First cars that changed the world

Ben Cooper
Written by: Ben Cooper
Posted on: 6 April 2016

How did you feel when you were handed the keys to your first car? Excited no doubt, and maybe a little bit nervous. The world was finally your oyster, ready to be experienced to the full.

To say it changed your life wouldn’t be an understatement, in fact according to our recent survey 74% of respondents said that their first car really did change their life.

First cars have a habit of changing things, so we thought we’d take a look at those automobile firsts through the ages that changed the world of motoring forever.

What was the first car?

Karl Benz’ Patent-Motorwagen

Karl Benz’ Patent-Motorwagen

The mother of all first cars was Karl Benz’ Patent-Motorwagen.

Built in 1885, this two-seater tricycle design had a single-cylinder four-stroke engine that produced a staggering 2/3 horsepower.

It’s from these humble beginnings that the entire automotive industry would grow.

What was the first electric car?



British electrical engineer Magnus Volk hailed from Brighton and it was in this iconic seaside town that he debuted the world’s first electric car in 1887, a Victorian Toyota Prius.

Like the Patent-Motorwagen it was a three-wheeler, but he would later create a four-wheeled electric car for the Sultan of Turkey.

What was the first front-wheel drive car?

Until 1897 all cars were rear-wheel drive.

But the Gräf brothers in Austria changed that when they built the first front-wheel drive car. Powered by a one-cylinder engine it was, incredibly, still in working condition in the 1970s.

What was the first car to set a land speed record?



In December 1898 Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat set the first land speed record in an automobile.

Driving a Jeantaud electric car, the Count completed a kilometre course in just 57 seconds, achieving a speed of 39.24mph.

Considering trains by this time were regularly travelling at 70mph it doesn’t seem that impressive, but it wouldn’t take long for cars to catch up.

What was the first car with electric headlights?

Until 1898 car headlights were fuelled by oil or acetylene, with the latter more popular because of its resistance to wind and rain.

But then the Electric Vehicle Company of Hartford, Connecticut, introduced electric headlights on its Columbia Electric Car.

At first the feature didn’t take off because the filaments were so fragile, but in a few years time they would become more common.

What was the first mass-produced car?

Oldsmobile Curved Dash

Oldsmobile Curved Dash

Most people will automatically say the Ford Model T, but in actual fact the first mass-produced car was the Oldsmobile Curved Dash.

Introduced in 1901, the Curved Dash was in production until 1907, with more than 19,000 built during its run.

What was the first car with four wheel brakes?

Scottish car manufacturer Argyll introduced the first production car with a four-wheel brake set in 1910.

The pair on the front wheels was operated with a pedal as normal, while the rear set had to be applied with a lever.

What was the first car with electric starting?

Before 1912 you had to crank a car engine into life, and it took some real muscle, so much so it was a major cause of automotive injury.

But then Cadillac rolled out the first electric starter, and a new era of easy starting cars began.

What was the first car with hydraulic brakes?



The Duesenberg Model A arrived in 1921 and brought with it the first four-wheel hydraulic braking system.

Fred Duesenberg had designed and used hydraulic brakes on his racing cars prior to this date, but the Model A was the first production car with the technology.

What was the first diesel engine passenger car?

Mercedes benz 260d

Mercedes benz 260d

Mercedes-Benz unveiled the 260D at the 1936 Berlin Motor Show.

This was the first passenger car with a diesel engine and it proved so popular that by 1939 there was a 15-month waiting list.

What was the first car with flashing indicators?

Car safety developed along with improvements in engine size and power.

With cars able to move faster, and more cars on the road, issues surrounding driver and pedestrian safety became paramount.

In 1939 Buick introduced the first car with electric flashing indicators.

What was the first car with seatbelts?

Taking safety to the next level was the Tucker 48, also known as the Tucker Torpedo. This was the first production car to feature seatbelts.

The 48 was also full of other safety features like a roll bar in the roof, a perimeter frame for crash protection and a padded dashboard.

What was the first car with a three-point seatbelt?

Volvo pv544

Volvo pv544

Continuing with the safety theme, 1959 saw the first car with a three-point seatbelt. The Volvo PV544 took driver and passenger safety to new heights.

Recognising that its invention would revolutionise car safety, Volvo made the patent open so other manufacturers could include the belt in their car without extra cost.

What was the first turbocharged car?

In 1962 Oldsmobile released the Jetfire Cutlass, the first passenger car with a turbocharged engine.

This made the car’s V8 engine even more powerful, with a 0-60 time of less than 10 seconds.

What was the first car to break the sound barrier?

Thrustssc x

Thrustssc x

Just under 100 years after the first car land speed record of 39mph was set, the British-designed ThrustSSC became the first car to break the sound barrier. Its record speed of 763.03mph set in 1997 still stands today.

Although your first car might not have set the world alight, it probably did change your world and we’re giving you the chance to be reunited with it.

Enter our First car, first love competition and tell us why your first car was so special.

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