cushions and the wholesome emotion of moving in unison with the vehicle during a driving experience.

Critics note that classic or vintage automobiles usually radiate petit-bourgeois advancement through their basic essence. Iconic or classic automobiles have usually denoted the extravagant social lives of buyers and purchased automobiles to affirm the power through refined clothing, materialistic emphasizes and use of bold colors to affirm their power, wealth and more so social status. Iconic vehicles have featured elements that focus primarily on engaging the upper classes who have an orientation for high fashion elements such as expensive vintage automobiles.

The term iconic or vintage car was developed in to refer to motor vehicle enthusiasts during the 1930s. It is important to note that iconic automobiles usually have a central role in the history of development and advancement of motor vehicles. The iconic automobiles such as vintage cars are usually impractical to use as reliable means of transport. This is primarily due to the fact that they are not suited for use in modern motorways, they are unreliable, unsafe, uncomfortable and relatively difficult to sustain. The difficulty of sustaining vintage cars arises from the constraints of access the necessary knowledge, components and financial resources associated with purchase and maintenance of the automobile[2].

Irrespective of the extensive constraints of purchasing and maintaining a vintage car, it is critical to note that enthusiasts are usually willing and ready to take on the challenges associated with iconic vehicles[3]. The term iconic usually refers to an object that depicts victory using a conventional approach. In addition, iconic also refers to a representative symbol of social status such as wealth held by an individual. On the other hand, it is critical to note that there is no specific approach towards the definition of a car as an iconic automobile given that this may vary from one individual to another.

Some vehicles such as DeLorean DMC-12, Mini and Honda NSX can be termed as iconic motor vehicles for varied reasons despite having similar approaches for reverence. Iconic vehicles such as in the United States and in European countries such as Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and France may be a point of reverence to the engineering ingenuity of each state when compared to its competitors. Others may point to the successful of a given country or community. For instance, the Mini is an iconic car in the United Kingdom due to its sporting successes upon winning the Monte Carlo and British Car Championship. Such an understanding affirms that iconic cars usually play a critical role in the preservation of history of a state or community by affirming the societal advancements and achievements accrued within a particular period in history.

For automotive engineers, iconic automobiles usually denote high levels of innovation as they initiated the development of cars with similar features such as in the case of the Mini in the United Kingdom. The Mini remains an iconic car as it was easily available in the market and affordable to all members of the society. For the DeLorean DMC-12, it rose to an iconic status after being featured in one of the most renowned classic films titled “Back to the Future’ by utilizing a distinctive shape such as the gull-wing doors and steel panels. The DeLorean DMC-12 was able to appeal to the imaginative and artistic persona as opposed to the typical motoring enthusiasts in the automobile market. However, it emerged to be a failure in the market that brought about fraudulent charges against John DeLorean as he sought to avoid bankruptcy.

Another automobile that remains an iconic vehicle around the world is the Aston Martin DB5 used in films such as ‘Skyfall’ and ‘Goldfinger’, which has emerged as a symbol that denotes the British culture. Thus iconic vehicles can be termed as symbols that provide the world and society with a means of understanding the culture and more so history of a particular community, society or nation. Another automobile that has been used to denote British culture is the jaguar E-Type, as a common feature amongst the British elite. The Jaguar E-type is also used in the design of The New York City Museum of Modern Art, where it makes up one of the six automobiles that have been termed as signaling the advancement of society.

It should be noted that a majority of the iconic cars around the world are usually targeted at wealthy individuals, which limits accessibility for the common citizens. The distinctive nature of iconic automobiles is usually to provide the owners with a high sense of authority, power, appeal, respect that is commanded when driving the car. For some cars such as the Honda NSX, the vehicle achieved iconic status as it was considered as affordable and provided an avenue for the transformation of the modern supercar. Thus an iconic vehicle possesses the capability to transform the initially held beliefs about the elements ands features of a supercar and making the same available even to the common population rather than being limited as a preserve for the rich and elites of society. For instance the NSX featured a monocoque chassis with a wishbone suspension in its front and rear areas. In essence, it is evident that an iconic status of a vehicle is associated with the role of the automobile in enhancing the movement of persons and goods and more so its effect on the entire transportation sector.

In essence, iconic automobiles can be termed as artistic objects given that they usually attract significant admiration from motor vehicle enthusiasts. Similar to other art forms, iconic cars have identical features that make them admirable by the users or audience. Iconic cars have been utilized to advocate for the extravagant tendencies of the wealthy population, as majority of these classes of vehicles were only targeted at the elite in society. Additionally, it is assumed that iconic cars have played a critical role in the transformation of communities by enabling and enhancing the freedom of motion by providing reliable avenues for mobility.

Furthermore, it is presumed that iconic cars are symbols of modernization and may denote specific histories within a given country, community or society. Modernism has played a critical role in the evolution of such communities and society by enabling rapid movement of persons, goods and communication. Modernism has brought about the emergence of new technologies and modes of transportation such as light rail, air travel and advanced motor vehicles. Motor vehicles have becoming iconic similar to architecture that denotes the transformation of society from the medieval period into modernity. Iconic cars usually denote a superlative object as they have distinctive elements of perfection.

Therefore, iconic vehicles have central role in the advancement of communities, and the transformation of societies. They denote what has been termed by some critics as the essence of the petit-bourgeois advancement that has been experienced over the years since the emergence of automobiles. They provide an avenue for individual distinction by enabling the owner to affirm individual social status such as wealth, education and networks. Thus, iconic cars are a symbol of societal distinction as individuals are able to focus primarily on the accruable prestige associated with owning an iconic automobile.



Maidment, Simon. 2010. “When the Journey becomes the Destination.” Public Art Review, Spring/Summer. http://www.simon-maidment.com/when-the-journey-becomes-the-destination

Montgomery, Charles. 2013. The secrets of the world’s happiest cities. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/01/secrets

Platz, Jenny.(n..d). “Tamara de Lempicka, Glorificus, and the Modern Woman.” The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association, 1-16.

Barthes, Roland, and Annette Lavers. 1972. Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang.






[1] Barthes, Roland, and Annette Lavers. 1972. Mythologies (New York: Hill and Wang) p.29


[2] Jenny Platz, (n..d). “Tamara de Lempicka, Glorificus, and the Modern Woman.” The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association, p.8

[3] Simon Maidment, 2010. “When the Journey becomes the Destination.” Public Art Review (Spring/Summer. http://www.simon-maidment.com/when-the-journey-becomes-the-destination)


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