Popular Cars Through the Years

When you were in high school and finally got your license, did you pretend that you were driving in a luxury car? Or maybe you just wanted something to get you around and you didn’t care what you were driving. Either way, the auto industry actually has a long history.

The automobile was first invented in Germany and France in the late 1800’s, but it was the United States that dominated the market in the early 1900’s with the help of Henry Ford, who innovated mass-production techniques. The Ford Model T was the first of his cars to be mass-produced, making it an affordable car that the average person could own.

1908 Ford Model T. © 2013 Ford Motor Company


The industry had played a major role in the first World War by producing military vehicles, and by the 1920’s, Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler emerged as the “Big Three” automobile companies.

Car sales stalled in the 1940’s during World War II because manufacturers made essential military items unrelated to automobiles that served one-fifth of the nation’s war production.

1947 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible, Cadillac’s most popular model after World War II. © Hagerty


In 1946, when manufacturing started back up, the worldwide appeal of the American car had faded because they were too large and too expensive to operate in countries recovering from the war. However, those countries were in need of cash, so the United States began importing automobiles.

In the 1950’s, major American producers began making “compact” cars, due to not only the success of the German car Volkswagen in the United States market (it accounted for half of import sales), but also due to the 1958 recession.

Chrysler Imperial, the highest class of Chrysler in the 1951-1954 period.  © classiccars.com


The mid- 1960’s made way for more individualized luxury compact models, and a new genre of cars were born – the “pony cars,” which were affordable, compact, and highly styled coupes or convertibles with a sporty image.

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray Coupe, also known as the C2. © Manofmany.com


The 1970’s didn’t produce as many new designs, as the industry focused more on creating safety and environmental regulations. Engines were changed to emit fewer pollutants, and seat and shoulder belts were added.

1975 Jaguar XJS Series 1. © car-us.com


Although American-made cars sold a record 12.87 million units in 1978, by 1980 Japan was the leading automaker in the world, and by 1982, American cars fell to 6.95 million. To play catch-up, manufacturing quality and employee motivation programs became top priority for the United States industry, and in 1982, the industry accounted for one out of every six jobs.

1986 Ford Mustang GT. © bringatrailer.com


The 1990’s were what’s considered the “Golden Era” of performance and sport car markets, due to technological advancements that made automobiles more efficient, faster, and more fun to drive. The Porsche name has become synonymous with sports and race cars, but in the Japanese market, manufacturers built sports cars for every day drivers.

1998 Porsche 911 Turbo. © autoblog.com


Some of these cars may not have been readily available to us when we were finally able to drive, but they were always fun to watch on the road. What’s been your favorite kind of car over the years?