The automotive industry has been innovating the automobile since its invention in 1885 by Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, but there are only a few of the thousands models introduced that really had a big impact on the motoring landscape.
For the special anniversary issue of Fast Times, the gear heads of the motoring section of the country’s oldest newspaper identified 10 cars that forever changed the automotive landscape. So read on.
Toyota introduced the Prius in Japan in 1997, and it was revolutionary, thanks to an engine that was far ahead of its time – a four-cylinder petrol engine coupled with an electric motor, which the company thought would serve as a benchmark for future hybrid cars.
Initial impressions of the car were lackluster performance, but its fuel efficiency stood out compared to every other car available in North America. It was also touted as the most efficient vehicle sold in the US. Four generations of the Prius were sold over the years, with variants such as the family-oriented Prius v and the smaller Prius c also offered.
Of course, almost everyone knows this little car made a huge impact on petrol heads and non-petrol heads alike, thanks to its cute, rounded styling that made a huge hit in pop culture, but what really made the car so popular was not just the looks, but the quality and reliability that it provided in its time.
The Beetle was born from a need for a people’s car (in which Volkswagen stands for) in Germany, when Adolf Hitler asked Ferdinand Porsche to commission a car that is cheap, reliable, and is capable of mass production that even the lower class could own and drive one. It was designed by Austrian Erwin Komenda during the 1930s and was produced in huge numbers since its introduction in 1945. Production went through the roof in the post-war era, when the one-millionth car was produced in 1955. It enjoyed huge sales in its lifetime, particularly in the United States. It would become one of the best-selling cars of all time, with 21.529 units build when production ended in 2003.
A 21st century iteration of the car, dubbed the New Beetle, was introduced in 1998, but never had the appeal of the original.
Since its debut in 1965, the Ford Mustang helped create a new car class that would appeal to younger people, and established a new market for an affordable, two-door, four-seater sports car.
Lee Iacocca, then Ford vice president, wanted to build a car that would “seat four, has bucket seats, a floor mounted shifter, no more than 180 inches long, weighed less than 2,500 pounds (1133 kgs), and sell for less than $2500,” and will be produced in a year and a half. To keep the costs low, Ford based it from a family car, the Falcon, and gave it a design inspired by European sports car of its time, with a long hood and a short rear deck. It also had a variety of engine choices, color choices, trims, and other options to choose from, as it was advertised as “the car designed by you.”
A day after its debut, younger customers flocked to the dealerships to get their hands on the new Mustang. Ford sold 22,000 Mustangs in the first day, and even with a very high demand, Ford could not keep up production since it could manufacture 1,200 cars a day. More than 400,000 units were sold in its first year, making it Ford’s best-selling car since the Model T.
In 1976, Bob Hall, a writer for Motor Trend, met with Mazda’s Kenichi Yamamoto and asked for a car that would bring back the fun of a classic British roadster. Hall started the project for Mazda after he became product planning head for Mazda USA in 1981. There he found Mark Jordan of General Motors fame, where he would commission him to design a small, lightweight roadster concept dubbed the Duo 101, a front-engined rear-wheel drive sports car keeping in line with the old British roadster, for a design competition inside Mazda, where it won. Tom Matano would later work on the final design.
The result is a small, lightweight, fun to drive sports car aimed to deliver driving joy. Mazda refers to this design philosophy as JinbaIttai (rider and horse as one), and this would follow on the succeeding generations of the MX-5 (Roadster in Japanese markets) up to this day. With a low price tag, the MX-5 helped people experience driving joy without having to burn a hole in their wallets, and was awarded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling two-seater sports car.
Henry Ford said that he wanted to create a car large enough for the family, made with quality, and affordable to the masses. To do so, he made an assembly line specific to a single product, as it facilitated the manufacturing process even with unskilled workers. This assembly line helped cut costs and save time, which made mass production possible, and has helped produced 1,000 cars a week, starting in 1914.
Over 14.689 million units of the Model T were produced until the end of its production in 1927, when people start to look for more stylish and luxurious cars.
Before Lamborghini started making super cars, it produced tractors and other manufacturing equipment. Founder Ferruccio Lamborghini bought a Ferrari 250 GT and found glitches that caused it be become problematic for road use, as it was based from a racing car. As he sought Enzo Ferrari to discuss his complaints, he turned Lamborghini down, doubting that a tractor maker would know anything about cars.
Ferruccio would set off to beat Ferrari in his own game with the 350GT, Lamborghini’s first ever production car. It utilized a V12 originally developed by Giotto Bizzarini, developing 270 horsepower, and it would define the standard for all Lamborghini V12 engines until the introduction of the Aventador in 2011. With a lightweight body designed and made by Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera, and a chassis made by Gian Paolo Dallara, the 350GT was softer and more comfortable than Ferrari’s own 250GT, and proved its worth to be a worthy competitor to Ferrari. The bitter rivalry between Ferrari and Lamborghini continues to this day.
Lancia Stratos HF
Italian automaker Lancia is known for its successes in rallying, with 11 championship titles under its belt. Its winning streak started with the front-wheel drive Fulvia in the 1960s, and then came the otherworldly Stratos in the 1907s.
The Stratos began as a concept designed by Bertone’s Marcello Gandini (who designed the Lamborghini Miura and the Countach) in 1971, after collaborating with Lancia to make a replacement for the aging Fulvia rally car. The production version followed two years later powered by a 190-horsepower 2.4-liter Ferrari V6 engine from a Dino 246 – the donor engine Enzo Ferrari was reluctant to sell to Lancia until the Dino 246 ended production in 1974. Combining the peppy V6, a 950-kilogran weight, and an extremely short wheelbase, it proved its worth in the World Rally Championship (WRC), where it won three times in 1973, 1974 and 1975. It is a highly prized collector’s item, with 492 units produced for the Stradale (street) versions.
Datsun 240Z/Nissan Fairlady 240Z
Exports of Japanese vehicles blew through the roof during the late 1960s and early 1970s, where they were fiercely known for low prices and high reliability. While most of the exports come in the form of an economical city car such as the Toyota Corolla, one such vehicle wanted to show the world that Japan can make excellent sports cars as well – the Nissan Fairlady Z (sold as Datsun 240Z in export markets).
Nissan has produced sports cars under the Fairlady name, where they were only sold in its home market. During the 240Z’s development, Nissan USA President Yutaka Katayama (widely known as ‘Mr. K’) saw the need for an affordable sports car to be sold internationally. It came in the form of an inexpensive GT car with parts that were interchangeable with other Nissan vehicles at the time, thanks to a large dealer network around the world, and the expertise with recently-acquired Prince Motors. Its price tag of below S$30,000 in today’s money, and stunning looks contributed for its huge success, with 45,000 units sold in its first year in the US.
The highly coveted Z432 (four valves, three carburetors, two camshafts) utilizes the same 2.0-liter DOHC straight-six engine with the first generation Nissan Skyline GT-R.
Honda Civic CVCC
The oil crisis of 1973 made a huge impact on the automotive world, when owners of gas guzzling V8s were turning to small, economical cars. The Civic was one of those vehicles during the boom of small, economical cars when it was introduced in 1972. In 1974, Honda introduced the CVCC (Compound Vortex Combustion Chamber) for its Civic in response to the more stringent emission standards in North America, especially in California.
The CVCC system in the Civic’s 1.5-liter engine utilized a different combustion process, thanks to its ingenious cylinder head design that negated use of any emissions equipment. The new engine system also allowed any petrol to fuel the car. However, numerous complaints of rust after a three-year period of use surfaced, which prompted the Japanese automaker to issue a massive recall.
Like the 240Z, the Civic made a lasting impact on people’s view on Japanese cars, thanks to clever engineering and low costs.
Known for using full-time four-wheel drive in the WRC races to compete against other rear-wheel drive cars, the Audi Quattro owed its existence to JörgBensinger, Audi’s chassis engineer at the time, who discovered the usefulness of four-wheel drive in a Volkswagen Iltis – an offroad vehicle that was known to be untouchable in the snow. Bensinger would propose the idea to Ferdinand Piech, Audi’s technical director at that time, and the project was approved.
Its four-wheel drive system was one of the cleverly packaged four wheel drive systems ever made, with the center differential built at the back of the gearbox, in which the primary shaft drives the hollow secondary shaft that powers the differential. A third shaft was installed inside the hollow secondary shaft that transfers power to the front axle, thus saving gobs of cargo space. This would form the foundation of Audi’s signature four-wheel drive system.
Audi entered the Quattro in the WRC against rivals from Lancia and Renault, the latter two being mid-engined, rear-wheel drive cars. Not only it helped Audi dominate the championship in its first outing, it helped Michele Mouton rise to stardom as the first female rally driver to win the WRC.