Groundbreakers: 39 cars that changed the motoring world

Nothing changed the world like the car. A car is not just a convenience, a means of carrying people and things long distances in short periods of time.

For more people in more places around the world than anything else, the car is freedom. It is the most extraordinary device, man’s greatest creation to date.

But there are cars and there are cars. Most simply try to improve on what’s gone before. But a few have sought not merely to be better, but to be different. Sometimes it doesn’t work – remarkably, Subaru’s idea of a four-wheel drive system activated by the windscreen wipers failed to, ahem, gain traction – but just a tiny number have altered the course of automotive history for the better.

If cars changed the world, as they most assuredly did, below, then, are those that changed the world of the car.

Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost – 1907

Why have this as the earliest on our list, rather than the Benz Patent Motorwagen, the world’s first car? Pedantically, you can’t change a world that didn’t exist prior to your arrival, but perhaps more persuasively, the Benz was so unsuited to doing distances that Carl Benz didn’t even see fit to equip it with a fuel tank

The Silver Ghost, by contrast, was the first car with modern car reliability. It was officially called the 40/50hp model, but one was painted silver, given a name that would pass into motoring folklore and sent off to drive from London to Glasgow 27 times. It was 15,000 miles and, apart from a fuel tap shaking itself shut, not a thing went wrong. The reputation of what came to be regarded as the world’s greatest car company was started here.

Ford Model T – 1908



This could have been Ferrari’s LaFerrari or the McLaren P1 but, as the first to be announced and shown, Porsche’s claim to have ushered in the era of the hybrid hypercar is indisputable. Even now, it is probably the most sophisticated car of its type to come to market, offering an envelope of performance, technology and usability never before conceived, let alone achieved.

Matt Saunders: “The Porsche 918 Spyder smashed our dry handling track lap record at MIRA when we road tested it — and was even sufficiently forgiving and easy to drive to do so with me at the wheel. It’s still my favourite hypercar, and I’d bet it always will be.”

Ariel Nomad – 2015

It’s not every day that an entirely new kind of car is invented, but that’s what the Nomad is: a sports car that works in all environments, from road to track, from sand dune to forest track. It may be the first such car, but it will emphatically not be the last.