The automobile industry changed the face of transportation and, consequently, the world. The industry is constantly evolving to embrace new technology and accommodate our growing needs as consumers in a 21st century world. Time and again, the arrival of certain cars have made waves on the market and changed the way we think of passenger vehicles. But the cars that left their stamp on history weren’t necessarily the flashiest or the most trendy; sometimes it was simple, quiet innovation that had – and continues to have – the most lasting impact.
(1.) Benz Patent Motorwagen (1886 – 1893)
For pioneering the engine.
Although it wasn’t much of a car, it did have an engine, albeit a small single-cylinder gas powered one. It was just 954cc and almost produced a whopping 1 Hp, but it was a start.
(2) Ford Model T (1908 – 1927)
For revolutionizing the production and affordability of cars
The Model T was revolutionary for two reasons. First, although Henry Ford did not invent the assembly line, he did make such improvements with the help of a team of engineers that today we often credit him for the innovation. Second, the use of the assembly line process streamlined production, making the car affordable to the middle-class. Henry Ford would go on to sell a staggering 15 million Model T’s.
(3) Lancia Lambda (1938 – 1931)
For inventing the unibody construction widely used today
Vincezo Lancia eliminated the traditional body-on-frame auto construction and created the load-bearing unibody, which was much stronger and lighter. It is widely used today. He also pioneered the use of independent suspension and shock absorbers.
(4) VW Beetle (1938 – 2003)
For being the longest-running and most manufactured single platform car ever made.
Much like the Model T, the Beetle was manufactured in order to meet modern day needs of the masses. In fact, Hitler ordered Ferdinand Porsche to produce a car that was capable of transporting 2 adults and 3 children with cargo at a speed of 100 km/h, use less than 7 litres of gas per 100 km’s, and designed with parts that were easily and economically replaceable. He also wanted the “People’s Car” to have an air-cooled engine because most people did not have garages. Liquid-cooled engines back then used water in the radiator because antifreeze was uncommon. The water would freeze in the winter time and would either have to be kept warm or drained and re-filled every morning.
(5) Austin Mini (1959 – 2000)
For being tiny and hip
Small cars were nothing new, but when the Mini came out, it had personality. The engine was transversely mounted and front wheel driven, maximizing the passenger compartment which could then fit four adults. The Mini is the reason that most economy cars today have a transverse engine.
Not only did the Mini offer economy, it also had a handling performance like a go-cart and looks to boot. I still remember riding in the back of my uncle’s Mini at age 7 and loving every minute of it.
(6) AMC Eagle (1979-1987)
For inventing what we know today as the SUV Crossover
American Motors Corporation may be a thing of the recent past, but one of its last productions before fading has become one of the strongest segments in the auto market today.
(7) Jeep Cherokee (1959 – present)
For being the first commendable family SUV
Although the SUV had existed in multiple forms along the way, with variations including the Willy’s Jeep Wagon, the Ford Bronco, the Plymouth Trailduster, and Dodge Ramcharger, the Cherokee was the first to really blend the off-road toughness, drivability, and a small bit of luxury, making it the SUV for families.
(8) Lamborghini Miura (1966-1973)
For creating the first mid-engine, rear–wheel drive sports car
The Lamborghini Miura created a template for what we now consider to be the ultimate sports car. The Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche, to name a few, all trace their mid-engine layouts back to the Miura.
(9) Ford Mustang (1965 – present)
For bringing American muscle car power to the masses
Within 6 months of its initial launch in 1964, the Ford Mustang became the fastest selling car in history. It offered an aggressive body on the compact economy platform of the Ford Falcon. The long hood was suggestive of the aggressive powerhouse inside. There were a few V8 engine options as well as endless customization possibilities. The Mustang would come to be known for creating the “pony car” class of American automobiles, and is the only pony car to remain in continuous production for over five decades despite several design and developmental revisions.
(10) Toyota Prius (1997- present)
For starting the mass hybrid revolution
Despite the fact that it was not the first hybrid, the Prius was definitely the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle to achieve world notoriety, and it ultimately became the poster child for the category. With its comfortable seating for 4, the Prius was the first of its kind not to make sacrifices for economy. It found popularity amongst movie stars and public figures, all hoping to do their part in saving the world.
(11) Dodge Caravan (1984 – present)
For making families happy
Definitely a new segment created by Chrysler, the minivan concept was first thought up when its designers were part of the Ford Company. When Henry Ford II rejected the concept, the designer ultimately recreated it once employed by Chrysler. This category, along with the SUV, cannibalized the station wagon market and made family commuting and travel much more content.
(12) Tesla Model S (2012 – present)
For creating a fully electric vehicle that actually works
Tesla finally created a fully electric vehicle that went against all of the pre-conceived notions of what an electric vehicle could be. The Model S boasted a fully electric modern design that was fast, stylish, practical, and had a very respectable mileage range.
Honorable Mention: Toyota Mirai (2015 -present)
For changing the world again as we accrue this list
Toyota will launch the first-ever production of a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle over the course of this year. Initially set to be distributed only in California where some hydrogen fill stations exist, the Mirai features technology that has been in development for over 23 years. Toyota claims that it will deliver a range of up to 290 miles with approximately 151 horsepower, a top speed of 108 mph (174 km/h), and a fuel consumption of approximately 67 mpg (3.5 L / 100 km). That doesn’t seem too impressive until you consider that one fill-up would cost you roughly $10.00 USD. The Mirai is currently set at a $58,000 base price and that does not include any government incentives.