15 most influential cars of the last century

Like digital influencers, cars play an important role in everyday life. Most, if not all, cars owe their DNA to a select breed of car that defines the type. Compiling a list of fifteen of the best and most influential compounds is more complicated than you might think.

Naturally, fast cars feature heavily in anyone’s view of the best or most influential cars. These fast machines are every potential owner’s dream. Ferrari, Porsche and supercar king Lamborghini could fill every slot on our countdown.

But there are other important cars. The first car to use a gasoline engine or the first mass-produced car shaped and transformed the way cars are designed and manufactured. Important technological advances such as all-wheel drive and forced traction are common in vehicles of all types and sizes.

In short, the cars we drive every day owe a lot to the creative genius of bygone eras; The masters of the past are more than just classics. They have shaped and influenced the automotive industry since day one.

Lamborghini Miura

Lamborghini Miura
Image credit: Lamborghini Automobili

With its stunning design to this day, the Miura remains a favorite among car enthusiasts around the world. Despite what car enthusiasts believe, this wasn’t the first mid-engined Italian sports car to win the award – the ATS 2500GT.

What draws audiences to this raging bull is its low, wing-like body and incredibly low doors. Lamborghini teamed up with Gandini to create one of the most iconic supercars ever, giving character to all supercars ever since. Aside from looking great, the transverse 3.9-litre V12 engine tugs at hearts with a soundtrack that’s hard to ignore. V12 engines have been a staple of Lamborghini cars ever since.

BMC Mini

bmc minibmc mini
Image credit: WikiCommons.

From one style icon to another, the BMC Mini created and changed the way we think about affordable small cars. It may have been a budget city car, but everyone from heads of state to dignitaries owned one.

The secret to its success was the fun it offered. The car was smaller on the inside, or so it seemed, and could seat four adults while still having room for luggage. To achieve this, BMC used a monocoque chassis and a front-engine layout. Over time, larger engines replaced the original 850cc unit, turning the car into a competitive rally car.

Volkswagen Beetle

Volkswagen Beetle (Type 1) - front quarter viewVolkswagen Beetle (Type 1) - Front Quarter View
Image credit: WikiCommons

The original popular car, VW’s Beetle, sold an astonishing 21.5 million units over its 65-year lifespan. Not bad for a pre-WWII car. The Bugs’ styling shows its age. The interior is sparse, with basic seats and dashboards.

It’s a similar story under the skin. The four-cylinder engine slung out the back is a self-contained unit that uses air cooling for simplicity. The Beetle’s engine only required the removal of four bolts to free it from the chassis. Beetles today, especially older ones, are highly sought after.

Land Rover 110 / Defender

Land Rover DefenderLand Rover Defender
Image credit: Wikicommons.

It’s no secret that Land Rover owes a lot to the Jeep concept. Both emerged in the 1940s and developed into status symbols. The Queen has owned a Defender and countless other VIPs, including Steve McQueen and Clark Gable.

You have to drive one of these to understand why the Defender makes such an impact. It’s a car that can be driven anywhere, yet it’s agile and capable of traversing any terrain. The interior is minimalist at best, practical and robust, hinting at the Defender’s military and agricultural pedigree. Despite all this, the Defender never looks out of place parked outside a facility.

Rolls Royce Silver Ghost

1912 Rolls Royce 40/50 Silver Ghost Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost 40/50 model 1912
Image credit: WikiCommons

Luxury cars began with the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, which was unveiled in 1960. The Silver Ghost set the standard for quality and made Rolls-Royce a world-famous brand. But where did the name come from? Founders Henry Royce and Charles Rolls gave the brand their names, but the name Silver Ghost came from the press.

Originally known as the Rolls-Royce 40/50, production continued until 1926, with a total of 7,874 cars built before its successor, the Phantom, arrived. Engine specifications ranged from 7.4 to 7.0 litres depending on the year of manufacture.

Willys Jeep MP

1941 Willys Jeep - Front Quarter View. US Army Reconnaissance and Reconnaissance Vehicle1941 Willys Jeep - Front quarter view.  US Army reconnaissance vehicle
Image credit: WikiCommons

The Willie Jeep was a wartime icon and gained popularity in peacetime, referred to as the car that won the war. Similar to the Defender but less sophisticated, the Jeep’s design was robust and easy to maintain. Despite its small size, the Jeep’s development period was incredibly short, lasting 49 days.

Every gearhead knows the Willys Jeep, but Willys-Overland wasn’t the only one producing them. Due to high demand, the U.S. government shared production with Ford, increasing production to over 650,000 vehicles by the end of 1945. All Jeeps produced during this period used the Willys L134 “Go Devil” four-cylinder engines.

Ford Mustang

1965 Mustang GT Fastbacvk. Front Quarter View1965 Mustang GT Fastbacvk. Front Quarter View
Image credit: Wikicommons

The Ford Mustang, our first Ford car, was as American as the American flag. Ford’s design team played a winning role, offering ordinary workers a high-performance vehicle at affordable prices. Not only did Ford sell the fastest car, but it offered a list of options long before other automakers thought of this idea.

Originally a two-seater, the Mustang evolved into a four-seater for production. Early production cars, called the 1964½, came in convertible or coupe form, with the iconic tailgate version arriving later that year. Since its debut, the Mustang has been a huge success, selling 500,000 in 1965 alone.

Jaguar E-Type

1965 Jaguar E-type Roadster 3.8 - Front Quarter Overview1965 Jaguar E-type Roadster 3.8 - Front quarter view
Image credit: WikiCommons

Jaguar’s greatest gift to gearheads, the E-Type, was a magnificent piece of design and engineering. On its debut, it caused quite a stir not only due to its stunning looks but also its amazing value for money. Launched in 1961, the Model E promised a top speed of 150 mph for $5,670. Whether the Model E can reach these speeds is debatable.

Despite the bold claims, the Jaguar was a resounding success. Buyers on both sides of the Atlantic clamored to get behind the wheel, forcing Jaguar to increase production. Over the next thirteen years, body and engine modifications softened the original’s clean lines. In Series III guise, the XK’s six-cylinder engine was replaced by a V12.

Ford Model T

1926 Ford Model T Touring 1926 Ford Model T Touring
Image credit: Wikicommons

Every modern car, without exception, owes a little of its history to the Ford Model T. Not through engineering or design, but through the assembly process. Ford’s gift to the automotive world was the assembly line. Production line workers focused on one area before moving on to the next structure. Every mass-produced car is manufactured this way today.

However, the process had other benefits. Faster production meant lower costs; Ford could offer the Model T for $260 by 1925, a staggering sixty percent reduction. Of course, the lower costs came with some compromises. The specifications of the Model Ts were not exceptionally good, being shipped with 2.9-liter four-cylinder engines and a two-speed transmission.

Audi quattro

Audi or quattroAudi Ur-Quattro
Image credit: Wikicommons.

All-wheel drive has been around longer than you might think. If we go back in time to 1900, we find that the Lohner-Porsche, one of Ferdinand Porsche’s earliest cars, was a long time before mass-produced cars had all-wheel drive.

Audi recognized the benefits of all-wheel drive, adopting this technology and developing it under the Quattro name. Dozens of WRC wins and thousands of road cars later, the Quattro name became popular. The Audi Quattro defined how all-wheel drive (AWD) would shape the automotive industry. Now, every automaker has at least one all-wheel drive vehicle.

Porsche 911

Porsche 930 Turbo 1977 - Front quarter view1977 Porsche 930 Turbo - Front quarter view
Image credit: Wikicommons

The Porsche 911 is a tough car to classify. The early cars were lightweight sports cars known for their agility. However, by 1974, Porsche introduced turbocharging because they needed more power without adding weight. It wasn’t without its problems; the 930 Turbo suffered from lag and sloppy handling.

These problems are long gone; Porsche succeeded in overcoming the rear-engine balance problems and significantly increased its performance. Now the 911 is a full-fledged supercar that can easily be used on a daily basis. Try saying that about its competitors.

Ford F-150

Ford F-150 SVT Lightning first generationFord F-150 SVT Lightning 1st Generation
Image credit: WikiCommons.

The Mustang mentioned elsewhere is great, but it’s not Ford’s best-selling vehicle. Surprisingly, it’s the F-150 that keeps Ford’s bank account full. A new Ford F-150 is produced at Ford’s Dearborn site every minute. Trucks are big business in the United States.

The F-150’s capabilities go beyond being a cargo hauler. At the lower end, Ford offers V6 engines and off-road diesels. However, the higher trims of the F-150 lineup generate the most noise. And when a V8 is enough, Ford offers a 400-horsepower 5.0-liter V8.

Benz Motorwagen Patents

1886 Benz Motorwagen Patent - First Car1886 Benz patented the Motorwagen - the first automobile
Image credit: Wikicommons

The Benz Patent Motorwagen does not look like a car in appearance. But this was the genesis of the car as we know it. Don’t think that the three-wheeled design was a hastily converted carriage; Karl Benz started with a clean design.

The innovative use of a steel tube frame with an internal combustion engine proved that the age of the automobile had arrived. The single-cylinder gasoline engine and chain drive system resulted in a top speed of 10 miles per hour.

Lotus Elan

Lotus Elan +2 1967 model1967 Lotus Elan +2
Image credit: WikiCommons.

Lotus’s history is full of financial turmoil. Between those years of uncertainty, Colin Chapman’s creative genius provided some amazing cars for drivers. The Model 26, as it was known internally, combined lower weight with smaller engines to achieve a handling experience that was unrivaled in the world.

Built from fibreglass over a steel chassis, the Elan had exceptional handling and handling. Lotus excelled in both qualities for decades, and the Elan became the benchmark for sports cars. In later years, Gordon Murray also praised the Elan’s steering as a feature he missed in the McLaren F1.

Subaru Impreza WRX

Subaru Imperia WRX STi - Facelift Model - Front Quarter ViewSubaru Imperia WRX STi - Facelift Model - Front Quarter View
Image credit: Wikicommons

The explosive performance and strong chassis turned the Subaru into a giant killer. Visually, it was a bland sedan with nothing to worry about in a proper sports car. It was this simple appearance that lured gearheads. Admittedly, the addition of the WRX’s extras served as a warning to other road users.

At full throttle, the Subaru could hit 60 mph in about five seconds, faster than many Ferraris and Porsches. Subaru tweaked the chassis in the decades that followed, but its signature soundtrack remained a familiar turbocharged boxer engine.

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