Since they originated in the late 1800s, automobiles have changed and developed in response to consumer wishes, economic conditions, and advancing technology. The first gas-powered vehicles looked like horse buggies with engines mounted underneath because this was the style to which people were accustomed. By 1910, however, features like the front-mounted engine were already established, giving the automobile a look that was all its own. As public demand for cars increased, the vehicles became more stylized. The classic cars of the 1920s and 1930s epitomize the sleek, individually designed luxury cars called the “classic cars.” During the 1940s and 1950s, automobiles generally became larger until the advent of the “compact” car, which immediately became a popular alternative. The gasoline crisis is reflected in the fuel-efficient cars made in the 1970s and 1980s. Current designs continue to reflect economy awareness, although many different markets exist.
The original horseless carriage was introduced in 1893 by brothers Charles and Frank Duryea. It was America’s first internal-combustion motor car, and it was followed by Henry Ford’s first experimental car that same year.
One of the highest-rated early luxury automobiles, the 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost’s features included a quiet 6-cylinder engine, leather interior, folding windscreens and hood, and an aluminum body. Generally driven only by chauffeurs, the emphasis of the luxury car was on comfort and style rather than speed.
Cars of the 1920s exhibited design refinements such as balloon tires, pressed-steel wheels, and four-wheel brakes. Although assembly lines (which originated with Henry Ford in 1908) continued to bring the price of automobiles down, many cars in this time were one-of-a-kind vintage models, made to individual specifications. The 1929 Graham Paige DC Phaeton shown here featured an 8-cylinder engine and an aluminum body.
The roomy interior and rear-hinged back door of this 1937 Pontiac De Luxe sedan represent a move toward a car more suited to the needs of families. With these consumers in mind, cars were designed to be convenient, reliable, and relatively inexpensive. Vehicles in the 1930s were generally less boxy and more streamlined than their predecessors.
This 1940 Studebaker Champion two-door sedan was designed by Raymond Loewy and built by Studebaker craftsmen. Features emerging in the 1940s include automatic transmission, sealed-beam headlights, and tubeless tires.
Powerful high-performance cars such as this 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL were built on compact and stylized lines. Also called the Gullwing because its doors open upward into the shape of a gull’s wings, the 300SL was capable of 230 kmh (144 mph), its on-road performance matching its racing capacity.
This 1957 Cadillac El Dorado convertible epitomizes the large cars of the “American Dream” era. Tail fins are an example of a trend in car design. Although the feature did little for the performance of the vehicle, consumers loved the look, and demanded fins of increasing size until the 1960s.
The Volkswagen Beetle dominated the market for several years, during which few modifications were made on the original design. Volkswagen’s name means “car for the people,” and the car served at least two important consumer needs. The rear-mounted engine and small, rounded, buglike shape of the European car represented an appealing combination of look and economy that remained popular for more than four decades.
More than 100,000 Ford Mustangs sold during first four months the model was on the market in 1964, making it Ford’s best early sales success since the introduction of the Model T. A vehicle from the “muscle car” category, the Mustang’s popular characteristics included a small, fast design, excellent handling, a powerful engine, and a distinctive look.
Modern cars like the Japanese 1992 MR-2 Turbo T-bar Toyota are generally light, aerodynamically shaped, and compact. Japanese imports changed the automobile industry significantly. The generally reliable, inexpensive cars increased competition between manufacturers dramatically, to the benefit of consumers.