1970 Range Rover
Guides 15 Apr 2024

10 Cars Ahead Of Their Time

There are many cars that have pioneered a new way of thinking, perhaps with their styling, their packaging or even how they are driven or powered. Whilst many modern-day cars follow a similar format, that was until the abundance of electric cars arrived on the scene, a lot of what we find in or on a car today can trace their roots back to a few stand out models.

Some may have been revolutionary due to the way they were built, some offered something not seen before on a car, whilst others attempted to offer something more than any other car had done before. It takes a lot to make a new idea popular with the buying public, many people are reluctant to embrace change, however there are a few cars that were way ahead of their time when they were released, and their impact can still be seen in todays brand new cars. Here is our break down of 10 cars that were ahead of their time and the reasons why:

1908 Ford Model T

The Ford Model T was a sales phenomenon and is perhaps one of the most iconic vehicles of all time. It brought affordable motoring to the masses in a way never seen before and pioneered the idea of the production line that effectively is still used today. The build process for the Model T was so successful that a new car rolled off the Detroit production line every 93 minutes. An incredible feat today never mind over 100 years ago.

10 Cars Ahead Of Their Time - 1908 Ford Model T
Image courtesy of Ford

The quick build times and efficient production line meant that the car could be sold so reasonably priced. A Model T started from just $260 and became such a big seller that by the early 1920’s, half of the cars in the world were a Model T. At that time almost 2 million cars were being built and sold each year, in fact over 15 million were sold from 1908 to 1927, a sales record for a single model that stood right up until 1972 when it was surpassed by the Volkswagen Beetle.

From being the first affordable car, to the efficiency of the production line, and the sheer number of sales, the Ford Model T was ahead of its time for so many reasons.

1934 Chrysler Airflow

The Chrysler Airflow pioneered aerodynamics as a basis for its design, something not seen on a full-size saloon car at the time. Its appearance may have been so revolutionary that it was far too radical for most, resulting in poor sales and a lack of market acceptance, but you cannot deny that its consideration for airflow made it well ahead of its time.

After finding that their current car design was more efficient in reverse than driving forwards, they embarked on a plan to make their cars as efficient as possible. The seriousness of their aerodynamic design focus was highlighted with the building of their very own wind tunnel to test scale models of their cars, and even called upon Orville Wright of pioneering aeroplane invention fame to cooperate with their efforts.

10 Cars Ahead Of Their Time - 1934 Chrysler Airflow
Image courtesy of Bonhams

Not only that but at the same time they also had a breakthrough in unibody construction, saving weight and improving rigidity over the conventional separate frame and body at the time. Chrysler also used the model to innovate with weight distribution, something heavily biased towards the rear at the time by as much as 75% resulting in tricky handling with the leaf spring suspension and especially in slippery conditions. The Airflow’s construction and design layout allowed for a 54:46 weight distribution which then evened out to 50:50 with passengers offering better handling, more equal spring rates and much superior ride quality.

1934 Citroen Traction Avant

In the same year as the Chrysler, Citroen unveiled the Traction Avant, French for front wheel drive. It may not have been the very first front wheel drive car, however it was the first front wheel drive mass produced car with a monocoque body. Considering it was launched 90 years ago the Traction Avant not only featured those advanced features but also had independent suspension, a revelation at the time, rack and pinion steering and its monocoque construction made it incredibly crash resistant.

10 Cars Ahead Of Their Time - Citroen Traction Avant
Image courtesy of Car Magazine

Its lack of a separate chassis frame with body built on top meant that the Traction Avant was not only much lighter than its rivals, but also meant it was very low and cornered much better thanks to its low centre of gravity. Thanks to being considerably lighter than its competitors, the chassis set up alone saved 70kg which on a 1,000kg car makes quite a difference, it could also reach 62mph and could achieve almost 30mpg.

Its sleek design, lightweight advantages and superior ride quality and handling meant that it was the first front wheel drive car to sell in six figures. More than 750,000 Citroen Traction Avants were built over its production timeline.

1935 Peugeot 401 Eclipse

Just a year later and fellow French manufacturer Peugeot were pushing the design envelope even further with their 401 Eclipse. Whilst it may be assumed to be an invention that only appeared in the past 20 years or so, the Peugeot 401 Eclipse was the first production car with a retractable hard top roof. A result of a collaboration between Peugeot’s Paris dealer and French coachbuilder Pourtout, the hardtop not only became fully stored underneath the bootlid to create a roadster appearance, but the whole process was also fully electric.

10 Cars Ahead Of Their Time - Peugeot 401 Eclipse
Image courtesy of Peugeot

The system was so revolutionary that Peugeot themselves were unsure what to call the model, resulting in the coachbuilder named ‘Eclipse’ rather than a complicated description of three different body styles. The 401 Eclipse was so far ahead of its time that it would be more than 20 years before it was reimagined when Ford used it on their 1957 Galaxie Skyliner. Just 79 examples were built, but the 401 Eclipse remains a pioneer of the retractable hard top, a revolutionary idea that so many models use today.

1954 Mercedes Benz 300 SL

The Mercedes Benz 300 SL was created for wealthy performance car enthusiasts to get a taste of the W194 racing car of the era. Utilising a lightweight steel tubular frame chassis and aluminium body panels, as well as a powerful 3.0-litre straight six engine, the SL was arguably the worlds first supercar. The weight saving measures and incredibly streamlined body also meant that the SL was the fastest production car of its day with a top speed of 163mph.

Mercedes Benz 300 SL
Image courtesy of Mercedes Benz

As well as its on road appeal and stunning good looks including its iconic gullwing doors, it was also a highly successful racing car, taking victories in the European Rally Championship, the Sports Car Club of America Championship, the Targa Florio and the iconic Mille Miglia at the hands of Stirling Moss in a 300 SLR. The SL was the first example of a racing car for the road that was also incredibly good looking and desirable the world over, the very epitome of a supercar.

1955 Citroen DS

When the Citroen DS was released at the 1955 Paris Motor Show, they had received over 12,000 orders by the end of the first day, with 700 in the first 15 minutes and over 80,000 over the duration of the show. A pre-order record that stood for over 60 years until launch of the Tesla Model 3. Designed as a successor to the aforementioned Traction Avant, the DS was the first mass production car equipped with complicated hydropneumatic suspension, disc brakes and directional headlights for cornering visibility. It also featured a fibre glass roof to lower the centre of gravity, centre lock wheels for ease and speed of wheel changing, power steering and a semi-automatic transmission.

Citroen DS
Image courtesy of Iconic Auctioneers

Aside from the stylish looks, it was the sophisticated suspension that impressed most. With hydropneumatic spring and damper units, as well as its automatic self-levelling and driver adjustable ride height, the set up allowed the DS to travel quickly over poor surfaces with more than impressive results. The ride comfort was so good in fact that Rolls Royce used the system under license on their Silver Shadow. The Citroen DS brought so many world firsts but also its futuristic styling meant it was ahead of its time in more ways than one, even today its retro looks turn heads wherever it goes.

1966 Jensen Interceptor FF

With its Italian styled, American powered, British built combination, as well as the fact it had one of the coolest names ever, the Interceptor is one of the most iconic cars of the 1960’s. An era that had no shortage of legendary vehicles. Whilst the car was already very sophisticated for its time, being equipped with anti-lock brakes and traction control, it was also reportedly the first car fitted with an all-wheel drive system. Audi may have pioneered the use of four-wheel drive for the masses, but it was Jensen who got there first with their Interceptor.

Jensen Interceptor FF
Image courtesy of Iconic Auctioneers

With 6.3 to 7.2-litre Chrysler engines and almost 400bhp on offer in the latter, the Interceptor pioneered the use of all wheel traction for a performance car, providing both traction in all conditions but also surefootedness when cornering or accelerating. Everything from supercars to super-saloons utilise that set up today, but the Jensen was way ahead of its time in 1966.

1966 Lamborghini Miura

The Mercedes Benz 300 SL may be considered as the first supercar way back in 1955, but it was the Lamborghini Miura of 1966 that created the supercar format as we know it today. Being the first car equipped with the engine transversely mounted in the rear-mid layout behind the two front seats, this makes the Miura the original mid-engine supercar.

Lamborghini Miura
Image courtesy of Lamborghini

Originally developed by the company’s top engineers against company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini’s wishes, he preferred comfortable yet powerful grand tourers, when he saw the revolutionary prototype he approved development to continue, even if merely for a marketing tool. Thankfully the Miura became so much more than that, in its time was even the fastest production road car in the world, and the vast majority of supercars have existed in this layout ever since. It may arguably not be the first, but the Miura certainly paved the way for the way supercars have been designed ever since.

1970 Range Rover

In a bid to produce a larger, more up market off-road capable version of their legendary Series I (later Defender), Land Rover experimented with concepts as early as 1958 for what eventually became the Range Rover. Off road machines we largely utilitarian and basic machines until the Range Rover arrived in 1970 showing that you could travel off road in comfort and with space for the whole family and their luggage. They may not have realised quite what they had created over 50 years ago, but the original Range Rover is to thank for the biggest market in recent times, the luxury SUV sector.

1970 Range Rover
Image courtesy of Land Rover

Everyone from Porsche to Bentley, Rolls Royce, Lamborghini, Audi, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Maserati, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin and even Ferrari now produce luxury SUV’s, but it was the Range Rover who paved the way and created the sector all those years ago. Their latest model continues the original ethos of unmatched off-road ability combined with luxury, space and comfort but takes it even further than ever before. No vehicle was able to match its appeal and style when it was launched and very few come close even today.

1999 Honda Insight

The Toyota Prius may be widely accepted as the first car to bring hybrid power to the masses, however the Honda Insight was available worldwide 7 months previously. Although not originally capable of powering the car on electric power alone, Honda’s clever ‘Integrated Motor Assist’ system used the electric motor as a starter motor, engine balancer and to assist the petrol motor with drive.

1999 Honda Insight
Image courtesy of Honda

With its two-door coupe styling and tapered rear with semi-covered rear wheel arches, the Insight was the most aerodynamically efficient production car ever built when launched. Not only that, but thanks to aluminium bodywork and frame and despite the addition of the batteries and electric motor, the Insight was very light weight at just 838kg. Despite being launched way back in 1999, the Insight remained the most fuel-efficient combustion engine car right up until 2016 that didn’t have plug-in capability.

The Toyota Prius may have sold in much greater numbers, but the Honda Insight was never meant to be a big selling car, merely a test bed for hybrid technology and the way it could be used for the future. Its aerodynamic efficiency and capability to maximise the combustion engine’s potential means that it was way ahead of its time in so many ways. The fact that it also led to Honda’s next experimental test bed, the hydrogen powered Clarity, also means that we could be thanking it for developing the next step in motoring too.


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