25 Timeless Cars That Revolutionized the Auto Industry

Ringbrothers's 1969 "G-Code" Camaro
Ringbrothers’s 1969 “G-Code” Camaro | Ringbrothers

Modern car manufactures pour millions of dollars into new models made to dazzle consumers. However, sometimes the greatest vehicles are the ones from bygone eras that continue to captivate our imaginations. Classic cars have become embedded into cultures around the world. Mid-20th century Americana evokes pictures of beefy muscle cars while ’60s London summons images of stylish Jaguars roaming the streets.

Truly classic cars featured design innovations from the fanciful to the practical, each one wielding a significant amount of influence on auto manufacturers. Other legendary cars featured performance milestones as lauded car makers from Enzo Ferrari to Ferruccio Lamborghini raced to build the fastest vehicle.

Here is a list of 25 timeless cars that revolutionized the auto industry and forever hold a place in the minds of car lovers everywhere.

1. 1966 Shelby 427 Cobra

Shelby Cobra CSX260
CSX260 before auction, April 28, 2009 | Emmanual Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

AC Cobra’s Shelby line could practically be the face of classic cars. The Shelby 427 Cobra in particular was one of the sleekest and most powerful vehicles of the mid-60s. The “Super Snake” roadster edition is especially coveted as the last one remaining was recently sold for a whopping $5.1 million.

2. 1961 Jaguar E-Type

The beautiful Jaguar E-Type has topped countless lists for greatest sports cars of all time. The British-made vehicle boasted incredible performance by reaching 60 miles per hour in only seven seconds with a max speed of 150 miles per hour. Austin Powers recently canonized the timeless beauty by showcasing its influence in 1960s London style.

3. 1969 Boss 429 Mustang

Ford Mustang Boss 351
Ford Mustang Boss 351 | Ford

The Boss 429 Mustang is the holy grail for muscle car enthusiasts. Ford produced the high-performance juggernaut in 1969 and 1970, making only 1,358 vehicles. NASCAR deserves come credit for the intimidating vehicle’s creation as Ford wanted to find a car fit to house a Hemi engine for the NASCAR’s Grand National Division.

4. 1963 Corvette Sting Ray

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray
1963 Corvette Sting Ray | Chevrolet

The first edition of the Corvette Sting Ray in 1963 unleashed a legacy of one of the most renowned car models of all time. Its inaugural model managed to combine style, efficiency, and power all into one sleek package. Due to its lighter size, the 1963 Sting Ray touted increased acceleration and smoother handling.

5. De Tomaso Pantera

The Italian De Tomaso car company picked an apt comparison when calling its powerful sports car the Pantera, which translates to panther in English. For all intents and purposes, the original Pantera was basically a panther on wheels due to its impressive Ford V8 engine and significant torque.

6. Lamborghini Miura

1971 Lamborghini Miura SVJ
Lamborghini Miura | RM Auctions

Lamborghini unwittingly unleashed a revolution in design when the Italian car manufacturer unveiled the Miura. The classy, two-door coupe held the formidable V12 engine that Lamborghini had used in its 400GT model. Even though it debuted at a mammoth price of $20,000, the Miura set the standard for sleek, minimal sports cars with unmatched speed.

7. McLaren F1

McLaren F1
McLaren F1 | Mehdi Fedouach/AFP/Getty Images

Originally released in 1992, the McLaren F1 completely rewrote the rule book for what was possible in the development of high performance vehicles. McLaren Automotive initially created it as an experiment into the ideal road vehicle. The F1 ended up winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans and shattered numerous records. Production was halted in 1999, and the F1 continues to be a favorite of rich car enthusiasts such as Jay Leno.

8. Ford Mustang Mach 1 Cobra Jet

Ford Mustang Mach 1
Mustang Mach 1 | Ford

The original Ford Cobra Jet has been sorely overlooked among classic car aficionados. Originally released in 1969, the high performance powerhouse boasted a 428 Cobra Jet engine that was also outfitted in the Shelby GT500KR. While the Shelby is far more coveted, the Mach 1 matches its speed and sports the classic Mustang design.

9. Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow

Over 50 years after it was first released in 1965, Rolls-Royce’s attractive Silver Shadow is still the most produced vehicle in the company’s arsenal. The car featured a decidedly modern design, which was made all the more appealing by its groundbreaking hydraulics, spacious interior, and compact size designed to help motorists survive on tiny streets.

10. Cizeta-Moroder V16T

Although it was fatally short-lived, the Cizeta-Moroder V16T was an exciting collaboration between former Lamborghini owners and famous disco innovator Giorgio Moroder. Renowned car designer Marcello Gandini added numerous aesthetic flourishes including a slender aluminum chassis. While Moroder eventually removed his name, the flashy car still reflected his seductive music.

11. Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing

Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing assembly
Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing | Mercedes-Benz

Before Mercedes-Benz became a ubiquitous franchise synonymous with luxury, the German automaker was struggling to break into the U.S. market. A New York-based Mercedes dealer named Max Hoffman wanted to try making a city-friendly configuration of the Mercedes-Benz W194 for American audiences. His idea turned into the distinctive Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, whose upward doors and lush style proved to be a mass success for the company.

12. Porsche 356

Porsche 356
Porsche 356 | Porsche via Facebook

The compact Porsche 356 helped jumpstart an early trend by other automakers such as Volkswagen to pack high performance in a small design. Porsche initially had trouble manufacturing the car as it took nearly two years to produce 50 vehicles. After a high-profile win at 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1951, the unassuming car soon gained mass appeal and remains one of Porsche’s most beloved models.

13. Chevrolet Camaro

1970 Chevrolet Camaro
Chevrolet Camaro | Chevrolet

In many ways, a healthy sense of competition has been the greatest catalyst for innovation in the automotive industry. The Chevrolet Camaro is one of the most obvious examples. Chevrolet sought to take down the Ford Mustang with its own high-powered muscle car. While the Mustang is still going strong, the Camaro continues to be an icon of classic American car culture.

14. DeLorean DMC-12

DeLorean DMC-12
DeLorean DMC-12 | DeLorean Motor Company

As a result of the failing car market in the ’80s, the world will never know how the DeLorean DMC-12 could have innovated over the years. Back to the Future forever canonized its iconic gullwing doors and fiberglass chassis when it was featured as Doc Brown’s time machine. Unfortunately, production stopped in 1983 after the DeLorean Motor Company tanked.

15. Aston Martin DB4

Aston Martin DB4
Aston Martin DB4 | Aston Martin

In so many ways, the Aston Martin DB4 served as a crucial template for the development of future Aston Martins. Its featherweight frame shook up the auto world upon its unveiling in 1958. Because it was manufactured in England, the DB4 also marked the first time the Italy-based Aston Martin innovated outside of its borders.

16. Ferrari 250 GTO

1960 Ferrari 250GT SWB Competizione
1960 Ferrari 250GT SWB Competizione | Brian Henniker/Gooding & Company

Among sports cars, the Ferrari 250 GTO holds a mythical status due to its limited production and competitive performance. Only 39 cars were manufactured, and every buyer had to be personally vetted by Enzo Ferrari and Luigi Chinetti. In 2002, a sale of a GTO became the most expensive car transaction in history when Craig McCaw purchased it for an incredible $35 million.

17. Jeep CJ

1951 Willys CJ-3A Farm Jeep
1951 Willys CJ-3A Farm Jeep | americanironTV via YouTube

Besides the spike in manufacturing, World War II ended up being a crucial catalyst for the expansion of the auto industry. The civilian Jeep was one of the most important wartime creations, renowned for its rugged durability and open-air design. The original blueprints for the Jeep’s military model underpin nearly every Jeep currently on the market.

18. Fiat 124 Spider

Fiat 124 Spider
Fiat 124 Spider | Fiat

Some of the most well-renowned cars first grabbed the spotlight by winning numerous rallies and competitions. The Fiat 124 Spider was outfitted to compete in rallies with a host of features including a DOHC inline four engine with 1,756 cc and a max speed totaling 118 miles per hour. After winning the World Rally Championship, Fiat’s classic convertible secured its place in automobile history.

19. Austin-Healey 3000

Even though a half century has passed since the Austin-Healey 3000 hit the market, some racers still covet its power in classic car competitions. Its sleek, minimal design managed to convey luxury while concealing powerful machinery under its hood, which often topped an impressive 115 miles per hour.

20. Acura NSX

Acura NSX
Acura NSX | Acura

The origins of the Acura NSX’s name are admittedly silly, but accurate. The NSX stands for “New, Sports car, and Experimental,” and its design contains numerous touches that vouch for its innovation. Honda’s designer took inspiration from fighter jets when crafting its aerodynamic appeal. Its body was also entirely aluminum, which was a completely new feature in the commercial car market.

21. Datsun 240Z

Nissan Datsun 240Z
Datsun 240Z | Nissan

In the ’60s, the Nissan Motor Corporation faced considerable difficulty breaking into American markets. The Japanese company struggled to find success until the creation of the Datsun 240Z. Its affordable price and attractive suite of modern features made it competitive with other foreign dealers such as Porsche. As a result, Nissan made significant inroads in America and the 240Z became a favorite in the states.

22. Volkswagen Beetle

Volkswagen Beetle
Volkswagen Beetle | Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

Weirdly enough, the world has Hitler to thank for the creation of Volkwagen’s beloved Beetle. The dictator wanted a practical, affordable vehicle fit for cruising on the newly minted Autobahn. Thus, the Beetle was born. Today, the compact car’s influence can be seen throughout the auto industry, and has become one the most-produced vehicles of all time.

23. Volvo P1800

Volvo P1800
Volvo P1800 | Volvo

Television and modern cinema played a crucial role in bolstering the status of countless vehicles. While Volvo’s P1800 was an attractive model in its own right, its star status took off when the ’60s series The Saint prominently featured its lead actor driving it. Volvo’s stylish design touches and luxury features made it a stand out choice for those who cared more about comfort than performance.

24. Dodge Viper GTS

Dodge Viper GTS
Dodge Viper GTS | Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

The Dodge Viper GTS is much more than a pretty face. The sports car’s undeniably sleek design is only an afterthought when you realize what’s under the hood. When crafting the GTS in 1989, Lamborghini engineers developed the V10 specifically for this car. The ferocious engine continues to be a favorite for Formula One racers.

25. Volkswagen Type 2

Volkswagen Type 2
Volkswagen Type 2 | Matt Cardy/Getty Images

While the Volkswagen Type 2 lacked some serious safety features, the iconic bus has secured its place as an icon of an era. Hippies and ’60s counterculture has become synonymous with the “Bus,” with many aging flower children still flouting its legendary status. Newer additions have favored practicality over nostalgia, but the Type 2 still evokes feelings of freedom and rebellion for countless car owners.