The invention of the car itself has changed the world. Here are the top ten cars from 1886- 1999 that had an additional impact on our culture and society.
- Benz Patent Motorwagen
Many historians around the world credit this as the first proper automobile ever made. It was little more than a carriage with three wheels and tiller. Although it may be hard to pinpoint who exactly did it first, the consensus is that Karl Benz created the first proper internal combustion automobile in 1886. It had a one-cylinder engine.
- Ford Model T
The Model T changed countless American lives because it brought the automotive ownership to the middle class, motivated governments to build better roads, and doubled the wages of auto workers. This car dominated the auto market from 1909 to 1927, reaching sales of about 15 million. It was a sensible, affordable and practical automobile which was outselling every other car on the market. In 1910 the car was selling for $900 (the equivalent of $20K today), by 1917 it was just $345 (the equivalent of $4.2K today). Also noteworthy is the way it was built, via mass production on an assembly line – one single model and one single color.
- Tatra 77
Launched in 1934, the Tatra 77 was the first serial-produced, truly aerodynamically-designed automobile. Due to its design it could reach up to 90 mph, but it was not the easiest car to handle on the road. This car was never sold in the U.S. and has an interesting history. It’s been said to have killed more Third Reich soldiers than active combat.
- Volkswagen Type 1
We know this car as the Volkswagen Beetle. It was ordered into production in German by Adolf Hitler and was basically Europe’s version of the Model T. The VW Beetle arrived in the U.S. in 1949 and exploded in popularity in the 1950s. Volkswagen marketed this little car to American consumers who didn’t want a Ford or GM vehicle, saying, “We do not believe in planned obsolescence. We don’t change a car for the sake of change.” More than 21 million Beetles had been built by the time production ended in 2003. Today it’s still one of the best selling cars of all time.
East Germany’s go-to car made out of cotton. Trabant engineers developed what was the first large-scale application of recycling to solve a problem: they took cotton waste from the Soviet Union and phenol resins from the dye industry and used that to make Duroplast, the fiberglass-like stuff Trabant bodies were made from. Everything about this car is an incredible study in doing more with less. The two-stroke engine has maybe five moving parts. The gas tank is positioned as high as possible, and the carb as low as possible because there’s no fuel pump; it’s all a gravity feed.
- Dodge Caravan
The Dodge Caravan minivan arrived in 1984, exploiting the gap between the family station wagon and full-sized commercial van. It quickly became the ultimate family car, offering a wide array of new features.It was comfortable to drive, it could handle cargo, and its sliding side door was a major innovation for parents. As such, it became a cultural icon for families, supplanting the station wagon.
- Jeep Willys
The Jeep Willis debuted in 1941 as a U.S. Army vehicle in WWII. In 1940 the US Army solicited bids from 135 car manufacturers to an army vehicle. Three companies, Bantam, Willys, and Ford, responded but ultimately they decided to work together as one and so the “Jeep’ was born. The design of the Jeep Willys was completed in 75 days. Two prototypes were produced and once the military contract was awarded 16,000 units were ordered into production. The Jeep Willys was later replaced by the Humvee as the go-to military car.
- Toyota Corolla
Toyota claims that the Corolla is their bestselling car of all time. It started out as a shrunken-down compact car and was the first Japanese car to gain a real foothold in America in the 70s. The Corolla’s efficiency and reliability caught on with the consumers really quick and twelve generations of cars later it’s still very popular with the American consumer. More than 45 million Corollas have been sold throughout the world since 1962.
- Ford Mustang
The original Pony Car and a greater influence on the American muscle car scene than even the Corvette. It was achingly cool, better to drive than any US car built up to that time and, crucially, very inexpensive. Making cheap cars go fast didn’t begin with the Mustang, but it was a car that brought not only speed to the masses, but also exclusive-looking style and presence.
- Toyota Prius
The first mass-market gas-electric hybrid car produced in Japanese in the late 90s. It made its way to the U.S. in early 2000 and has become the most popular green car on the market. Driving a Prius is synonymous with saving the plant. Over 4.3 million units have been sold over the past 20 years.
Do you agree with our choices? Thinking of one we forgot? Let us know.