Iconic car debuts from the year you were born
Iconic car debuts from the year you were born
If you’ve spent any time in the greeting card section of a store, you’ve come across birthday cards that chronicle the significant historical events, scientific breakthroughs, or cultural developments for a particular year. Among the many noteworthy occurrences that happen in a specific year is the debut of a car that defines the period, introduces breakthrough innovations, or displays revolutionary styling and aesthetics.
Stacker compiled a list of iconic car debuts from the year you were born, drawing on sources that include Popular Mechanics, plus automotive industry publications like Car and Driver, and Hemmings, the magazine favored by classic car aficionados.
By the early 1920s, the gas-powered cars had won the technology battle over electric and steam vehicles, though the Doble Steam Car, built by Doble Steam Motors, was still trying to mine the market for steam-powered vehicles in 1922. The Doble ran on recycled exhaust steam and could reach 90 miles an hour.
In 1928, the Duesenberg Model J represented the height of glamour and prestige, a vehicle driven by celebrities and the affluent. In 1932, Ford introduced its Roadster, which made the V8 available for engine-tinkerers and those who like to get their hands dirty working under the hood.
After World War II, in 1948, visionary automobile entrepreneur Preston Tucker built the Tucker 48, or Tucker Torpedo, one of the first vehicles to have disc brakes and safety features such as a padded dashboard. Unfortunately for Tucker, financial difficulties forced the company to close.
The introduction of Chevrolet Corvette in 1953—all models were convertible—was a watershed moment for the U.S. automotive industry because the Vette was the first true American sports car. Eleven years later, the debut of the stylish Ford Mustang, the brainchild of legendary automotive visionary Lee Iacocca, was an industry nod to the emerging mobile youth culture of the 1960s. Both the Vette and the Mustang would be reintroduced to the public with great fanfare.
Here is a list of the iconic car debuts from the year you were born.
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1921: Lincoln L-Series
The Lincoln company produced the L series after World War I. Sales of the vehicle, packing an 81-horsepower V8, were disappointing and the company ran into financial difficulties. The company was forced to sell to Ford Motor Co., which made the luxury vehicle a star in its line of automobiles.
1922: Doble Steam Car
Even though gasoline-powered cars overtook electric vehicles in the early part of the 20th century, there were other choices for motorists. The Doble Steam Car was one of them. Built by Doble Steam Motors of Emeryville, California, the vehicle ran on recycled exhaust steam and could top 90 miles an hour. One of the vehicle’s selling points was it took 90 seconds to warm up. The bad press from a bogus stock sale compelled Doble to shutter its doors in 1931. Steam Car owners include comedian and talk-show host Jay Leno.
1923: Lancia Lambda
Lancia led the way in utilizing monocoque construction—meaning the structure of the vehicle is joined together into one unit—in the Lambda. The revolutionary production process was more expensive, but it made the car lighter. In addition, the vehicle was among the first with independent front suspension and a V4 engine. More than 11,000 Lambdas were built from 1923 to 1931.
1924: Chrysler Model B-70
The Chrysler Model B-70 was one of the best-selling cars of the 1920s. Launched by company founder Walter P. Chrysler, the B-70 was one of the most powerful vehicles of the era. The B-70 could reach a top speed of 75 miles an hour. In terms of acceleration, the car could go to 25 miles an hour from five in seven seconds. The car also had features not found in cars of the time, such as hydraulic brakes and shock absorbers.
1925: Rolls-Royce Phantom I
The Phantom I was the successor to Rolls’ 40/50 model, and the Phantom augmented the car maker’s reputation of building elegant and luxurious vehicles. The Phantom boasted an improved-upon 7.7-liter six-cylinder engine and also disc brakes. The automaker shifted valves overhead from the sides of the car. The car was built in Springfield, Massachusetts, which had been constructing Rolls-Royces since 1921.
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1926: Chrysler Imperial 80
Walter P. Chrysler wanted to compete against luxury cars such as Cadillac and Lincoln and created the Imperial luxury car for his company. The Imperials came on the market as roadsters, sedans, and convertibles. They packed a 92-horsepower engine and were advertised as able to cruise at 80 miles an hour, where the car’s name comes from. The Imperial 80 was the pace car for the 1926 Indianapolis 500. The vehicle was also noteworthy for setting a transcontinental speed record by traveling 6,721 miles in a week.
1927: Ford Model A
By 1927, Henry Ford’s legendary Model T was looking obsolete, so Ford sought a successor. The first Model A was built in October of 1927 and introduced to the public in December of that year. The Model A Roadster cost $430.The featured innovations not found in economy cars of the time, such as four-wheel hydraulic-lever shock absorbers and self-adjusting mechanical brakes. Two million Model As were built by July of 1929.
1928: Duesenberg Model J
The Duesenberg Model J was the choice of movie stars, aristocrats, and the rich, a status statement of elegance and sophistication just as the Roaring ’20s were drawing to a close. The vehicle’s bodywork was custom-made, with no two automobiles the same. The Duesy, as it was affectionately called, boasted an eight-cylinder engine generating 265 horsepower, that could be boosted to 320 horsepower with a supercharger option. The price tag for the Duesenberg could reach a staggering $25,000.
1929: Hudson Roadster
By 1929, the Hudson automobile company was doing well, selling about 300,000 cars during the model year with cutting-edge technology and elegant styling, and nothing said that more than the Hudson Roadster. The 1929 two-seat Roadster was Hudson’s lightest and fastest. The engine was the famous Super Six with 29 horsepower. The Roadster’s steel-frame body was built by Briggs Manufacturing Co., which constructed cars for Hudson rivals Ford and Chrysler.
1930: Bentley 8 Litre
The Bentley 8 Litre was notable for several reasons. It was the last car designed by W.O. Bentley, who founded the company. And the car was also the last vehicle launched by Bentley before the company was bought by Rolls-Royce. The 8 Litre was quite a swan song for Bentley. The car packed a straight six engine, producing 230 horsepower and could reach top speed of 100 miles per hour. Advertisements for the car touted how “it was particularly quiet for a sports job … holding the road like a leech.”
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1931: Marmon Sixteen
Even as the Great Depression was bearing down on the American car-buying public, Marmon Motor Car Co. debuted the Marmon Sixteen, a vehicle that was powerful, fast, and elegant. Marmon, which had developed a reputation for speed that started with its victory in 1911 at the first Indianapolis 500, installed a robust, aluminum V16 engine in the Marmon Sixteen, and engine packed 200 horsepower. Among its features were elegant wood trim. The car was expensive, and Marmon had only sold about 400 Marmon Sixteens by 1933, the year the company produced its last cars.
1932: Ford Roadster
If there is one car where hot-rodding can point to its origins, it is the 1932 Ford Roadster. Nicknamed “The “Deuce,” the car was popular because it looked cool and was inexpensive. Its optional flathead V8 made the car quicker than its rivals. Prior to the Roadster, the V8 was mostly available in bigger, luxury cars. That engine was not new, however—the engineers at Ford were able to build them cheaply and make them more available to more people. Thus, The Deuce made hot-rod history.
1933: Pierce Arrow Silver Arrow
The 1933 Pierce Arrow Silver Arrow is an example of how automobiles were being influenced by aerodynamic designs. The Silver Arrow was sleek and futuristic. Indeed, advertisements of the time cited its design, saying about the Silver Arrow that, “It gives you in 1933 the car of 1940.” The Silver Arrow had a V12 engine with 160 horsepower that could produce a top speed of more than 115 miles per hour. The cost of the Silver Arrow was about $10,000 each at a time when the Great Depression was ravaging the American economy, and few Silver Arrows were built. A Pierce Arrow was sold at auction in Hershey, Pennsylvania in 2017 for $2.31 million.
1934: Chrysler Airflow
Chrysler unveiled the Airflow at the 1934 New York Auto Show, and it created quite a stir. The vehicle wowed onlookers with its revolutionary, streamlined look and lightweight construction. The design sprung from the mind of Chrysler engineer Carl Breer, who saw similarities between planes and birds and thought cars seemed inferior in terms of design. The Airflow had innovations such as automatic overdrive. It influenced car design over the next decade. It failed to find favor with the public, however.
1935: Chevy Suburban Carryall
The Chevy Suburban Carryall is the mother of the modern SUV and is among the oldest vehicles in continued production. It is now in its 12th generation of vehicles. The original vehicle’s enclosed two-door wagon was constructed on a truck chassis. The Chevy Suburban Carryall had a six-cylinder engine that produced 90 horsepower. The vehicle could seat eight people on removable seats.
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1936: Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic
The stunning 1936 Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic, with its singular bubble styling, is considered to be among the most beautiful cars ever built by automotive enthusiasts. Only four of the vehicles were ever constructed. The Bugatti’s body was made of aluminum and the car was light and quick. It was the first car to feature fins. Under the hood, the Bugatti had a straight-eight engine that generated 210 horsepower. Some automotive historians consider the Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic as the first supercar.
1937: Cord 812 Phaeton
The Cord 810/812s were known for their front-wheel drive, which helped produce innovative automotive designs. The 812 was Cord’s second vehicle with front-wheel drive. Its first, the L-29, was introduced in 1929, the year of the stock market crash, and did not sell well. The stylish Cord 812 Phaeton could reach speeds of 170 miles per hour when it was equipped with a supercharger. The car also featured pop-up headlights, which were new for the time. The 812 was not in production for long, as Cord went out of business in 1937. But the 812 has hardly been forgotten. American Heritage magazine in 1996 named the Cord 812 Phaeton as “The Single Most Beautiful American Car.”
1938: BMW 327 Sport Cabriolet
The BMW 327 was the German car maker’s attempt to produce upscale sports cars with pleasing performance, comfort, and style. The Cabriolet featured a distinct kidney-shaped grill, and its fenders incorporated indicator lights. Interior elegance was marked by leather upholstery on seats and on doors panels. Under the hood, the Cabriolet had 2.0-liter inline-six generating 55 horsepower. The Cabriolet’s top speed was 78 miles an hour.
1939: Packard 120
The Packard 120 was the second generation of the company’s luxury car line. It was named “120” after its wheelbase. The redesigned vehicle’s new options included an early electronic overdrive system called Econo-Drive. Packard moved the transmission shifter to the steering column, and that created more floor space in the vehicle. The vehicle’s engine had 120 horsepower. To smooth out choppy road conditions, Packard engineers affixed a “fifth” shock absorber in the center of the chassis.
1940: Graham “Spirit of Motion”
The Graham “Sharknose” cars, produced by the car company Graham-Paige, were designed by Amos E. Northup, the chief designer for Murray Corp., which made car bodies for automakers. The look of the car was forward-tilted, with the front grill jutting forward, suggesting speed and sleekness, what the company called "the Spirit of Motion." Supercharged models could reach 120 miles per hour. Graham-Paige was hoping the vehicle would help stanch its red ink, but the public didn’t respond to the car, selling only 4,139 cars in its first year.
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1941: Buick Century
Buick boosted the power of the stylish Century for the 1941 model. Its eight-cylinder engine generated 165 horsepower, and its heft was lifted by two carburetors or compound carburetion. This made the vehicle one of America’s most powerful cars. The Century’s top speed was 100 miles per hour, with a cruising speed of 80 miles per hour. Compound carburetion did not last long because the extra power guzzled gas, and with the war looming, that feature was less attractive for car buyers.
1942: Lincoln Continental
With the needs of a wartime economy looming, the 1942 Lincoln Continental would be the last model produced by Ford before the nation’s automakers stopped domestic vehicle production to make parts and vehicles for the war effort. The 1942 Continental was modified with a bigger front end. The vehicle had a V12 that was altered to use cast-iron cylinder heads, and the vehicle had 130 horsepower. Only 136 of these Lincolns were made in 1942, though the changes would have an influence on the look of post-war Lincolns.
1943-1945: Willys MB/CJ-2A
With domestic vehicle production halted because automakers were providing parts and vehicles for the war effort, out of the conflict emerged the Willys MB, what we know as the Jeep. The vehicle was a workhorse for the Allies. After the war, Willys put in the Jeep on a peacetime footing, and the utilitarian use and rugged reliability of the CJ-2A proved to be popular among farmers and ranchers. Those early Jeeps were the forerunners of 4x4s and the modern Jeep.
1946: Triumph 1800 Roadster
The 1946 Triumph 1800 Roadster was one of the first British cars built after the war. It was created by the Standard Motor Co., which focused on the the luxury end of the market. The vehicle with its bulbous wheel wells was built from aluminum using processes that were utilized to make British bombers during World War II. The 1800 Roadster had a 1.5-liter engine that could climb to 60 miles an hour from zero in 34.4 seconds. The car had a top speed of 75 miles per hour.
1947: Chevrolet Fleetmaster
General Motors answered the pent-up demand for cars after World War II with the Chevrolet Fleetmaster. It wasn’t a groundbreaking vehicle, and its design suggested car styling from the previous decade. That didn’t seem to matter to the car-buying public. The three-speed car was available in two- and four-door sedans, a coupe, a station wagon, and a convertible. It was the biggest-selling car in 1947, with GM selling 684,145 Chevrolet Fleetmasters.
1948: Tucker 48
The Tucker 48 was also known as the Tucker Torpedo and was the brainchild of visionary automobile entrepreneur Preston Tucker. The car had a brief but impactful lifespan. The car was the first to include disc brakes and a center headlight that swiveled when the car cornered. Other features included four-wheel suspension and safety features such as a padded dashboard. Tucker claimed he had opposition from within the automobile industry and said so in an open letter that appeared in newspapers all over the nation. Tucker’s financial troubles, including accusations of stock fraud (Tucker was found innocent), doomed the company.
1949: VW Beetle
One of the 20th century’s most famous cars, the German “people’s car” reached American shores in 1949 and would go on to be one of the biggest selling cars in America in the 20th century. The beloved “Bug,” subject of a Disney movie from the 1960s, was small, cheap, and utilitarian, with an engine in the rear of the vehicle. It was created by Ferdinand Porsche at the behest of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, to provide a cheap car for working-class Germans.
1950: Jaguar XK120
Originally produced for limited distribution of just 200 cars, the Jaguar XK120's popularity pushed the British luxury car maker to boost production. Its distinctive design sprang from the mind of Jaguar co-owner William Lyons. The famed Jaguar XK120 was a powerful vehicle—its 3.4-liter, twin overhead-cam inline-six produced 160 horsepower. The car could soar to 60 miles per hour in under 10 seconds. Its top speed was 120 miles an hour, where it got its name.The car was a success on the track as well, winning Le Mans in 1951 and 1953.
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1951: Hudson Hornet
Fans of the animated film “Cars” will recognize the 1951 Hudson Hornet, which in the film was an animated retired race car voiced by actor Paul Newman. In real life, the Hornet, made by the Hudson Motor Car Co., dominated the speedway, powered by its Twin H-Power straight six. The Hudson Hornet, featured on the television show “Jay Leno’s Garage,” amassed 80 NASCAR wins between 1951 and 1955. But the Hudson Hornet was not for the general public, who preferred V8 engines to the straight six.
1952: Buick Roadmaster
By 1952, the Buick Roadmaster had many of the aesthetic hallmarks of early 1950s Buicks—the famous grill, the hood ornament that suggested a gun sight, and porthole. To make the Roadmaster stand out, Buick produced the car in six colors only available in that model. There was a lot of metal in the Buick Roadmasters in the early 1950s. Roadmasters came in sedans, convertibles, and wagons.
1953: Chevrolet Corvette
The Chevrolet Corvette entered American automotive folklore when it debuted in 1953, becoming America’s first true sports car. In ads for the car, Chevrolet said it was “an exciting design for new adventures in driving.” The car was first unveiled at the New York Auto Show and every one of the 300 Corvettes sold in 1953 was a soft top convertible painted white over a fiberglass body with side windows that could be detached. The V8 engine would not be installed in Corvettes until 1955. By then, the car had already become a legend.
1954: Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing
The 300SL was an eye-popping sports car famous for its upswinging Gullwing doors on a lightweight frame. Mercedes-Benz made just 167 of these vehicles in 1954. In February 1954, the vehicle debuted at the International Motor Sports Show in New York. The futuristic vehicle sported four-wheel independent suspension, had a fuel-injected six-cylinder engine, and packed 240 horsepower. The vehicle ruled the racetrack in its day and it was the fastest car made in production in its time.
1955: Citroen DS
It seemed like every French movie in the 1950s had a scene that included Citroën DS, the futuristic and otherworldly looking sedan from France. The aerodynamically styled four-door sedan’s construction featured outer panels that were bolted to the frame. Its hydro-pneumatic suspension helped make the front-wheel Citroën a smooth ride. The car also had semi-automatic transmission and brakes that were power-assisted. Production of the Citroën, named after French industrialist André-Gustave Citroën, eventually ended in 1975.
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1956: Continental Mark II
The Continental Mark II was a step up for Ford. The luxuriously designed coupe was intended to compete with Rolls-Royce. The 5,000-pound Mark II had power brakes, power windows, power steering, and other amenities to try and lure the uber rich market. Every vehicle was hand-built and very expensive to produce. Even with a $10,000 price tag—if you got air conditioning—some industry experts estimated the car cost more than what it sold for. Fewer than 3,000 Mark II’s were built, and production stopped in 1957.
1957: Fiat 500
The Fiat 500, a small vehicle designed as a city car, is one of the cars most closely associated with Italy. The first model was called the Fiat 500 Topolino, meaning little mouse. It didn’t have a lot of power—its two-cylinder engine produced just 13 horsepower and its top speed was 53 miles per hour. But it was cheap to buy, required little maintenance, and was good on gasoline. And it put millions of Italians on the road between 1957 and 1975.
1958: Ford Thunderbird
Immortalized by a line from the Beach Boys song “Fun, Fun, Fun” (“And we'll have fun fun fun now that daddy took the T-bird away”), Ford’s Thunderbird blasted onto the market in 1958. It was the first Ford car created with unibody construction. The Ford Thunderbird took the auto world by storm, challenging the Corvette for American sports car supremacy. The T-bird was the first debut car to win Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award.
1959: Cadillac Coupe de Ville
When car connoisseurs reminisce about autos from the 1950s and the subject turns to the Cadillac Coupe de Ville, they talk about tail fins and the distinctive brake lights that jut out the back. The car was powered by a 325 V8 and the vehicle rested on an X frame. Brochures from the time touted the vehicle’s all-new grille, scientifically engineered drainage system, posture control seats, and air conditioning that was the “most efficient on market.”
1960: Chevrolet Corvair
For General Motors, the creation of the compact Corvair was a road less traveled. Like its VW rival, the engine for the squat-looking vehicle was situated in the rear and the trunk was up front. Ads for “the revolutionary Corvair” lauded “the supple quality of its ride” and “the nimble bulk-free precision of its going.” Optimism for the car dissipated when it became the subject of consumer crusader Ralph Nader’s 1965 landmark book “Unsafe at Any Speed.” The book cited the car’s swing-axle and rear-mounted engine as factors for an unstable ride. The bad publicity from the book forced the car to redesign its rear suspension.
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1961: Jaguar E-Type
The Jaguar E-Type was a strikingly beautiful car when it debuted in 1961. Moviegoers might remember the E-Type to promote the 1999 film “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.” The extended-hooded Jag reeked of sex appeal, packing 265 horsepower in its straight six engine that lifted this firecracker to 150 miles per hour. It was a real head-turner for its time, a fixture in hot spots like Malibu or the French Riviera. Even though the Jag went through design changes, the early E-Types are the vehicles most fondly remembered.
1962: Studebaker Avanti
Studebaker Avanti was a quirky, futuristic luxury coupe from Studebaker, designed by Raymond Loewy, that came out for just one year. Touted as “America’s Most Advanced Automobile” in ads, the Avanti was marketed for discerning drivers and only about 4,500 of them were built. Aesthetically, the front of the car was styled with an aerodynamic, wind-cutting design, and the body of the vehicle was made of fiberglass. The vehicle also featured bucket seats and claimed to have established the speed record for a production car. The Avanti was one of the last gasps for Studebacker, which went out of business in 1966.
1963: Buick Riviera
Few cars embodied 1960s style and elegance more than the Buick Riviera. Buick sold 40,000 Rivieras in its first year. The car had four bucket seats and its metallic interior was accentuated by real wood trim. Under the hood, the Riviera was powered by its 401 cubic-inch Nailhead V8, which got its name from the unusual vertical positioning of its valves. The light and narrow engine generated 325 horsepower and had robust acceleration. Among the car’s options were cruise control, power door locks, and AM/FM radio.
1964: Ford Mustang
- The story of the Ford Mustang is the stuff of legend. Visionary car salesman Lee Iacocca envisioned a car tailored for the youth market. The Mustang was introduced at the New York World’s Fair in 1964. It was a sensation. Within 24 hours of the car’s introduction, Ford received 22,000 orders for the Mustang. Ford sold 418,000 Mustangs in its first year. The Mustang became one of America’s iconic vehicles.
1965: Chevrolet Impala
The Chevrolet Impala was the fourth generation of the vehicle and its debut led to a landmark. More than 1 million Impalas were sold in 1965, the first time a single model had eclipsed that level in the United States. The Impala would repeat the feat two years later. The Impala became its own model in 1959 and broke a sales record in 1965 because of streamlined styling and a perimeter frame that gave it its iconic boxy appearance, popular among low riders.
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1966: Volkswagen Type 2 Camper Bus
No vehicle is more closely associated with 1960s counterculture as the VW microbus, a frequent sight at the Woodstock music festival in 1969. The easily adaptable vehicle has appeared in many films, among them Oscar winners “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Argo.” It was also the vehicle of choice, albeit in animated version, as the Mystery Machine for Scooby-Doo and his pals.
1967: Chevrolet Camaro
Chevrolet, champing at the bit to challenge the Mustang in the sporty car category, unveiled the Camaro in 1967. Legend has it that when journalists asked what the name of the new entry meant, they were told that the Camaro was "a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs." The Camaro was outfitted with a V8 packing 375 horsepower. Subsequent, more powerful Camaros would enter the pantheon of American muscle cars.
1968: Dodge Charger
No mention of American muscle cars can be complete without mentioning the Dodge Charger. The squarish hood and curvy rear section of the roof made the vehicle among the distinctive cars of the era. The Charger, powered by its famous Hemi V8, was a frequent participant in NASCAR races. TV viewers of a certain generation remember the vehicle from the “General Lee” vehicle that appeared on the “Dukes of Hazzard” television show in the 1970s and 1980s, and it was the car Steve McQueen drove to chase-scene glory in the movie “Bullitt.”
1969: Ford Capri
The Ford Capri is a stylish coupé, with more than 2 million built, that became a very popular vehicle in the United Kingdom. The vehicle was a pony car version of Ford’s successful Mustang, a car that was deemed too big for the European market. The first Capris were the product of designer Gordon Mackray and were reworked by designer Neil Birtley. The new product had a sleek profile and a reduced tail area. It debuted at the 1969 Brussels Auto Show and was touted as "The car you always promised yourself."
1970: Dodge Challenger
Fans of the Fast and the Furious movies know that one of the stars of the films is the Dodge Challenger. The Dodge Challenger is the very definition of the term muscle car and is closely associated with its muscle car predecessor, the Dodge Charger. The first buyers of the vehicle could either purchase a hardtop coupe or a convertible. There were choices for engine also—an Inline-6 with 145 horsepower or a V8 with 390 horsepower. For further customization, Challenger owners could opt for double-scooped hoods and deck wings in the back.
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1971: Chrysler New Yorker
The Chrysler New York was long, lean, and massive. Its powertrain was similar to the Newport, both of which were four-door sedans. The 1971 New Yorkers had ventless front-door windows. Under the car’s hood was a 440 cubic inch V8. Like other vehicles featuring unibody construction, the frame eased vibrations and permitted for more rear foot room.
1972: BMW 5 Series
The BMW 5 Series was an outgrowth of the so-called “Neue Klasse'' of sedan by the German automobile-maker in 1961, an effort to help BMW emerge from financial troubles in the late 1950s. The design of the 5-Series was signed by Paul Braq, who drew on inspiration from designer Wilhelm Hofmeister,The first BMW 5 Series vehicles had four-cylinder power, but that didn’t last long. Within a year, the 5 Series would be outfitted with six-cylinder engines. The BMW 5 Series is now in its 11th generation.
1973: Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Motor Trend magazine named the 1973 Monte Carlo its “car of the year,” and the automotive public agreed, buying almost 250,000 of them. The magazine lauded its European-style ride and handling. The redesigned Monte Carlo featured beefier bumpers and a padded vinyl roof, though power had been reduced from previous models.
1974: Lamborghini Countach LP400
The public first laid eyes on Lamborghini Countach’s recognizable scissor doors and wedge shape in 1974. The auto project was begun in 1970 under the code name Project LP112. The Lamborghini Countach was one of the last models constructed under the direction of Ferruccio Lamborghini. Three years later, the car debuted. The first Countachs were called "Periscopio" for their periscope-like rear-view mirror design. The striking, almost-otherworldly vehicle was powered by a 375 horsepower, 3.9-liter V12 engine. The space-age-like frame chassis was courtesy of designer Paolo Stanzani.
1975: Volvo 242/244/245
The watchword for Volvos has been safety, and the Volvo 240 series—known for its boxy design and solid construction—underscored that reputation. The series was in production from 1975 to 1993, and became an unlikely iconic vehicle among those less interested in style and more concerned about value and durability. The useful station wagon became a mainstay for well-heeled suburbanites who sought the vehicle for its reliability and safety. The 242 models were two-doors, the 244s were four-doors, and 245s were wagons.
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1976: Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Coupe
The Cutlass was slightly refreshed in 1976 and that did the trick for sales. It was America’s best-selling car in 1976. Luxury coupes were the hottest-selling vehicles in the mid-1970s. The Cutlass sold as many as 500,000 vehicles in one year, but the stately looking Cutlass with its signature narrow window did not age well and the brand no longer exists. The 1983 Cutlass Supreme outsold all American vehicles, the last time any Oldsmobile did so.
1977: Pontiac Trans AM
The 1977 Pontiac Trans AM was bulked up with a 200 horsepower 6.6-liter V8 and it challenged the Corvette for sports car supremacy. Movie fans remember the vehicle from the 1977 hit movie “Smokey and the Bandit” that starred Burt Reynolds, Jackie Gleason, and Sally Field, with Reynolds driving the Trans AM. Pontiac provided the film four Trans AMs, and three were destroyed during filming while doing stunts. The film was instrumental in lifting Trans AM sales the following year.
1978: Subaru BRAT
The Subaru BRAT—an abbreviation for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter—was a quirky looking vehicle that fused four-wheel drive with the body of a pickup. The vehicle tried to capitalize on the strong market in the United States for small pickups. To avoid getting hit with an import tariff on pickups, the Japanese company installed rear-facing seats on the bed of the vehicle, enabling it to classify the BRAT as a passenger car.
1979: Saab 900 Turbo
The Saab 900 is credited with helping to bring turbocharging vehicles into the automotive industry mainstream, picking up that mantle from the Saab 99, which was beginning to show its age. Like Saab vehicles, the unpretentious 900 was practical and reliable, but it was fun to drive and it had cutting-edge technology that put the vehicle ahead of its rivals. Under the hood, the first Saab 900 Turbo had a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produced 143 horsepower. Subsequent models were boosted to 160 horsepower.
1980: Audi Quattro
Audi shook up the automotive world in 1980 when it introduced the Quattro, the model for current four-wheel drive cars. Audi’s innovative four-wheel at technology became a selling point for all Audi models going forward, calling it “Quattro technology.” Engineer Jorg Bensinger developed the concept for Audi’s four-wheel-drive system, and the Audi team of renowned engineer Ferdinand Piech created the system.The car was more than that though. The Quattro was notable for its style, performance, and handling. Its turbocharged 200-horsepower engine produced a top speed of 135 miles per hour. Audi made 11,452 Quattros in 1980.
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Maverick automobile mogul John DeLorean created the DMC-12, the car that moviegoers know from the 1985 time-travel hit “Back to the Future.” The car was sleek, but was criticized for being underpowered, and was not as fuel-efficient as advertised. It also was expensive and was unable to lure sports car aficionados who preferred Ferraris and Porsches. The company ran into money problems and only produced about 9,000 vehicles.
1982: Ford Escort
The Ford Escort sold more cars during the recession in the early 1980s than any other vehicle, 337,000 in 1982. In its ads, Ford called the small family car a World Car and said the Escort outsold all imports in 1982. The company said the vehicle, which came as a two-door and four-door hatchback and a four-door wagon, was the only American-built four-wheel vehicle with independent suspension in its category. Among its options were reclining bucket seats
1983: VW Rabbit GTI
The VW Rabbit GTI was a sporty compact hatchback, dismissively called an econobox, that cost less than $10,000. With just a 90-horsepower engine, the GTI didn’t have a lot of power, but it built on the original Rabbit, had stronger suspension, and larger wheels produced better handling. Sculpted seats made of heavy-duty corduroy were one of the delights of the German car. The GTI was also produced in the United States, in Pennsylvania.
1984: Plymouth Voyager/Dodge Caravan
Plymouth Voyager/Dodge Caravan helped launch the minivan trend in 1984 and made the station wagon obsolete. The vans were compact and utilitarian, and prior to the introduction of the SUVs, were the symbol of suburban families packing their kids off to soccer matches. Chrysler had dominated the market for full-size vans, and the company saw an opportunity to grab market share from station wagons. Company bigwigs Hal Sperlich and Lee Iacocca hit upon a front-drive van modeled on the K-Car that featured a sliding rear door, and that became the minivan.
1985: Ferrari Testarossa
For glitz, outright flashiness, and Miami cool, nothing matches the Ferrari Testarossa, which was as much of a star of the stylish 1980s television crime series “Miami Vice” as actors Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas. The Testarossa, produced from 1984 to 1991, purred with a 12-cylinder engine that took the Italian import to 60 miles an hour in five seconds. The car was originally painted black, but “Miami Vice” producer Michael Mann had the Testarossa painted white to show up more dramatically during night scenes.
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1986: Mercedes-Benz 560 SEL
If you are looking for a car that summed up 1980s affluence and celebrity, look no farther than the Mercedes-Benz 560 SEL. Stylish and sedate, the 1986 rear-wheel sedan had a huge 5.6-liter V8 that packed 238 horsepower, and it could climb to 149 miles per hour. The 560 could reach 60 miles an hour in 7.2 seconds. The vehicle also featured front and rear anti-roll bar suspension.
1987: Ferrari F40
The Ferrari F40 was the last gasp for company founder Enzo Ferrari, who died at age 90 in 1988. Powered by a 478 horsepower V8, the company claimed the F40 was the world's first production car that could surpass 200 miles per hour. The car could reach 124 miles per hour in an eye-popping 12 seconds. The famous design company Pininfarina crafted the F40’s body with panels made of Kevlar, carbon fiber, and aluminum. The company made 1,311 F40s.
1988: Pontiac Firebird
The Pontiac Firebird was famous from its appearance on the 1980s television show “Knight Rider” as an artificially intelligent talking car, as well as its appearance in the movie “Smokey and the Bandit.” The 1988 version had a removable roof and a fiberglass rear deck lid option that made the Firebird look similar to a Ferrari. The engine was an overhead valve 2.8-liter six-cylinder generating 135 horsepower. Pontiac produced 62,455 examples of the F-body Firebird in 1988.
1989: Toyota Lexus
Toyota, which had been increasing its market share for small, reliable cars in the United States, saw an opportunity to move upscale. Toyota took its time in developing the Lexus, and by 1989, the Japanese company introduced the car, which threw down the gauntlet to European luxury vehicles. Lexus was powered by a 4.0-liter V8 that produced 250 horsepower. One of the hallmarks of the 1989 Lexus was its relaxing ride as well as its ease of shifting gears. Lexus had a price advantage over the European rivals, and developed a reputation as one of the auto industry's best-built and reliable cars on the road.
1990: Nissan 300ZX
The sporty Nissan 300ZX was Motor Trend’s import of the year in 1990, and was a favorite of Car and Driver magazine, which has named the Japanese import on its 10 best list on more than one occasion. The 300ZX had computer-controlled features, one of the first vehicles to do so. The 300ZX is a big favorite among millennials. According to James Hewitt, valuation information analyst at car magazine Hagerty, said millennials comprise 39.5% of all potential 300ZX buyers.
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1991: Ford Taurus
The Taurus would begin the glory days for Ford in the early 1990s, and the 1991 Taurus would begin a six-year run for the Taurus as America’s best-selling car. Over its nearly 30-year existence, the car moved into the full-size category from mid-sized. The engine could fire up to 7,000 RPM and the Taurus could reach 60 miles per hour in seven seconds, reaching a top speed of 143 miles per hour. The Taurus was in production for about 30 years until market tastes shifted to crossovers and SUVs. In 2018 Ford ceased production of the Taurus.
Spurred by the intense interest of action actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who saw a version of the vehicle used by the military while shooting the film “Kindergarten Cop” in Oregon, the Hummer was developed by AM General and eventually produced by General Motors on its truck platform. These almost tank-like vehicles that crowded roads and parking lots in the 1990s were major gas guzzlers. When the price of gasoline soared over $4 during the financial crisis, the Hummer was doomed.
1993: Jeep Grand Cherokee
Jeep Grand Cherokee became a big favorite of suburban families in the early 1990s. The vehicle combined four-by-four aptitude with the ride experience of a passenger car. Grand Cherokee improved on its XJ predecessor with smoother edges, improved horsepower at 190 horsepower (outperforming its Ford Explorer rival), and was more comfortable on and off-road. Other improvements to the Cherokee were its microcellular jounce bumpers, which evenly absorbed shocks.
1994: Acura Integra
Following its successful launch of its Accord in 1989, the Honda came up with the Acura Integra in 1994. The sport compact Acura was positioned as a luxury vehicle at first, but actually evolved into a value brand and was one of the best vehicles produced by the Japanese car maker. The hallmarks of the car were how it handled and precise shifting.
1995: Saturn S-Series
General Motors created Saturn in 1990 to try and compete with the Japanese auto brands that were making inroads in the American market. The firm was billed as “a different kind of car company,” and was created by GM as a standalone car maker, though wholly owned by General Motors. Saturn’s first car was the S-Series, and it was well-received by automotive critics and the public. Saturn endeared itself to the car-buying public with its no-haggle pricing, and in 1995, had sold 1 million. After GM’s bankruptcy and restructuring in 2009, the auto giant tried to sell Saturn. No deal materialized, and GM ended Saturn production in 2009.
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1996: Dodge Viper GTS
The idea for the Dodge Viper sprang from the mind of then-Chrysler President Bob Lutz, who was influenced by the styling of the Shelby Cobra. The Viper as a concept car was first displayed at the 1989 Detroit auto show. The 1992 production model had a 400-horsepower, 8.0-liter V10 engine, developed with Lamborghini. The Viper went from zero to 60 in only 4.2-seconds, and had a top speed of more than 160 miles an hour.
1997: Chrysler Town & Country
Chrysler’s Town & Country lifted the minivan category by adding a touch of luxury to the vehicle segment, and changed the way people looked at minivans. A review in online car information source Edmunds said the all-wheel drive Town & Country is a “nice alternative to truck-like sport utility vehicles.” There were three minivan versions in 1997 that featured seven-passenger seating and a rollaway back seat. The left-side sliding passenger door was standard on all 1997 Town & Country models. The LXi model had an option for two-zone control heat/air conditioning.
1998: Ford Focus
Ford replaced its long-in-the-tooth Escort in Europe in 1998 with the Focus, sparking renewed interest and sales in the small family hatchback segment. Like many Ford vehicles, the Focus offered a variety of engines, transmissions, and body styles. The car featured an independent multi-link rear suspension whose origins were from a system used on the Ford Mondeo. The rear suspension system aimed to give the Focus handling and ride that would be superior to its rivals in its class.
1999: Lexus RX300
The Lexus RX 300 was a crossover pioneer and set the bar to what a crossover could be. Because the RX used many of the same parts as the Lexus ES sedan and Toyota Camry, it drove very much like a tall automobile and handled less like the bulkier SUVs of the time. A 3.0-liter V6 generates 220 horsepower and powers the RX300. The ad for the time said “4x4’s are designed to go anywhere. But who would have thought that would include the future?” The style of the car, whose starting price was $46,000, remains timeless.
2000: Pontiac Aztek
As car flops go, the Pontiac Aztek ranks up there with Ford’s Edsel and its failure was symptomatic of the shortcomings of General Motors at the turn of the millennium. It was intended to be cooler-looking than a minivan. The problem was it was built on the cheap and the Aztec used a minivan’s chassis, giving it an odd look. It was also lethargic and didn’t handle well. Pontiac put the model out of its misery in 2005.
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2001: Toyota Prius
The early generations of the Toyota Prius were not much to write home about. Not great styling and they were not a thrill to drive. But this early hybrid was reliable and delivered on mileage, getting 52 miles per gallon in the city. And it was among the cleanest-running vehicles on the road. The vehicle found an enthusiastic market segment. The Prius was an important step in coaxing automakers to shift production to include hybrids.
2002: BMW 7-Series
The imprimatur of cool for automakers is to get your hot car a product placement in a James Bond movie. And BMW succeeded in getting its futuristic BMW Z8 in the film “The World is Not Enough.” And while you couldn’t get the surface-to-air missiles that came with 007’s vehicle, the BMW 7-Series had so much gadgetry that the company included a reference sheet to give to valets to help them drive it. The chassis was made of aluminum and the car was powered by a 4.9-liter V8 engine. The BMW’s top speed was electronically clocked at 155.4 miles per hour.
2003: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
Mitsubishi used its Lancer Evolution, known as the “Evo,” to carve out a reputation as a rally car company. Mitsubishi intended to sell the Evo only in the Japanese markets, but its appeal extended beyond Japan’s shores. It was offered in limited supply first in Europe in 1998. Mitsubishi decided to export the car to the United States after seeing the sales success of Subaru’s Impreza WRX. The all-wheel drive vehicle was equipped with a turbocharged, four-cylinder engine packing 286 horsepower. Its all-wheel drive system could be set with modes for various surfaces such as gravel or snow.
2004: Toyota Scion xB
Toyota sought to recapture the younger car-buying market and created the Scion brand. To reach the younger market, Toyota eschewed traditional marketing channels. No ads ran during the Super Bowl and no glossy print ad campaigns were commenced. Instead, the company opted for marketing the car in specific locations, created an eye-catching website, and staged test-drive events at concerts. The xB was its first and best-selling product, a boxy and decidedly uncool vehicle with little power—just 108 horsepower.
2005: Bugatti Veyron
Storied engineer Ferdinand Piëch, chief executive officer and chairman of the Volkswagen Group, had conceived of a car whose engine had 18 cylinders, which was unheard of. From his mind sprung the Bugatti Veyron, a luxury supercar that in 2010 set a world speed record for a production vehicle of 267 miles per hour. The revolutionary vehicle turned heads with its eight-liter W16 quad-turbocharged engine that generated 1,000 horsepower. The car could zoom from zero to 60 miles per hour in 2.46 seconds. On the company website, Bugatti President Stephan Winkelmann said Piëch succeeded in resurrecting the Bugatti brand.
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2006: Audi R8
The Audi R8, considered a supercar, was introduced at the 2006 Paris Auto Show. The first-generation R8 was powered by a 4.2-liter V8 engine, which generated 420 horsepower. The R8’s chassis contained lighter materials, such as aluminum, set on a monocoque body. Other materials included carbon fiber and magnesium that contributed in keeping the body weight down. The R8 enjoyed great success on the racetrack and was a sales star. The R8’s popularity extended over two generations.
2007: Honda Fit
The Honda Fit subcompact car combined utility, affordability, and fun. The vehicle could be a mule, hauling lots of stuff in its cargo area. Space could be increased even further when the car’s “Magic Seat” was shifted forward, accommodating bigger things. The Honda Fit was lauded by Edmunds for its flexibility and handling. Beneath the hood was a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produced 109 horsepower. The 2,500-pound vehicle could reach 60 miles per hour in less than 10 seconds. The subcompact got 33 miles per gallon and 38 on the highway.
2008: Dodge Challenger SRT8
It was back to the future for muscle car fans who rejoiced at the retro 2008 Dodge Challenger. The car recaptured the styling that made it such a hit with Challenger fans. The vehicle was powered by a 6.1-liter Hemi V8 packing 425 horsepower. The Challenger, which first appeared in the late 1960s, can soar to 60 miles per hour in 4.7 seconds, and 100 miles per hour in 11.1 seconds.
2009: Nissan GT-R
The Nissan GT-R was dubbed Godzilla, a massive import from Japan that was a huge, heavy, and complicated sports car and beyond the reach of most wage earners, with an advertised price tag of $70,475. The GT-R was powered by 480 horsepower, and the vehicle could reach 60 miles per hour in 3.3 seconds. The computerized GT-R was among the most advanced vehicles in 2009. Car and Driver magazine cited the expansive front seat space.
2010: Nissan Leaf
The Nissan Leaf came to the United States in 2010 and showed the car-buying public on these shores that an electric car could be comfortable and financially reachable. It was one of the first successful mass-produced electric vehicles, and became a worldwide success. The first models of the Leaf only had 73 miles of range before they needed recharging, but eventually the Leaf worked up to be able to travel up to 226 miles on one charge.
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2011: Hyundai Sonata
The Hyundai Sonata helped boost the profile as well as the success of Korean automakers when the vehicle debuted in 2011. Its fluid styling would influence subsequent Hyundai vehicles. Hyundai also engaged the car-buying public with its extended warranties—10 years or 100,000 miles. Hyundai Motor Group built on the Sonata success by expanding into the luxury areas of the automotive industry.
2012: Tesla Model S
Elon Musk’s Tesla Model S took the electric vehicle experience to the next level with its game-changing extended range. Drivers could go as many as 265 miles on a single charge. And that EV could be used for extended road trips by accessing Tesla’s supercharger network. The interior of the Tesla sedan featured a cool center screen and it had quick acceleration. Motor Trend magazine named the Tesla S as its the Ultimate Car of the Year during its 70th Annual MotorTrend retrospective.
2013: Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S
The Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S were twin sports cars that were the product of a joint venture between Subaru and Toyota. With its ease of handling and affordable price of about $25,000, the cars were able to take on sporty cars like Mazda’s Miata. In terms of interior and exterior appearance, the twin vehicles could be barely told apart, though a review of the vehicles on Motor Biscuit said the BRZ’s suspension was softer than that of the FR-S, providing for a smoother ride.
2014: Mazda 6
The Mazda 6 is a car for people who enjoy driving and it was named one of Car and Driver’s 10 Best Cars for 2014. The magazine praised the vehicle’s suspension and chassis that made its ride comfortable, with the driver in control. Kudos also went to Its “effortless” six-speed automatic shifting system. The 6 engine is a 16-valve inline-4 that can produce 184 horsepower. The base price for the car started at $21,785.
2015: Hyundai Genesis
After establishing a foothold in the United States with the affordable Sonata, Hyundai set its sights on the luxury end, and introduced American motorists to the Genesis at the 2014 Detroit auto show. Hyundai’s Genesis took aim at rivals in the luxury segment such as the BMW 5-series, the Mercedes-Benz E-class, and the Lexus GS. Under the hood, the Genesis had a 3.8-liter V6 that generated 311 horsepower. That car with the graceful lines proved that Hyundai could compete in the luxury space, and its success led to Hyundai creating a luxury car division.
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2016: Volvo XC90
Volvo’s crossover, the XC90, was Motor Trend’s 2016 SUV of the Year. The XC90 shifted Volvo’s image from reliable and safe to a more-sexy profile. The XC90 played a role in Volvo’s $11 billion investment initiative to develop a new modular chassis that the company called Scalable Product Architecture. This enabled company designers and engineers greater latitude to improve the car’s drivability and create greater interior space. The Scalable Product Architecture approach has been the driving force for Volvo since its introduction.
2017: Chevy Bolt EV
The Chevy Bolt is an important vehicle in the evolution of the electric vehicle because it was the first electric American car to go more than 200 miles on one charge. Besides achieving that feat, the Bolt was nimble and roomy. Chevy kept the price point at less than $30,000 to keep it in reach for many potential auto buyers and it sold well. The Bolt took home the 2017 North American Car of the Year award and it was Motor Trend’s 2017 Car of the Year.
2018: Lincoln Navigator
The fourth generation of the Lincoln Navigator, one of Ford’s best sellers, lost some weight, courtesy of a new body made mostly of aluminum. The shift from steel saved about 200 pounds over the previous year’s model. The scale of 2018 Navigator remained the same, with three rows of as many as eight seats. The Navigator, with its imposing grill, boasted pleasing interiors, distinguished styling, and improved performance. When you pop the hood, you’ll find a V6 generating 450 horsepower, 70 more horsepower than the 2017 Navigator.
2019: Chevrolet Corvette ZR1
The Chevrolet Corvette was one of the most important cars in American automotive history, basically creating the category of the American sports car. In 2019, Chevrolet made a historic change in the car that was first introduced in 1970 that included shifting the engine to the middle from the front. The relaunched Corvette ZR1, with a price point at less than $60,000, could zoom to 60 miles an hour in less than three seconds. The 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 had a maximum track speed of 212 miles per hour.
2020: McLaren GT
Supercar maker McLaren debuted its GT, or grand touring car, which can be had for a cool $210,000. The GT rests on a carbon fiber structure and its body is composed of aluminum panels, to lessen the car’s weight. Drivers can avail themselves of the vehicle’s state-of-the-art infotainment system. Under the hood is a 4.0-liter V8 producing 612 horsepower. McLaren says the car can climb to 60 miles an hour in 3.1 seconds, and the automaker claims the GT can reach a maximum speed of 203 miles per hour.
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