Cars have come a very long way since the first one was invented, and the advent of the automobile changed the world and our society forever. The way that people around the globe work, play, and travel would be wildly different if certain cars hadn’t come along. While some vehicles are known for their style and speed, others are noted for their groundbreaking and innovative technology.
Here are 5 legendary cars that changed the world of car making.
1. Benz Patent-Motorwagen, 1886
This was the car that started it all, and it contained many features that were novel when it made its debut at the end of the 19th century. The Benz Patent-Motorwagen was a self-propelling vehicle, which many doubted would ever happen. It had two seats, a differential, tubular steel frame and wood based inserts, and a single cylinder four stroke engine that was horizontally mounted at the car’s rear.
In addition to being the first self-propelling car, Benz’s Patent-Motorwagen changed the marketing industry when it effectively pulled off one of the first publicity stunts. Karl Benz’s wife, Martha, took a 120.5 mile trip from Mannheim, Germany to Pforzheim, Germany in a Patent-Motorwagen with the couple’s two sons.
Martha fixed the mechanical issues that arose along the way on her own, and she made it back home in just three days. When word got out that not only was the Patent-Motorwagen safe enough to drive, but by a woman on a long road trip, all doubts about the car were put to rest.
2. Ford Model T, 1908
The first recorded use of an assembly line was by a company named Ransom Olds in 1901. However, when Henry Ford decided to apply the assembly line concept to auto making and produce the Model T in 1908, it shook up the car industry in numerous ways. Before the Model T was produced, car manufacturing was much more laborious and considerably less efficient. It wasn’t even reliable, and finding cars that varied widely from one vehicle to the next wasn’t uncommon. Using an assembly line was the solution to those problems, and in doing so there were several cumulative effects.
For one, making the manufacturing process faster and more streamlined meant producing vehicles was less costly. A decrease in the cost of manufacturing made Ford’s Model T affordable to the middle classes — before this point, cars were primarily owned by the wealthy and inaccessible to the masses. The Model T also made Ford the first car brand to develop a following around the world. After consumer demand reached a high point, Henry Ford open manufacturing plants internationally to provide cars while keeping costs down.
Ford was so focused on maintaining low costs on the business and consumer end that he declined to invest in revamping the look and styling of his company’s vehicles. Still, what the Model T accomplished was historical, and it’s one of the most legendary cars of all time.
3. The Cadillac Touring, 1912
Henry Ford left Cadillac — which was originally the Henry Ford Co. — before the premiere of the Cadillac Touring, but this car brought a game changer to the auto world: an electric starter. We take modern car starters for granted now, since all we have to do is use a key to turn the engine and get going. However, back in the early days of the car’s history, drivers had to hand crank their engines.
During the early 20th century cars were getting bigger and more powerful, which meant cranking engines was increasingly tedious and dangerous. And should the engine kickback and you were standing too close, you could very well end up with a broken wrist or fingers — such injuries were all too common back then. Needing to hand crank car engines was a big reason why so many women were hesitant to drive, as many didn’t have the muscle to do the job or didn’t want to risk getting hurt.
After Cadillac Touring came out with the world’s first electric car starter, they made sure to capitalize on the feat by featuring women in its advertisements. Men loved the idea of not having to hand crank engines, too, and the Cadillac Touring became a huge success and an example to other car makers. After this point, few dared to even think of producing a car that didn’t include an electric starter.
4. Buick Y-Job, 1938
If you enjoy car shows or perusing car magazines and blogs to see the latest and greatest innovations in the industry, know that the trend all started with Buick’s 1938 Y-Job. This was the world’s first concept car, a vehicle designed to showcase design and technology to the public rather than to hit the road right away. The Y-Job had some pretty wild tech gadgets for its day, including wraparound bumpers, handles that were flush with the car’s doors, electric powered windows, and headlights that popped up.
Its style took a different turn from other cars produced during its era, which is exactly what Buick wanted for the Y-Job. If you’ve ever noticed how Buick cars have a waterfall grille, that came from the Y-Job as well. The public loved that feature, and the company has stuck with it through today. After Buick came out with the Y-Job to debut some of its projects and wow the public, other car makers began developing their own concept car models to gauge consumer interest, show off their latest designs, and experiment with new technology.
5. BMC Mini, 1959
Some legendary cars and innovations in auto making came about due to crises, such as the BMC Mini. The British Motor Corporation developed the world’s first compact economy car in response to the Suez gas crisis of 1956. BMC saw the need to create cars that were smaller, more affordable, and much more fuel efficient. The BMC Mini did all of this by maximizing space and maintaining a small footprint. The lightweight car had many skeptics, but they were proven wrong when it won the British Saloon Car Championship multiple times and went on to win other races around the world. The BMC Mini brought another innovation to the car market that is still in play today: front wheel drive and the transverse front-engine.