If you’re like me, you probably spend a good deal of time reading about classic cars. One thing I see occasionally in the articles I read are many different types of automotive “top-ten” lists. I like these sorts of lists, because they force me to think about and categorize some of my favorite automotive related topics. It seems to me that there is an automotive “top-ten” for practically any topic you can think of, and I usually learn something new every time I read someone else’s list.
Thinking about automotive top-ten lists recently brought a different sort of question to mind. I have long ago mentally developed a loose and sometimes evolving list of my top-ten favorite cars, but what about my all-time favorite hoods? That was something I’d never pondered, but the more I thought about it, more and more cars came to mind that might make my list. Over the course of several days, I jotted down about 25 contenders on a notepad on my desk and I have since managed to pare that list down to my 10 picks. It helped to exclude cars from the list made after 1975. I also excluded race cars, as they could comprise an entire top-ten of their own, so favorites like the Ferrari 250TR, D-Type Jag, Ford GT-40, as well as countless others that would make my list are not included here. A couple of my picks wouldn’t necessarily be my personal first choice, but they make my list because I respect the audaciousness of their designs and the impact they had on the cars of their era. So, without further ado (and in no particular order), I offer my top-ten hoods:
Jaguar E-Type. And if I can be even more specific, my flavor would be an early Series 1 car, with welded-in louvers, headlight covers and external latches. Everyone knows how Enzo Ferrari regarded the E-Type, and his feelings about the car started with its prominent hood. Walk around an early E-Type roadster sometime and try to find a bad angle. I doubt you can. Show up at a car show in your E-Type, tip the 220-pound bonnet forward and wait for the crowd to gather to trade exaggerated stories about the difficulty of properly tuning SU’s. Neither cheap nor easy to properly restore when rusted or crash damaged, these hoods (along with the rest of the car they’re attached to), are hypnotic to stare at in the afternoon sunshine.
Any Pontiac Trans-Am with a big-‘ol chicken on the hood. I grew up watching The Bandit laying endless patches of spent rubber everywhere Hal Needham pointed his camera, driving Buford T. Justice insane in the process. I do like old Trans-Am’s and owned one for a while in high-school. As a kid, I didn’t really understand the point of the Screaming Chicken on the hood. I may have even used the words “gaudy” and “garish” to describe it. I was willing to overlook it however because of the shaker hood, which I believe is almost never in poor taste (although Pontiac was sort of pushing it, making such a cool looking air-cleaner cover but then making it non-functional). My ’78 had a shaker, but no Chicken, removed by a classy previous owner. You might be wondering why I would include a Trans-Am on this list if I don’t personally like the screaming chickens? Well, it’s because I can respect boldness. A gentleman named Norm Inouye is generally credited with designing the basic chicken we know and love today. It took Inouye and a few other designers over two years to convince Bill Mitchell to finally put the bird on the ’73 Trans-Am’s, which he did, despite concerns from GM’s top brass, who felt it too big and obnoxious. The rest is history, and history has proven Mitchell’s bold call a good one.
1957 Chevrolet. Of all the venerable "tri-five" cars, the '57 has the best-looking hood, by far. A definite improvement over the chrome plated model airplanes preparing for take-off on the edges of the ’55 and ’56 hoods. Think for a second how much less visually interesting the '57's would be without their iconic humps in the sheet metal capped off with dangerous looking but awesome bullets. It's like something Q-Branch could have come up with before they started messing around with DB5's for James Bond… "Now pay attention, 007... Here we have a perfectly sedate American coupé. You press this button, and activate two rocket propelled missiles, ready to fire from inside the bonnet". I know more than enough has been written about these cars for decades, but this styling cue deserves recognition.
1967 big-block Corvette. That's right, with the iconic, 1 year only Stinger scoop. The bulbous bump that Chevrolet came up with to accommodate the larger big-block for the '65 and '66 C2's never looked right to me; it doesn’t really fit well with the styling of the car, unlike the original C2 hood, which as far as I’m concerned, is perfect. Chevrolet changed things up for '67, and we were given ‘The Stinger’, in my opinion one of the most aggressive looking factory hoods ever put on a Corvette. It was bold looking and made an already aggressive car seem that much more “in your face”. One look and everyone knew that big-block trouble lurked beneath. I personally prefer the simple styling of the small block hood, largely for the same reasons I prefer small block C2's in general, I don't need big-block power and some of the hassles and handling disadvantages that come with it to enjoy driving these cars, but it makes the list because aggressive gets attention, and they are cool looking, clean design.
1964 Ford Thunderbolt teardrop hood. I spent most of my childhood hating these hoods. I recall my bother Jason building a Fairlane Thunderbolt model, and one of the optional hoods included in the kit was a teardrop. I can't remember if he used that hood or not, but I do remember thinking about how stupid I though they looked. Fast forward 30 years, my tastes have evolved. I have only ever seen two real Fairlane Thunderbolts in my life; they were rare when new, only 100 built, and nearly all of them were headed straight for the drag strip. Only around 60 have survived. Today, I think the teardrop hoods look striking and tough, a promise of thunderous 427 FE power, estimated at almost 600 horsepower beneath that vented fiberglass dome.
Jaguar XK120 & 140. Of course, the E-Type upstages her older sister, but when first introduced, this was the sexiest hood to ever sit between two Jaguar fenders. It's so diminutive and fragile looking, and it fits the contours and character of the car beautifully. I've often wondered how much more it cost Jaguar to style these cars this way rather than fixing the grille into a fully integrated front valance. With this design, Jaguar kept the line of the hood smooth and unbroken. It’s interesting how different the XK cars are from E-Types in terms of styling; the XK design penned by William Lyons compared to Malcom Sayer’s vision for the E-Type showcase the differences in artistic tastes of both men. On the one hand, Lyons hood is slim and minimalist, while Sayer’s hood is a huge one-piece affair that represents over a third of the entire car, a natural evolution of the design he helped create with his previous work on the C and D-Types.
1970 Chevelle SS (with cowl induction). This was a hood I was enamored with as a kid, and I still like it today. For me, there is no better Chevelle than a ’70 SS 454 with rally stripes and a cowl induction vent. As a kid, I had no idea what the hell "cowl induction" was, or how it worked, but I had strong suspicions that it was there to make an already powerful car even more powerful. As it turned out, Cowl Induction was little more than a gimmick that didn’t really add any measurable power to the 38,888 Chevelle’s and ElCamino’s equipped with it. Still, I drove a real LS6 ’70 Chevelle about a week ago, and seeing that little flap open during a wide open throttle pull couldn’t help but put a smile on my face, as it does every time I drive one. One of the legends of the muscle car era, and I just think they’re cool.
1970 Hemi ‘Cuda & Challenger: To give credit where it’s due, Mopar gave us quite a few cool hoods in this era- I always liked the dashboard switch controlled, vacuum actuated “Air Grabber” found on the ’70 Road Runners, the very rare lift-off fiberglass hood with HUGE air scoop feeding 3x2’s on the ‘69 ½ A12 Road Runners, and the slim scoop used on the ’70 Challenger T/A. My pick out of all of them however has to be the Shaker found on the ’70-71 Cuda’s and Challengers. It’s a design just looking for a street-fight.
1936 Cord: I love almost any car with hidden headlamps, and the Cord 810 shares the title of “earliest hidden headlamps” with the 1936 Alfa Romeo 8C. As striking as a car could be with no exposed headlights, it’s really the hood of the Cord that is gorgeous to look at. This car quickly earned the moniker “coffin nose” and the reason why is obvious- it looks like a coffin was wedged in between two front fenders. An advanced, striking design from the imagination of Gordon Buehrig, who went on to become a key figure in the design of one of my favorite automobiles, the ’55-56 Continental MkII. Buehrig also is credited with inventing the automotive T-top. In its day, the Cord was considered a failure; its launch was plagued with delays, and post production reliability problems helped put the final nail in the Cord coffin.
1973-74 Porsche 911 Carrera RS: I’m generally a fan of old 911’s; I always enjoy driving them and have always liked their styling. For me, the whale-tail hood on the 930 turbo is just a little too much “boy racer” for me, but I always feel like something is missing on any 911 without a spoiler of some kind. Fortunately, Stuttgart designed a subtle alternative that suits my tastes perfectly; the Carrera RS- which in my humble opinion, for many reasons, is the best vintage 911 to own.
John Hansen is an automotive writer and owner of Michigan Automotive Inspection Services, which provides professional pre-purchase inspection, consultation, and appraisal services for classic automobiles located all over the United States.