The 10 Most Influential Cars Of All Time

By: Jack Sackman

There have been many important cars throughout history. Cars and other vehicles have shaped the environment that we live in, and the ways in which we live. Cars also influence popular culture and are synonymous with certain periods in time. The best cars last and become more valuable with the passage of time. They influence the cars that come after them. Yet not all important and influential cars have been flashy. Many of the most influential vehicles have been ordinary family vehicles that people have used to get themselves and their children where they need to go. Here then is a list of the 10 most influential cars over the past century.


10. Volkswagen Beetle

While known to many people as “The Love Bug” from the popular Disney Herbie movies, the Volkswagen Beetle was actually the brainchild of Adolph Hitler, whose Nazi party developed the car in the lead up to the Second World War with the help of Ferdinand Porsche. The full history of this car would make an exciting book or movie. The name “Volkswagen” translates from German to mean “people’s car,” and the Beetle, with its compact size, was meant to be an affordable car that everyone in Deutschland could own. Constructed by Porsche under the personal supervision of Hitler, the first Beetle rolled off the assembly line in 1936. And the odd littler car boasted several innovations, including rear-wheel drive and an engine that was mounted in the rear. The Beetle was also the first car to have four-wheel independent suspension. Interestingly, the Volkswagen Beetle has largely remained the same since the 1930s. Of course, it has a more powerful engine today, but the basic structure of the car has remained identical. To date, more than 21 million Beetles have been built, making it one of the most produced cars in history.

9. Toyota Prius

Hybrid vehicles are here to stay, and electric powered cars are the future. So the Toyota Prius makes this list for being the very first mass-produced battery-electric vehicle that consumers could purchase and drive. Introduced in 1997, the Toyota Prius was an instant hit with motorists around the world who were keen to save money on gas. In the U.S. alone, Toyota sold more than 200,000 Prius in its first year. That makes the Prius Toyota’s third most popular model in America after the Camry and the Corolla. In terms of influence, the Prius pushed competing automobile manufacturers to develop their own hybrid vehicles. Now in its third generation, the success of the Prius has spawned a variety of other models. Buyers can choose from a smaller version, the Prius C, or a larger model in the Prius V. But it was the original Prius model that ushered in the era of the hybrid vehicle and paved the way for the future of electric cars.

8. Chrysler Airflow

The car most associated with the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Chrysler Airflow was the first car to have an aerodynamic body. Aerodynamics are taken for granted today as car makers work to increasingly improve aerodynamics and the fuel efficiency of their cars. Every car on the road today has been designed to cut through wind. However, this was not the case back in the 1930s. Designing an aerodynamic car was super innovative on the part of Chrysler at the time. The Airflow was also revolutionary in other ways, namely that it was built out of tubular steel, which made it both lightweight and strong simultaneously. The engine was positioned directly over the front axle, which helped increase interior space, and it came standard with hydraulic brakes, which were safer than the mechanical brakes of the time. Sadly, the expensive Airflow was a commercial bust as people in the Great Depression had little money to spend on state-of-the-art cars. The car had come and gone between 1934 and 1937. Nevertheless, after the Airflow all cars made have been aerodynamic.

7. BMC Mini

One of the most iconic and influential cars in popular culture is the British Motor Corporation’s (BMC) Mini. First introduced in 1959, this tiny vehicle was originally sold under the Morris and Austin brands before the Mini became its own distinguished brand in 1970. Interestingly, this subcompact car was developed due to a fuel shortage in Europe. Britain’s involvement in the Suez Crisis of 1956 so upset the then-King of Saudi Arabia that he suspended petroleum shipments to the United Kingdom. This led to the rationing of gas and a crash in the British car market. Fortunately, necessity really is the mother of invention, and British motorists were introduced to a car that was super fuel efficient. Only 10 feet in length it had a tiny footprint but it could still seat four adults comfortably. The fuel efficiency of this car was truly remarkable for the time. And it ushered in an era of smaller cars in Europe that continues today. The engine was mounted transversely under the hood, meaning from side-to-side rather than front-to-back. This allowed for more interior room—making the Mini both cost effective and practical.


6. Google’s Driverless Car

Self-driving cars are coming, and what was once considered science fiction is fast becoming reality. In fact, driverless cars are expected to be everywhere by the year 2020—that’s four years from now. And it is technology company Google that is pushing us into the future. While many cars today have autonomous features such as adaptive cruise control and automatic braking, cars that are able to completely drive without the aid of a human are now in the final stages of development. And Google is promising many benefits from these cars, including fewer crashes and traffic jams, as well as better fuel consumption by following the most efficient route to a destination. The technology giant has made the driverless car its obsession, a project that has been in development for several years now. They’ve racked up hundreds of thousands of miles with their driverless car with no crashes. This car is a definite game changer and is going to lead us all into the future whether we like it or not.

5. Plymouth Savoy Wagon

Developed in 1951, the Plymouth Savoy Wagon was the first mass marketed and popular station wagon. Popular with motorists for its additional trunk space and roomy interior, this vehicle became a hit with families who were migrating to the suburbs following World War II. While a bit of a clunker, the Plymouth Savoy Wagon was one of the first popular family cars and featured a then-unique innovation called “air conditioning.” It also came in versions that featured wood paneling on the sides, leading to the car being called by the nickname “Woodie.” Over time, wood paneling would become synonymous with the popular image of the station wagon. And while the Plymouth Savoy Wagon went out of production in the mid-1960s, it spawned a legion of copycat cars and ushered in the era of the station wagon as the ultimate suburban family vehicle.

4. Porsche 911

For style and performance, no car in history can match the Porsche 911. First introduced in 1964, the Porsche 911 has been popular both on the racetrack and street. In continuous production for more than 50 years, the 911 is one of the longest-standing sports cars ever. Built to replace the Porsche 356, the 911 featured a horizontally opposed six-cylinder power plant engine. It was also air-cooled and displaced just 2.0 liters with an output of 130 horsepower. A sophisticated rear suspension setup was also innovative in the 911. The quintessential, and most popular, sports car, the Porsche 911 has also had several racing versions throughout its history, which have proven adept at winning races on tracks around the world. This is the car that made the Porsche brand cool, and it has helped to sustain the Porsche reputation for half a century.

3. Toyota Corolla

Not quite as sexy as the Porsche 911, the Toyota Corolla makes the list for being the ubiquitous family car. A global bestseller for more than 40 years, the Corolla is a small car that has had a big influence with people looking for a reliable, fuel efficient car that is perfect for driving kids to the baseball diamond or getting to and from work. Introduced in 1966, the Corolla is now in its 10th generation, believe it or not. The car is the bestselling vehicle on the planet, with more than 40 million units sold to date. Reliable, comfortable and good on gas, the Toyota Corolla has proven that a car needn’t be flashy to be popular. Toyota calls the Corolla its “world car” and has said it will never stop producing the vehicle, making it one of the most impactful cars in world history.

2. Chrysler Minivan

The vehicle of choice for soccer moms everywhere, the Chrysler Minivan has proven to be durable and popular even though it is considered to be very uncool. But despite its lack of sex appeal, the minivan has endured due to its rock solid functionality. That and the fact that it can seat seven or eight people, has ample cargo space and decent fuel-efficiency. Really, there is no better vehicle for families today. And minivans have had essentially the same design and model since the first one of these vehicles was introduced by Chrysler back in 1983. The Chrysler and Dodge minivans have racked up big sales. More than 12 million minivans have been sold worldwide, and they’re more popular today than ever before. The Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country models are two of the best-selling vehicles in the world today. Not bad for being uncool.


1. Ford Model T

The car that started it all and ushered in the era of the assembly line, Ford’s Model T has to go down in history as the most influential vehicle of all time. It literally influenced every car that came after it—every single one. And the Ford Model T was extremely popular in its day. With the then-new invention of the assembly line, Ford was able to produce 15 million Model T’s between 1908 and 1927. The “Tin Lizzy,” as Henry Ford called the Model T, was also designed to be affordable to the masses. Originally priced at $850 per vehicle, the cost dropped steadily as Ford simplified the manufacturing process and passed the savings onto customers. By the time it went out of production in 1927, the Model T sold for $260. With a 20 horsepower four-cylinder engine under its hood, the car was capable of a top speed of about 45 miles an hour—considered dangerous in the era of the horse and buggy. Not only did the Model T forever change the way people traveled, it also revolutionized the American landscape, ushering in highways, gas stations, garages and roadside motels—all of which were built to serve the needs of the Model T and a new class of American motorists.