Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower – Steve Jobs

The automotive world is defined by its innovation.  Unusual, boring and popular cars are plentiful, but it is the truly innovative machines that are remembered.  This list of cars not only inspire, they were quantum shifts in the development of the automobile.  These are the cars that changed the world.

1908 – Ford Model T

The Model T was the first mass-produced automobile, making it one of the most important cars in US history.  This flimsy little car created the automotive industry, urbanized a nation, and gave mobility to the masses.  The manufacturing process that created the car was even more influential.  Almost every industry or market in the world can trace its roots back to the process refined by people like Henry Ford and Frederick Winslow Taylor.  When it finally ended production in 1927 with over 15 million cars sold, half the cars in the world were Model T’s.

1908 – Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost

Dubbed “The Best car in the World” by Autocar magazine, the Silver Ghost transformed luxury motoring as well as modern warfare.  The Silver Ghost had a significant role in the Turkish wars with Laurence of Arabia, Gallipoli, the Irish Civil War, World War I, the development of India, and was still in service during World War II.  Through its combat use, the Silver Ghost ushered in the era of mechanized warfare and virtually ended the days of the horse cavalry and artillery unit.  Most examples are still on the road today, and the earliest is worth an estimated $200 million dollars.

1922 – Austin Seven

This tiny car is genesis for the modern automobile.  The Seven borrowed the driver controls from the limited production Cadillac Type 53, and mass produced it throughout the world.  It was the first “people’s car” and the first production model for many major manufacturers.  The Austin Seven and its re-bodied siblings virtually gave birth to BMW in Germany, Nissan in Japan, Holden in Australia, Rosengart in France, and Lotus and Jaguar in England.

1938 – Volkswagen Beetle

The beetle has an amazing history.  It was designed by Ferdinand Porsche based on specifications made by Adolf Hitler.  It is one of the first rear-engine cars, with one of the first air-cooled engines, designed to travel at 100kph on Germany’s new Autobahn.  The Beetle is the longest running and most manufactured car of a single design platform, worldwide.  The production lasted 65 years, ending with 21.5 million cars in 2006 for Brazil and 2003 for Mexico.  The Beetle has had books and music written for it, has become an icon and a movie star, and was an inspiration to a generation.  Its namesake the “new” Beetle is still in production to this day.

1959 – BMC Mini

The Mini is an icon of the 1960’s.  Designed as a car for the masses, it is the first to use a transverse front-wheel drive layout.  It is the genesis for all modern front-wheel drive cars and spawned the hot hatch era.  The Mini was voted “Car of the Century” and produced over 100 variants in countries all over the world.  Not only is this little people carrier a great city car, the Mini has a stellar record as a race car, rally car and movie icon.

1955 – Citroen DS

Decades ahead of its time, the DS (Goddess) is one of the most celebrated designs in automotive history.  With its quirky scarab shape, hydraulic suspension, and turning headlights this car became a European icon that has consistently topped the “Most Beautiful” and “Most Important” lists throughout the world.  Whether it is the aerodynamic styling, the mechanical innovation or the pure space ship like design, every modern car on the road can trace its roots back to this automobile.  The DS shocked the world, and sold a record breaking 12,000 examples on its first day.  The list of its innovations to the automotive world would fill a book.  It is sculpture, art…it is a Goddess.

1961 – Jaguar E-Type

The E-Type is simply “The Most Beautiful Car Ever Created.”  The car is in the permanent design collection of the Museum of Modern Art, and has been an inspiration for everything from cars to clothes.  It is mesmerizing as a piece of art, and merely adequate as a car.

1966 – Lamborghini Miura

Designed by Marcello Gandini, this automotive icon is the world’s first supercar.  The Miura changed the conception of what a sports car could be, and introduced the world to a new level of motoring.  With its bull inspired design, its transversely mounted V12, and its lightning quick speed, this was the genesis for cars like the Pagani, the Bugatti Veyron, McLaren and the modern Ferrari.  The Miura launched Lamborghini and ushered in a period of amazing, outrageous supercar design.

1983 – Chrysler Minivan

The Dodge Caravan and its Chrysler siblings revolutionized the modern automobile.  Not only did it create the minivan market, it helped give birth to the SUV and crossover markets.  Arriving 18 months ahead of its only competitor, the Renault Espace, this vehicle became both an icon and joke to the American family.  Owning one was at first a sign of success, and a sign of “lost youth.”  The Minivan is now as much a part of the America family as the ranch home and the suburbs.

1997 – Toyota Prius

Just as the Model T and the Chrysler Minivan changed the world, so did the Toyota Prius.  The Prius was the first mass produced full hybrid electric vehicle in the world.  It became a status symbol in America when first introduced, and remains one of the cleanest vehicles sold in the US.  Like the Model T and the Volkswagen Beetle, the Prius is a major step in the evolution of the automobile.

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Article Courtesy of Chris Raymond

Photos Courtesy of,,,,, and wikipedia