Last updated: May 9, 2014

Inspirational Cars Throughout History
Game Changers

This is a list and brief description of a number of cars that I feel changed (and in some cases are now just threatening to change) automotive history, and which I also identify with in my particular automotive interests and experiences. The designers and drivers of these automobiles were trend setters that were ahead of their time . . .

There are links to articles and reviews for several of these cars below, but I also encourage readers to access www.wikipedia.org for more information as well.

Here are also some excellent comparison articles to act as references for these and many more cars (those 1960s muscle cars and many older 'exotics' were a lot slower than you may remember):

Road & Track - 35 years of performance test data (1947-1981) - June 1982

Road & Track - 1320 Shootout - June 2000

Road & Track - 0-100-0 Comparo - August 2003

 

1955 Mercedes Benz 300SL/300SLR

The SLR was a racing success - this car dominated the racing series it competed in until the serious Le Mans crash that killed 80 spectators and forced Mercedes to withdraw from factory racing for the next 40 years. The street version Gull Wing Coupe was just about as fast as the SLR and generally way ahead of its time. In my books, the 300SL was the granddaddy of all modern sports cars.

See Wikipedia - Mercedes 1955 300SL

 

'55 Chevy Belair

What can I say? This is the car that started it all for Chevy (and for that matter, GM and Chrysler). What teenager born in the '50s - '60s hasn't lusted over a small-block chevy V8? The original American compact muscle car.

See Wikipedia - 55 Chevy

 

'57 Corvette

Wow. A 283cid V8. Fuel Injection. 1hp per cubic inch. Killer looks. Way back in 1957. A heart stopper.

See Wikipedia - Corvette

 

'63 Corvette (Split Window)

Later Corvettes may have had more power but none of them had the looks of this beautiful car.

See Wikipedia - Corvette

 

Other American Muscle Cars in the 1960s

I am big fan of the 1960s Pontiac GTOs, Corvettes, Mustangs, Camaros, and Chevelles. I also love many of the other 1960s muscle cars. My youth was fixated on eventually owning one of these great cars. True, they looked better than they actually drove, but for straight line acceleration they were tops in my books. And I think cars like the Shelby Cobra and other 1960s sports cars with big American V8 engines under the hood were generally a poor idea - they were fairly much impossible to drive quickly on a track because of their extreme front weight bias. I have an interest in the '65/'66 GTO in particular as the first true compact muscle car of the era - I love the lines of those cars!

 

1963 Porsche 911

While the 356 had been in production since 1948, I can't really say Porsche set the sports car world on fire until they found a way to shoe-horn a 6 cylinder Boxer engine (with some real horsepower) into a 911 in 1963. The world has never been the same since and in many ways it is a stunning achievement to have been able to remain in continuous production with this true 'drivers' sport car for more than 4 decades now. I badly want a 2008 GT-3

 

1968 BMW 2002/2002tii

To better understand the origin of small compact high performance cars, you need to look no further than the introduction of the BMW 2002 in 1968. This car so thoroughly set the bar for high quality, compact sports coupes, that the only thing that came close to it arrived 15 years later in the form of the 1983 VW GTI - which owes its roots entirely to this iconic automobile.

See Automobile Magazine - BMW 2002tii - January 2007

 

1968 Datsun 510

Japanese cars were not players in the US market until the arrival of the Datsun 510. Not only was it cheap, practical fun, but it created generations of Datsun 510 racers - right up until the mid 1980s, Datsun 510s were the dominant form of 'poor mans' race cars at tracks around the world. And since 1968 and the arrival of this car, Japanese cars have thoroughly rewritten all of the rules in the automotive industry, continuing to lead in quality, innovation and luxury at great prices.

See Automobile Magazine - Datsun 510 - January 2007

 

1968 Mercedes Benz 300SEL 6.3

While the American automotive manufacturers were at the peak of their horsepower competitions in the late 1960s, the European version of 'walk softly and carry a big stick' was introduced by this car - being as fast or faster than the big block American muscle cars - but this one could actually stop and corner as well. All modern Mercedes AMGs and BMW M series cars sold today owe their lineage to this fine ground-breaking automobile.

See Wikipedia on the 1968 300SEL 6.3

 

1974 Porsche 911 Turbo

Every young man in my high school in the mid 1970s dreamt about this car. Other than perhaps the 1976 Mercedes 450SEL 6.9, it was the only good news story in an otherwise savagely boring decade for the automotive performance sector. Not only were cars slow, but they were generally ugly in the 1970s as well. Long live the original 911 Turbo (even though I think that today they aren't the equal of normally aspirated and more purposeful models, specifically the GT-3, no matter how fast they are).

 

1976 Mercedes Benz 450SEL 6.9

A later incarnation of the 300SEL 6.3 was the 1976 450SEL 6.9, an amazing car for its day as well, especially considering the abysmal state of the automotive industry at that point - post OPEC oil crisis and early power killing emission controls. And 10 long years later, BMW finally responded with its own first generation M5 in 1987. Yes, Mercedes set the pace for innovation in terms of high performance sports cars and sedans for decades and decades (actually dating back to the creation of the automobile in 1900).

1983 VW GTI

Where the Datsun 510 was cheap, and the BMW 2002 was high quality, they both had faded from the scene by the late 1970s. VW rekindled the magic of cheap, high quality sports cars (in practical packaging) with the creation of this car for the North American market (they had been producing this car in Europe since 1978). I believe the original VW GTI is the modern day forefather of all current econo sports hatch backs.

See my web page on the VW GTI for more information

1986 AMG Hammer

A decade after the 450SEL 6.9, the now legendary AMG Hammer came out - a rod rodded Mercedes sedan with a monster 32 valve V8 stuffed under the hood. While AMG was just a small after-market German tuning firm, their wicked creation grabbed automotive magazine headlines and stimulated the imaginations of car nuts around the world.

See Car Magazine - AMG Hammer - December 1986

 

1987 Ford Mustang 5.0

With the death of the muscle car segment in the early 1970s, it was a huge relief to see this car re-emerge with a true 14 second 1/4 mile factory time slip, and a price under $10,000. It didn't take long for the after-market industry to wake up and start to develop a wide range of performance parts for this car that eventually allowed owners to create streetable 10s 1/4 mile cars - for the first time surpassing (by a big margin) the performance attainable by hopped up street cars in the 1960s.

See my web page on the Ford Mustang for more information

 

1987 BMW M5

After the Mercedes 450SEL 6.9 there wasn't another exciting factory performance car produced by a European manufacturer (other than Porsche) until this hot rod sedan arrived. Mercedes didn't get back in the game of hot rodded sedans or even sports cars until it acquired AMG in 1999. The BMW 'M' division was the sole performance choice for anyone seeking out a high quality factory performance sedan during this period.

 

1996 Lotus Elise

With sports cars getting bigger and heavier all the time, the Lotus Elise has shown how a small, light, relatively low powered car can change all the rules. Lighter is so much smarter and clearly every future sports car will have to ultimately follow in Lotus' foot steps and re-discover the beauty and simplicity of light-weight, stripped down sports cars. This is possibly the best drivers experience available for under $100K today (with the current Porsche GT-3 being the finest overall driving experience available at any price).

See Automobile Magazine - Lotus Elise - January 2007

 

2000 Mercedes Benz SL55/E55 AMG

Shortly after Mercedes acquired AMG as its way of attempting to catch up to BMW who had grabbed a dominant market share in the performance sedan and sports coupe market with its M division, it introduced the SL55 and E55 cars. Being a long-time fan of the AMG Hammer concept (gotta have 4 doors), I was far more interested in the E55, and consider it the modern forefather of all subsequent AMG models produced since 2000. Personally, even though I have owned one of the newer E55 AMGs, I think the early ones were truer to the AMG ideal and simply better cars. 'AMG' is now totally boring as the cars are over-weight, over-hyped, over-produced, and no longer differentiating or original. Sucks doesn't it.

See my web page on the 2000 E55 for more information

 

2004 Ferrari F430

I have never been a real fan of Italian sports cars as I just can't imagine myself owning something as in-your-face as a Lambo or Ferrari. The cars seem to telegraph an air of superiority and ego-centricity that doesn't sit well with my idea of focusing on a purely drivers centric experience. Showing off while idling around town isn't my thing. And I have never liked the low-end Italian sports cars with their still sky-high sticker prices and so-so performance numbers (for the masses who just have to drive an 'exotic' without really having the jam to afford one of the real exotics like the F40 or the Enzo). But I must make an exception for the F430 as it is the first low-end Ferrari model with real performance numbers and a look that is classy and purposeful. I could almost see myself behind the wheel of one - almost.

 

2007 Porsche GT-3

This is the best drivers car available at any price. Previous GT-2s/GT-3s were too hard edged and punishing to drive for any time on the street without discomfort. With the electronic suspension it is now faster (again) on the track or street, and is smooth as a stocker. What are you waiting for? I want one. 911 Turbos are for sissies.

 

2006 Bugatti Veyron

1000hp. 253mph. Enough said. Outrageous. Factory warranty included. I actually saw one up close in London with my family in 2006 parked outside our hotel - owned by an Arab Sheik that had it flown to London on his private jet to allow him to motor around in while he was shopping there.

 

2008 Tesla Roadster

World's first pure electric sports car. 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds. Looks great too. Now this is something to write home about. Finally a new idea. Thank god - it is soon going to be safe to re-enter the sports car market.

See www.teslamotors.com

 

2011 Fisker Karma

Now this is cool - an all electric 4 door sedan with looks to kill, and a hybrid gas motor backup system to allow for long commutes when necessary (www.fiskerautomotive.com).

 

 

 

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