The development of the modern automobile hasn't been a smooth process. Many years are spent just refining existing ideas and models instead of innovating new ones. But every once in a while, a car comes along that changes the game. In this feature, we'll spotlight 10 automobiles that radically altered the way we drive.
Ford Model T
There’s no vehicle that can start this list off but the venerable Model T. The first automobile to be built on an assembly line using mass production methods, the T reigned at the top of the auto market for a staggering 45 years. And you could get one in any color... as long as it was black.
We wouldn't have the Beetle without the Nazis, but if you overlook its pedigree of evil you'll discover the one car most responsible for popularizing the idea that bigger isn't better. With the longest production run of any car in history (1938 to 2003), the Beetle was a huge success all over the globe with thrifty drivers adopting the "Bug" in droves.
Most of these cars are on the list because of the positive design elements that they brought to the industry. The Corvair is the exception. This car was widely considered to be a death trap, with poor handling bringing over 100 lawsuits against General Motors. After Ralph Nader called the car out in his book Unsafe At Any Speed, the U.S. government stepped in, creating the first set of safety regulations for the auto industry.
Ford F-150 Pickup
The Ford F-Series, introduced in 1948, helped transform the way American drivers think about trucks. Over the decades, the F-150 changed from a work vehicle to a general purpose automobile, becoming the best-selling vehicle in the United States for the last 30 years. The dominance of the truck led to the introduction of the SUV, which is a whole other story.
Speaking of safety, Sweden's Volvo has long held a reputation for making the safest cars on the road. When they introduced the Amazon in 1956, driver and passenger safety was the last thing on most car manufacturer's minds. Volvo was different, though, and the Amazon was the first car with a three-point seat belt in the front seat, as well as a padded dashboard, anti-slip pedals and a laminate-coated windshield to reduce glass damage. It paved the way for nearly every safety innovation of the next half century.
On the positive side of American power, the 1964 Mustang was the ride that introduced America to the muscle car, laying the path for auto design for the next 20 years. The Mustang showed automakers that drivers wanted to feel the power of their car every time they put the pedal down, and it has enjoyed an uninterrupted production run ever since.
Before the Miura hit the production line, racing cars were produced almost completely independently from consumer cars. Company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini wanted his engineers to produce solid, workable sedans, but in their spare time they put together the automobile that kicked off the sports-car trend. The Miura was the fastest production car in the world when it debuted in 1966, and it laid the path for Porsche, Ferrari and more.
The Audi Quattro wasn’t the first car on the market with all-wheel drive, but it was the first to bring it to the mass market with success. When company engineer Jorg Bensinger watched a Volkswagen Iltis outperform other vehicles in the snow, he realized that a drive train that powered all four wheels had potential. Pairing it with a turbocharged engine resulted in this groundbreaking vehicle.
For better or worse, the Hummer epitomized the ostentatious attitude of the 1990s. In boom times, Americans like their cars to be big and burly, and this civilian adaptation of the M998 Humvee fit the bill perfectly. With astoundingly bad gas mileage and surprisingly poor safety ratings, Hummers became the car of choice for a certain kind of person (insert insult here) before production stopped in 2010.
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As world oil reserves decline, reducing consumption is going to be more and more important. Several companies had experimented with electric and hybrid vehicles in the past, but they all flopped on the open market. That is, until the Prius. First introduced in Japan in 1997, the Prius has become the standard by which all other hybrids are judged.