Many cars signify a specific time in history. For instance, classic cars like the Mercedes-Benz C 111 and Ford Galaxie 500 remind us of the time during the Cold War when the Soviet Union and the United States competed against one another to see who could conquer space; also known as the “Space Race” era. However, sometimes a car comes along and changes the world around it.
Big automotive brands like Porsche, BMW, Volkswagen, and Italian exotic carmakers played a pivotal role in how the automotive industry evolved. Although brands like Ferrari have glaring problems no one talks about, a minute issue like this is irrelevant when looking at the big picture. Today, we’re turning back the clock and looking at some of the most influential cars in history. In turn, these cars changed the automotive industry forever and forced everyone around them to adapt.
10 Ford Model T
Nowadays, Ford is well-known for their vast array of different vehicles and their tendency to bankrupt you through maintenance and repairs. But back in the day, Ford paved the way for the auto industry as we know it today. In 1908, Henry Ford gave the world the Ford Model T, one of the world’s first-ever mass-produced vehicles.
This allowed Ford to manufacture Model Ts at an unprecedented rate while keeping costs much lower than its competition. As a result, Ford’s innovative and efficient production process allowed the Model T to cost between $260 and $850. At the end of the day, Ford sold more than 15 million Ford Model T units between 1908 and 1925, thrashing the competition.
9 McLaren F1
With three seats in the cockpit, a gold-plated V12 engine built by BMW, and a top speed of 240.1 mph, the McLaren F1 was far ahead of its time. Costing between $800,000 and $1 million, the McLaren F1 was one of the most expensive cars of its time and remains one of the most valuable ones today, with pristine examples selling for north of $20 million.
The naturally aspirated 6.1-liter S70/2 BMW V12 powering the McLaren F1 put out 618 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. To this day, the McLaren F1 remains the fastest production car with a naturally aspirated engine. Surely, it goes without saying, but the McLaren F1 is one of the very few sports cars we’d rather have instead of a Porsche 911.
8 Volkswagen Beetle
The story behind the Volkswagen Beetle is a peculiar one. During the early days of World War II, the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, identified the public’s need for a car. The requirements to fill this need included an affordable price tag, an abundant supply, and nothing too complicated. The end result was “the people’s car,” the Volkswagen Beetle, also known as the VW Type 1.
In German, “Volkswagen” actually roughly translates to “the people’s car”. Saying one of the vilest autocratic leaders of all time is responsible for one of the most excellent cars ever might be a bit of a stretch, but that’s how it was.
7 Tesla Model S
Albeit not the first-ever EV, or even Tesla’s first car produced, the Tesla Model S remains the most important EV of all time. When released in 2012, the Model S was the ultimate somewhat affordable sleeper. The base Model S 60 generated 362 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque from one electric motor, but nowadays, things are much different.
With a gigantic number of sales, the Model S proved to be a profitable product for Tesla. Therefore, they continued production and started improving where they could. In 2023, the most powerful Model S is the Plaid, which has three electric motors at its disposal that put out up to 1,020 hp and 1,050 lb-ft of torque. And that’s why the Tesla Model S Plaid can do 0-60 mph in under 2 seconds. That said, there are still some formidable competitors who tend to take on Tesla; just take the perfect Lucid Air EV that no one is buying as an example.
6 Ford GT40
Not only was the Ford GT40 one of the best supercars ever built, but its Le Mans history changed how the world saw Ford. The Mk1 Ford GT40 sported a 350-hp 4.2-liter Ford Fairlane engine, the Mk2 Ford GT40 a 380-hp 4.7-liter Ford V8, and eventually with Carroll Shelby’s help, it had a 485-hp 7.0-liter V8.
And as you all know, the Ford GT40 got its fame from one historic event, there’s even a film made about it called Ford v Ferrari. After losing first place to Ferrari in 1964 and 1965, Ford wiped the floor with the Italians in the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race. This event in particular gave Ford newfound respect from automotive enthusiasts worldwide.
5 Toyota Prius
In 2023, hybrids seem to be everywhere, but back in the day, they were as scarce as hen’s teeth. And at the forefront of it all, was the Toyota Prius. Albeit not the first-ever hybrid vehicle, the Toyota Prius was the first successful commercial hybrid car, and it’s still a top seller to this day.
Throughout the years, the Prius underwent many design refreshes and major overhauls, but still, it remained hated among the car community. That was until the brand-spanking new Toyota Prius rolled around, and it remains a formidable contender in 2023.
4 Citroën DS
If we’re talking about revolutionary cars, we have to talk about the original Citroën DS. Modern features on cars like air suspension, swiveling headlights, and grippy brakes were all present on the classic Citroën DS, believe it or not.
The first few Citroën DS models left the factory floor in the late 1950s, and they featured what Citroën called hydropneumatic suspension.
The DS was also the first-ever mass-produced car to have disc brakes all-round instead of drum brakes. Eventually, in the late ’60s, Citroën gave the DS headlights which could pivot their headlamps according to which direction you pointed the steering wheels. It’s radical to think that features we thought were recently invented actually came to fruition a long time ago.
3 Audi Quattro
Back in the ’80s, the world’s most dangerous automotive sport, Group B Rally Racing, was all the rage. Carmakers had virtually no limits on what they could build, and that unsurprisingly lead to some insane Group B rally cars. The only requirement was that 200 road-going examples had to exist.
This brings us to Audi’s Group B rally car, the Audi Quattro. Of course, Audi did make some road-legal versions of the Quattro rally car, but the Audi Sport Quattro S1 was the star of the show. This aggressive machine had an extravagant body kit, a bonkers 444-hp turbocharged inline-five engine, and was the first-ever rally car to make use of an all-wheel-drive system – more specifically, Quattro all-wheel-drive. A name that still lives on to this day.
2 Oldsmobile Jetfire
For ordinary people, the Oldsmobile Jetfire looks like any old overrated muscle car we wouldn’t waste our money on, but it was so much more. The Jetfire was the first-ever turbocharged car available to the public. In all honesty, both the Oldsmobile Jetfire and Chevrolet Corvair Monza came with turbocharged powertrains in 1962, but we still refer to the Jetfire as the first to do it.
Powering the Jetfire was a turbocharged 3.5-liter V8 engine that put out 215 hp. For reference, that was 30 hp more than the naturally aspirated V8 unit, which had no more than 185 hp. Another advantage of forced induction was an increased amount of torque at the low end. When revving at 3,200 rpm, the Oldsmobile Jetfire had nearly 300 lb-ft of torque at its disposal.
1 BMC Mini
The BMC underwent quite a bit of an identity crisis. In certain parts of the world, it had the Morris Mini-Minor name, and in others, it was called the Austin Mini. This was because BMC owned both Morris and Austin at the time. Regardless, the BMC Mini revolutionized what the ideal commuter car was.
Alongside the original Fiat 500, the Mini was one of the very first cars with a front-engined front-wheel-drive layout. In turn, this allowed for a more affordable price tag, more interior room, more cargo area space, and a tiny transversely mounted four-cylinder without being a gigantic gas-guzzling car. To this day, many cars still follow the same recipe the BMC created all the way back in 1959 due to the oil crisis.
Sources: Ford, Dyler, Car and Driver