People’s motors: the most important cars in history

People’s motors: the most important cars in history
People’s motors: the most important cars in history

They say there are about 1.2 billion cars chugging around the planet at the moment. Every year, another 95 million cars join that number and the lifespans of individual models get shorter and shorter.

It wasn’t always like that. Once upon a time you had to wait a very long time indeed for a new model to come along and replace the old one. That wasn’t such a problem as it might seem to some modern motorists, as these long-lasting and largely mendable cars were happily bought and used by millions.

There was no sense of feeling short-changed. Motorists were happy with what they were offered. They were being freed from their immediate environs and from the haphazard slavery of public transport.

We’ve put together a 60-year slice of automotive history, picking out the cars that did most to put the world on the road between 1908 and 1968. You might remember some of them.

Ford Model T (1908)

More than 15 million ‘Tin Lizzies’ were built between 1908 and 1927. At one point every other car in the US was a Model T.

Morris Bullnose (1913)

The Bullnose’s official name was Oxford, after its manufacturing home. Just like the Model T, the 1.0-litre Bullnose dominated the UK scene, taking 50 per cent of the market by 1925.

Austin Seven (1922)

Tiny in stature and price, the Seven was made in an incredible 326 versions over a 20-year production period. Around 300,000 were made.

Ford Model Y (1932)

Called the Ford 8 in the UK, and built in many other countries, the Model Y sold for just £100 – equivalent to £6,500 now.

Fiat Topolino (1936)

Fiat’s Austin Seven, the first 500 (or Topolino, the Italians’ name for Mickey Mouse) transported two passengers, very slowly.

Volkswagen Beetle (1945)

More than 21 million-plus air-cooled Beetles were built over a 50-year production cycle. It was the first Volkswagen (People’s Car).

Renault 4CV (1946)

Brits had the Morris Minor: the French had the 4CV. Although the run lasted for 15 years, only 1.1 million were made in total.

Citroen 2CV (1948)

Cost reduction on wheels, the stripped-back Deux Chevaux (two horses) was part of the Citroen range for 40 years. Four million were made.

Morris Minor (1948)

The first British car to hit the ‘one million sold’ mark, the Minor could be had in saloon, Traveller (estate), Tourer (convertible), van and pick-up formats. Production ran for 23 years.

Standard Eight (1953)

Built while food rationing was still in place in Britain, the Eight was an austerity special. It didn’t even have a boot lid.

BMW Isetta (1955)

Isetta means ‘baby Iso’ in Italian, reflecting the fact that this BMW bubble car was built in partnership with Italian supercar manufacturer Iso.

Renault Dauphine (1956)

Rear-engined and cheap, the Dauphine was comfortable, roomy and innovative. Unfortunately it was also prone to rust.

Fiat 500 (1957)

The ‘second’ 500 took four passengers rather than two and had a rear-mounted air-cooled 499cc engine and all-round independent suspension.

Austin Healey Sprite (1958)

An important mass-production sports car, at a time when motoring was still only for the minority. Just 50,000 or so were made.

Daf Daffodil (1958)

Not many Dutch cars were built, but this one was particularly significant as it had a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) automatic gearbox, as seen today in the Prius.

Austin/Morris Mini (1959)

Eighty per cent of the Mini’s volume was useable as passenger space. It was a triumph of packaging design and arguably the world’s first classless car.

Triumph Herald (1959)

Most British driving schools had Heralds. They were easy to drive and had great visibility. You could buy it as a convertible, saloon, coupe, estate or van.

Renault 4 (1961)

Eight million buyers can’t be wrong. The 4 was Renault’s first front-wheel drive car, and production continued until 1992.

Austin/Morris 1100/1300 (1962)

Another example of Alec Issigonis’s genius, the spacious and smooth-riding 1100 lasted for over a decade and gathered over a million owners.

Ford Cortina (1962)

A sales rep favourite that went on to motorsport success in the form of Lotus-engined specials.

MG B (1962)

Topping the world sports car sales charts at one point with a near 20-year run, the B was available in Roadster and GT versions, with a V8 option.

Hillman Imp (1963)

Not far off the Mini in terms of its dynamics, the Imp was hit early on by poor engine reliability.

Vauxhall Viva (1963)

About as ‘three-box’ as car design gets, the first Viva was succeeded by considerably more stylish and capable models.

Fiat 850 (1964)

You could get the 850 as a spider or coupé, but the saloon delivered most of the 2.2 million sales in an eight-year production cycle.

Ford Mustang (1964)

America’s fastest-selling car at the time, with over one million snapped up in the first two years.

Toyota Corolla (1966)

Proof that excitement isn’t a pre-requisite for massive success, the Corolla name has notched up more than 40 million sales over half a century.

Fiat 124 (1966)

Only two million Fiat 124s were built. ‘Only’? That’s a lot, surely? Not compared to the 17 million more that were built with Lada badges.

Ford Escort (1968)

Another everyday Ford that became a motorsport hero, the first Escort is now highly sought after (and expensive) in the classic car world.

Jaguar XJ (1968)

Jaguar has always brought affordable luxury to motorists. The first XJ was a thunderclap moment as it added an incredible combination of ride and handling too.

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