History of Cars

Learn about the world’s first car, mass-produced cars and self-driving cars with our History of Cars guide

Published: 1st October 2016

There’s no denying that cars are central to our lives. Whether it’s a Model T, a Jaguar or a Tesla, automobiles help to keep us on the move.

To mark the 200th anniversary of the world’s first ever production car, ALA GAP Insurance has created our very own History of Cars guide.

The Dark Ages

Before the car there was the dark ages. Instead of hopping into your car to pop down to the shops, people had to walk to their local store. Instead of the glorious weekends of being able to go for a Sunday Drive, commuters had to cycle to enjoy the scenery. Before the days of car boot sales, there were, well, boot sales… not as good.

Benz Patent Motor Car

World’s First Ever Car – 1880s

Karl Benz is widely regarded as the developer of the world’s first ever “production” vehicle. It was on January 29th, 1886, that Benz applied for a patent for his “vehicle powered by a gas engine”. Six-months later, newspapers reported the first-ever unveiling of the three-wheeled Benz Patent Motor Car, model no. 1.

Fords Russell Motor Car Advert

Henry Ford: Mass Production Cars – 1900s

For the most part, early cars were primarily the province of the rich. In 1908 Henry Ford levelled the playing field for ordinary people with the Model T. Through making cars on an assembly line, his mass-production cars were both safe and affordable, revolutionising American society and effectively creating the modern world we recognise today.

1920 Cadillac V8 Model 59

Luxury Cars – 1920s

After the introduction of mass production, car manufacturers continued to reach out to their more affluent customers by introducing luxury cars. During the 1920s Duesenberg, Cadillac and Bugatti were all competing to produce high-end vehicles, with Rolls Royce allowing customers to customise the body.

1949 Willys-Overland Jeep CJ-3A

World War II Cars – 1940s

World War II dramatically changed how the world used and viewed cars. Following the war, cars like the Jeep, which were used by the Allies to tackle tough terrain, were regarded as recreational vehicles, giving drivers the freedom to venture out to previously inaccessible destinations.

Austin Seven (Mini) & Triumph Herald

Compact Cars – 1960s

Small was definitely beautiful in the 1960s and manufacturers like British Motor Corporation and Volkswagen took advantage of this trend with the Mini and the Beetle. Such was the popularity of these cars, they seeped their way into the public imagination with films like The Italian Job.

The Oil Crisis Hits the Car Industry – 1970s

The car industry was rocked once more with the 1973 oil crisis, when members of the organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries announced an oil embargo. By March1974, oil prices rose from US$3 per barrel to nearly $12 globally, causing long queues and fights at garages.

Japanese Cars – 1980s

Up until the end of the 1970s, European and American companies dominated the European car industry. It was not until the 1980s that Japanese manufacturers such as Nissan, Honda, Mazda, and Toyota started to undercut their Western counterparts by exporting their own cheaply made cars. By the end of the 1980s the Japanese car industry overtook the U.S. as the production leader with up to 13 million cars per year manufactured.

Car Safety – 1990s

Car technology had grown by leaps and bounds by the start of the 1990s, paving the way for major design developments. These advancements were primarily focused on in-car computers and safety, such ABS (Automatic Braking Systems), and airbags being fitted as standard. The use of computers went further still, with air conditioning, automatic windows and sunroofs being fitted in both luxury and small cars.

Eco Cars – 2000s

The technology may have been around for decades, but it was the 2000s that finally saw Hybrid and Electric car technology finally becoming a realistic replacement for fossil fuel cars. For many, the turning point was the Toyota Prius. Initially released in Japan in 1997, the Prius was the world’s first mass-produced hybrid electric vehicle that would be released worldwide in 2000.

The British Car Industry – 2010s

The British car industry was once the world’s second biggest car manufacturer, employing over a million people. Today, Britain’s big car plants are Japanese-run, and once-major British brands—Jaguar, Rolls Royce, Bentley, and Aston Martin are foreign-owned.

The future of cars – 2020s onwards

What about the future of the car? Google is currently developing self-driving cars. On-board sensors that can detect objects as far as two football fields away in all directions will enable modern car to safely navigate the road, reducing the need for human drivers… and human error.

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Benz Concept Motor Car Image By AlfvanBeem (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Fords Russell Motor Car Advert Image By Ford/ Russell Motor Car Company, New Orleans [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
1920 Cadillac V8 Model 59 Image By New York Public Library (Flickr: 1920 Cadillac V8 Model 59.) [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons.
1949 Willys-Overland Jeep CJ-3A Image By myself (User:Piotrus) (Self-photographed) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Austin Seven (Mini) & Triumph Herald Image By Karen Roe from Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, UK [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Published: 1st October 2016
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