175: What 100 Cars That Changed The World (1880s – 1920s)?

Posted on: November 25th, 2021 by

1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen “The first stationary gasoline engine developed by Carl Benz was a one-cylinder two-stroke unit which ran for the first time on New Year’s Eve 1879. Benz had so much commercial success with this engine that he was able to devote more time to his dream of creating a lightweight car powered by a gasoline engine, in which the chassis and engine formed a single unit.

The major features of the two-seater vehicle, which was completed in 1885, were the compact high-speed single-cylinder four-stroke engine installed horizontally at the rear, the tubular steel frame, the differential and three wire-spoked wheels. The engine output was 0.75 hp (0.55 kW). Details included an automatic intake slide, a controlled exhaust valve, high-voltage electrical vibrator ignition with spark plug, and water/thermo siphon evaporation cooling.

On January 29, 1886, Carl Benz applied for a patent for his “vehicle powered by a gas engine.” The patent – number 37435 – may be regarded as the birth certificate of the automobile. In July 1886 the newspapers reported on the first public outing of the three-wheeled Benz Patent Motor Car, model no. 1.”
1886 Daimler In the same year, just 100 kilometres away Daimler presented his motor carriage, considered the world’s first four-wheeled automobile. Essentially, this automobile is a light coach in which a modified and more powerful version of the “grandfather clock” was installed. Having recognised other areas of application for his engines at an early stage, in 1886 Daimler already was giving thought to motorising boats, rail vehicles and aircraft.
1893 Duryea This experimental vehicle is one of the earliest American-made automobiles. On September 21, 1893, Frank Duryea road-tested the vehicle – a second-hand carriage with a gasoline engine – in Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1896, Frank, his brother Charles, and financial backers founded the Duryea Motor Wagon Company, the first American company that manufactured and sold automobiles. Thirteen production models were made; the only surviving example is in the collection of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. This forerunner was donated to the Smithsonian in 1920 and was restored in 1958.
1901 Mercedes 35 HP “The first modern car was designed by Wilhelm Maybach, chief designer of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG), in 1900. The state-of-the-art 1000-kilogram car with a characteristic low centre of gravity was made for Emil Jellinek, as the first vehicle to bear the “Mercedes” name. Standout features of the new car included the visionary contours, marking the final break from coach construction, and the powerful drivetrain. The Mercedes was propelled by a completely new 27-kW light-alloy engine, cooled by Maybach’s new honeycomb radiator. These ingredients combined to make the 35 hp the first super-sports car in the history of our brand, at least when fitted out as such, since the car was supplied in a range of body styles according to customer preference, as was normal practice at the time.
The car’s top speed was 75 km/h, or just under 90 km/h with the light sports body. These figures were superior to any other vehicle of the day – and the DMG 35 hp Mercedes proceeded to dominate the Racing Week event in Nice, winning the hill climb, street race and one-mile sprint titles.”
1901 Oldmobile Curved Dash “Ransom Eli Olds developed about 11 different cars, some of them electrics in cooperation with Thomas Edison, between 1899 and 1900. The first production cars reached the market in 1901. 425 cars were built that year, making them the first mass produced gasoline engine automobiles in the world!

This car is a Model R, the first car to bear the name Oldsmobile and the first of 3 models to be known as a Curved Dash Oldsmobile. Single cylinder Oldsmobiles achieved 7 horsepower (hp), good for “one chug per telephone pole”. The car could travel 20 mph. In 1902, 2,500 units were produced, jumping up to 3,924 units in 1903. The Curved Dash Oldsmobile was the best selling car in the world for 7 years.

Oldsmobiles were typically delivered to their owner by train, often with a sales representative onboard to present it personally. All Curved Dash Olds were right hand drive and steered by a tiller. There are leaf springs running the length of the cars body.”
1908 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost The most desirable of the Rolls-Royce 40/50 HP Silver Ghosts are the early “parallel bonnet” models, those produced between the start of production in 1907 and 1915. Named for the distinctive design of their front ends, these cars are unparalleled in their opulence, elegance, and Swiss watch-like craftsmanship. Value of these automobiles is measured by the knowledge of their history, the quality of their restorations, and most pointedly, by their age. To enthusiasts of Silver Ghosts, “the earlier the better” is frequently the rule, and true bragging rights belong to that fortunate handful of survivors built in 1907 and 1908.
1909 Ford Model T “Many Model T owners believed their car had a self-healing feature. Put an ailing Tin Lizzie under a shade tree, come back after awhile, and she would be ready to go again. Sometimes this did happen. When it didn’t, a variety of other remedies were available for what was arguably the most fixable car ever built. It didn’t take much: baling wire, fish line, stove pipe, waxed twine, chewing gum, a paper clip.

That Lizzie was a temptress was a given. Novelist John Steinbeck said she knew exactly the number of turns of the crank he would endure before kicking in her radiator – and she always started on the last one. On a cold morning, applying boiling water or a blow torch to her intake manifold was generally sufficient to start her. (Though if the oil in her quirky epicyclic transmission – two speeds only, operated by the left-hand pedal – was cold, Lizzie was apt to inch forward, pinning the unwary person turning her crank to the wall; electric starters didn’t become available until 1919.)

Because the Model T had no gauges, an owner didn’t know how hot his engine was, how fast he was going, or how much fuel he had left. But he could buy what he needed. An entire industry grew up to provide Tin Lizzie with what she didn’t have: anti-rattle devices, shock absorbers, single shot lubricators, faux hoods, vee radiators. Even speed equipment should you want to take the old girl racing.

The Model T dominated the low-priced automobile market. Henry Ford’s obsession had not been to produce a cheap car – the industry was littered with those, most of them godawful – but to produce a good, sturdy and dependable car cheaply. In August 1913 when the assembly line at Ford’s Highland Park moved for the first time, he owned that market. By October the time necessary to build a Model T had been reduced from twelve and a half hours to six, by year’s end to an hour and a half. As mass production was refined, the price of a Model T, which had been introduced in 1908 at $850.00, was progressively decreased to a low of $290.00 in 1924. More than 16 million Tin Lizzies had been sold worldwide in 1927 when she was replaced by the Model A.

Following the First World War, every other car on the globe was a Model T Ford. Tin Lizzie had changed the world. She was the single most important car in history.”
1911 Mercer Raceabout “No car ever built in America is more sought after or more prized,” wrote auto writer Ken Purdy in his landmark 1949 book, Kings of the Road. “Most antique automobiles are not at all fast…this one is.” Purdy thought the cars were so good that he somehow managed to buy one himself. Though on an auto writer’s salary, we would bet that was in the days when the average Joe could eat canned soup for a year and save enough money to buy a Duesenberg.The Mercer was named out of respect for Mercer County in New Jersey, where the car was built. The idea for the car, and the money to build it, came from the pooled finances of two of the most prominent families in the county: The Kusers and the Roeblings. Washington Roebling was the supervisor of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, and his son was general manager of Mercer.The Raceabout, launched by Mercer in 1910, was completely emblematic of the age. In 1911, the Mercer 35R Raceabout carried a list price of $2,250, which could easily buy a modest home. For that tremendous outlay of cash, what you got was a true production sports/racing car, sans windshield, doors or any provision for occupant safety. But for that sacrifice, you got one of the period’s most powerful engines, the T-head, 300-cu.in. inline-four. The engine was capable of 58hp at just 1,900 rpm, and could drive the car well into triple digit speeds. The three-speed gearbox, unlike the clunky shifters of the time, was as vital to the car’s success as the engine. And all this was mated to a chassis that allowed the car to perform even on the rudimentary roads of the era.Against its great rival Stutz, it competed for laurels at Indianapolis, and in the Vanderbilt Cup and Elgin Trophy races. Legends such as Barney Oldfield and Ralph De Palma piloted Mercers to victory in front of crowds in the thousands. The low-slung Mercer Raceabout is elemental, yet elegant and awe-inspiring.
1912 Cadillac In 1908, the Cadillac Model K was awarded the Dewar Trophy for interchangeable parts. In 1912, the Cadillac Model 30 won the Dewar Trophy again, this time for possessing an electric starter and lights. According to legend, the impetus for the electric starter occurred on the Belle Isle Bridge when a fellow stopped to help a woman crank-start her car. Tragically, the starting handle was flung when the engine turned over, injuring the Good Samaritan, who later succumbed to his wounds. This man was a dear friend of then-head of Cadillac, Henry Leland. Driven to act, Leland pushed for the development of the electric starter that first appeared in the 1912 Cadillac Model 30. The 1912 Cadillac Model 30 cost $1800 and sported a four cylinder, 40 horsepower engine.
1912 Stutz Bearcat “If the 1911 Mercer Raceabout was the first American car to find success using the “race and sell” philosophy, the Stutz Bearcat was among the first to parlay that supercar status in to celebrity status. After mixing it up with the Raceabout on tracks and winning 25 of the 30 races it entered in 1912, the Bearcat grew into something of an automotive icon, famously finding its way into the hands of George “”Cannonball”” Baker for a record-breaking 1915 cross-country run. These exploits garnered the Bearcat a name recognition that still holds up 80 years after the company’s demise.

The Stutz Bearcat was born from racing: it started out in 1911 as the Ideal Motor Car Company, and entered a car in its big hometown race, which just happened to be the Indianapolis 500. The car finished in 11th place, and the company’s name was changed to founder Harry C. Stutz’ name. The Bearcat debuted the very next year as the street version of the race car, with very little changed. Stutz took racing very seriously. Baker’s coast-to-coast run was undertaken in response to a Stutz buyer who was miffed about losing to the Mercers. Over the years, the Bearcat became known for its speed and performance, growing into a luxury speedster in the Roaring Twenties.”
1915 Cadillac V-8 “From its earliest days, Cadillac established itself as a leader in innovation and design. In 1905 and 1912, Cadillac was honored over all other cars in the world for design breakthroughs such as the first electric self-starter and the application of precision interchangeable parts. Cadillac’s breakthrough news in 1915 was the introduction of the world’s first mass-produced V8. As a sales brochure of the time described it, this Cadillac “speeds along under the almost magic influence of this new power-principle”. Industry observers called it the “ultimate in motor car engines”.
ENGINE: 314 CID V8, 70 horsepower
BASE PRICE: $1,975”
1919 Hispano-Suiza H6 “At the 1919 Paris Auto Show, Marc Birkigt launched what would become his most prolific chassis for Hispano Suiza. With a keen eye for high craftsmanship and refined luxury, he endowed the H6 with the best available components.

Having supplied V12 engines for fighter planes during the war, Hispano Suiza was well prepared to make a remarkable inline-6 for their immediate post-war chassis. In true aircraft form, the engine was made from aluminum, with a single overhead camshaft and a crankshaft made from a single piece of billet steel. Initially 135 bhp was possible using a single Solex carburetor.

This chassis was the first to be produced outside of Spain at the new Hispano Suiza factory in France. This, many of the cars were fitted with some of the finest French bodies and interiors.”
1921 Duesenberg Model A “Brothers Frederick and August Duesenberg were known for building race cars, aircraft engines, and boat engines. When they first announced the Model A in 1920, they had planned on installing a conventional flathead engine. Late in the game, they threw a wrench in their production process and decided to scrap the flathead for the single overhead cam inline eight-cylinder they had been using in their race cars, which was a much more powerful option.

Frederick said the Model A was designed to “outclass, outrun, and outlast any car on the road;” the 260 cubic-inch straight 8 generated 88 horsepower with its hemispherical combustion chamber. It was the first time a production car had a powerplant of this size. Another innovation for Duesenberg’s Model A was the addition of hydraulic brakes at each corner, years before any of the major manufacturers were doing so.”
1922 Lancia Lambda “The Lambda was one of the most innovative cars of the twenties with its chassis, independant suspension and compact engine. It was the first to feature a load-bearing monocoque body which adopted by almost every manufacturer thirty years later. Vincenzo Lancia personally envisioned the Lambda after considering ship design and the strength that a hull needs to battle the great seas.

Every Lamda was based around a steel monocoque which eliminated the need for a heavy frame. Most of the body’s strength came from the driveshaft tunnel which formed a lightweight backbone for the car. Passengers were seated beside the tunnel allowing for a lower roofline. Typically cars of this period placed all the occupants above the driveshaft which resulted in a high center of balance.

Aside from its revolutionary body, the Lambda was also endowed with independent sliding pillar front suspension and four wheel brakes. Combining these attributes with ample power from a unique narrow-angle V4, the Lambda was a driver’s car. So much so, Lancia prepared a Mille Miglia (MM) version, and raced with good success at that race, usually placing in the top ten.

When released for sale the Lambda became known for its road holding, spacious interior and light weight. Despite these traits, the Lambda was never regarded as an elegant nor luxurious car and Lancia described it themslves as the ”The Best Medium Powered Car in the World.” However, this didn’t stop buyers and over 11000 cars were made from 1922 to 1931. During that period the car evolved through eight different series and used progressively larger engines.”
1924 Bugatti Type 35 ““The Bugatti Type 35 is one of the icons of Bugatti’s rich history and tradition. Back in 1924, the sports car was unparalleled in its technology, design and performance and the same still goes today. It is both an inspiration and a commitment,” says Stephan Winkelmann, President of Bugatti. “This makes the Type 35 one of the forefathers of our current hyper sports cars, the Chiron1, Chiron Sport2 and Divo3. Steeped in the Type 35’s DNA, they are translating this tradition for the modern age.”

The Type 35 was not just a racing car. It was a technical masterpiece: For the first time ever, the company’s founder Ettore Bugatti used a crankshaft supported by two roller bearings and three ball bearings – and this crankshaft is still seen as a feat of engineering to this day. It could run at speeds of up to 6,000 rpm to power the eight pistons in the engine, which started out with a capacity of just 2.0 litres. At the time, it was one of the only car capable of achieving such power. Thanks to other changes – such as using two carburettors instead of one – the car’s power increased to around 95 PS, which was transmitted by a wet multi-plate clutch. The drive system in the first versions of the Type 35 was able to achieve speeds of over 190 km/h. The less expensive basic model, the 35A, was based on a 2.0-litre eight-cylinder engine with 75 PS. In its later iteration, the Type 35 B (which had a 2.3-litre eight-cylinder engine and compressor), the Bugatti’s power increased to up to 140 PS and its top speeds exceeded 215 km/h. As well as their incredible performance, the engines were primarily renowned for their reliability and endurance.”
1924 Packard Single Eight “In June of 1923, the company introduced the Packard Models 136 and 143 which brought with them des designs and the first application of four-wheel brakes by Packard. They also introduced the Packard inline eight-cylinder engine which had a 358 cubic-inch displacement and delivered 85 brake horsepower at 3,000 rpm (Packard Twin Six had produced 90 horsepower). The engine would gain a reputation for its stately power, smoothness and performed. The smoothness of the engine was attributed to Packard’s use of nine main bearings, a Lanchester crankshaft vibration damper, four-point engine mounting, and adoption of the 2-4-2 timing of the crank, bucking the usual practice of the era of designing the crankshaft as if it were two four-cylinder engine placed end-to-end.

The 136- and 143-inch wheelbase chassis were each ten inches longer than the corresponding six-cylinder models. These extra ten inches were placed forward of the firewall to allow room for the longer engine. Packard offered ten different body styles including 4- and 5-passenger coupes, 5- and 7-passenger sedan, 5- and 7-passenger touring, runabout, sport model, and 5- and 7-passenger Sedan Limousine. The Single Six bodies were similar, with the Single Eight having better trim and upholstery and the appointments were more elegant.

Standard equipment included the bumpers, manually operated windshield wipers, rear view mirror, transmission operated tire air pump, electric gas gauge, brake-operated stoplight, Watson stabilizers, Motometer, steel disc wheels and more.”
1927 Bentley 4 1/2 Liter “The Bentley 4½ Litre was a British car based on a rolling chassis built by Bentley Motors.[1] Walter Owen Bentley replaced the Bentley 3 Litre with a more powerful car by increasing its engine displacement to 4.4 litres (270 cubic inches). A racing variant was known as the Blower Bentley.

A total of 720 4½ Litre cars were produced between 1927 and 1931, including 55 cars with a supercharged engine popularly known as the Blower Bentley. A 4½ Litre Bentley won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1928. Though the supercharged 4½ Litre Bentley’s competitive performance was not outstanding, it set several speed records, most famously the Bentley Blower No.1 Monoposto in 1932 at Brooklands with a recorded speed of 222.03 km/h (138 mph).”
1927 Mercedes-Benz S “There was a confluence of unusual factors which led to the development of the iconic S series of Mercedes-Benz cars. They had already produced eight 4-passenger racing and most of them took part in early racing events but given that Mercedes (Daimler) and Benz formally joined together in 1927 was a celebratory issue. Both companies witnessed declining sales with only 1,372 cars and 830 trucks being built in all of Germany. That same year they built the great Nürburgring track in the Eifel mountains, comprising a north and south trail which covered over 17 miles in an exciting circuit with many turns and erumpent straights. It still thrills the world’s best drivers.

The ever-present Professor Ferdinand Porsche exerted his sporting influence on company decisions. After joining the factory in 1923, he produced a three-car team which handily won the 1924 Targa Florio race, 1-2-3. Leading the new Daimler-Benz team, he was now responsible for the design of the new models, which included the different supercharged K-Type, but mainly the low, beautiful S series.

The first cars had a 6,789 cc overhead camshaft straight-6 engine with a front-mounted Roots-type blower. Running normally aspirated, the output was 120 horsepower, but when the accelerator pedal floored, the supercharger clutch engaged and spurts of horsepower up to 180 were achievable.”
1929 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 “Vittorio Jano worked with Fiat and its race team for 12 years, but in 1923, Enzo Ferrari encouraged him to depart for Alfa Romeo. After some persuasion, the Hungarian-born Jano left Fiat to join the young Ferrari at the budding marque.

It was there that Jano made some of his greatest contributions to the automotive world. Among them was the 1929 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750.
The 6C traces its roots back to the 1927 6C 1500—the latter figure signifying the engine’s displacement. Power came from a 1.5-liter inline-6 engine derived from the legendary P2 Grand Prix race car’s inline-8. Jano’s job wasn’t just to help Alfa Romeo win on the track, but also to port that success into the road cars.

With his mission assigned, Jano reworked the P2’s engine for road-car use. Following the 6C 1500, he oversaw the introduction of the 6C 1750 in 1929. This time, the engine swelled to displace 1.75 liters and could accelerate to a seriously quick-for-the-time top speed of 95 mph.

The gorgeous bodywork came from a handful of coachbuilders, with Zagato, Carrozzeria Touring, and James Young being the most popular.

The engine arrived in two flavors: a single-cam version in the Turismo and a dual-overhead-cam variant in the Sport and later the Gran Turismo. Perhaps the most notable version of the car to come from Jano and Alfa Romeo in 1929 was the Super Sport, or SS, later called the Gran Sport.

The elegant Italian machine was available with a Roots supercharger and focused specifically on amateur racers and their needs.

With the road car unleashed, Jano and Alfa Romeo could merely look on and see what they’d created. It turned out to be a winning machine. In the 1929 Mille Miglia, 26 6C 1750s competed and 25 of them finished, six of which placed in the top 10, including a first-place finish. Alfa Romeo saw a repeat finish in 1930. Alfa Romeo dominated 1929 with wins at the 24 Hours of Spa Francorchamps, Grand Prix of Ireland, and the 12 Hours of San Sebastian. Each time, a 6C 1750 crossed the checkered flag first.

The 6C name would go on to grace numerous other race cars and elegant production cars, but as for the 6C 1750, there would never be another one like it.”
1929 Duesenberg Model J “The Model J Duesenberg has long been regarded as the most outstanding example of design and engineering of the Classic Era. It was introduced in 1929, and trading was halted on the New York Stock Exchange for the announcement. At $8,500 for the chassis alone, it was by far the most expensive car in America. With coachwork, the delivered price of many Duesenbergs approached $20,000, a staggering sum at a time when a typical new family car cost around $500.

Few would argue that the car’s features did not support its price. Indeed, the Model J’s specifications sound current today: double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, power hydraulic brakes, and 265 horsepower in naturally aspirated form—or 325 brake horsepower when supercharged.
The Murphy Body Company of Pasadena, CA, is generally recognized as the most successful coachbuilder for the Duesenberg Model J chassis.”
1929 MG M-Type Midget “Introduced in 1928, the MG M Type Midget was undoubtedly the first in the long line of MGs that were to make the sports car so unbelievably popular throughout the world. When the Morris Minor debuted in 1928 by William Morris, this got Cecil Kimber thinking, and soon he set about producing an MG sports car based on it. The Midget was also Kimber’s idea, but his boss William Morris made it actually happen.

In October of 1928, the M Type Midget was launched at the Motor Show at Olympia Motor Show in London. Even early on, it was easy to see that the 10-foot long, two-seater M Type would be successful, especially due to the immediate demand from the public. It wasn’t until 1929 that the car finally went into full production, utilizing mainly Morris components with slight modifications.

Since there wasn’t enough time to allow for more individual components to be designed and manufactured, along with the pressure to get the car on show at Olympia was the reason for the similarity. The body of the M Type was light, and very simple, with a fabric construction on a wooden frame. Carbodies of Coventry fabricated the distinctive boat tail design separately and joined it with the chassis at the MG factory in Abingdon. The boat-tailed Midget was designed to compete with the Austin Seven sports models and other similar small sporting vehicles.”
1929 Rolls-Royce Phantom II “Only four years after the introduction of the Phantom I, Rolls unveiled the new Phantom I in 1929.
The previous model of Phantom, even if relatively new, it was dated. Rolls Royce had been using most of the car’s underpinnings ever since 1912. And while it was easier to go the old way, it could’ve soon become a disaster, as competition terribly increased with the models produced by Buick and Sunbeam especially.

Thus, the Phantom II was built on a completely new chassis and used an improved version of the Phantom I engine, a 7.7-liter 6-cylinder unit that developed 122 hp. The powerplant was mated with a 4-speed manual transmission.

Besides the regular version of the Phantom II that had a wheelbase of 150 inches (3,800 mm), Rolls also offered a short-wheelbase chassis with 144 inches (3,700 mm).

As most producers did at the time, Rolls Royce only offered the chassis and the mechanical parts. The vehicle’s body was the work of the coachbuilder selected by the future owner. Some of the most famous coachbuilders were Park Ward, Brewster, Mulliner, Carlton, Hooper and Henley.

In total, Rolls Royce sold 1,281 Phantom II chassises of all types.”