Led by the Benz Patent Motorwagen, these are the cars that shaped the auto industry.
If you're keen to explore some of the earliest landmarks in the automotive industry, the Audrain Automobile Museum's latest exhibition in Newport, Rhode Island, is the place to be.
From December 10, 2022, until March 5, 2023, the museum will look back at the transportation milestones that started appearing late in the 19th century, led by the famous 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen.
As the industry undergoes one of its most dramatic revolutions, with electrification taking over rapidly, it's an opportune time to look back at where it all began. This unique group of cars includes pioneers from Ford, Rolls-Royce, and Bugatti, all makes which are still thriving over a century later.
Mercedes has been innovating in the auto industry since its inception, and the 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen will forever be an intrinsic part of the brand's history.
The replica at the museum is a celebration of the first patented vehicle with an internal combustion engine. It is still considered to be the first functional automobile in the world.
This version has almost all the details replicated precisely, and seeing it up close makes one realize how impressive the historic 130-mile trip by Bertha Benz, the wife of Carl Benz, was when she drove this Motorwagen.
"The earliest years of the automobile in the late 19th Century were an incredibly productive time with hundreds of shops and manufacturers building their ideas of better transportation technology," said the Audrain Automobile Museum on its website. "These were new ideas with no precedent other than the horse-drawn carriage and the velocipede."
The Motorwagen was followed by the 1899 Crouch Steam Runabout, 1904 Oldsmobile Curved Dash, 1912 Rauch & Lang Roadster, 1923 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Piccadilly Roadster, and 1925 Ford Model T Tourer, all also on display at the exhibition.
The Rauch & Lang Roadster was significant with its electric powertrain. Many of us forget that EVs made up over a third of the car market back then.
In 1912, this electric roadster had a $2,250 price tag, whereas the Ford Model T Runabout was $900.
But consumers' penchant for powerful gas engines came to dominate as the 20th century progressed. A case in point is the 1931 Cadillac V16 Model 4235 Convertible Coupe, which was the first production automobile with a V16, an engine that was described as "magically smooth." By 1932, automakers like Lincoln, Packard, and Pierce Arrow all had 12-cylinder cars as the "cylinder wars" intensified.
This special group of cars includes the 1936 Bugatti Type 57 Ventoux Two-Light Coupe, the first Bugatti to have a chassis developed for touring instead of racing.
Sales of the Type 57 helped Bugatti survive the 1930s, and the 3.3-liter straight eight-cylinder engine made 135 horsepower - nothing to bother a modern Bugatti Chiron, of course, but plenty at the time.
The most modern vehicle listed as part of the collection is a 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Sport Touring Coupe. With its Superleggera aluminum body, it is regarded as one of Italy's best GTs of the 1930s. The one on display here is one of just 13 that were custom-built by Carrozzeria Touring, and it was extensively restored between 1994 and 1998.
If you find yourself in the Newport area over the next three months, these early automotive landmarks are well worth seeing in the metal.