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Tom Mallett2012-01-24 08:48:00

Top 10: The most important cars from the last 100 years

Top 10: The most important cars from the last 100 years

10. Audi Ur Quattro

Fitting four-wheel-drive to a normal car is not viewed as particularly novel today, but in 1980 it was revolutionary. Audi was to change the way people thought about four-wheel-drive by destroying the competition with its brutal rally cars.

Michele Mouton became the first lady to win a world championship rally in 1981 and the cars only got faster. Through the 1980’s the competition tried to catch up and by 1986 the Quattro produced nearly 600 bhp.

Why is the Quattro significant? Not only because it brought us four-wheel-drive but also because it gave us Audi, a manufacturer that built its reputation on a car, the Quattro.


9. VW Beetle

VW introduced the Beetle in 1938 and it remained in production until 2003, in the process of becoming the longest running car design seen in the automotive world. Not only was it built beautifully, but it pioneered rear engine design and gave Dr. Ferdinand Porsche his major break.

VW continued to refine the Beetle and in 1963 fitted a 1.3 litre diesel engine, capable of 0-62 mph in 60 seconds.  Finally in 2003 VW pulled the plug, and the final Beetle rolled off the production line in Mexico. However, by this point the Beetle had done more than enough to cement its position in VW’s history.


8. Ford Focus Mark 1

I may be biased here, as I have owned more than one of these. However, by 1998 Ford had fallen away from the pace with a succession of tepid, uninteresting and ultimately reputation damaging Escort models. The Focus led the fight back.

Ford redefined what could be expected from a hatchback, not only did it handle well, even by 2012 standards, but it was packaged well and looked fantastic. For me, it was the Focus that started symbolises Ford’s long journey back to the top.


7. Renault Espace

Renault invented a new segment with the Renault Espace and the French manufacturer continues to innovate when it comes to moving large families around. The Espace is a people-carrier that can almost be considered stylish and it continually surprises with new innovations.

Renault even decided to wire one of its F1 engines into the Espace in 1995. How many other people-carriers have been deemed worthy of such treatment by their benefactors?


6. BMW 3 series

It was significant when Britain’s famous ‘Mondeo man’ stopped buying the trusty mid-size Ford and hopped into the similarly sized BMW.  42,471 3-Series were sold in the UK in 2011, placing 6th in the top 10 best selling cars, while the Mondeo failed to feature in the list.

The 3-Series has consistently set new standards in one of the most important sectors in Europe’s car market. Reports suggest that the latest iteration (the F30) yet again sets new standards in the sector. When it comes to the largest saloons Mercedes may dominate with its S-Class, but BMW has rewritten the rulebook when it comes to its junior 4-door saloon.


5. Ford F150

Ford is important, and the F-Series pick-up was for many years Ford’s most important model, contributing over half of Ford’s annual profits.

Over 30 million units have been sold since 1949 making it the second bestselling vehicle of all time, just behind the Toyota Corolla. The F-150 is the most famous and it is this model that came to represent American values through America’s most profligate years in the second half of the 20th century.


4. Toyota Prius

A number of manufacturers have tried to break from the traditional methods of propulsion, but it is the Toyota Prius that has become synonymous with environmental friendliness.

The Prius continued to gain positive PR for Toyota as celebrities embraced its ‘green’ credentials and California’s State Government handed out tax-breaks for residents buying the Toyota.

It may be difficult to achieve the fuel economy that Toyota claim is possible, but no other car so obviously embraces the culture and politics of modern western society.


3. Mercedes Benz S Class

The motoring world waits with perpetually bated breath for the arrival of the newest S-Class. It showcases technologies which will be available on future mainstream models and usually tops the wish-list for well-to-do executives.

The current S-Class, which introduced infra-red night-vision and the Mercedes-Benz pre-collision system, was introduced in 2005 and is arguable still the best large saloon on sale. The S-Class is significant because it remains byword for the very latest technology.


2. Issigonis Mini

Alex Issigonis designed the Mini after the 1956 Suez Crisis in reaction to the influx of fuel efficient German ‘bubble cars’ which flooded into the UK. Issigonis broke with tradition by mounting its four-cylinder engine transversely and driving the car through its front wheels.

The original Mini is significant for a number of reasons. It changed people’s perception of front-wheel-drive in motor-sport, became a British icon and was produced for 41 years without a break. Most importantly, in my mind at least, is that it was also the first ‘classless’ car, with rock stars, housewives, aristocrats and the proletariat all favouring the little English icon.


1. Model T Ford

The  Ford Model T is significant not only because it brought the motor vehicle to the middle classes but because it changed manufacturing practices all over the world, all-the-while symbolizing the dreams and aspirations of the nation that would dominate the 20th century.

The Model T was produced between 1908 and 1927, with over 15 million examples rolling out of Michigan in that time. It was capable of travelling at speeds of up to 45mph and would run on petrol, kerosene and ethanol and was being sold for a mere US $240 by 1920, the equivalent of under US $4000 today. Henry Ford had successfully changed motoring forever.





Model TModel T
Model TModel T
Straight 4
176 cu in
Top Speed
42 mph
2, Manual
Maximum power
20 hp @ 1800 rpm
Saloon (sedan)
Fuel consumption (combined)
annual ownership cost
$ 1.042


I may be wrong but I think Mclaren F1 should also be on the list.
24.01.2012 @ 09:38
Just some suggestions: Fiat 128? First mass modern Front Drive Ferrari 250 GTO? First tail spoiler Chaparrals? First wings Lamborghini Countach? 40 Years old and still (maybe) the best looking Porsch...
24.01.2012 @ 09:47
@ziofrango I agree, there are 3 Fords in this list while no Fiat nor Porsche. Looks a bit biased @Tom Mallett
24.01.2012 @ 10:05
I think you probably should have included the Citroen Traction Avant. I think being the first front-wheel drive car is pretty important. From a sports car perspective, I could also see adding the Lotu...
24.01.2012 @ 13:10
Most important should imply mass impact on the market which sadly rules out all sports cars. Not sure about the 3 series or Focus but at least some less obvious choices in there. Anybody noticed how f...
24.01.2012 @ 18:07
This is a personal list, I don't think there is anything behind it than personal feelings. It is hard to compile such a list without running a survey.
24.01.2012 @ 22:06
I would have the Citroen DS or the 2CV (DS having my favor, it was so ahead of its time), the Porsche 911 (if this is not a myth, and is not influential, what is), the '59 Cadillac Eldorado, the Ferra...
24.01.2012 @ 22:09
Cabruce, the Citroen Traction was not the first front wheel drive car, far from it. Maybe the first with such a mass production, but it was a long time various front wheel drives were available.
24.01.2012 @ 22:10
I'm glad there is some debate! The 3 series I would be happy to defend as I would with the F150 and the Model T. The Focus is arguable I think. Maybe Countach - but then what about the Miura - the fir...
25.01.2012 @ 17:34
First supercar is so hard to say though. Sure, the consensus says Miura, but what about the 300SL, then what about many of the Dusenbergs, Delahayes and Bugattis that came before the Depression. For t...
25.01.2012 @ 18:06
Indeed, I think the only way to have a list is to have a poll (what I meant by survey). We all have different view according to our origin. Maybe a Russian will put the Lada Zhiguli, a French the Rena...
25.01.2012 @ 22:00
We opened a question for this on our Facebook page to run a poll. You can join and invite your friends...Let's see what the majority thinks is the most important car :-)
26.01.2012 @ 14:12
I like the idea about the Gullwing Chris, but probably the Miura was the first supercar, it's pretty subjective.
27.01.2012 @ 10:19
For me the Bugatti Atlantic was one of the first supercar. ;-)
27.01.2012 @ 22:21


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