Top Gear's Top 9: the best classic car interior edition

By topgear, 20 March 2020

Mercedes 280SL Pagoda

The most beautiful Benz of all time (fight me) also boasted a classically correct cabin. Big, slender wheel, sensibly situated vents, radio and switches, the clear, watch-like dials – it’s still a paragon of ergonomic bliss.

(Click HERE for our feature on four generations of the SL)

High-quality, for high society – cars like this cemented Mercedes’ reputation for quality and craftsmanship at a time when the modern-era Audi brand barely existed and the idea of a mass-market Merc hatchback would’ve seemed preposterous.

The Pagoda’s probably a tad more timeless than the current A-Class’s job lot of widescreens. 

BMW E39 5 Series

A simpler time. A time before iDrive. A time when BMW basically perfected sporty exec sedan design. It’s just so wonderfully gimmick-free. A round steering wheel, dials you could read from the back seat through the wrong end of binoculars, and a dashboard console angled just-so to the driver. Not an ambient-lit heated armrest with integrated wireless tablet charger in sight.

Ahh, the Nineties.

(Click HERE to read about the definitive E39 5 Series, the M5)

Fiat 500

Everything you need, and nothing you don’t. Actually, the original Fiat 500 is missing quite a lot you’d need, these days – crash protection, sound and heat insulation, and any security measures whatsoever spring to mind. But just look at it – the idyllic simplicity and honesty of the small car that put Italy on wheels.

(Click HERE to read about our time in an original Fiat 500, or the Cinquencento)

Citroen DS

Of course there had to be a bonkers vintage Citroen in here, and what better than the wantonly wacky DS, with its single-spoke steering wheel, spindly gearchange, horizontal speedo and squishy, plush chairs.

It’s as comfy and idiosyncratic as, ooh, I dunno, a Salvador Dali exhibition in a bouncy castle? No, even comfier. 

Pontiac Bonneville

The ’59 Bonneville is one of the quintessential jet-age designs of Americana – it’s got fins, chrome, loads of little aerospace nods and would turn a pedestrian crash test examiner’s hair white at fifty paces these days.

Loads of American metal from this era qualifies for ultimate interior design wackiness, but we’ve gone for the Bonneville because it treads the line between kitsch and caricature so cleverly. 

Audi TT

A real modern classic. The TT’s interior was, fact fans, the work of the splendidly-named Romulus Rost, who also dreamt up the current Bentley Continental GT’s interior complete with its rotating Toblerone dashboard screen.

Clearly not a man who enjoys exposed infotainment buttons, then, as the TT’s trademark radio cover proves. From the knobbly air vent surrounds to the spars around the dashboard, the TT was the car that woke the world up to Audi interior design in a big way. 

TVR Cerbera

It takes a marque as raving-mad as TVR to compromise something as fundamental as where the driver can comfortable hold the steering wheel, just so it can install extra gauges and an air vent underneath the steering wheel centre itself.

The rest of the Cerb’s interior is a crazy land of bulbous blobs and topsy-turvy leather hillocks. Quite some place to spend the time, until the breakdown lorry arrives to get you home. Again.


Striped seats. Dimpled gear lever. Austere, dense-looking dashboard. The GTI’s template hasn’t deviated much – it’s one of the all-time hot hatch icons inside and out.

Ford GT V8

As the GT’s from 2003, it doesn’t seem old enough to be a classic. And yet, because it’s so heavily inspired by the GT40 of the mid-Sixties, it certainly qualifies.

This is one of the all-time great retro updates of a cabin – it’s all so faithful to the original, from the dial layout to the holey seats, and yet it’s very elegantly updated with tasteful switchgear. A true concept car made real, in fact.

STORY Ollie Kew

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