Century of Car Production
The first vehicles powered by gasoline engines were produced in the late 19th century. In 1885 Carl Benz built a 2-seat, 3-wheel vehicle powered by a horizontally-mounted 1-cylinder engine that produced 0.75 horsepower. In January 1886 Benz applied for a patent for his “vehicle powered by a gas engine,” and the following July marked the first public appearance of the Benz Patent Motor Car — model no. 1 — generally regarded as the first automobile. After those humble beginnings many automotive companies have come and gone, although about a dozen have been around since the early years of the 20th century. The following automobile manufacturers began producing cars more than 100 years ago and are still selling cars in America today.
In 1909 the Societa Italiana Automobili Darraq, an Italian factory of a French carmaker located on the outskirts of Milan, was purchased by its managing director Ugo Stella. In 1910 Stella renamed the company Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili and it eventually became known by the acronym Alfa. The first Alfa was the 24HP, powered by a single block 4.1-liter engine with a top speed of 62 mph. During World War I Alfa did not have the funds to convert its automobile manufacturing to wartime materiel and was purchased by Nicola Romeo, who began producing airplane engines and portable compressors, changing the badge to Alfa-Romeo Milano. After the war, investors took the company public under the name Alfa Romeo. The Alfa Romeo RL launched in 1922 with an inline 6-cylinder engine, overhead valves and brakes on all four wheels.
Legendary driver Ugo Sivocci won the Targa Florio in 1923 driving an RL with a white square with a “Quadrifoglio” — a four-leaf clover painted on the front. Soon after Sivocci crashed and died at Monza while testing a car without the four-leaf clover, and from that time on all Alfa Romeo race cars included a four-leaf clover in a white triangle with a missing corner in tribute to Sivocci. In 1924 Vittorio Jano created the Alfa Romeo P2 with a supercharged 8-cylinder engine and two forced-induction carburetors, which became one of the best Grand Prix cars of the 1920s. Alfa Romeo won its first world championship in 1925, its first Mille Miglia in 1928, had its first victory at Le Mans in 1931, and went on to considerable racing success throughout the 1930s. Alfa Romeo returned to the U.S. market in 2007 with the 8C Competizione, followed by the 4C in 2015, Giulia in 2017 and Stelvio for 2018.
Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin founded Bamford and Martin Limited in London in 1913 to produce high-quality performance cars. The Aston Martin name was created after Lionel Martin won the 1914 Aston Clinton Hill Climb. Bamford & Martin produced Aston Martin cars from 1914–1925 and Aston Martin Limited was founded in 1926. The first Aston Martin was the 1914 Coal Shuttle. In 1922 Aston Martin entered the French Grand Prix and in 1927 Aston Martin was featured at the Motor Show at Olympia.
In 1947 David Brown purchased Aston Martin and led the company for the next 25 years, expanding production, acquiring the Lagonda marque and producing a series of successful cars beginning with the DB2 in 1947. The DB2 was the first Aston Martin to include the DB nameplate; it finished second and third in class at Le Mans in 1951. Aston Martin offered a unique combination of on-track performance with elegant design and fine craftsmanship which produced the DB3 and DB3S before the DB4, high-performance DB4GT and the collaboration with Zagato on the DB4 Zagato. The DBR1 won the Sportscar World Championship in 1959, including first and second at Le Mans. The DB5 was an instant hit when it debuted in 1963 and is still recognized today as one of the mot beautiful cars of all time. Aston Martin continues its racing tradition with a GTE Pro class victory at Le Mans in 2017 for the Aston Martin V8 Vantage GTE.
Founded in May 1903 by David Dunbar Buick from Scotland, in 1904 the Buick Motor Division was sold to James Whiting. Whiting became partners with William C. Durant and they then launched the Buick Model B. When Durant started General Motors in 1908, Buick was the first car company purchased by General Motors. In 1938 legendary General Motors designer Harley Earl created the Buick Y-Job concept, which is considered by many to be the first concept car.
In 1949 Buick introduced portholes to help with underhood engine cooling, which became a Buick design cue still found on Buicks today. In the 1960s the focus at Buick turned to producing cars that were sporty and fun, with even more attention to performance in the 1970s with cars such as the GSX and Riviera. More recently Buick had great success with the introduction of the Enclave crossover in 2007, as well as with an Avenir sub-brand in 2016 for showcasing the brand’s most luxurious models. For the last several years Buick has enjoyed steady sales growth in China.
Henry Leland founded Cadillac in 1902 when he was given control of the failing Henry Ford Company, which he renamed Cadillac Automobile Company after French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of Detroit. Leland was an expert in machining and precision manufacturing and he had a contract to supply engines to Olds Motor Works in 1901. When Olds rejected an improved engine from Leland, Henry took the opportunity to create his own automobile when offered control of the Henry Ford Company. In 1911 Charles Kettering invented the automobile electric self-starter, which was first offered on a Cadillac in 1912, eliminating the dangerous hand-crank and making the automobile more appealing to new customers.
In 1914 Cadillac produced the first V8 water-cooled engine. Henry Leland left General Motors in 1917 to form Lincoln Motor Company and produce Liberty aircraft engines. In 1930 Cadillac debuted the Cadillac V-16 — the first production car to offer a 16-cylinder engine. The Cadillac V-16 was developed in secret and debuted at the New York Auto Show, setting a new standard for luxury cars with power and performance. Cadillac became the General Motors luxury brand and remains so today. In 1940 the Cadillac Sixty set a new trend in styling with a smooth notchback design that influenced the design of other models. In recent years Cadillac has enjoyed success in the luxury SUV segment with the Escalade, which debuted in 1999. Escalade continues to be Cadillac’s second best-selling model and one of the top-selling luxury SUVs.
Chevrolet is celebrating the centennial of the Chevrolet Truck in 2018, but the history of the Chevrolet brand goes back farther than the first truck to the founding of the company in Detroit in 1911. Chevrolet was the brainchild of William Durant, the founder of General Motors (who had been forced out of GM in 1910) and Louis Chevrolet, a Buick race driver who had immigrated from Switzerland and later raced in the Indy 500. Their first car, the Chevrolet Classic Six, was not successful but the second car, the Chevrolet 490, took on the Ford Model T with more features at almost the same price.
With the success of the 490, Durant began buying shares of GM and by 1916 Chevrolet owned 54.5 percent of GM’s stock and Durant took over as President of GM. Chevrolet became a GM brand in 1918. Durant was ousted again in 1920 and Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. became president, choosing Chevrolet to be the volume brand for GM. In 1936 Chevrolet produced the first Suburban Carryall, the predecessor to Chevrolet’s popular full-size SUV today. In 1953 the Corvette was introduced. Today Chevrolet is still the top-selling brand of General Motors.
Daimler / Mercedes-Benz
Daimler AG, parent company of Mercedes-Benz, was founded by Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz when the two automobile pioneers merged Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft and Benz & Cie in 1926. But the history of the company dates to 1886 with Daimler’s first motor carriage, the Benz Patent Motor Car. In 1910, Benz & Cie registered a logo as a trademark with Benz lettering surrounded by a laurel wreath, and the following year the Daimler Mercedes star was also registered. In February of 1925 both companies registered a new shared logo that combined the Mercedes star surrounded by the Benz wreath and Mercedes Benz lettering — the Mercedes-Benz logo recognized today. Both companies began building cars with the Mercedes-Benz badge in 1925, and the merger of the two companies was completed in June 1926.
Daimler / Mercedes-Benz
Following World War II, Daimler-Benz regained the strong position it held before the war with great sales success for Mercedes-Benz cars throughout the 1950s. At the 1954 New York Auto Show, M-B debuted the 190 SL and the 300 SL Gullwing, recognized today as one of the most beautiful sports cars ever produced. From the 1960s to the 1980s Daimler-Benz continued to grow, expanding its commercial vehicle business and producing Mercedes-Benz luxury cars. In 1998 Daimler merged with Chrysler to form DaimlerChrysler AG, launching many new Mercedes-Benz models over the next few years, including the M-Class, SLK and CLK. In October 2007 DaimlerChrysler AG became Daimler AG, selling its last Chrysler shares in 2009. Mercedes-Benz has continued to expand its model lineup with more SUVs and AMG performance offerings. The company finished 2017 as the top-selling luxury brand in the U.S. market.
The Dodge brothers, Horace and John, produced the first car with their name on it in 1914, but they were heavily involved in the early production of automobiles before that. After starting the Evans & Dodge Bicycle Company in Windsor, Canada, in 1897, the Dodge brothers sold their interest in the bicycle company in 1901 to start a machine shop in Detroit and by 1902 became a supplier of engines, transmissions and axles to the automobile industry. In 1903 Dodge created the production drawings and all mechanical parts for the new Ford Motor Company and in 1910 the main Dodge plant was built to produce Ford engines and transmissions.
Dodge gave up all Ford business to produce their own car in 1914— the first car with an all-steel body. Dodge was one of the top-selling American brands through the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. Both Dodge brothers died in 1920 of influenza and in 1925 a group of New York investors bought the company before it was sold to Chrysler Corporation in 1928. Dodge became know for performance cars in the 1960s and today features high-performance SRT models including the 707-horsepower Charger SRT Hellcat and 840-horsepower Challenger SRT Demon. Dodge is now part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino was founded in Italy in 1899 by a group of investors including Giovanni Agnelli. The first car was powered by a 3.5-horsepower engine and a total of 24 were built at the Turin automotive factory by 150 workers. In 1910 Fiat introduced six new models and from 1912–1914 won international races including the American Grand Prize, the Indianapolis 500 and the Gothenburg-Stockholm Winter Cup. In 1952 the high-performance Fiat 8V sports car reached 200 km/h (162 mph) and in 1956 the Fiat 500 hit showrooms.
The most popular car ever produced by Fiat, the 500 was powered by an 18-horsepower 500cc engine with a top speed of 59 mph. FIAT produced more than 4 million 500s from 1957 through 1975, and the Fiat 500 F Series was the most popular model, produced between 1965 and 1972. The Fiat 500 celebrated its 60th anniversary in July 2017 and the Museum of Modern Art in New York added a Fiat 500 to its permanent collection. MoMA acquired an original 1968 Fiat 500F Berlina, also know by the name Cinquecento — a car that represents the period of mass car ownership, becoming a style and design icon in the process. Fiat Group and Chrysler Group enter a strategic alliance in 2009 and in 2014 Fiat Group acquired 100 percent ownership of Chrysler. A new retro-looking Fiat 500 hit the U.S. market in 2011 and is sold in more than 100 countries today.
Ford Motor Company
What we now call The Ford Motor Company began in fits and starts. Henry Ford’s first vehicle was Quadricycle in 1896, which used four bicycle wheels, a 4-horsepower engine and a tiller to steer. In 1899 Ford joined a group that founded the Detroit Automobile Company, but he left within a year; in 1901 Ford designed the Sweepstakes race car and defeated the top race car driver at the time in a 10-lap race at the one-mile oval of the Detroit Driving Club. Ford’s second automobile company was the Henry Ford Company in 1901, which became Cadillac when Ford was replaced by Henry Leland in 1902. Incorporated by 12 investors in 1903, The Ford Motor Company sold the first Ford Model A on July 23, 1903. In 1908 Ford introduced the Model T: a simple, affordable automobile that sold 15 million units before production ended in 1927.
Ford Motor Company
In 1913 Ford introduced the moving assembly line to auto production; started paying factory workers $5 per day in 1914 — double the current rate; and began construction of the River Rouge Complex in 1915. In 1917 Ford introduced its first truck-based on the Model T. Edsel Ford succeeded Henry Ford as president in 1919 and Henry Ford II became president in 1945. Later Ford highlights include the introduction of the F-Series trucks in 1948, the debut of the Mustang at the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York, and three Ford GTs swept the podium in 1996 at the Le Mans 24 Hour race, breaking Ferrari’s six-year winning streak. The F-Series has been the best-selling vehicle in America for 36 years.
General Motors was founded by William C. Durant in September 1908 in Flint, Michigan, to bring together several motorcar companies. General Motors immediately purchased the Buick Motor Company, Cadillac the following year as well as Oldsmobile, Oakland (later Pontiac) and other companies including Chevrolet in 1918. Durant was forced out of the company by stockholders and co-founded the Chevrolet Motor Company in 1911 with Louis Chevrolet. Durant was forced out of the company again in 1920 and Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. became president 1923–37 and chairman of the board of directors 1937–56.
Sloan organized General Motors into a single entity with a central corporate office and five main auto divisions: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Pontiac. In 1929 GM passed Ford to become the top American passenger car manufacturer; by 1941 it was making 44 percent of the cars in the U.S. and held 40-45 percent of U.S. auto sales through the 1950s and 1960s. GM discontinued Oldsmobile in 2004 and after emerging from bankruptcy in 2009, officially discontinued Pontiac and Saturn in 2010 and sold Sweden-based automaker Saab. Today GM operates four auto divisions: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC.
Henry Leland, who founded Cadillac in 1902 when he was given control of the Henry Ford Company, left General Motors in 1917 and started the Lincoln Motor Company to build Liberty aircraft engines. After World War I, the company’s factories retooled to build luxury automobiles and in 1922 Ford bought Lincoln, which became the luxury division of Ford. Henry Ford’s son Edsel became the president of Lincoln, and many new models were offered during the 1920s and ‘30s. Lincoln also contracted with dozens of different coachbuilders during that period, including Brunn, Dietrich, Judkins and Willoughby. In 1931 the Lincoln series K was introduced, followed by the 1932 series KB powerd by a V-12 engine.
The luxury market declined drastically during the Depression-era 1930s, but in 1935 the mid-price Lincoln Zephyr debuted, featuring an aerodynamic design and a smaller V12 engine. Zephyr became a sales success, accounting for more than two-thirds of Lincoln sales in 1936. In 1940 Lincoln premiered the Continental, based on the personal luxury car of Edsel Ford. In 1945 Ford created the Lincoln-Mercury division, and from 1956–1960 the separate Continental Division, which launched the new Continental Mark II. The Continental series continued until 1998, the final year for the Continental Mark VIII. An all-new Continental returned to the Lincoln lineup for 2017. Lincoln joined the luxury SUV market in 1998 with the Navigator which is all new for the 2018 model year.
The Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co., Ltd produced the first Mitsubishi car in 1917 with the introduction of the Model A, which became Japan’s first series-production passenger car. In 1936 Mitsubishi introduced the PX33, Japan’s first 4-wheel-drive production car. Mitsubishi entered its first international race in 1962 at the Macau Grand Prix with the Mitsubishi 500 Super Deluxe setting a new track record in the under-750cc class and taking the class win. In 1970 Mitsubishi Motors began Electric Vehicle research and development. The first Mitsubishi Motors car was sold in the U.S. in 1971 as the Dodge Colt. The Mitsubishi Lancer debuted in 1973 and the Lancer 1600GSR dominated the Australian Southern Cross Rally, taking the top three spots and earning Mitsubishi a fourth rally title.
In 1976 Mitsubishi developed and patented Silent Shaft engine technology to reduce vibration in larger displacement four-cylinder engines which was eventually licensed to Porsche, Saab and Fiat. In 1982 Mitsubishi cars were introduced to the U.S. market under the Mitsubishi brand. Mitsubishi debuted the Lancer Evolution in the World Rally Championship in 1992 and from 1996 to 1999 Tommi Makinen won four consecutive WRC Driver’s Championships. In 1990 Mitsubishi introduced the Eclipse and the 3000GT for the U.S. In 2003 Mitsubishi introduced the Lancer Evolution in American with the next-generation Evolution X arriving in 2008.
The Honourable Charles Stewart Rolls and Sir Henry Royce first met on May 4, 1904, and agreed to form the company that today still bears their names and is recognized as the symbol of automotive excellence. Rolls was raised in privilege and was an enthusiastic motorist who raced bicycles, motorcycles and cars at a time when many people still thought cars were a passing fad. Rolls ran C.S. Rolls and Co., a London car sales business. He was frustrated by the lack of British involvement in the motor industry. Royce came from a more humble background and after an apprenticeship at the Great Northern Railway Works and a job at the Electric Light and Power Company in London, he had a successful engineering business in Manchester.
Royce designed and built his own car — the 10-horsepower Royce — and on April 1, 1904, drove 15 miles from his factory in Manchester to his home. Rolls traveled to Manchester to meet with Royce on May 4, 1904, and after a drive in the Royce-Rolls agreed to sell all the cars that Royce could build, and they agreed the cars would be called Rolls-Royce motor cars. The philosophy of Rolls-Royce from its inception has been the pursuit of excellence — a tenet still followed today. At the pinnacle of the Rolls-Royce model lineup for 2018 is the new eighth-generation Phantom, the modern successor to the original Phantom that debuted in 1925.