2003 was the peak year for road cars and music – tell me I'm wrong

8w ago


Will cut his teeth as a designer on Evo magazine, before slinging a U-ey and writing for them instead. So if it has four wheels and an engine then there's a chance he's drifted it in front of a camera, driven it incredibly hard and then written about it. When he's not writing he's can be found fettling his 1971 BMW 2002 and trying to stop Wagtails defecating on his old Range Rover.


There are magazine features, online lists and plenty of social media discussions about which year was the greatest for music.

The general consensus is that it happened sometime in the '60s. But despite The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Who, the greatest musical year is not to be found in that decade. Even Bowie, The Clash and The Undertones couldn’t make happen in the '70s. It didn’t occur in the following twenty years either, despite some mighty fine work from Prince, George Michael and Madonna.

No, I'm quite sure the pinnacle of music was in 2003. Yes, really.

Beyonce’s Crazy In Love, Justin Timberlake’s Señorita, Kelis’s Milkshake, Outcast’s Hey Ya, Lumidee’s Never Leave You, Electric Six’s Danger! High Voltage, Britney Spears’ Toxic, Mis-teeq’s Scandalous, Sean Paul’s Get Busy. All – as I believe the phrase goes – absolute bangers and all from 2003.

There are many similar automotive discussions around what year saw the launch of the greatest amount of brilliant cars, too. And just like music, the correct year rarely comes up.

This time the '60s and '70s don’t get much of a look-in. Yeah, there are some wonderful cars to be found in those decades, but most individual years are let down by some distinctly terrible motors being inflicted on society.

As the average quality of cars increases, the '80s throws up some contenders. 1986 gave us the E30 BMW M3, the Ford Sierra Cosworth and the Porsche 959, while in '87 the Ferrari F40 was launched and Ruf made the CTR Yellowbird. Still, I think we can do better.

The '90s starts to get close; 1994 is a particularly strong year. It’s one that many argue is the best, thanks to the Ferrari 456, the Jaguar XJ220, the original Renault Twingo, the first Ford Mondeo, the Porsche 968 and, if that’s not good enough for you, the McLaren F1.

The mighty McLaren F1 launched in 1994

But how about the year that gave us the Ford GT, Lamborghini Gallardo, McLaren Mercedes SLR and Porsche Carrera GT? Maybe supercars aren’t your thing, so what about some road-racers: the Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale and the first Porsche 911 GT3 RS, perhaps? Not comfortable enough? Well, in the same year we got the Rolls Royce Phantom and the fifth Maserati Quattroporte.

To make things a little more light-hearted, in the same twelve months the Phase II Renault Sport Clio V6 and MG ZT 260 (yes, the rear-wheel drive V8 one) first made an appearance. As for more normal cars, we got the second-generation Panda in this year, BMW brought-out the E60 BMW 5-series, VW started making the Mk5 Golf and Nissan launched the 350Z.

There is no other time when the standard of cars is so high. The year? You guessed it: 2003.

Now, that’s not to say that no exceptional cars have been made since 2003, because, my God, there have been some truly amazing ones, but in the early 2000s something special happened. The planets aligned, and all the qualities that drivers value in older cars overlapped with the new technology we admire. Slick manual gearboxes with well-suited ratios and cars with relatively small dimensions, things that have now become rare, were still prevalent in the early part of the millennium.

The amazing Ford GT

Those features coincided with improvements in drivetrain tech that allowed scintillating, characterful high-revving naturally-aspirated engines to be installed in all sorts of cars. Chassis and tyre technology had advanced dramatically from a decade earlier too, not only allowing higher performance and grip thresholds but also greater levels of involvement.

There are individual cars launched after 2003 that still fit all those criteria, ones that beat even the greatest cars from '03 with ease. But few have been launched all in the same year. The industry has changed, it has different priorities now and the aspects that make the 2003-era cars so great have become solely for niche, specialist models.

So we might not get inundated with exciting and deeply involving cars and overwhelmed by consistently incredible songs in quite the same way we were in 2003 but there's still something to look forward to.

Worryingly, the whole of mankind might have reached its peak sixteen years ago, but we're bound to get lucky with the occasional car and tune worthy of being honorary 2003 alumni.

What do you think was the greatest car year? Let me know in the comments...