The 50 Most Influential Production Cars — Part I

top-50

SCM’s editors have put together a list of the 50 cars we think are the most influential ever built. These are the cars that changed the world in one way or another, either through what they accomplished or what they represented.

This week we’ve listed out our first 25; next week, we’ll present our final 25.

Now, since we only allowed 50 spaces on this list, we’ve almost certainly left things out. Think we’ve overlooked something important? Let us know in the comments below. And after all our cars are listed out next week, we’ll have you, our readers, vote on which car you think is the single most influential of all time.

These valuations all come from our Pocket Price Guide. The median (the middle value in a series of values arranged from smallest to largest) represents the midpoint of the market, looking at cars sold in the past two years.

Here is the first group, in no particular order:

1. 1909-27 Ford Model T

Current SCM valuation: Median, $22,900

The first Model T was start of an automotive boom that spanned nearly two decades and resulted in the production of over 15 million cars. Ford’s T was the car that put America on wheels.

 1909-Ford-Model-T
2. 1932 Ford roadster

Current SCM valuation: Median, $30,780

The first Ford to feature a V8. Cheap, plentiful, and easily modified, the 1932 Ford line became the car to hot rod and customize in the years before and after WWII, defining a new automotive movement in America.

1932-Ford-Roadster
3. 1945-49 MG TC

Current SCM valuation: Median, $30,800

Small, simple and agile — all definitions to fit MG’s T-series. The C was the first post-war MG. Exported to the U.S., it was a hit with returning American GIs who had fallen in love with small sports cars while overseas.

1948-MG-TC
4. 1950-55 Porsche 356 Pre-A

Current SCM valuation: Median, $330,100

The 356 was Porsche’s first production car. Its well-thought-out design, with a low center of gravity and fantastic handling, set the stage for a performance legacy that continues to this day.

1951-Porsche-356
5. 1946-67 Volkswagen Beetle

Current SCM valuation: Median, $13,800

Volkswagen’s “People’s Car” was a Model T for the post-war era. Cheap, simple and reliable.

1950-Volkswagen-Beetle
6. 1951-54 Jaguar XK 120

Current SCM valuation: Median, $105,300

The 120 brought a svelte shape and astonishing performance to market, with a claimed 120 mph top speed actually underrating reality. Race wins backing up the sporty looks cemented its popularity.

1950-Jaguar-XK120
7. 1953 Chevrolet Corvette

Current SCM valuation: Median, $247,500

Corvette was GM’s reaction to a growing post-war sports car movement, and the 1953 model was the start of an American performance dynasty. Only 300 were built that year.

1953-Chevrolet-Corvette
8. 1954-57 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing coupe

Current SCM valuation: Median, $1,333,800

Mercedes’ grand prix car for the road, with distinctive gullwing doors and an advanced fuel-injected engine. Usable, fast and reliable even on modern roads.

1954-Mercedes-Benz-300SL
9. 1955-57 Chevrolet 150/210/Bel Air V8

Current SCM valuation: Median, $40,500

The legendary Tri-Five Chevys introduced the world to the small-block Chevrolet engine.

1955-Chevrolet-Bel-Air
10. 1955-57 Ford Thunderbird

Current SCM valuation: Median, $29,200

New for ’55, Ford’s sporty two-seater was aimed at buyers looking for an upscale cruiser, and it wound up creating an entire new market segment: the personal luxury car.

1955-Ford-Thunderbird
11. 1955-62 MGA

Current SCM valuation: Median, $27,500

Sleek, low-slung and contemporary, the MGA represented a fundamental shift in MG’s sports car design.

1955-MG-A
12. 1955 Chrysler C-300

Current SCM valuation: Median, $77,000

Chrysler’s Hemi-powered C-300 could arguably be the very first American muscle car, and it pushed the envelope of performance in NASCAR stock car competition.

1955-Chrysler-C-300
13. 1957 Chrysler 300C

Current SCM valuation: Median, $43,200

Big fins and big chrome dominated America in the 1950s, and it didn’t get much bigger than the Exner-designed and 392 Hemi-powered 300C.

1957-Chrysler-300C
15. 1957-62 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster

Current SCM valuation: Median, $1,210,000

With all of the performance innovations of the Gullwing, as well as a cooler open cockpit, the 300SL Roadster is arguably even more usable than its sibling as a driver’s collector car.

1957-Mercedes-Benz-300SL-Roadster
15. 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz

Current SCM valuation: Median, $183,600

Cadillac’s finned icon took styling to a new level, marking the height of the rocket-obsessed 1950s.

1959-Cadillac-Eldorado
16. 1960-62 Ferrari 250 SWB

Current SCM valuation: Median, $10,547,500

Ferrari’s GT racer featured a howling V12, crisp handling, disc brakes and fantastic looks. A true dual-purpose car that was both competitive and road-usable.

1960-Ferrari-250-GT-SWB
17. 1961-67 Jaguar E-type

Current SCM valuation: Median, $209,600

The E-type had a monocoque frame, triple-SU engine, fully independent suspension, and disc brakes on all four corners — in 1961.

1961-Jaguar-XKE
18. 1962-80 MGB

Current SCM valuation: Median, $12,400

A solid evolution of the MGA, with a monocoque body structure, upgraded suspension and roll-up windows — an MG first. Ubiquitous, with over 523,000 built from 1962 to 1980.

1962-MG-B
19. 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Split-Window

Current SCM valuation: Median, $129,800

The Sting Ray rewrote the book on Corvette, with independent suspension on all four corners and an all-new Bill Mitchell and Larry Shinoda-designed body.

1963-Chevrolet-Corvette
20. 1959-76 Austin/Morris Mini Mark I

Current SCM valuation: Median, $15,600

Small on size and big on character, the Mini has been a British motoring icon since its debut.

1959-Austin-Mini
21. 1963-71 Mercedes-Benz 230/250/280SL

Current SCM valuation: Median, $55,000 (280SL)

The pagoda SL exudes sophistication and quality in addition to performance. Faster than the 190SL and cheaper than the 300SL, the 230/250/280 served a wide market.

1966-Mercedes-Benz-230SL
22. 1965 Ford Mustang

Current SCM valuation: Median, $25,000

The Mustang was the perfect car for young baby boomers, built with Falcon parts under a sporty all-new body. The start of a performance dynasty for Ford.

1965-Ford-Mustang
23. 1964 Pontiac GTO

Current SCM valuation: Median, $38,100

Big motor, small package. The GTO is widely considered the first true muscle car. The buying public loved it, and the industry quickly copied it — kicking off a decade of American power and styling innovation.

1964-Pontiac-GTO
24. 1964 Ferrari 250 GT/L

Current SCM valuation: Median, $1,980,000

The Lusso represented a shift in thinking for Ferrari: Rather than building another dual-purpose car to replace the SWB, the GTO became the racer, while the Lusso was built specifically for the GT driver.

1964-Ferrari-250-GT-L
25. 1965-97 Porsche 911

Current SCM valuation: Median, $253,000 (1965)

Offered in a variety of configurations, Porsche’s air-cooled 911 has stood the test of time as arguably the greatest sports car ever built.

1965-Porsche-911
Tony Piff

SCM Auctions Editor and Photographer

Tony has long trumpeted the virtues of collecting Japanese cars. His daily driver is a 1970 Toyota Hilux — the one with the turn signals on top of the fenders. His popular “Rising Sun” column keeps a pulse on the J-tin market.

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  1. Suggest the VW Golf should be somewhere in the Top 25. While the Mini and Fiat 128 may have been the first mass produced front wheel drive cars, the Golf really brought FWD to the public and outsold them by the millions even to this day.

  2. The Model T and Mini have to considered as the most influential. Just about every small car copied the layout of the Mini – FWD, transverse engine. While every truck copies the Model T – body on frame, RWD, front engine.

    1. I don’t know what the first car to use the front-engine rear-wheel-drive layout that was the industry standard for decades- might have been an early Packard- but wouldn’t you consider that very influential? I would. The Model T Ford was an early adapter of that, but since it used a planetary gearbox and foot shifting, it isn’t exactly the prototype of modern cars.

  3. And the Citroen DS…

    I was going to cite the Fiat 128 as the emergence of the front-driver as we know it, but I think Mike I is right; it was the Golf that really brought the simple transverse driveline/front strut/trailing rear arm layout to the masses.

  4. You need to include the Lotus Elan.Great power to weight, very nimble, great handling,good looking, backbone chasis, intergrated bumbers, fold down headlights, four wheel disc brakes, all very much ahead of the curve and while not produced in large numbers in many ways it inspired development of the Mazda Miata which did have a dramatic impact .

    1. I agree. I raced Elans in the late 1960’s in SCCA C-Production, always against much more powerful cars and did reasonably well. Consider also that the primary competitors in this class were factory teams with paid drivers! On the whole, though a fairly low-production car, it held up well, especially once the “rubber donuts” in the drive shafts were replaced with CV joints. No one’s perfect, after all! The Elan- and its Ford- based engine- saved Lotus, who’d been losing money on the even prettier ex-fire pump powered Elite, which however was for most owners a maintenance nightmare. Surely the Elan deserves more than a passing mention in the history of sports cars!

  5. And where is Cord – front wheel drive, unibody construction in 1930’s, with supercharged V8 which held land speed record for 17 years? Although influence might be said to have been delayed, everyone takes such functionality for granted today.

  6. Must wait to see the other 25, but 3 MGs and no Deusenbergs, Packards or other great pre-WW II cars except the 32 Ford seems unbalanced. The 2 Chryslers but no muscle cars other than one GTO [ and not the Judge, or a Roadrunner or Charger?] and, since you have leaders in consumer trends such as the beetle, I expect to see station wagons, SUVs on your list as well as Fiat 128, and a Mazda, Honda and Toyota. Good for a first 25.

  7. I understand these lists are by nature subjective. Still, only two pre-WWII models and both American, is that fair? A ’55 and a ’57 Chrysler 300 seems redundant as does two Mercedes-Benz 300SL models. Three M.G. models out of 50 also seems a bit excessive. I also wonder that there were no important French cars, at least prior to 1965 and only Ferrari provided anything worthwhile from Italy? While I agree with many of the choices and dislike being negative, this list is not as balanced as I would expect from SCM.

  8. I desperately miss a Lancia. The pre-war Aprilia (1937–1949) or the post-war Aurelia (1950 – 1958) were both groundbreaking cars, both technically and from a design point of view… I presume they will appear in your ‘next 25’ list…

    1. The Giulietta’s All Aluminum DOHC engine was one of if not the first mass produced All Aluminum DOHC 4 cyl.. It was introduced in 1954 and produced for 40 years. Take a look at the number of All Aluminum DOHC 4 cyls being or having been recently “introduced” the past couple of years – over 60 years later! I’d call that both significant and influential.

  9. What about Shelby-developed performance cars–the small-block Cobra, the first generation GT 350? While not produced in large numbers, these cars had a defining impact on American built performance cars.

  10. Using “influential” as the guideline – not necessarily cars I would want to own – I would need to add the following:
    1. VW Golf/Rabbit – the hot hatch that started it all
    2. Audi Quattro – First performance AWD car that all others came from
    3. Ford Mustang – Began a huge segment (Pony Cars) still going strong
    4. Chrysler Minivan – Again it began a segment
    5. Toyota Prius – I hate them but they have been very influential
    6. Willys Jeep Wagon – Could be the beginning of SUV’s as we know them today

  11. Hi, well you have some great cars one I own today. Porsche fanatic. A rare and not a popular car in the ’50s Rambler/ Nash/Hudson. But they produced the very first muscle car ’57 Rambler Rebel normally a short wheel base sedan car with six cylinder power…with V8 Hudson tech nearly 300hp in a econo-car. yes not a beauty but first and quick.

    1. Robert, Don’t hold your breath. It’s sad that many folks in our hobby don’t feel any car built after the mid ’70s is worthy of being called innovative or worthy of collecting/showing. Kind of like those who went before them didn’t think any post war cars were worthy.

  12. Hard to even hold it to 50!! Missing innovators like the Iso, Lancia, Lotus, Cobra, Austin Healey, Aston Martin, AMC early models, Studebaker, Packard; I imagine you will have to have a “second 50” by popular demand.

  13. I am thrilled that you included 3 MG’s. The 3 you have choose certainly belong on the list as they were available to the ‘everyman’ and are responsible for bringing sports car driving to the masses. They were and remain relatively inexpensive to own and maintain, they are pretty reliable and are a blast to own and drive with a HUGE enthusiast and support base. Over the years as I have traveled both throughout the U.S. and Europe, when you own an MG you have friends everywhere!

  14. Oldsmobile V-8 Rocket. First O.H.V. V-8 installed in the smaller wheelbase 88 series. This would be, in my opinion, the beginning of the most powerful engine in the entry level models in GM’s body styl offerings. The flat head Ford V8 was quickly taken down a notch as the go fast for your dollar engine in a Hot Rod.
    Many a 49 – 51 Ford or Mercury were repowered with Cad or Olds OHV V-8’s.
    Remember it was 55 before the Chevy V8 would take over as the quick swap to extra power with less weight.

  15. Porsche 928. 1977 Euro Car of the Year (first, last and only Sports/GT car so recognized). Moveable instrument cluster for perfect view, electronic LSD, active rear wheel steering. ’86 S4 set world land speed records, GTS broke 24-hr speed record–NO HAULER. Drove from Austria to Nardo (It), set the record and drove home (3 drivers). TPMS in ’88 !!! whatacar.