20 Cars That Changed The Industry

Jul 13, 2016 by Ian (Driver Weekly)

The invention of the automobile changed everything. The car opened up new horizons for adventure, travel, fun, and business. But it took a lot of work to transform the “horseless carriage” into the modern car. While everyone has heard of the Ford Model T, there are other vehicles that changed the automotive industry and the world—everything from the very first automobile to powerful racecars and tiny subcompacts.

1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen


Heacock Classic

The world’s first automobile was the Benz Patent-Motorwagen built by Karl Benz in 1885 and patented in 1886. Of course, the first automobile was the culmination of decades of research and development that had begun with steam-powered wagons in 1769. The refinement of the internal combustion engine finally rendered steam-powered cars obsolete, but for many years the road was crowded by dozens of experimental vehicles. Benz was the first to design a vehicle fitted with an internal combustion engine rather than attaching an experimental motor to an old cart, a gas-powered two-stroke piston engine attached to the rear of a three-wheeled carriage!

Of course, the final test was whether or not the newfangled invention would work as intended, so Martha Benz took the car for an impromptu road trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim with her two sons. The indomitable woman repaired the car on the way, cleaning the carburetor with her hairpin, refueled at a pharmacy, and had a shoemaker attach leather pads to the simple brakes and inventing brake linings in the process. Martha Benz had financed her husband’s venture and knew that the successful publicity would be essential to the car’s success, and she was right. Karl Benz sold 25 improved Motorwagens over the next eight years each for $1,000—equivalent to $26,337 in 2015.

1891 Systeme Panhard

Karl Benz might have built the first car, but he was one of many inventors working on automobiles around the world. That same year, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach installed an engine on a stagecoach and created the first four-wheeled automobile. In 1889 they pioneered the first vehicle built expressly for a combustion engine rather than adapted from a carriage, with a tubular steel frame that resembled two bicycles welded together called the Stahlradwagen or “steel-wheeled car.” Daimler and Maybach shared their inventions with two businessmen, Rene Panhard and Emile Levassor, in 1887. The partners developed the world’s first modern transmission and standardized drive system four years later. The Systeme Panhard had the first four-cylinder engine and the first combination of clutch, gearbox, rod suspension, and sliding gear transmission for a front-engined rear-wheel drive. The Systeme Panhard set the standard for cars until Cadillac invented Synchromesh in 1928 and front-wheel drive arrived after World War II. While you won’t find any Panhards on the road today, you’re could still be using the suspension developed by the intrepid company in 1891.

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