By Bruce Nelson
Boy, did you see that important car?
Over the last number of weeks, I’ve been driving around in a 1950 Ford that I recently picked up from a collector in Montana. Even though I had a car just about like this one about 20 years ago, I am surprised by how many people tell me about their experiences with a “shoebox Ford” in the past. It’s not only a great car to drive, but also a real conversation piece. When someone comes up to me they seem to always describe the car as “beautiful” or “classic” or some other superlative, even though it is in need of a full restoration. This got me thinking of the terms I might use when I see a car that catches my eye. I’m sure if you were to ask my wife, she could tell you some examples. But the one I don’t use often enough is important. Over the last 100 or so years since the automobile has arrived on the scene, many cars have been, more than others, important.
I guess that the description of an important car would be one that has had an impact on the auto buying public or the auto industry in general. The undisputed most important car of all time would have to be the Ford model T. This was the car that put the option of automobile ownership into the reach of the common man, and even more importantly, the farmer. It has been said that before the model T, the average person never traveled further than 20 miles from where he was born in his or her entire life. That is so hard to imagine today. But Henry Ford grew up on a farm and hated the thought of being tied down to it. So his idea was to build a car that 1: any person with an income could afford and 2: by raising the average wage in the entire country, expanding the market for his car. In the early 20s there were aprox. 260 auto manufacturers in the world, but well over 50% of the cars sold were model Ts.
Of course, this was not the only important car. There have been many. How did cars like the ’55 Chevy with its new small block V-8 change things? How about the Ford Mustang, or the Pontiac GTO. All these cars from a more modern era changed the market forever. In 2000, a group of automotive writers from around the world got together to select the 100 most important cars and then the 5 most important. The final 5 were #5 the Porsche 911, #4 the Citroen DS, #3 the Volkswagen Bug, #2 the Mini and #1 the model T.
My 1950 Ford, which was a new model in 1949, was an important car as it was a radical change for Ford and a modern design for the entire industry. Most of the design features made it to the rest of the market in a short time. Even today, what new cars will be considered important, innovative cars in the future? How about the Ford explorer? It was the first medium sized luxury SUV. Now how many vehicles have moved in to compete with it? How about the Chrysler minivan? How many more can you think of?
So the next time you see a car show, or just a caravan of old cars going down the road, instead of just thinking how beautiful a particular car is, think of how important it may have been. Bruce.
By Bruce Nelson
Last Update: 12/13/03