15 classic cars that changed the automotive world

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Take a look at the 15 cars our classic car expert believes changed the motoring world.

From cars that revolutionised the automotive industry to cars which broke world records, we look at 15 of the most important cars from the UK, USA and Europe.

Our list covers everything from vehicles from the 19th Century which shaped today's cars to more modern vehicles which smashed speed records.

Landrover Defender

Landrover Defender© OSXII

Wherever this car goes, it's at home. Whether on a farm, in the jungle or carting a day's shoot around a country pile, the Defender fits and fits well. It's the Swiss Army Knife of the motoring world.

Audi Quattro (UR)

Audi Quattro (UR)© Prolog

Did this car change the world of rallying? No, it changed the world of motoring full stop. Before this, rally cars were joyously swinging their backend round corners until the rear wheels found enough grip to push on.

After this, cars were still swinging out but at much higher speeds. Sometimes mistakenly credited as the first AWD production car (that accolade goes to the Jenson FF), the Quattro is the first success story, against all odds.

Many people said it wouldn't work and that four-wheel drive wouldn't help in rallying, but were they right? Well, numerous world rally championships and the fact that all of today's rally cars are four-wheel drive answers that one.

Delorean DMC-12

Delorean DMC-12© Terabass

The Delorean is dream child of motor manufacturing legend, John Delorean. Fed up of constant updated models making customers' existing cars out-of-date and wanting to make a futuristic car that would last a lifetime, John Delorean famously left Pontiac, asked the British government for millions of pounds in grants and set up a factory in Dunmurry, Ireland.

Things didn't go to plan however; the car's design and mechanics changed radically from the first prototype due to manufacturing costs and complexities. The car was adorned with stainless steel panels and had gorgeous gull wing doors, but with production knowledge being low and spiralling costs, it wasn't long before shop doors shut and accusations of drug deals ruined the reputation of the namesake.

The car was called the DMC-12, the 12 denoting the originally intended purchase price of £12,000 but this more than doubled by the time of launch. Suspension and electrical problems didn't help, but the final nail in the coffin was arguably the PRV V6 engine; when catalysed for the American market this already heavy car had to make do with 130bhp. So why is the car on this list you may ask? Well, a stint in the famous Back to the Future trilogy turned this not very well produced, heavy, slow and expensive sports car into one of the coolest cars around.

Bugatti Veyron

Bugatti Veyron© Telemaque Myson

Is this the motoring world's Concorde moment? With spiralling fuel costs, the well-publicised environmental issues and relentless war on speed, it could very well be. The Veyron entered the history book on launch as the fastest production car on earth, with over 1000hp and a top speed of 253mph.

The Americans stole the car's accolade with the SCC ultimate aero but they missed the point; the Veyron was not built to reach its max speed once and then explode in a shower of cogs and springs, it was built to last with the reliability and ease of use like that of an everyday hatchback. The Germans, however, were not happy and launched the Veyron Supersport with a top speed of 268mph.

Little Tikes Cozy Coupe

Little Tikes Cozy Coupe

What is the bestselling car in the world? Toyota Corrola? VW Beetle? Ford F Series pickup trucks? Nope. It's the Cozy Coupe, which, retailing at around £40, has given a billion kids their first taste of driving, and crashing.

Lamborghini Miura

Lamborghini Miura© Alfvanbeem

Acknowledged as the first mid-engine, rear-wheel drive sports car, the Miura created the mould for what we consider a supercar today. Aside from that, it also happens to bite your hand beautifully; it's arguably one of the most sensationally stunning cars ever built. It pushed the motor car into a different realm, beyond just a conveyancer, cars became objects of desire.

Interesting Fact: The engineering team designed the car in their spare time, against the wishes of founder Mr Lamborghini, who wanted to produce big, meaty sedans instead of nimble two seaters.

Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang© OSXII

The Mustang didn't just start a trend, it created a completely new segment in the car market. The Mustang's ingredients - based on the platform of a more mundane family saloon but dressed in a party frock - showed the world that style and performance wasn't exclusive to the upper classes.

Don't believe us? Simply look at how many other companies jumped on the bandwagon after seeing the unprecedented sales success the Mustang became. Even Ford of Europe gave it a go with the uber successful Capri. Style, good looks and a huge options list meant the car could truly become unique to its owner. While later Mustangs may have lost their way, the original is still a perfect example of style and substance.

Ferrari F40 and Porsche 959

Ferrari F40
© Frozefficient

Porsche 959
© OSXII

Yes, we are cheating here slightly, picking two cars as one entry but please bear with us! It would be wrong to include the one without the other as their significance to each other is just as important as their individual significance to the motoring world.

The 959 was launched in 1986 as a homologation special and became the fastest road going production car ever. Just one year after Porsche started making deliveries of the 959, Ferrari launched the F40 in Maranello; aiming to clinch the fastest road car title back.

Even though the performance stats are extremely similar, the cars couldn't be more different. The 959 is a technological tour de force and one of the first high performance cars to have all wheel drive fitted as standard. The Ferrari, on the other hand, is a stripped out racer with its Kevlar body and Spartan (very Spartan) interior - no carpets, no stereos not even fixed door handles. But this helped the F40 become the first road going production car to crack 200mph. The rivalry was big and even sparks debate today, some 28 years later. But the impact was even bigger.

Ford GT40

Ferrari F40© Pyrope

Sleek, powerful, glamorous and from Ford. So how did the GT40 change the motoring world? Simple, it showed the world that Ferrari could be beaten. Born out of anger, Henry Ford II entered into negotiations to buy Ferrari and spent several million in auditing the company only to have Enzo Ferrari unilaterally close the door on the whole deal. Enraged, Ford instructed his racing division to build a car that could beat Ferrari on the world endurance racing circuit.

Interesting Fact: The '40' in its name stands for the height of the car, just 40 inches, which was a requirement for endurance racing during the '60s.

Knight Industries Two Thousand

Knight Industries Two Thousand
© K.I.T.T 1982

The Knight Industries 2000, better known as K.I.T.T, is a car comprising of artificial intelligence, fully automated computer command and powered by the Knight Industries turbo jet. Armoured with a molecular bonded shell and pyroclastic lamination, KITT, as stated by Devon Miles, was the fastest, safest, strongest car in the world.

In reality the car was a third generation Pontiac Trans Am with the addition of an extended nose cone, the famous red scanner and a digital dashboard. The dash looks dated now but at the time was a world of difference from the mainstream motor car. The Trans Am also looked futuristic; it was the most aerodynamic car tested by GM to date in 1982 which helped KITT become a beacon of the future.

Although Knight Rider left our screens many years ago (1982 - '86) KITT's legacy lives on as we get ever closer to autonomous vehicles and receive more digital readouts in cars and even TV screens as standard.

Ford Model T

Ford Model T

Every mass produced car owes its origin to the Model T; built on a modern production line based on Henry Ford's earlier vision, the car was brought to the masses. It may not have been the first car but it is one of the major reasons we have massed produced cars today.

Benz Patent Motorwagon

Benz Patent Motorwagon© Aisano

The man who first matched the internal combustion engine to a purpose-designed vehicle was Karl Benz. Not recognisable as a car by today's standards, but this is where it all started and without it the motoring industry would be a very different creature.

Datsun 240Z

Datsun 240Z© An Unusual Eye

The original Z car is potentially the most important car in Japan's automotive history as it showed that Japan could compete in the market. Not only did Japan show the world how to make a reliable car with the 120Y they needed to show they could make a great looking and appealing car and that's where the Z came in.

Aston Martin DB5C

Aston Martin DB5C© Telemaque Myson

The DB5, although a beautiful car to behold, is most famous for being the gadget wielding motor of choice for James Bond which made a generation lust after this car. Prices are now very high so most will have to keep dreaming, but there are worse things to dream about.

Chevrolet Corvette

Chevrolet Corvette

America has made many cars over the years; some are very iconic for being cool, others for being made famous in film and TV. But the corvette is famous for one thing - it is the only time America has given the world a sports car! Yes, there have been many sport and muscle cars made in America, but they were also made for America. With straight, flat roads, American cars were not known for their ability to take corners well and therefore not many cars saw the export market. The Corvette is the quintessential American hero.

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