The king of engines Enzo Ferrari used to repeat that the best Ferrari would be next. It was not always true for the Prancing Horse as it will not always be true for the automotive world short but it is a phrase that is useful to effectively show how change and innovation are distinctive features of the automotive world. From the introduction of the assembly line to the hybrid and electric revolution, from gigantic station wagons made in the USA to small sedans, passing through minivans and Sport Utility Vehicles, we go through an entire century that goes beyond a World War, the hippie revolution, the energy crisis and the so-called Generation Z by reviewing, decade by decade, the best-selling models and fashions that have most characterized the sector. All this while waiting to find out what the verdict of “our” turbulent Twenties will be.
20s – Ford Model T
The 1920s were dominated by the most iconic car in history: the Ford Model T. It was the first car produced on the assembly line and also the first that a large section of the population could finally afford to buy.
The car was born on 1st October 1908 and, in less than twenty years, it sold more than 16.5 million units, a figure which at the time represented 40% of the entire world market. The assembly line introduced by Ford was so disruptive that it can be said that it re-invented the automobile. And there is who has owned a Ford Model T for 70 years.
30s – Buick Special
In the Thirties the cars increase in tonnage and here it is in 1936 the iconic Buick Special debuts: the economy model of the full-size car category offered by Buick. A year of success and at the same time of renewal for the US car manufacturer, which for the first time used a naming criterion for its models characterized by real names and not by numerical acronyms as had been the case until then.
Here then is what became known as the Series 40 from 1930 to 1935 Special, a name that will make its way from generation to generation until the seventies. The Buick was a beast over a ton and a half long well over 5 meters rear-wheel drive but powered by a front-mounted 4-liter, 8-cylinder, 87 horsepower engine.
40s – Mercury Eight
More difficult to identify the 1940s car, a decade marked by the Second World War which forced the auto industry to reinvent itself. The builders concentrated all their resources on the war effort and, for example, the assembly lines of the aforementioned Buick and Model T turned one into the production of bombs and the other of tanks.
Once the conflict has been overcome, the focus, especially in America, shifts everything “to the family” and here is the car market quickly adjusting. Dominano la scena la Chrysler Town & Country, which, during the decade, transformed from a station wagon with a steel roof, wooden doors and three rows of seats into a trendy convertible with mahogany details, but above all the Mercury Eight station wagon. Car that made its debut in 1948 and already sold three times more than its previous model in the first two years, thanks above all to the innovative design of the bodywork that breaks that monotony of lines that now dated back to the period before the Second World War.
50s – Chevrolet Corvette
In 1953 at the General Motors Motorama Auto Show, hosted for the occasion in the luxurious New York hotel Waldorf Astoria, the Chevrolet debuts its iconic Corvette. The Corvette was the first mass production car to be made of fiberglass, which made it lighter but above all more manageable than its competitors.
America finally had a car that could compete in terms of speed and handling with the most accredited European rivals. A magical decade for Chevrolet that three years later will give life to three other iconic models: the Chevrolet 150, the 210 and the Bel Air.
60s – Volkswagen Beetle
We fly to Europe because the slowdown in sales of the giant sedans made it emerge forcefully the iconic silhouette of the Volkswagen Beetle. It was the brilliant engineer Ferdinand Porsche who created the Beetle in the 1930s by order of the National Socialist ruling class, a car that would revolutionize the concept of mobility: the first real car within everyone’s reach.
Redesigned several times in the 1950s and 1960s, despite its controversial origins, the “Beetle”, as the New York Times renamed it, already reached the stratospheric figure (for the time) of one million cars sold in 1955. , but above all it becomes a “cult object” on both sides of the Atlantic. The undying symbol of the “peace and love” generation.
70s – Honda Civic
Until then specialized in sports cars, Honda decided to adapt to the new economic-social landscape that was emerging, focusing on the design of a compact car that could meet the needs of international customers.
To decree the success of the small car is the breaking of the traditional construction schemes of the Rising Sun, which provided for front engine and rear wheel drive.
The Civic instead opts for a “European” solution, front-wheel drive and transverse front engine: a trend that began with the MINI and continued with numerous other cars, such as the Autobianchi A112 or the Fiat 127. The engine, made of aluminum, it’s a 1,169 cc with 51 HP, combined with a 4-speed manual gearbox or the 2-speed Hondamatic, in its first version. The body is only 3,550 mm long, two-volume and two-door. Originally derided, especially in the States, for being so small, it needed the oil crisis to show its full potential. The consequent increase in crude oil, in fact, contributed enormously to increasing the popularity of the small Japanese, a car that quickly became iconic from an outsider.
80s – Renault Espace
From station wagons to minivans, it’s the new American fashion. Minivans become hugely popular overseas with two models such as the Dodge Caravan or the Plymouth Voyager. The new fashion, however, struggled to cross the Atlantic, so much so that for a long time there Space, produced by the French of Renault, was the only true European representative of the new super-spacious cars. A car that with its wedge shape, high, very spacious, with large windows and with a fiberglass bodywork, it seemed to come from another planet.
The Espace was surprisingly light, equipped with powerful petrol and turbodiesel engines, but above all incredibly versatile.
Three rows of seats were arranged inside and the latter could be rotated, folded down, adjusted, folded, made into a coffee table and even removed, to create a place for conversation, lunch or simply create a huge cargo area. The minimum capacity was 850 liters, with over 3,500 liters available by folding the seats. All with just 4.3 meters in length, less than a Fiat Tipo. Still in production today the Espace has become one of the most successful minivans, which had the merit of inaugurating a new automotive segment in the Old Continent.
90s – Toyota Rav4
The so-called Sport Utility Vehicles or simply SUVs have stopped the rise of minivans. In 1994 was born, produced starting from the floor of the car that has sold the most models in history – the Corolla – the first generation of the Toyota Rav4. Arriving on the market anticipating the SUV trend, which a little more than ten years later would explode all over the world, the Rav4 opened a breach in the (until then) well-founded belief that 4 × 4 cars were still lacking in comfort and driving skills of the most modern “road” cars.
The Rav4, however, was able to transform the little-known and niche concept of the Sport Utility Vehicle by offering a raised drive and remaining a vehicle at ease in off-road vehicles without sacrificing comfort on asphalt: the right mix between daily travel and off-road adventure. A successful vehicle still today, now in its fifth generation, crossing the milestone of 10 million units produced since the beginning of its ride.
00s – Toyota Prius
Perhaps not even Toyota imagined, back in 1997, that the Prius would become the ecological car par excellence, the reference model for any manufacturer when it comes to environmental sustainability. The Prius series, in Latin “Prima”, saw in the 2000s the release, in 2003 and 2009, of its second and third generation, those that marked the international success of the model: the first to be awarded the Car of the Year award, while the second capable of a historic sales boom.
At the time of the latter’s release in Japan, Toyota’s headquarters received over 180,000 orders compared to just 10,000 expected by its executives. It is not the car that invents the idea of hybridizing cars but it is certainly the one that, in a still pioneering phase, brings this technology to the road in the most convincing way, becoming iconic both among families and among Hollywood superstars.
10s – Tesla Model 3
From hybrid to electric. It is the era of Tesla Motors, the company of the tycoon and patron of technological research Elon Musk, leader in terms of sales and image in the sector Electric. The brand’s adventure began as early as 2008 with the Roadster but, if with this first step the Palo Alto company wanted to demonstrate to the world that electric car was not synonymous with golf car, it is with the following models that Tesla put itself on the market with the intention of being the best car in its category.
Among these the Tesla Model 3 is the best-selling model in the world, with an average of nearly 25 specimens per hour (and in 2021 Tesla has hit a new sales record). The electric still has a lot of ground to recover from traditional thermal vehicles but the future seems to be (perhaps) on their side. Autopilot, interiors aimed at minimalism – in which the dashboard has, as the only element, a 15-inch display placed in the center, horizontally, and from which all the controls and functions of the car are controlled – maximum speed starting from 225 km / h and autonomy which, depending on the modality, ranges from over 400 to even 600 km, are just some of the characteristics of the car successfully produced and sold, also in Europe, starting from 2017.