The Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) selected 10 vehicles it has determined are the most significant automobiles that have influenced American automotive history.
Each selection was chosen by AACA experts as a function of its technical, social and/or market contribution that furthered the cause and acceptance of the automobile. In addition, these 10 Most Significant Antique Automobiles and their associated impact helped propel the American automotive industry to a position of dominance.
This was the first affordable, series produced car with interchangeable parts, and the curved-dash Olds provided the opportunity of automotive ownership for everyman. The single cylinder, tiller-steered Oldsmobile was known for its utmost simplicity, it paved the way for the Model T and it very much proved to be a successful competitor to its nearest market rival at the time. That being, the horse.
Model T and Model A Ford
As the first affordable, mass-produced car, the Ford Model T literally put America on wheels and its impact on our social and industrial history is second to none. Henry’s “Tin Lizzie” proved so ubiquitous that it was marketed as “The Universal Car.” But the Model T is also essentially inseparable from the Model A Ford, because together they are now well recognized as the backbone of the antique automobile movement.
As the first production car fitted with an electric starter and integrated electrical system, the 1912 Cadillac provided the solution to what had previously been a precarious starting ritual. Hand cranking was not only strenuous and potentially dangerous, but it also contributed to the then-limited market appeal and potential of the automobile.
In harmony with the self starter, the arrival of the affordable, enclosed car for the masses catapulted the market acceptance of the automobile from a seasonal alternative to a bona fide, year-round proposition. The 1922 Essex Coach is credited with providing this innovation to an anxiously awaiting audience… the American buying public.
Generally cited as the first production car to be truly and consciously “styled,” the 1927 LaSalle was the product of General Motors’ then-new Art and Color Section. It was influenced by the Hispano-Suiza and served as a more dynamic, yet still elegant, companion car to Cadillac. It was also the first, aggressive attempt to market exterior design as a competitive advantage.
This was the first series-produced, American car with front wheel drive that was available in some quantity. Then, the technology pretty much migrated back to Europe and overseas where it matured as the drive train of choice, due to its manufacturing, packaging and efficiency advantages. It has since returned here and become a staple of the American automotive ownership experience.
With its standard six-cylinder engine in response to the 1928 four- cylinder Model A Ford, this was one of the most egregious and calculated, early marketing shots-over-the-bow between mainstream competitors. Of course, Henry responded with a V-8 engine in 1932 and so began the tit-for-tat Ford/Chevy rivalry that continues to this day.
The arrival of its overhead-valve V8 in 1949 was yet another milestone that cemented the “great coming” of the Cadillac marque, and set the stage for the General Motors juggernaut that would ultimately redefine the luxury car class. So much so, that by leveraging its engineering might, marketing strength and purchasing power, GM essentially pushed companies such as Packard to insolvency.
The small-block, Chevy V-8 that first appeared in 1955 enhanced the art of engine engineering to the extent that it’s been called “the self perpetuating marvel of automotive history.” With its compact and lightweight design and the use of thin-wall casting techniques, it unlocked a previously unknown combination of performance, reliability and manufacturability. And as the darling of the aftermarket, it helped fuel an entire industry of hard-core performance parts and specialty equipment to cast the die that’s still followed to this day.
While recognized for numerous attributes, the Beetle’s most significant impact on the American industry led to the creation of the mass market, compact car category. Certainly, small cars had been offered to American consumers numerous times before, but it was the domestic industry’s response to the Volkswagen that finally brought success and sustained viability to the compact segment.
Note: The 1895 Duryea, America’s first automobile to be commercially produced, is not included on the list because its significance has already been well recognized by AACA, with the incorporation of its image as the organization’s logo.