Classic Designs

Just about every sentient human being has their own set of criteria for what constitutes a “classic” design.  My own are fairly simple, in that a classic design:

  • should make everyone who sees it go:  “Ah yes!  That’s  _____________”;
  • must stand the test of time — people should recognize exactly what it is, decades after its creation or even demise;
  • should be universally recognizable even to people not familiar with the product or product category;
  • should be beautiful enough so that one might desire to own it or view it in person, even when you’re not quite sure exactly what it is.

I (and others) might not even care for the stuff, but the iconic designs nevertheless need to be recognized as such.  Here are some examples of what I’m talking about.

E-type Jaguar

Walther PPK (“the James Bond gun”)

The Eiffel Tower

Volkswagen Beetle (old shape)

Cartier (“Tank”) Watch

P-08 (Luger)

Austin Mini (old shape)

The Parthenon

Winchester 1894

Omega Seamaster

1965 Ford Mustang


Those are just the first ones that spring to mind — I used the “five-minute” rule to establish which, to me, exemplify the concept.  Yours may differ, so feel free to comment.


  1. I agree with most of those, (I didn’t recognize the watches – though they are nice), you seem to have left out the Walther P38?

    1. My 6 year old son’s Cub Scout pack did an overnight camp out at Kennedy Space Center back in March. We slept under the Saturn V rocket on display there. My son has mentioned it nearly every day, since. It was genuinely a life-changing experience for him.

  2. For American cars:
    Duesenberg SSJ
    Cord 812 or the L29
    Auburn Boattail speedster

    Mannlicher Schoenauer rifle
    Winchester model 70
    Browning Superposed

    Colt Peacemaker

    More as I think of them.

  3. I think another aspect is that it must be a clean design, simple and dedicated to the task at hand without any extraneous distractions. The Jag, for example. No hood scoops, no spoiler, no loud graphics on the paint, etc. Yes, you can add all those things, but the original clean design is perfect as-is. Same for the Winchester 94. Adding a red dot is sacrilege to most. Hell, some people don’t even like the more modern ones that are drilled and tapped even if there’s no scope.

  4. Ok on the PPK and Beetle, most of the rest is somewath above my pay grade. ( I would buy a new People Car in a heart beat if they where still made )

  5. I would add this to your list–

    “The photography is HD, it is shot as the B-17 takes off from Falcon Field in Mesa, AZ and then flies over the Superstition Mountains to the east of Apache Junction and then onto Roosevelt & Canyon lakes on the east edge of the Phoenix valley. The backdrops are stunning. Music is from the mini series John Adams. ”

  6. Good suggestions all:

    Empire State Building. Classic, simple, beautiful. As contrasted with the glass dildo in downtown London.
    Browning Auto-5. Can tell what it is from across the room. Assuming I could see across the room anymore.

    1. I bought a Nikon F and a bag full of Nikon lenses in Japan in 1972. The look said “good camera” and its still sitting on a shelf in my office next to my old Yashica 124 TLR. They’re more display pieces these days since digital photography took over, but it in their day they made a little money for me.

  7. The US Capitol Building
    The Washington Monument
    The Gateway to the West – aka the Arch at St. Louis
    Another vote for the 1911. Also Mauser K98, AK47, M-16 … all instantly recognizable.
    Car – Ford Model T, aka The Tin Lizzy
    Plane – Spirit of St. Louis

  8. The Hasselblad camera NASA used in the space program.
    I concur on all of the examples here. The key is even if the viewer doesn’t know the name of the thing, he or she will recognize that it is a well-known and handsome design. The US Capitol building is another one, to the extent that so many state capitol buildings are imitations of the Federal Capitol building.

  9. Lockheed P-38 Lightning!

    Double-bit ax with Hickory handle!

    The muck-encrusted bulldozer operated by Nicole West and her navigator dog Oink of the Molalla Oregon ‘hill-billy brigade’ during the forest-fires of last week!

    The word ‘niggardly’ in all its glory!

    An orange toupee!

    1. I read an article some time back (pre internet days so it can’t be true) that said the early 50s “bullet nose” Studebakers were designed to look like P-38s. Look at both and the resemblance is certainly there. The article claimed that Raymond Loewy took a poll of young men and asked about their favorite WW2 aircraft. The Lightning was rated number 1 for its bad ass looks. So Loewy built the bad ass looking automotive equivalent which sold pretty well.

      1. The tail-fins on the ’49 Cad are said to have been modelled after the vertical stabilizer of the P-38.

  10. How about some mundane items which are classic designs:

    Parker pens – ball point or fountain. My dad bought me a Parker pen and pencil set when I started college because “educated” people carried them.
    Buck 101 folding knife.
    Ka-Bar Bowie style fighting knife.
    Glass coke bottle – classic feminine lines.
    Maglite Double A flashlight. I still have a half dozen even though they’re no longer “tactical”.
    C-ration P-38 can opener. Don’t laugh. Those things did the job and lasted forever. I still have mine on my key ring. I got mine in 1972 and it came out of a box of c-rats dated 1952!

  11. Under knives:

    Classic Bowie
    Swiss Army perhaps

    1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk.
    Ferrari 250GT Lusso

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