Some Of The Most Influential Cars Of The Last Century

Cars have the ability to transform not only the automotive industry but also can influence other sectors such as technology, media, and entertainment. While some cars come and go with each passing year, there are a few that stand out and outshine the others.

Whether for their designs or how innovative their creators are, the cars on this list are some of the most important that we have seen in the past 100 years. Many of them sparked energy into the industry and changed the future of automobiles.

Google’s Driverless Car Waymo

Self-driving car
Andrej Sokolow/picture alliance via Getty Images
Andrej Sokolow/picture alliance via Getty Images

One of the biggest auto trends in the 21st century is automation. Cars are becoming increasingly sophisticated and can manage parking, watching for blind spots, and even alert the driver when they aren’t paying attention. As car technology advances more and more, the race for completely driverless cars is more in the spotlight and is becoming an increasing possibility.

Google is the lead manufacturer and is well ahead of the game when it comes to self-driving cars. While there are many others also trying to win the auto automation race, Google is going to bring this once science fiction dream a reality.

Ford Model T

Over 15 Ford Model T's arrive at a cookout
Tamir Kalifa for The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Tamir Kalifa for The Boston Globe via Getty Images

No “most important car” list would be complete without the car that helped to start it all, the Ford Model T. Originally priced at $850, this is the vehicle that started everything about cars as we know them today. First introduced in 1908, the “Tin Lizzy” as it was called by Henry Ford, sold over 15 million units in its first 20 years.

Eventually, Ford would go on to make additional models that included horsepower or additional features. It changed how the American landscape was shaped as well, now that everyone needed gas stations, garages, and highways.

Jaguar E Type

Jaguar
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Before we had Lamborghinis or Maseratis we had the Jaguar E Type. A classic car that still stands the test of time when it comes to both engineering and design, the Jaguar E Type was an instant hit from the moment it touched the road in 1961.

Inspired by their C and D Type racers, the E Type was just as fast as the Ferraris and Maseratis but it had a major difference: it was street legal. What made the E Type so significant to the history of cars was that it was the first massively popular sports car.

Honda Civic

Civic on display
Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Before Honda became the powerhouse that we know it as today, the company was mainly known for producing motorcycles. While the bikes that they made were impressive on their own, Honda wanted to break into the automotive market and expand their buyer base.

In 1972, the Honda Civic was introduced and changed how Honda was viewed forever afterward. Appealing to millions of people across the globe and being one of the top-rated and most popular cars on the planet was no small feat but over the course of the last four decades, they have worked tirelessly to maintain a top spot.

Willys Jeep

Jeep Willys
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Originally conceived as a light military vehicle in the second world war, the Willys Jeep (or Jeep as we know them today), was designed to go over any terrain and was durable enough to withstand bullets, explosions, and harsh weather conditions.

They were originally produced in the 1940s and in the span of a few short years over 600,000 were built and exported all over the globe. It wouldn’t be until many years later that they were made for civilian use and become iconic.

Citroën DS

Citroen DS
Marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A car that was way ahead of its time was the Citroën DS. Introduced in 1955 at the Paris Auto Show, the Citroën DS’ design was futuristic and had an aerodynamic design as well as an aluminum hood and plastic roof.

When it was debuted, it was dubbed the Most Innovative Car in the World and garnered over 18,000 preorders by the end of the first day. By 1975, the Citroën DS had sold over 1.5 million units. The Citroën DS was one of the first cars to popularize aerodynamics and use various materials other than just metal.

Chrysler Minivan

Chrysler Minivan
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

The minivan of all minivans is the one that popularized them all, the Chrysler. Not as attractive as a sports car or compact as a Volkswagen Beetle, the minivan introduced a new era of car that the world didn’t know it needed.

Seating seven to eight people and filled with ample space and cargo room, the minivan could be compared to a large station wagon. Since Dodge introduced the minivan in 1983, over 12 million have been sold and the popularity of minivans hasn’t dwindled in over three decades.

Ford Model A

Ford Model A
Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

By the mid-1920s, following the success of the Model T, Ford started to see more and more competition outselling them. Ford needed to make something that would impress and bring back in all of the customers that they had lost, and the Ford Model A was their answer.

It offered some of the MOST modern features at the time, including mechanical brakes and a laminated safety glass windshield. It was considered an economy car and was offered in two available models: the Roadster which came in at $430 and the Convertible Sedan that came in at $640.

BMC Mini

Two women relaxing on the lawn next to their Mini car.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The BMC Mini, otherwise more popularly known as the Mini Coupe, was a car that was created out of necessity in Britain during the late 1950s. Initially, the Mini was sold under the brands Morris and Austin before it eventually became Mini as we all know it today.

The significance of the Mini was that it was a subcompact car that had a small footprint and was incredibly fuel-efficient for its time. It spearheaded the following era that included small cars that could be both fuel-efficient and practical in most of Europe and other countries as well.

DeLorean DMC-12

DeLorean DMC-12
JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images
JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images

This most important car list wouldn’t be complete without the addition of the DeLorean. Most know of it from its appearance as Marty McFly’s time machine in 1985’s Back to the Future movie franchise, but Hollywood appearances aside, the DeLorean is a still significant contribution to the history of vehicles.

John DeLorean was an engineer who was well known for his flamboyant personality and ideals. He was the lead engineer at Pontiac and assisted with making the Le Mans GTO which was a huge success. The DMC-12 was more than a movie star, it was a futuristic representation that allowed other car enthusiasts to explore their own wild creations.

1984 Plymouth/Dodge Voyager/Caravan Minivan

1984 Plymouth/Dodge Voyager/Caravan Minivan
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

The minivan may not be everyone’s cup of tea but the 1984 Plymouth popularized it and made it what it became today. In the early 1980s, as station wagons became less and less popular, the minivan was the next ideal choice for busy, growing families.

It was low to the ground for easy entrance and exit and had tons of cargo room and interior space and even had three-row seating. The 1984 Plymouth inspired a new class of vehicle that ended up becoming a dominant minivan design for a generation and future generations to follow.

Ford Pinto

Ford Pinto
Mardis Coers / Contributor
Mardis Coers / Contributor

What the Ford Pinto brought to the automotive market was both inspiring and cautionary. Released in 1971, the Pinto was Ford’s first entry to the sub-compact car market scene. It had a four-cylinder engine, bucket seats, and a floor-mounted shifter.

Between 1971 and 1980, Ford would go on to sell over 3.1 million units at a starting price of $1,919. With hundreds of thousands of models out on the street, Pinto drivers started running into issues with the vehicle. It was known to combust sometimes when it was hit in the rear and faced a recall by the U.S. government.

Chevrolet Corvair

Chevrolet Corvair
Dünzlullstein bild via Getty Images
Dünzlullstein bild via Getty Images

In the wake of small “compact” cars that crowded the streets of the U.S. in the 1960s, the Chevrolet Corvair was a breath of fresh air. It took all of the basic components that were a part of the popular smaller cars, such as remaining small and roomy for families, and added a layer of finesse and style.

During its nine-year production run from 1960 to 1969, Chevrolet sold over 1.6 million units and it was Motor Trend magazine’s “Car of the Year” in 1960. It showed that even small compact cars could remain stylish and on trend.

Jeep Wagoneer

Jeep Wagoneer
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images

Unlike the Willys Jeep which popularized and modernized off-roading for millions of drivers, the Wagoneer was another early Jeep model that greatly influenced the car culture we have today. Manufactured in 1963, the Wagoneer was one of the first SUVs available to the public and was available as a 2-door or 4-door SUV.

Way before they were popular, the Jeep Wagoneer was the answer to people who wanted something larger than a standard car but not as grand as a truck or a pickup. While the Wagoneer had only had mild success since it was first sold, it was still massively influential.

Land Rover Defender

Land Rover Defender
Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images
Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images

The Land Rover Defender was considered one of the pioneers for the off-roading movement. It was one of the first vehicles that was massively produced for the average person and driver and the Defender can also be credited with helping skyrocket off-roading popularity.

Like the Jeep Willys which would later be called “Jeeps,” the Land Rover Defender was designed for military use but was also made for civilian purposes as well. Millions were sold all across the world during its 68-year reign. Out of those numbers, over 70 percent are still around today.

Dodge Brothers Model 30

Dodge Brothers Model 30
JENS SCHLUETER/DDP/AFP via Getty Images
JENS SCHLUETER/DDP/AFP via Getty Images

Dodge is a popular name that has a lot of implications when mentioned in car conversation today. Back in the late 1910s, John and Horace Dodge were major suppliers of automotive parts to industry giants like Ford. Ford stopped ordering supplies due to a shortage of money on their end.

The Dodge brothers needed to do something to keep themselves in business and they had an idea to create a vehicle in their own image, the Model 30. It had 35-horsepower, a four-cylinder engine, and became the first-ever to offer an all-steel body.

1955 Chrysler C-300

1955 Chrysler C-300
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Fast luxury cars were quickly becoming a trend during the mid-1950s, and the C-300 was Chrysler’s offer to the madness. It was based on the New Yorker Deluxe and came only in one body style and only in three colors (white, red, and black).

A heavy car, it weighed in at over 4,000 pounds but was still fast and was raced on the track against the likes of Mercury and Ford. What set the C-300 apart from the competition was its sophistication. It eventually earned the nickname “The Banker’s Hot Rod” and is a collector among enthusiasts.

Cadillac Eldorado

Cadillac Eldorado
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

As the world was just coming off of fuel-efficient cars like Beetles and smaller, Cadillac wanted to make a car that was stylish and fun. In 1959 when the Cadillac El Dorado was released, it had the biggest fins in history, 345 horsepower, and weighed two tons — making it almost the size of a small boat.

The El Dorado gave permission for large car manufacturers to come out of hiding and share their large car designs with the rest of the world. This movement would lead to some of the more popular large car models that would appear in the 1970s.

Datsun 240Z

Datsun 240Z
Rust/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Rust/ullstein bild via Getty Images

While it isn’t a car that is commonly seen driving the streets of the U.S., the impact that the Datsun 240Z will live on forever. Brought to America in 1970, the Datsun 240Z was an ideal car following increasing safety regulations from unsafe muscle cars.

Datsun, a Japanese car manufacturer designed the 240Z to be a sports car that was safe and efficient. It was small but could still comfortably fit a typical American family and was affordable. One of the most successful sports cars in history, Datsun would go on to make other models that were globally popular.

Porsche 911

Porsche 911
Kris Clewell/Total 911 Magazine/Future via Getty Images
Kris Clewell/Total 911 Magazine/Future via Getty Images

The Porsche 911 is one of the most influential sports cars ever. Introduce in 1964, the car has since been popular on both the racetrack and the street. It was originally designed to replace the Porsche 356 but what made it special was its rear suspension that was unlike any other.

The car excelled at racing and won first place in races all over the world against stiff competition. Porsche was never known for being a “cool” car company prior to the 911 and introducing it did wonders for the brand and racing cars to come after it as well.

BMW 02 Series

BMW 02 Series
Manfred Schmid/Getty Images
Manfred Schmid/Getty Images

When BMW came onto hard times and needed something that would bring the company out of the brink of collapse, the BMW 02 Series was there to save the day. Unlike the BMW that we know today, BMW in the early 1960s faced closing factories and fleeting shareholders. They needed a big win and they were running out of opportunities and more importantly, time.

Herbert Quandt, the brain behind the BMW 02 Series, introduced the car in 1962 as a performance and affordable sedan with subsequent popular models in the years to come.

Tucker Torpedo

Tucker Torpedo
PhotoQuest/Getty Images
PhotoQuest/Getty Images

Though this car was never mass-produced, the technology and innovation that it brought to the automotive world have left lasting implications on the vehicles we drive today. The brain behind the Torpedo was Preston Tucker, a man deeply admired for his entrepreneurship and futuristic ideals.

The Torpedo prototype was released in the 1940s and included never-seen-before features that are staples today, such as safety glass. Unfortunately, production was halted to barely 50 vehicles in total as lawsuits from larger companies including Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors forced the closing of the factory.

Toyota Corolla

Toyota Corolla
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Toyota is really great at making cars that are practical, and the Toyota Corolla is the epitome of an ideal family car. The car was introduced in 1966 and is currently going into its 10th generation. It was a global bestseller for over 40 years and is the perfect car for those looking for something fuel-efficient and compact.

Dubbed a “world car,” Toyota said that they will never discontinue the production of the Corolla because of its continued impact on cars all over the globe over the span of the last few decades.

Chrysler Airflow

Chrysler Airflow
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

A car that was most popular during the Great Depression in the 1930s, the Airflow was revolutionary at the time. Considered state-of-the-art, Chrysler made the vehicle so that it was aerodynamic, which drastically improved the handling and rider comfort but most importantly increased the fuel mileage.

The Chrysler Airflow was ultimately considered a commercial bust because it was too expensive in the market at the time. But it sparked a new thought process for automakers who followed. Aerodynamics never played a major part in car design or manufacturing until Chrysler took a chance on the Airflow.

1981 Plymouth/Dodge ‘K-Car’

1981 Plymouth/Dodge 'K-Car'
Pete Chronis/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Pete Chronis/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Like some other notable car manufacturers on this list, Chrysler had its fair share of financial issues that brought the company to the brink of closing altogether. In the beginning of the 1980s, the Chrysler Corporation’s sales had plummeted and with no hope in sight, the business didn’t look good.

Hal Sperlich and Lee Iacocca, who had both been previous employees at Ford, took the challenge to save Chrysler head-on. They created the K-Car as a simple but efficient car that wound up being a smash with the public. Chrysler went on to sell over 100,000 units and saved the company.

Chevrolet Vega

Chevrolet Vega
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images

Chosen by Motor Trend magazine as its “Car of the Year,” the Chevrolet Vega was an ingenious addition to the subcompact car lineup. Sold between 1971 and 1977, the Vega was a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive that came in a two-door sedan option or a Kammback station wagon for roughly $300 more.

It opened the possibilities for what it meant to be a subcompact car outside of the norm. Unfortunately, the Chevrolet Vega didn’t go out with the same enthusiasm it had when it came in. The car experienced issues with rusting and breaking down and was eventually discontinued in 1977.

1949 Ford

1949 Ford
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Ford started it all, from the first Model T that put the world on wheels to its modern-day models like the F-Series and the Mustang. After the success of the Model T, Ford saw a downturn in the number of cars being sold once other car companies started to develop their own cars.

After Henry Ford’s death in 1947, many worried that the company would go under. It wasn’t until the release of the 1949 Ford that the public realized that Ford wasn’t planning on going anywhere and that they still had a lot to contribute to the automotive industry.

Oldsmobile Model R

Oldsmobile Model R
Getty Images
Getty Images

Oldsmobile may be a car manufacturer that has come and gone but what they have produced has had a lasting effect on the car industry. Between 1901 and 1904 only 12,000 Oldsmobile Model Rs were built and it was nicknamed “The Curved Dash.”

An American company, the Oldsmobile R was the first practical and reliable mass-produced car that was American made. It had a starting price of $650, and was shaped similar to a horse carriage and buggy. At the time it only had a single-cylinder engine and produced 7 horsepower.

Volkswagen Golf/Rabbit

DEU-GOLF-VOLKSWAGEN
STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images
STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images

For decades, Volkswagen was most widely known for producing the Beetle. As popular as that car was, Volkswagen wanted to introduce something different to the industry that hadn’t been seen or done before. The Beetle had been something economically friendly and was born out of necessity and while the Golf was all of that and more, Volkswagen wanted to prove that it could offer drivers futuristic features as well.

In the mid-1970s when the world was facing a global oil crisis, Volkswagen did what they knew best and battered down the hatches to make the perfect economy car.

Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Coming in as the part of the second generation of Corvette in 1963, the Stingray outshone its predecessor and became not only an icon but a legend. While the Corvette had already been popular making waves, General Motors wanted to make a car that would blow everyone’s mind and came up with the Stingray.

Some of the notable differences were the new platform which included a new engine and body, as well as an independent rear suspension that made it one of the best-looking cars on the market. The 1963 Corvette Stingray put American performance vehicles on the map.

Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius
David McNew/Getty Images
David McNew/Getty Images

The Toyota Prius wins the crown for being one of the first mass-produced battery powered vehicles. While Toyota wasn’t the first manufacturer to attempt to make an electric vehicle, it was the Prius that hit the nail on the head and made it wildly successful.

When it was introduced in 1997, the Toyota Prius was an instant hit and immediately became very popular. It sparked other manufacturers to develop their own electric vehicles and is one of Toyota’s best selling vehicles to date. Hybrid and electric vehicles are only growing in popularity now and the Prius is a huge reason why.

Ford Edsel

Ford Edsel
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images

Popular during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Edsel was the result of a risk that Ford took. To better compete in the middle-market industry, Ford wanted to come up with another brand name that would stand on its own and after searching through thousands of names they chose Edsel.

What separated the Edsel from other Ford and Mercury models was their scalloped coves in the rear fenders and dramatic grille that was quickly deemed a “horse collar”. While Ford thought the Edsel was a great idea, consumers didn’t bite and it disappeared.

Shelby Cobra

Shelby Cobra
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Before it became a namesake under Ford and before it branded the hoods of Mustangs, the Shelby Cobra was a standalone European-American hybrid sports car in the 1960s. Carroll Shelby, the racing driver and entrepreneur, wanted to create a car that was fast and powerful and unlike anything else on the road.

Shelby would go on and approach more than one manufacturer who all turned him and his dream car idea down. It wasn’t until he would reach out to Ford that he was able to finally start developing the car of his dreams.

Pontiac Le Mans GTO

Pontiac Le Mans GTO
Dünzlullstein bild via Getty Images
Dünzlullstein bild via Getty Images

Wanting to take a stab at becoming the most successful division within General Motors, Pontiac’s president E.H. Estes and chief engineer John DeLorean came up with the Le Mans GTO. They wanted to come up with a performance model that would go toe-to-toe and win against some of the fastest street cars on the road.

The Pontiac Le Mans GTO had a V8 engine that produced 355-horsepower and became incredibly popular after its launch in 1964. Estes bet ended up paying off and paying dividends as the GTO would be known for prototyping the phrase “muscle car.”

Duesenberg Model J

Duesenberg Model J
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

The Duesenberg Model J was one of the first luxury vehicles on the market. Prior to the late 1920s and 1930s, cars were seen as practical modes of transportation. While some of them may have had little hints of glam, no manufacturer at the time was really going all in.

The Duesenberg Model J can be credited for bringing high-priced luxury vehicles onto the scene. Owned by only the very wealthy or famous, the Model J costs upwards of $8,500. the car had an eight-cylinder engine that produced 265 horsepower and could easily exceed 100 mph.

1955 Chevrolet

1955 Chevrolet
Dünzlullstein bild via Getty Images
Dünzlullstein bild via Getty Images

This may not be one of the vehicles that you would see driving around today but the 1955 Chevrolet was a very important model to be released. It was just another classic car but it had one feature that stood it out from all of the others and that still influences car manufacturing today.

From 1955 to 1957, Chevrolet sold the model with the first small block V8 engine. That additional engine made the 1955 Chevrolet instantly popular and since then Chevrolet has produced over 80 million V8 units making it one of the most important cars in history.

Ford F-Series Trucks

Ford F-Series Trucks
GEOFF ROBINS/AFP via Getty Images
GEOFF ROBINS/AFP via Getty Images

The Ford F-Series is one of the most popular and best-selling pickup trucks in the world, with history dating back dozens of years. Ford knew how to hit the nail on the head when it came to towing capabilities, size varieties, and consistency, and paved the wave for other manufacturers to follow suit.

Since coming onto the scene, the Ford F-Series pickup truck has gone through over 13 generations with over 35 million vehicles sold. One of Ford’s most popular models, the F-Series continues to gain new followers as pickup trucks become more popular all over the globe.

Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang
Getty Images
Getty Images

One of the most popular cars on this list, the Ford Mustang has had a growing number of enthusiasts since it was first introduced in 1964. The most iconic pony car in the world, Ford has gone on to sell over 9 million of the vehicles that would be their most successful nameplate.

The initial success of the Ford Mustang is what started the pony car popularity and it has only continued to grow since. It also made the list as having one of the best first-year sales in all of history and is one of the most respected cars of all time.

Plymouth Savoy Wagon

Plymouth Savoy Wagon
Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Manufactured in the 1950s, the Plymouth Savoy Wagon was the first mass-marketed station wagon and was also the first successful station wagon. What made it popular with motorists was its additional trunk space which allowed those with bigger families or who just those who needed to carry around more stuff have all the space they needed.

Mostly marketed to families, the Plymouth Savoy Wagon even found success in commercial markets as well. If put to the right use, station wagons were extremely versatile and the Plymouth was the start of that new market trend.

Volkswagen Beetle

Beetle
Getty Images
Getty Images

The history of the Beetle, or more commonly referenced “Love Bug,” is quite an interesting one. The car originated as a means to provide transportation to millions of drivers in Germany during the 1930s. Translating to “the people’s car” it was small, affordable and easily accessible.

Independently, the Volkswagen Beetle was the first car to have a 4 wheel individual suspension and it has been that way since 1936 when the car was first produced. Over 21 million Volkswagen Beetles have been produced and sold since, making it an incredibly iconic car throughout history.