The World’s Most Influential Cars

Ford Model T (1908)

The inclusion of the Model T here is not due to any groundbreaking features it possessed, as it lacked any revolutionary elements. However, it left an indelible mark on the production landscape. Contrary to widespread belief, it did not earn the title of the first mass-produced car; that distinction belongs to the Oldsmobile Curved Dash, with 19,000 units produced between 1901 and 1907. Nevertheless, Ford’s Model T, being an affordable option, genuinely revolutionized mass production. At one point in time, more than half of the vehicles on American roads were Model Ts.

Lancia Lambda (1923)

Until 1923, all automobiles featured a separate chassis, providing the necessary structural strength to the bodyshell. Then came the Lancia Lambda, introducing monocoque construction. This innovation offered superior strength, reduced weight, and cost-effectiveness. However, mainstream car manufacturers did not universally adopt monocoque construction until the 1960s. That’s how advanced the Lambda was.

Chrysler Airflow (1934)

While the Chrysler Airflow did not enjoy commercial success, it had a significant influence. Initially, rival car companies were cautious about closely emulating its aerodynamic styling. Nonetheless, the Airflow played a pivotal role in shifting designers’ focus toward the importance of efficient aerodynamics. By the post-war years, sleeker designs like the Airflow had become the norm.

Chevrolet Corvette (1953)

In the 1950s, glass fibre (not Fibreglass, which is a brand name) emerged as a revolutionary material. It enabled low-volume manufacturers to offer bodyshells for refurbishing pre-war cars that had deteriorated. Meanwhile, Chevrolet in the United States was at the forefront of pioneering the world’s first production car with a glass fibre bodyshell. This move would be emulated by numerous other sports car manufacturers worldwide.

Citroën DS (1955)

Although Jaguar was the first automaker to introduce a modern design of disc brakes on its C-Type racer, it was Citroën that brought this technology to the masses through its avant-garde DS. Featuring power-assisted in-board disc brakes at the front, the DS provided braking performance unlike any car before it. Within a year, Triumph also adopted disc brakes on its TR3.

Mini (1959)

The Mini was not particularly groundbreaking from a technical perspective; most of its components had been seen elsewhere before. However, what the Mini excelled at was integrating several key technologies into one affordable, cutting-edge package. Its transverse engine and front-wheel drive setup were revolutionary, and soon after its introduction in 1959, it overshadowed the microcar market by offering superior performance, often at a lower price.

Chevrolet Corvair (1960)

The Chevrolet Corvair’s influence arose from unfortunate circumstances. General Motors compromised on the design of its rear suspension, which could lead to loss of control during emergency manoeuvres. Activist Ralph Nader seized upon this issue and made it his mission to advocate for car safety. His book “Unsafe at Any Speed” directly led to the establishment of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which implemented stricter rules governing car design and production.

Bonnet Djet (1962)

In 1958, the first mid-engined Formula One car appeared on the grid. Four years later, this same technology made its way to the streets with Bonnet’s Djet, creating a car with perfect balance. The mid-mounted mechanical components were borrowed from Renault to keep costs down, while the lightweight and narrow glass-fibre body ensured exceptional agility. In the years that followed, the Djet’s mid-engined formula would be adopted by many of the best sports cars.

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