18th January 2024

Great German Coupes

Germany has always had a knack with coupés. There is something inherently right about so many of these two-door fastbacks from this country that it can lay claim to many greats of the genre, from the all-conquering Porsche 911 to rarities such as the Glass 1300GT or Ford OSI 20M.

All of Germany’s big-hitting car makers have turned out superb coupés and none has been more prolific than Mercedes-Benz. It got the ball rolling in the design of sleek two-door hardtop models before the Second World War with coachbuilt beauties. After the war, it standardised design more with the likes of the 300S and the 300SL Gullwing, which earned its name with those trademark lift-up doors.

Such exotica earned Mercedes headlines, but what brought in the Deutschemarks were models such as the 220- and 300SE coupés. Their elegant lines and quality made them every bit a rival to Rolls-Royce, and the V8-powered versions had the muscle to tussle with the Brit brand, too. Yet, Mercedes was also happy to make a coupe for those with marginally more humble incomes with its stylish CE range that was introduced in 1968 and lasted in to the 1980s. Alongside this, Mercedes stretched its SL roadster by four inches to create the SLC, which is better to drive than look at.

Even then, Mercedes wasn’t done adding to its coupé curriculum vitae as it launched the SEC in 1981 as a two-door version of the W126 generation of S-Class. If the S-Class was the best saloon in the world, the SEC was its better looking sister and was owned by everyone from Niki Lauda to Janet Jackson. The first-generation Mercedes CL coupe that followed was a bit bloated but still wonderful, and then Mercedes topped the lot with the effortlessly graceful C215 version in 1998. And all of this was on top of the delightful CE based on the W124 saloon and the later CLK models that followed.

Countering Mercedes’ apparent dominance of the German coupé breed, BMW had plenty to crow about from Bavaria. A Gullwing not for you, then how about the 503 with its sophisticated 3.2-litre V8 engine? It proved a slow seller, but BMW hit the high notes when it launched the 2000CS in 1965. Chic and also practical, the 2000CS was succeeded by the 2800 and then the defining 3.0CSI that matched power and looks in a sensational package. This also gave rise to the 3.0CSL ‘Batmobile’ homologation special.

From there, BMW was on a roll and the 6 Series of 1976 came to be a long-lasting and always fashionable coupé that transitioned seamlessly from new car to classic. The car that replaced it, the 8 Series, has also pulled of that trick and now enjoys a strong following, as does the sharp-angled BMW Z4 Coupe.

The third pillar in Germany’s luxury makers is Audi, yet its coupé line has enjoyed slimmer pickings. The 100 Coupe S is pretty but it never had the oomph or presence to worry contemporary BMW or Mercedes rivals. That all changed when Audi launched the radical Quattro in 1980. Four-wheel drive, five-cylinder turbo power, and stage-proven rally pedigree made it an instant halo car that everyone wanted. Little wonder it lasted most of the decade and is now a valued classic all over the world.

The Coupé that replaced the Quattro in 1988 failed to make the same impression, even when it was offered with turbo power and all-wheel drive – the moment had gone. It took Audi until 1998 to recover its coupé mojo when it launched the show-stopping TT. At a stroke everything else looked old hat and three generations of TT enjoyed sizeable sales.

When it comes to big sales figures, the Porsche 911 now numbers more than one million of this badge having left the factory. There’s a 911 to suit almost every driver and need, yet Porsche has often added other delights to its coupé line-up. The 924 rocked Porsche traditionalists with its water-cooled, front-mounted engine, yet this was the formula its key rivals like the Datsun 260Z, Ford Capri, and Mazda RX-7 used to great effect.

Porsche’s engineers were proved right when the 924 went on to find popularity with a whole new section of buyers, and they followed up with the quicker and more aggressively styled 944. Both handled brilliantly and were easy to live with, which made the 968 that evolved from the 944 an obvious successor.

There was no follow-on from the 968 as Porsche was skint by this stage and had put all its money into the Boxster and 996-generation of 911, which proved a wise move. That left the 928 flying the front-engined flag at Porsche and what a standard-bearer it was. Nothing else looked like it when it was launched in 1978 and still nothing touched it 17 years later when it bowed it. Few cars could cover ground as quickly and easily as the 928, which made it the definition of coupé brilliance.

It's well known the Porsche 924 was initially meant to be a Volkswagen coupé, but VW decided to go with its Golf-based Scirocco instead. This was a replacement for the charming Karmann-Ghia coupé, which had served well since 1955 with its Beetle bits underneath.

The Scirocco was bang up to date when it arrived in 1974 and carried on well into the 1980s as a fine-handling, affordable alternative to the Ford Capri. When VW replaced it in 1988, few could have expected the new Corrado would be so magnificent. Great lines, superb build, and one of the best front-wheel drive chassis ever conceived, here was a coupé to pinch sales back from the hot hatch brigade that had taken over in the 1980s. And VW followed up with another great coupé with the third-generation Scirocco in 2008 that is now every inch a modern classic.

There are many other great German coupés, with special mentions for the Opel GT, Manta and Monza that took the fight to their Ford rivals. Bitter, DKW, OSA, and Wiesmann have also done their bit to fly the German flag and make it the home of fantastic coupés.

Which is your favourite? Let us know in the comments below!

Corrado G6 1st offering with conventional supercharger - a quite fantastic car. capable of seating 4 and great handler despite slight torque steer. VR6 engine spoilt the car. previously also had various Scirroco - Storm special edition was very good.

Cookie, 29/01/2024