The Evolution of Cars: A Timeline

With driverless cars so close to our near-future, we thought we'd take a look back to see just how far automobile design has come.

old cars

Who would have thought we would see the day when people no longer need to actually drive their own cars? It’s long seemed like a far-fetched, futuristic idea, but we could actually see these revolutionary vehicles on actual roads among us in just a few years. So when we see headlines about these innovative inventions, do we ever stop to think about the evolution of cars? Before we leap light-years into the future, Quoted decided to do a little digging about the history of vehicles—because after all, isn’t it by truly understanding where we’ve been that we can best see where we’re headed?


Horses Before Horsepower

Although we don’t use horses as our primary source of transportation anymore, these mighty steeds were depended on by anyone who needed to get from one place to another. In the nineteenth century, people depended on horses for their daily transportation needs. Because of this dependence, blacksmiths were equivalent to the modern-day mechanics, and feeding these horses would, of course, be the equivalent of filling your car with gas today. This meant that supplying oats, hay, straw and barley was a huge business at the time—just like gas stations are today. Not only were horses used to pull coaches and buggies, but donkeys and oxen were also used to get people around town.

Save a Horse, Drive an Automobile

The horse and carriage era ended in the early twentieth century as the automobile made its way into the picture. In 1901, Wilhelm Maybach for Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft designed the Mercedes. According to, this was credited as the very first modern motorcar. It’s thirty-five-horsepower engine weighed fourteen pounds per horsepower and went a maximum of fifty-three miles per hour. Ransom E. Old’s made his way onto the automobile scene in 1901 with his famous one-cylinder, three-horsepower, curved-dash, tiller-steered Oldsmobile. Then, in 1906, The Ford Motor Company—owned by none other than Henry Ford—outran its competitors with the invention of the four-cylinder, fifteen-horsepower, Ford Model N.

The first car went a maximum of 35 miles-per-hour.

By 1908, Ford brought the Model T to production lines and with their large-volume production, sold 15 million Model T’s by the time it was withdrawn from production in 1927. Just a mere three years later came the innovative automatic transmission and drop-frame construction. The production of cars was critical for the war effort at this time, but because of World War II, car production had a major setback. When production for civilians resumed in 1946, we began to see luxury cars for the first time. Cars like the Delahaye 135 convertible, which reached speeds up to 90 miles per hour, were popular because they showed the wealth and status of the owner. The cars of the 1940’s had a massive look to them: They were longer, lower and broader, such as the Pontiac Streamliner, the Volkswagen Beetle, and the Buick.



Similar to the 1940s, the cars of the 1950s had a broad look to them as well, but began growing in engine size. At this time, the auto industry was starting to experiment with a new idea called the “sports car”. This idea created new features such as the convertible hard top, wrap-around windows, power steering, and air conditioning. By the end of the 1950’s, America had fallen in love with the sports car and popular models like the Corvette were born. The 1960’s shocked the world by inventing the first front-wheel driven automobiles, but this was not the only change to vehicles. The sixties are known as the “the year of the stylish” because the decade brought stylish beauties like Mustangs, Camaros and Road Runners to the roads.

Gran torino

The Totally Rad 70s, 80s and 90s

Of course we all know muscle cars were popular during the groovy 1970s. Who could forget the ’75 Ford Gran Torino from “Starsky and Hutch” or the ’74 Customized Ford Falcon XB Interceptor from “Mad Max”? But surprisingly, according to compact cars like the GM Vega, the Ford Pinto and the AMC Gremlin took the win in the sales race. The 1980s not only introduced us to leg warmers and Madonna but great warranties as well thanks to companies like Chrysler, who introduced the 5-year/50,000-mile warranty on maintenance, power trains, and external body panels.

Compact cars took the sales race by storm in the 1970s.

The 1990s brought yet more change: The design of cars began to look a little less boxy and a lot more curvy. With a new design came a need for speed, bringing vehicles like the Dodge Viper, the Lamborghini Diablo, and the infamous McLaren F1 to the public.


Modern-Day Magic

Modern day cars are the most technical and of course, the most expensive in the history of automobiles. Today, automobile industries have a huge focus on safety features and technology features that will make driving as easy and convenient as possible. These features range from strategic airbag placement, to push-to-start transmissions and even, the beginning of self-driving cars, thanks to Google. It’s amazing to see us go from horse-drawn carriages to looking into the future of vehicles driving themselves. The revolution of cars is forever advancing, and the possibilities are truly endless. (Personally, we’re still holding out for a Jetsons-style hover car.)