Summary: From humble beginnings in the late nineteenth century, the automobile had to make quite the journey to become the car we drive today.
Meta Title: Decade Defining Cars | Most Iconic Cars
Meta Description: Take a look at some of the most iconic cars of all time in our decade defining cars list, from humble beginnings in the 1800s to the cars we know and love today.
From humble beginnings in the late nineteenth century, the automobile had to make quite the journey to become the car we drive today. Below, we’ll check out the cars that defined the decades, looking at how they reflected or rejected the fashions of their era on the way!
1880s – The Benz Patent-Motorwagen
In January 1886, the German mechanic Karl Benz patented the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, a three-wheeled car with a 954cc single cylinder engine. Though the rest is history, Benz’s car only achieved notoriety after Bertha Benz took the Patent-Motorwagen on a 194 kilometre round trip, driving to the city of Pforzheim to see her mother. Benz’s journey, the first ever long distance drive, is now commemorated as the Bertha Benz Memorial Route, and the Benz legacy endures in the form of Mercedes Benz today.
1890s – The Ford Quadricycle
In a poorly lit garage behind his marital home in Detroit, 1896, the 32-year-old engineer Henry Ford completed work on his first prototype vehicle, the Ford Quadricycle. Unlike the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, the Ford Quadricycle was a four-wheeled, two-seat roadster, and the first incarnation of the vehicles we drive today. Ford wasn’t actually the first Detroit local to build a prototype vehicle. That honour goes instead to Charles Brady King, who also invented the jackhammer!
1900s – The Ford 999
By the turn of the century, Henry Ford had massively increased the potential speeds his vehicles could reach. With the promise of speed came a desire for it and Ford began to design cars specifically for the purpose of racing. His first racer, The Arrow, ended in tragedy when its driver crashed during a race, but it was with Ford’s second design that he took platitudes. Named after the Empire State Express train that broke the land speed record, the Ford 999 could reach speeds of over 90 miles per hour. Though a far cry from the racing cars of today, with unchallengeable pace and painted a coat of bright red, the Ford 999 fully deserved its menacing moniker: “the Red Devil”.
1910s – The Ford Model T
Cars had made sufficient tracks in public consciousness by the 1910s, but they remained too expensive for the public to buy. Ford’s solution to this problem took the form of one of the most iconic vehicles ever made: the Ford Model T. With a keen eye for modernisation, Ford continuously restructured the process of the production line, so that by 1915 a Model T could be assembled from scratch in just ninety minutes!
1920s – The Rolls-Royce Phantom
Not all car manufacturers shared Ford’s dream of empowering the everyman. To the glitz and revelry of the roaring 20s emerged the Rolls-Royce Phantom, the successor to Rolls-Royce’s earlier model the Silver Ghost. With haunting names that spoke to the quietness of their engines, the Rolls-Royce cars were luxury sedans that held efficiency and aesthetics in equal esteem. For these cars, Rolls-Royce provided only the chassis and the engine. With the coach and seats left entirely to the buyer’s preferences, there was significant variation between every model, although no variation of the enormous price.
1930s – The Talbot Lagot 1937 T150 SS
As the glamour and bustle of the 20s crumbled in the wake of the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression, many car designers began to prioritise robustness over image. However, some designers refused this pragmatism and became more zealous than ever in their pursuit of the car as art. Ranking among the most gorgeous cars the road has ever seen, the Talbot Lagot 1937 T150 SS, built of smooth waves and flowing arcs, marked a defiant stance against the harsh angles and rigid builds of the time.
1940s – The Jeep
Across the globe, the outbreak of World War 2 brought civilian car development to a total standstill. When the USA entered the war in 1941, the US army requested the nation’s most prominent car manufacturers to develop a four-wheeled vehicle suitable for reconnaissance and command. The Jeep remains a feature of modern infantry. The most notable Jeeps in use were the Ford Model GPW and the Willys-Overland Model MB.
1950s – The Morris Minor
Just as the USA prohibited civilian car development, so did the English government, requisitioning all car manufacturers to serve the Ministry of Supply instead. However, this wasn’t enough to stop a handful of engineers at the Morris Motors company who secretly continued their work on civilian vehicles throughout the war. What they went on to create became the life of every 1950s road and street. Much like the Ford cars of the 1910s, the Morris Minor was designed for the everyman, to provide for the struggling working classes a car that was both pragmatic and comfortable. The designers gave their covert project the codename “Mosquito”, which was to be the car’s actual name until the Morris Motors executives decided that “Mosquito” might prove a little too sinister for the public’s tastes.
1960s – The Mini
From the swinging sixties’ flower power a range of subcultures bloomed, but there was only one car in which they all arrived. Being the car of choice of all four Beatles and enjoying the cameras, lights and action of Hollywood in The Italian Job, the Mini made an enormous impact across all walks of 60s life. Associated today with the era’s mobility and free spirit, the Mini was initially a response to the 1956 Suez Crisis, which led to the renewal of oil rationing!
1970s – Volkswagen Golf
The 1970s saw the tumultuous politics of the time once again force the automobile industry’s hand, with the 1973 oil crisis creating further fuel shortages. Following the inlays the Mini had made, the 70s witnessed a range of hatchbacks enter into the marketplace; these were smaller cars that enjoyed superior fuel efficiency. One car to boldly ride the hatchback wave was the iconic Volkswagen Golf, whose successes have been such that the Golf remains incredibly popular today.
1980s – The Third Generation Ford Escort
Throughout automobile history, Ford has always pushed the frontiers of vehicle development. The 80s was another period where Ford enjoyed particular popularity, with the release of the third generation Ford Escort. Following the tracks of the Mini and the Golf, the third generation Escort was a highly efficient hatchback. Just as Volkswagen had developed a sports model of the Golf, so too did Ford produce a sports equivalent of the Escort. Ford painted all of the Escort sport models in a cool white finish, other than a single unit that they painted black for one of the era’s most beloved icons, Princess Diana. Her 1981 Ford Escort Ghia, an engagement gift from Prince Charles, was considered one of the most sought-after cars on the planet.
1990s – The Mazda RX-7
There are several worthy winners for the title of the 90s’ most definitive car, and all of them come from Japan. The 90s marked the most significant foray of Japanese vehicles onto Western roads to date. Models like the Mazda RX-7, the Toyota Supra, the Mitsubishi 3000GT and the Honda NSX lived and breathed the decade’s pallet, sporting blocky and energetic colours with exceptional engineering that ensured these cars excelled at substance and style. To this day, franchises like Fast and Furious, Gran Turismo and Need for Speed ensure these vehicles’ immortality in popular culture.
2000s – The Toyota Prius
The noughties saw the emergence of a range of cars that remain incredibly popular today, such as the Škoda Fabia, the Vauxhall Corsa and the Fiat Punto. At the other end of the speedometer, super-charged cars were breaking records, with the Bugatti Veyron reaching a mind-blowing 267.7 mph. Yet, it’s for the advent of hybrid cars that the decade will be remembered. While they can’t fly or transport their cargo back to the future, vehicles like the Toyota Prius, using a combination of different power sources, enjoy great fuel economy and energy efficiency. Their production marked a decisive stage in the evolution of car design.
2010s – Ford Fiesta
Powering our crystal ball with magic alone, it seems that hybrid and electric cars will continue to make an impact on the automotive landscape for years to come, with a whole host of brands investing in electric vehicles, from the Hyundai Ioniq to the newest Ford Mondeo. However, our car for this decade to date sees us return to vehicles’ roots with the iconic and ever-popular Ford Fiesta. Built in the spirit of the parties it takes for its namesake, the Fiesta is a triumph of an automobile engineering, balancing sophisticated mechanical design with comfort for passengers and driver alike. Just as Ford remain at the fore of car development, the Fiesta remains a national and worldwide favourite. And we can’t see Ford’s party ending any time soon!