A century ago, people had a mindset that automobiles were expensive and that they would never become a part of our daily lives, and they definitely did not think that there would be so many cars as there are on the road now. Since its inception, the automobile industry has never stopped being a global factory of innovation.
The American car industry is among the biggest in the world, seeing the number of brands out of the United States of America that have received a worldwide status is certainly a thing to be proud of. On the other hand, however, some of the best seller cars in the country seldom are American. Foreign cars like the 2021 Toyota Prius rule the sales charts while the American-made cars like the 2021 Ford Explorer occupy a position in the sales charts owing to either their heritage or the novelty factor they offer, over their Asian or European counterparts.
The Japanese carmakers might be more efficient and reliable generally, the Europeans might be more polished and sophisticated, but let’s face it, nothing beats the American brands at innovation. Many a time, this has been a result of the manufacturers’ quest for not just superior performance, but also sales dominance and growing safety concerns over time.
The Americans, however, took a broader context to that, and sometimes, innovation for them can just be a great modern adaptation of old technology. We consider Tesla as among the pioneers for commercializing EVs and bringing them into the mainstream.
All this said, the most notable ancestral example of that technology was employed by Detroit Electric way back in 1907. As far as this list is concerned, a lot of these cars may not exactly be technological marvels, but the impact they had on the automobile industry was fairly extensive.
Though most of these cars are from the previous century, you will find many recent examples towards the bottom of the list.
1949 Kaiser Traveler
The car was a result of cross-engineering a closed sedan body style with a pickup which brings the cargo space and support. It was the perfect choice for the business owner to ferry his goods but could also use it for his family weekend excursion. But it was no bare-bones as a pickup, the car has adequate comforts that you could expect in a family sedan.
1949 Oldsmobile 88
Among all the post-war bodies styled by GM, it was particularly the 88 series that garnered the most attention. Under the skin too, the car was a master of engineering, with either a straight-six and 315 hp Rocket 303 cubic-inch V8 ushered a new breed of youthful buyers who wanted to get into the growing hot-rod and drag-racing scene. Even after all these years, this car is credited for being Detroit’s first true muscle car.
1951 Chrysler Crown Imperial
With this car started one of the most important innovations in the automobile industry, something without which most cannot navigate their car but take for granted – power steering.
Believe it or not, Chrysler Corporation at that time was making a lot of cost-cutting moves, but they decided to engineer the Hydraguide power steering into every Crown Imperial. They also kept it as an option for the rest of the Chrysler lineup and within a year, other automakers followed suit, including it usually in their top-of-the-line models.
1953 Chevrolet Corvette
Something more influential at that time than affordable performance, – fiberglass. Not a unique concept as a handful of sports and racing cars were using this strong and lightweight substance as a material for forming body panels at that time, but it was new for a road-going car. At first, it was just Chevrolet’s new two-seat show car; but seeing the intense interest in it from both sides of coasts, Chevrolet thought it best to put this car on the road.
1960 Chevrolet Corvair
The engineers at Chevrolet started from scratch to design something new and unique and polarizing. However, they established the compacts, it was here to stay, contrary to its dimension, it rather strongly carved out a whole new market segment.
This car boasted another revolutionary concept; a rear-mounted air-cooled flat-six. The engine also had a low profile so that it could fit nicely in that rear decklid. If you are thinking about Porsche, Corvair was offered with turbocharged flat-six engines a decade before them.
1961 Pontiac Tempest
A year later, GM also decided to dabble in the compact segment and came out with three products; the Buick Special, Oldsmobile F-85, and the Pontiac Tempest. The reason why the latter was the most influential of the three as it sent shockwaves through the road testers who were there to write about that in their magazines.
Most of them however wrote quite highly about the technological innovation and what grabbed the most attention in those reviews was its rear-mounted transaxle and “rope-drive” flexible driveshaft.
1962 Oldsmobile Jetfire
No, this is probably the least remembered of the performance cars of the sixties. So why did it make it to the list, because of the technology? It had an aluminum 215 cubic-inch V8 under the hood which was also turbocharged. It was the first mass-manufactured regular production model that offered a turbocharger as standard.
The turbocharger itself had a specially designed Rochester single-barrel carburetor working in tandem along with a fluid injection system itself to prevent premature detonation. The concept incorporated here was “Turbo-Rocket Fluid”, which stands for an equal water/alcohol mix that was stored in a separate tank, it was there to be injected into the cycle if the air intake had too much heat build-up.
1966 Oldsmobile Toronado
This car was the true definition of the domestic automobile, this was the car that started the mainstream adoption of front-wheel-drive. The world found out how driving a car through the front wheels had its advantages.
It was cheaper, and could be controlled better in bad weather compared to rear-wheel-drive too. There was, however, another piece of engineering that made it a success, and that would be the revolutionary Hy-Vo chain system. It helped the engineers to fit a modified Turbo Hydra-Matic 400 transmission.
The airbag restraint system took its sweet time making it into the mainstream. The experimentation originated in 1941 and was considered a novelty back then. The industry seriously began to consider it 10 years later but was still unsatisfactory.
Ford tested it for a fleet of cars, a much more advanced version of it in 1971 and 3 years later GM brought the “Air Cushion Restraint System” as a regular production option in their cars. It was not a straight road downhill, the technology was virtually abandoned for a few years while the seatbelt technology got better.
2011 Ford Explorer
We took a huge time jump, it was the first time the Explorer was being offered in a unibody construction deviating away from the traditional body-on-frame structure that was most commonly associated with SUVs.
The difference, it became among the more fuel-efficient cars which meant that people who stayed away from SUVs because of the gas-guzzling nature and the associated costs were now paying attention. The car had a very attractive exterior too, which helped it in more hearts.