American Cars That Changed The World

Car Culture / 34 Comments

There could be a few here you didn't expect.

America has always loved cars, producing some of the greatest and most important cars the world has ever seen. It's not only the car themselves that have made an impact but also the endless number of technologies they incorporated. This is not to say other countries have not had a huge impact, but let's face it: America's love affairs with cars, especially high horsepower, changed the world. And it wasn't only powerful engines that helped cement America's reputation as a car-loving country, but also its off-roading prowess. Which country designed and engineered the vehicle that ultimately replaced the horse in wartime? That would be America.

We delved into American auto history and came up with this list of 10 vehicles that not only made huge impacts in the global car industry in general but also proved America's greatness for engineering and design advancements.

Hennessey Venom GT

Let's start with something pretty ridiculous. The Hennessey Venom GT may be built on a stretched Lotus platform, but nearly everything else about is American, including its GM-sourced LS9 twin-turbo 7.0-liter V8. All told it produces over 1,400 hp and over 1,150 lb-ft of torque. Texas-based Hennessey Performance certainly lives up to the phrase "Everything is Bigger in Texas", including horsepower and speed. It also just so happened to set a Guinness World Record for acceleration, blasting from 0-186 mph in only 13.63 seconds. You don't need to head to Bugatti over in Europe to buy the fastest car in the world.

"We are exceptionally proud of our team at HPE who helped to make this new Guinness World Record possible," said company founder and president, John Hennessey. "This is just the first of several validation tests designed to show the world what our special car is all about - being the fastest. Period." In the very near future, the Venom GT's successor will arrive in the shape of the Venom F5.

Hennessey Performance Hennessey Performance

Cadillac Eldorado

It was the end of the 1950s when the third generation Cadillac Eldorado debuted, changing the automotive design landscape forever. The Space Race was about to kick into high gear and, naturally, car designers took inspiration from that. Just look at the Eldorado's fins, complex surfaces and chrome. Lots and lots of chrome. The 1959 Eldorado became an instant classic and it had a total length of over 18 feet. Some boats are actually smaller.

Under its hood was a 6.4-liter V8 with 325 hp paired to a four-speed automatic. The fact this big and powerful land yacht was also a convertible made it even more iconic. Remember, this was the time when Cadillac's tagline, "Standard of the World", actually meant something. The '59 Eldorado couldn't have been a finer example.

Ford Model 18

We know what you're thinking. Why isn't the Ford Model T here instead of the Model 18? Well, here's why: Although it's far less well known, the Model 18 was significant because it was the first affordable, mass-produced American car with a V8. This was a huge deal at the time, despite the V8's specs not sounding all that impressive today. The 3.6-liter engine produced only 65 hp, but this improved over time thanks to upgrades for the carburetor and ignition. Hey, it was 1932. Keep your expectations realistic. Today, it's not hard to find a V8-powered new car for sale, but 86 years ago this was a big thing.

Ford GT40

Jumping ahead a few decades, the Ford GT40 can actually thank the one and only Enzo Ferrari for its existence. Long story short: Ford and Ferrari nearly had a deal in place for a buyout. Henry Ford II wanted Ferrari because motorsport mattered back then. But Enzo Ferrari changed his mind at the last minute and embarrassed the Ford scion. Payback could only be achieved by beating Ferrari where it would hurt the most: the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

With the help of Carroll Shelby, the GT40 won its first Le Mans race in 1966. It won four consecutive Le Mans first place trophies through 1969. The 1966 car was powered by a massive 7.0-liter V8 and produced 465 hp. The combination of the powerful engine and an extremely lightweight chassis and body was simply too much for Ferrari to handle.

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Duesenberg Model J

Life was not very good in America in 1929. The infamous stock market crash led to the Great Depression which lasted until 1941. Most things, including developing new cars, were put on hold. That'll happen with the collapse of Wall Street. Prior to the economic collapse, now defunct brand Duesenberg launched what it hoped would become the most luxurious and powerful car in the world, the Model J.

Powered by a 7.0-liter straight-8 with 265 hp (a supercharger became optional after 1932), the Model J had a top speed of 119 mph. It was the fastest and most expensive car in the world, priced from $13,000, nearly $200,000 today. The ultimate goal was to build a serious rival to Rolls-Royce and other European brands. The body and trim were all done by a third-party coachbuilder, allowing owners to customize their Model Js as they wished. Production lasted until 1937.

Willys MB

Every modern SUV can trace its roots back to the Willys MB, the original Jeep built in Toledo, Ohio (Wrangler production is still there today). The US Army required a replacement for the horse, believe it or not, and it knew a typical road car wouldn't cut it. Something lightweight, cheap, and capable of being mass-produced was needed. Oh, and it also needed a go anywhere capability. The first Willys MB rolled off the production line in 1941, but development had begun years earlier.

Powered by a simple 2.2-liter inline-four with 49 hp, the original WWII Jeep quickly became an icon. The Soviets, Germans and Japanese were all impressed with it, capturing some examples to be reversed engineered. President Eisenhower later called the Willys MB "one of the three decisive weapons the US had during WWII."

Jeep Jeep Jeep

Chevrolet Corvette

Alright, alright. We all knew the Corvette would appear on this list at some point, and here it is. America's Sports Car debuted way back in 1953 and its general formula has never changed: a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive two-seater with V8 power. However, part of that is expected to change very soon with the arrival of the eighth-generation Corvette, the C8, and its mid-engine setup.

The original C1 was an instant hit, but someone named Zora Arkus-Duntov didn't think its six-cylinder engine was powerful enough, hence the V8. Chevrolet proved it was possible to build an affordable, fun to drive, high-performance two-seater at volume, and the rest is history. Today, the most powerful C7 Corvette you can buy is the ZR1, which has 755 hp and 715 lb-ft of torque.

Chevrolet Chevrolet Chevrolet

Ford Mustang

Like the Corvette, there was no way the Ford Mustang couldn't be included here. Launched in the middle of the 1964 model year, the Mustang was the very first pony car, an instant icon. It was simply the right car at the right time. Unlike the Corvette, the Mustang offered a rear seat, though it was (and remains) tiny. It didn't take too long until V8 power was added and Carroll Shelby and his team of misfit tuners based in Southern California got involved. The muscle car era was underway and remains strong to this day.

The Ford Mustang, currently in its sixth generation, is more popular than ever in America and many other global markets.

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Tesla Model S

Everyone said it was impossible and it couldn't be done. The GM EV1 was proof. But Elon Musk saw things differently. In 2012 the Tesla Model S debuted and it became an overnight sensation. Not only did it look stunning (and still does) inside and out, it proved it was possible for an all-electric car to function like a typical internal combustion engined vehicle. Thanks to a powerful battery pack, the Model S effectively eliminated range anxiety and quickly became a sales success.

As of September 2018, global Model S sales exceeded 250,000 units. In the US alone about 119,000 Model S sedans have found homes. The Model S was so advanced for its time that it still remains competitive six years after its debut. Overnight it sent mainstream automakers scrambling and it would take years for them to fully catch up. The Porsche Taycan will only have its official reveal early next year.

Tesla Tesla Tesla

Ford Model T

Okay, here it is after all. The Ford Model T, is without question the most influential car of the 20th century. It launched in 1908 and stayed on the market until 1927. Not only was it the first mass-produced automobile, but it was also affordable, thanks in part to Ford's revolutionary assembly line production. The Model T put Americans on the move, helping to strengthen the middle class to a level previously unseen. It was a symbol of modernization and America was leading the way for the entire world. A total of 16.5 million units were sold.

Henry Ford said that "I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise." He certainly achieved all of that.

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