From Model T to modern day, these vehicles helped define the American auto industry.
Technically, Germany invented the automobile. But here in America, we like to think that we perfected it.
From convertibles to muscle cars to family-made SUVs and trucks, American manufacturers can be credited with some of the most notable auto innovations in history. And here are some of the cars that made it happen.
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The modern automobile (the Benz Patent-Motorwagen) was invented in 1885 by Karl Benz, but when Cadillac hit the market with its first two models—the Runabout and the Tonneau—they became a hot commodity. In fact, after their introduction at the 1903 New York Auto Show, over 2000 people in the crowd put in an order. Over a century later, Cadillac is still a leader in luxury vehicles (and hip-hop endorsements).
Two decades after the birth of the automobile, Henry Ford made them affordable with the Ford Model T. Largely credited with helping to usher in everyday travel by car, the Model T has become synonymous with American-made cars. Need proof? As of 2012, it was still in the top ten list of most sold cars of all time with 16.5 million units.
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Chevy didn’t invent the pickup truck—at least, not technically. Manufacturers like Dodge were pulling pickups off the line many years before, but the catch was that you had to add your own truck bed. But this model was the true prototype for the modern day pickup thanks to the built-in bed.
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France’s Peugeot 601 may have introduced the retractable hardtop roof in 1934, but with a manual system, it was kind of a hassle. Five years later, Plymouth debuted a convertible with a power-operated top, a small detail that made a world of difference. It didn’t hurt that Plymouth’s affordability helped expand the market for drop-tops.
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You may not recognize the name on this one—that’s because they adopted the Jeep name soon after manufacturing began. The original models were introduced as four-wheel drive utility vehicles to be used in World War II, but they evolved into the rugged yet pragmatic recreational vehicles we use today.
The Mustang isn’t just one of the most iconic American models—it’s the original pony car. Ford showed the world that you can have it both ways, with a sporty, performance-oriented car that’s also affordable and compact. Gave a new meaning to the term “horsepower,” too.
If you grew up in the 80s or 90s, someone in your extended family probably drove an Eagle. And they deserve some credit for that—one of the now-defunct automaker’s final concepts was the first crossover SUV, combining the sensible nature of the station wagon with a four-wheel drive system, thus inspiring many future models in the process.
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Once upon a time, pickup trucks were strictly utility vehicles. The F-Series changed all that and has been a bestseller for more than 30 years. The most innovative chapter came in 2001 with the SuperCrew, a four-door crew cab model that inspired countless competitors and made pickups an even more family-friendly option.