The automobile has come a long way during the 20th century from a sturdy replacement for the horse and buggy. Some cars are a way for the wealthy to enjoy their advantage and experience comfort, speed and performance. Others meet the needs of families and getting to work, taking vacations and enjoying Sunday drives or drive-in-movies. No matter who the buyer was, the cars that define their respective decades have one thing in common — their legacy endures.
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While thousands of Americans were running around in their Merry Oldsmobiles, the Curved Dash Olds, which inspired the song, the company also produced a limited number of these much larger, more elegant, and coveted touring cars. Olds, as it was called at the time, became known for cars that bridged mass-market volumes with innovative, elegant vehicles that customers loved. The Limited Touring was just the start of the company's century-long production of middle-market luxury -- and also muscle car performance, as it turned out. Set good engineers to work, and you never know what you can do.
A followup for the Model T, the Model A started production in late 1927, and by early 1929 a million had been sold. A second million left the factory by mid-1929, and by the end of production in March 1932, nearly five million Model A's had been produced. Called the "A-bone" by enthusiasts who used the Model A as the starting point for their own creations, the car was also a global success, produced in Canada, Western Europe, Russia, Australia, South America and elsewhere.
This model, also known as the Cadillac Sixteen, was produced over 11 years from 1930 to 1940, but only in 4076 custom-built units. It was very expensive, very high-end, and very poorly timed -- most of the cars were sold in the first year, after which the Great Depression limited sales. The V-16 was available in two-door coupe and four-door sedan models, two- and four-door convertibles, and town car or limousine configurations. The Cadillac V-16 attracted major attention in the U.S. and Europe in its time and is still considered a top classic car today.
Part of a limited edition of 51 cars produced in 1948, the Tucker 48 is exotic because of its story as well as its unique design. Also known as the "Tucker Torpedo," the car was the dream of Preston Tucker, who hired a team of designers to create a unique styling that went beyond the times as did the many safety, theft proofing, and convenience features including a steerable center headlight. Tucker's many innovative ideas, such as a rubber torsion bar to replace springs in the suspension, all went for naught as the company was driven quickly into failure.
The famous gullwing model 300 SL of the 1950s was the fastest production car of the day with a 163 mph top speed and doors that lifted like the wings of a bird. Looking back on the 20th century, in 1999 it was voted "sports car of the century" as it opened up an enthusiastic market for grand touring vehicles with sports car capabilities in North America — perfect for those who enjoyed competition, and those who liked to ride in style.
The car that most comes to mind when someone says classic Jaguar, the E-type was a home run for the British car manufacturer. Even Enzo Ferrari admired it, calling it "the most beautiful car ever made." Top speed is claimed to be 150 mph, zero to sixty in less than seven seconds. There's just something about that graceful, elongated body, comfortable classic interior and racing heritage that fixed it in car fans' memories.
The innovative, successful Nash Rambler line came into the 1960s as Motor Trend's "Car of the Year" collectively from the compact American to the high-end Ambassador. A series of leadership changes eventually led to the last U.S.-produced Rambler rolling out of the Wisconsin plant in 1969, but throughout the 1960s, Ramblers under various brands and names were popular and affordable cars with compact, economy car styling and often significant V-8 power, including a Hurst-designed performance model.
Aggressive in appearance, colorful with racing-style paint jobs and decals, the Boss 302 Mustang of 1969 and 1970, set a new tone for pony cars entering the 1970s. It answered the Camaro threat resoundingly, and included not only better performance but features such as a competition suspension and a shifter from Hurst, dual exhaust, front spoiler, and rear deck wing. In addition to the highly modified Boss 302 engine, which was created for SCCA racing, a 429 designed for NASCAR use was also available.
In the 1970s, production of the VW Beetle beat a record of 15 million cars set by Ford with their Model T. By the late 1970s, sales were dropping, and the era of the original Beetle had passed with millions of them still in the hands of everyday Americans. In a society where a car was a necessity for many, the simple Beetle made transportation possible. Its rounded body, rear air-cooled engine, and basic interior had advantages and disadvantages: it was simple and cheap to repair and run but had a weak heater and a limited front storage space shared with the spare tire.
The exotic stainless steel, gull-winged DeLorean DMC-12, was famous for its starring role in 1985's movie Back to the Future. It was in production from 1981 to 1983, like the similarly short-lived Tucker 48 of mid-century it expressed unique design ideas including a steel backbone with a fiberglass body and the iconic stainless steel body panels. Unfortunately, its V6 performance wasn't up to its dazzling appearance. The company founder, John DeLorean, a former GM executive and inventor, soon faced the company's insolvency.
In the 1980s the basic, four-cylinder Toyota Corolla moved to a simplified, square-corners design which was generic enough to not only have universal appeal as a practical automobile, it also inspired competitors to create similar models such as the Chevy Nova and Geo Prizm. Though the model has changed significantly over the years, by the 1980s, it was preparing to pass the sales records of other vehicles such as the VW Beetle, which it achieved in 1997. By 2016 it was by far the leader with over 44 million sold. Corollas are popular with tuners who apply their creative talents to this worldwide favorite.
Just as the Willys CJ-2A had been inspired by a WWII military model, the Hummer H1 brought the military offroad vehicle called to showrooms for private buyers, with GM taking the marketing lead while AM General, the government supplier, continued production. A front-mid engine design with four-wheel-drive, it had several diesel engine options in the 6-liter range including turbo versions and a 5.7 liter Vortec option, as well as several body styles. A major stability advantage of the Hummer H1 was its wide track, and it could cross 30-inch deep water and face other offroad challenges.
1992 was the 75th anniversary of the immensely popular F-150 pickup truck, which has been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for over 30 years. It was redesigned for the 1990s, adding improved aerodynamics and revising the bed design to help it reach a younger generation of truck buyers. The interior was also completely reworked in the late 80s, bringing a fresh look and feel to the 1990s F-150 customer. The 1993 SVT Lightning F-150 offered special performance tuning -- over 11,000 of these were sold over the next two years.
A car which races jet airplanes? The Veyron was pitted against a Euro Fighter jet on the BBC series Top Gear, and it was a close match: a top speed of almost 268 mph puts the aerodynamic design of the Bugatti Veyron to the test. A set of moving body elements adjust the profile of the car as the speed increases, enhancing stability to allow the 8.0 liter quad-turbo W16 engine to do its work safely with about 1,000 horsepower depending on the configuration. For luxury cruising, it includes a high-end Burmester sound system.
One of the world's best-known hybrid electric cars, the Toyota Prius, has been produced since 1997. As the early years of the 21st century progressed, other electric and hybrid vehicles began to join the Prius as serious alternatives to purely petroleum-powered models. It was initially available as a four-door compact sedan, but as of 2003, Toyota production shifted to a liftback configuration, which made it adaptable for many roles, from family car to florist's delivery vehicle. In 2008 the Prius passed one million sold globally, quickly followed by the two, three, and four million marks in the following decade.