Car manufacturers often name their cars after numbers. They’ll probably tell you it makes which model goes where in the line-up clearer. But if we’re honest, they probably use numbers because they don’t need much imagination.
Most numbers crop up fairly frequently. ‘Nine’, for instance. Or ‘three’. But there are some that are surprisingly rare. Like ‘seven’. In fact, if you discount everything named after its 700cc engine capacity, we could only think of 18, and five of those are Peugeots (feel free to correct us on that.)
Only Motors thought these ‘Seven’ cars deserved some recognition, so this is our top 5. Not one of which is a Peugeot.
Aston Martin DB7
The DB name had been used for some of the greatest Aston’s ever built, but hadn’t been seen in over 20 years when the DB7 was launched in 1993. Why DB7? Because the last car to wear the initials was the DB6.
Marque purists didn’t much like the DB7. Ford owned Aston at the time, along with Jaguar, and much of the DB7’s hardware was borrowed from the XJS. The chassis was an evolution of the Jag’s platform, and power came from a supercharged AJ6 engine, not Aston’s own V8.
Everyone could agree that the Ian Callum-penned styling was drop-dead gorgeous, though. Many would still argue it’s the most beautiful car ever made. The interior wasn’t such a success, being tiny and haphazardly sprayed with cheap Ford switchgear.
Not that it stopped the DB7 from being a runaway success. When production ended in 2004 over 7,000 had been sold, at the time more than all other Aston’s combined.
You might think the 7 is just a funny little relic of a bygone age. But it is, in fact, one of the most important cars in history. Essentially, it was the Austin Motor Company’s answer to the Ford Model T; a cheap, dependable car for the masses.
But it was much more than simply that. It popularized the pedal layout used by every car on the planet, at least since WWII. BMW’s first car was a license-built version, Nissan’s first was a direct copy and Jaguar started out rebodying them.
The war brought production to an end after 17 years and 290,000 cars, but it found a new lease of life, post-war, in racing. The likes of Colin Chapman and Bruce McLaren, among very many others, built their first racing cars out of old 7s.
Indeed, there were so many of these ‘specials’ that the 750 Motor Club was formed to give owners somewhere to race them, pretty much inventing clubman motorsport in the process. It’s actually not too much of a stretch to argue that the 7 is the origin of the UK’s world-leading motorsport industry.
When BMW launched the 7-Series in 1977, it’s track record with big saloons wasn’t great. The previous E3 ‘New Six’ never really caught on and it’s only other attempt, the 502, was underpowered and rotund.
And yet, despite the unpromising lineage, BMW managed to strike exactly the right balance between luxury, looks and sporty handling when it launched the 7-Series in 1977. The recipe has stayed the same through five generations.
It’s never sold as well as the Mercedes S-Class, but it has at least given the Stuttgart stalwart something to think about. Indeed, it was one of only two real rivals to the big Benz – along with the Jag XJ – until the Lexus LS400 came along in 1989.
The 7 was a development of the earlier Lotus Mk. VI, Colin Chapman’s first series production car. It was designed as an inexpensive sports car that could be driven to a track, win a race, then drive home.
Lotus built a simple, light tubular chassis, dressed it in aluminium panels, fitted rudimentary but effective suspension and fitted whatever engine was to hand, initially a 40bhp Ford side-valve unit.
It hit the road in 1957 and Lotus spent the next 15 years refining the concept. When production ended, Surrey Lotus dealer Caterham Cars bought the rights. Though current Caterham Sevens share virtually nothing with the original beyond a resemblance, the principle remains the same.
Volvo’s 200 Series saloons and estates were big cars, but they were pretty utilitarian. Even though you could buy the gussied-up, V6-engined 260, there was no getting away from its basic roots.
Volvo needed a car that could compete with the BMW 5-Series and Vauxhall Senator on a level playing field, so it came up with the 700. Launched in 1982 with a V6 motor and plush trim, it’s low, wide body was much more modern than the upright 200, and the chassis and suspension was much more sophisticated. The more run-of-the-mill 740 followed in ’84.
The 700 proved hugely popular, being sufficiently upmarket to cut it in the executive saloon sector, while still being tough enough to soak up the worst abuse any owner could throw at it. Over 1.4 million were built in 10 years.
Even today, you still see the occasional 700, probably an estate, that looks like it’s worked hard every day of its life, but is still going strong.
Incidentally, it was a toss-up between the Volvo and the Rover 75 pictured at the top entering the top 5. The Swede won on a coin-flip.
By Graham King