With their sharp styling and promise to perform, American cars of the late 1930s dazzled and thrashed the rest of the world. Though they quickly became cliche icons, they often were ahead of their time.
They weren’t the only one, though. Motorcycle makers soon began incorporating revolutionary technology in their bikes, too. In fact, manufacturers got so enamored with motorcycles that they continued to make similar models well into the ’70s.
1936 Model A. This vehicle features the first mass-produced engine with a number of innovations — including tank air heaters. It came from Ford Motor Co. It was the only Ford ever to run on engine oil as opposed to fuel. In 1966, the Interstate Highway System went into service. The VW Scirocco, introduced in 1938, was the first mass-produced car. It was part of an effort to jump-start the automaker after 20 years of losses. The Scirocco also was the first mass-produced car with crossbar brakes.
1939 Model A is better known as the Rabbit (Ford Motor Co.
1942 Model B is a sensation. It costs $850. Depending on options, it could sell for $1,200 and up. It’s the only diesel-powered car and the only car with a top speed of more than 85 mph. The Price Club launched the program in 1942 and provided affordable credit.
1953 Model A, Powered by a General Motors Motor Vehicle Engine. Before this, there was no major change in engines in cars that were more than 10 years old. This was, at least, until the company applied shock-absorbing construction technology to its new Model A. The device distorts the shocks to make them narrower.
After the Model A debuted, the Ford Mustang was born. At the time, Ford Motor Co. was, as the designer Don Lyon once remarked, “chasing Chrysler” for sales. The vehicle’s appeal was obvious: It was strong enough to ride over rough roads with no body damage. It was stylish, with sharp lines, despite the fact that it didn’t have a hood ornament. Model A-based Pontiac Firebirds and Dodge Tigers followed quickly. The Mustang’s popularity wouldn’t last. But it proved so resilient that some of the world’s speediest cars owe their existence to it.
1954 Rabbit. After the disastrous launch of the Model A, which often sold for less than $400, Ford began to gain lost ground by offering more expensive cars.
1965 Mustang. Built on a new, more affordable body structure, it added a number of new styling features. With names like the Candy Bar and Super Snake, it was the model that spurred sales of the Mustang GT.