Although the first cars out there were costly machines available to only a lucky few customers, the car age really kicked off when manufacturers decided to make cars ordinary people could afford. Mass-produced vehicles kick-started what we now call the modern world, with the influence of so-called “people`s cars” being far beyond what many could ever imagine. Here are 8 of the most iconic and awesome cars that really did change the world. Let’s get started.
Ford Model T
No list of iconic cars can be without the Model T. Introduced in 1908, the T was utilitarian by design, simple by construction, available in many body styles and most importantly, affordable. It was sold and assembled all over the world and moved humankind forward from a horse-drawn 19th century to the combustion engined 20th century.
The simplicity and durability of the Model T were primarily influenced by the way it was made, and contrary to hand-made production techniques of early cars, the Model T was the first mass-produced vehicle. This was the main reason why it was so cheap, and in 1908, a brand new Model T cost $825, which is the equivalent of $23,000 today.
Henry Ford was a genius businessman and as the popularity of the car grew, he lowered the price. This ensured that demand was kept high, sort of like Elon Musk is doing with the Tesla Model 3 today. Any similarities you reckon? In 1927, the final examples had a price tag of just $360, or $5,200 in today`s money. That’s why the Ford managed to sell incredible 14.6 million cars, almost literarily putting the world on wheels.
It’s often said that necessity is the mother of all invention, and that’s certainly the case with the Morris Mini. In 1956, Europe, especially the UK, faced oil shortages caused by the Suez Crisis. Sir Alec Issigonis, a talented BMC designer, realized that the market needed a small, practical revolutionary vehicle. In those days, the market was flooded by tiny micro cars like BMW`s Isetta, but these vehicles lacked the usability and proper driving capabilities of regular cars. Issigonis passionately worked on the project of the “Mini Car,” and in 1959, his creation debuted under the Morris name.
The Morris Mini was a revolutionary car and remarkable design achievement. At just 3.05 meters long, it could comfortably seat four people and still have some luggage space. From today`s perspective, it may seem normal now but the Mini was enormously influential for its drive train layout, being the first mass produced car which featured a transversally mounted engine powering the front wheels. This allowed more room in the cabin and thus could make the car shorter. These days, virtually every small car on the planet still has this layout.
Of course, a large part of the Mini`s popularity was its low price. £600 (around $7000 in today`s money) would get you a shiny new car. This was a big deal in late `50s Britain and Europe. Production ended in 2000 after more than 5 million were made.
Although the circumstances of the Beetle`s creation are still unclear, with over 22 million produced, the Volkswagen Beetle was the car that stepped into the Ford Model T’s shoes as basic transportation for the masses. Introduced in the mid-`30s as a project of “People`s Vehicle” (which is also a direct translation of “Volkswagen”), early Beetles were used as a promotional tool for the Nazi Party. Designed by Ferdinand Porsche, it was later revealed that the Beetle was in fact, a near copy of the Czechoslovakian Tatra 97. After the war, the Beetle was the first and only export product of Germany for a while and as a cheap, dependable and durable vehicle, it suited millions of people worldwide.
In just a few short years, the Beetle became a global bestseller. During the `60s and `70s, the Beetle had somewhat of a renaissance as a hippie car for the “Peace and Love” generation. Kind of cringey if you ask me. The Beetle is a serious car, with a lot of clever engineering, especially its ultra simplistic air cooled rear engine. Not so much designed for fashion purposes but as reliable transportation for workers and families. Essentially the Swiss army knife of cars. Fortunately the hippie image has faded and the beetle remains to be the car that helped get millions mobilized!
The story of the Corolla is the story of Japan`s economic miracle, dedication and ability to adapt. When it was first introduced in 1966, the Corolla was simply an obscure economy car from a small company from the Far East. Today, Toyota has produced 44 million examples and become the world`s largest car manufacturer. The Corolla not only changed the world and provided millions of people with decent transportation, but it became the driving force of the modern global economy and a symbol of Japans technology.
What’s the secret of the Corolla you might ask? Contrary to other cars on the list, which are just one design produced over the years, the Corolla is a model range, made in dozens of generations and configurations. That said, they never strayed too far from the brief. Different markets may have different engines and or body styles but the emphasis on reliability has always been there. To this day, Toyota has sold an incredible 44 million cars.
You’ve probably heard the old saying – “less is more”. In the case of the Citroen 2CV, this is exactly the point. With engines ranging from 375cc to 602cc and a power output ranging from just 9 horsepower to a whopping 29 horsepower, you might think “is this a real car or a toy”? There’s nothing funny about its impressive 42-year production span though, especially with almost 4 million examples sold worldwide.
The Citroen 2CV was introduced in the late `40s as a completely classless and utilitarian car for the everyman in post-war France and Europe. The concept was to build an incredibly straightforward and durable machine, featuring a simple air-cooled flat-two engine, canvas roof to save metal, and minimalist interior. The early cars had removable seats made of metal with just a little cloth on top, no heating, one headlight and wheels more appropriate for a bicycle than a car. That said, none of that could stop the 2CV from becoming immensely popular, loved by all car enthusiasts and still sought-after to this day.
Volkswagen Golf (all generations)
Another Volkswagen and other people`s car on our list is of course the Golf. Imagined as a spiritual successor to the Beetle, the Golf was the most significant step for Volkswagen after decades of producing the Beetle. The Golf was modern in a way that it featured advanced mechanical components like front-wheel drive, a transversally mounted water-cooled inline-four engine and a hatchback body which was pretty new in 1974.
With its signature Volkswagen`s quality, affordable price and usability of the package, it was the first modern family hatchback widely purchased at the time. The success of the Golf resulted in Volkswagen becoming one of the biggest car companies in the world. Since 1974, Volkswagen has sold more than 30 million Golfs, making it more popular than the Beetle. Even today, when SUVs have claimed the largest share of the family car market, the Golf is still a global bestseller.
Modern car enthusiasts know the Fiat 500 as the stylish Italian city car mostly seen around posh shops and trendy coffee shops, but once upon a time, this little car was essential transportation for ordinary folk in Southern Europe. Introduced in 1957, Fiat 500 or “Cinquecento” (Italian for 500) was a tiny (2.97 meter long) car powered by a two-cylinder air-cooled engine. The original 500 had the engine mounted in the back with reasonably big luggage area in the front of the vehicle. Although diminutive in every way, the Fiat 500 was considered a family car in the late `50s.
Produced until 1975, Fiat managed to sell almost 4 million of 500’s and sold them all over the world. Compared to other economy cars from Europe from the same period, the Fiat 500 was also an accomplished race car, of course, in modified form. The Legendary company Abarth tuned, sold, and raced several very successful models and even today, these fast Fiats are still some of the best small cars money can buy.
Ford F-Series Trucks
If there’s one class of vehicles that’s distinctively American, it’s the pickup truck. Amongst all US trucks, the Ford F-Series has continually hit the mark for American buyers and sold over 36 million examples to date. In Europe, trucks have never been popular. This might be due to the fact in England, 50% of the land is owned by less than 1% of the population, wild camping is illegal and most people live on a plot the size of a postage stamp so the truck market is reserved largely for workmen. In the USA however, a sturdy, dependable and affordable truck suits practically everyone.
Ever since their inception in 1948, the F-Series trucks have been the tool to have for farmers, handymen, delivery services, families, outdoors people, boat people, preppers, mall crawlers, rednecks, city folk who go hiking at the weekend and the list continues! The wide range of engines and cab configurations ensure that all buyers are catered for, so you can see why the F-series trucks are still the best selling vehicles in America for the 42nd year in a row!
Which cars did I miss? Let me know in the comments.