Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 22, 2022
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Auto History

Take a drive down memory lane in 15 cars that changed the world

Every magazine hopes that, in one way or another, its articles enrich the lives of its readers. As DOCTOR'S REVIEW celebrates the magic number 15 this year, I thought why not showcase the 15 cars that have somehow enriched our lives?

Although there were cars around long before the Model T was introduced, I doubt if any one car has had a greater impact on the world. Henry Ford's obsession with making the automobile available to every working stiff meant bringing production costs down. He came up with the assembly line, and the rest, as they say, is history. Soon the Model T was as common a sight on the landscape as the sunrise. While today's assembly lines are mostly run by computers, the basic formula remains the same, and everything from computer chips to heart medicine still roll down the assembly line, not unlike what Henry Ford envisioned for his Model T.

Breaking away from existing canons of design, Andre Citroen introduced the Traction Avant back in 1934. Citroen combined body and chassis into one unit and added independent suspension. The car remained in production until 1957 but had already inspired Alec Issigonis to produce the 1948 Morris Minor. Austin Minis, Honda Civics and VW Rabbits would all follow.

The Willys Jeep, more commonly known as the army Jeep, was by far the most successful of the three Jeeps built under contract for the US Army by Ford, Bantam and Willys. Ask any veteran and he'll tell you that the Jeep was (and still is) considered to be the single most important piece of equipment during World War II, giving the allies an unmatched advantage -- and possibly even the win. Along with the post-war Jeepster, the Jeep is the granddaddy of today's sport utility vehicles. 4. LAND ROVER The Land Rover, inspired perhaps by the Jeep, went a step further by extending model lines and sizes. Land Rovers opened up much of the British Empire to explorers, hunters and archeologists, allowing them to venture to exotic places previously inaccessible by car.

Like Henry Ford, a certain German chancellor also envisioned an affordable car in every German home. Forget the fact that the Beetle's prototype started off life under the auspices as an NSU, a now-defunct German car company, under Dr. Ferdinand Porsche in 1934 and in 1937 moved to Mercedes before Volkswagenwerke was created. Forget that by the time the chancellor introduced the "People's Car" to the world in 1938, the Volkswagen Beetle already had that familiar look to it. Forget that the British had an opportunity to build Beetles after the war but declined. But despite all these setbacks, the Beetle prevailed. Certainly no one predicted the popularity of the Beetle, or its adaptability to the multitude of conversions the Beetle chassis leant itself to, from simple dune buggies to exotic kit cars.

Conceived by Alec Issigonis in the late 1950s as an econo-box, the Austin Mini, along with the more powerful Mini Cooper, became the most prolific British model ever, with sales in excess of two million. Like the Beetle, the Mini proved that good things come in small packages. It not only popularized front-wheel drive, but also won numerous racing and rally championships, along with the hearts of millions.

After careful market research in the upper middle-class bracket, Ford launched the Edsel in the fall of 1957. However, despite some nice features, a slump in big car sales and questionable styling put the Edsel out to pasture after only two years, with a total of just over 35,000 units sold. Today, the name Edsel remains a synonym for failure.

8. 1959 CADILLAC
The '59 Caddy epitomized success. The credo of the day was simple: The larger the tail fin, the more successful the driver. In the late '50s, as a forward-looking world prepared itself for flying cars and the adventure of the open road, the tail fin also symbolized the new attainability of what had once been mere science fiction, whether it be jet aircraft or space travel. No other car -- not even a Rolls Royce -- could match the Caddy's showiness, and the '59 certainly put Cadillac on the world map. By 1959 however, the Caddy's fins peaked -- and so did the world's tolerance for ostentation. The tiny Beetle was gaining ground; smaller began to seem better. By 1960 the Caddy was downsized, and while the traditional fins lingered on for years to come, none would ever top those of the '59. In today's world, the sport utility vehicle reflects the zeitgeist of the day much as the Caddy did in the '50s, only now success is measured by the size of your truck rather than the size of your tail fins.

Once the Beetle had proven itself as a reliable, economical form of transportation, hippies turned to the VW Bus as a means of self-expression and as an affordable way to see the world. It also spawned the custom-van craze of the '70s. From that point on, the world would never again look at vans as strictly utilitarian. However, the gas crisis in the mid-'70s called for a smaller, more economical van. Chrysler jumped in to fill the void and other minivans soon followed, although the VW itself has never regained the popularity it once enjoyed.

Introduced by Chevrolet as a direct competitor to the Volkswagen Beetle, the Corvair was gaining ground until Ralph Nader stepped in and declared the car unsafe. Consumer advocacy was born. Despite GM's attempt to remedy the problem -- and they did -- the damage had already been done, and the Corvair would never bounce back. Undoubtedly there were lemons prior to and after the Corvair, but Nader's persistence made automobile manufacturers stand up and take notice of consumers and their rights.


11. 1964-'66 MUSTANG
It was a timely introduction. The Mustang, unveiled at the New York's World's Fair in April 1964, was the result of Ford's biggest market-research program to date. The brainchild of Lee Iacocca, the Mustang brought "sporty" motoring to the general public on a budget that almost everyone could afford. Up to that point, anyone dreaming of owning a sports car was relegated either to British imports, which weren't always reliable and for which parts were often scarce, or the pricier Corvette. The Mustang also had one other advantage aside from price and reliability: four-passenger convenience. More than 400,000 Mustangs were sold in the first year alone. Camaros, Firebirds, Cougars, Javelins and Barracudas came after.

Yes, the K-car, brainchild of ex-Ford honcho and Mustang guru Lee Iacocca. Granted, it didn't have an impact on the world like the Beetle or the Jeep did, but it nonetheless saved Chrysler from bankruptcy. So if it wasn't for the K-car, we might never have had minivans or Grand Cherokees or, well, minivans.

13. DATSUN 240Z
After the Mustang and its rivals outgrew their predecessors' raison d'être in terms of size and price, a void was left open. Then Datsun came along and introduced the 240Z. During the 1970s, the 240Z offered many of the same advantages as the original Mustang, until it too fell victim to size and price.

Like the Mustang of the '60s and the 240Z of the '70s, the Miata came along at a time when the world was looking for some fun. Convertibles had almost been legislated out of existence and a reliable, affordable sports car was nowhere to be found. Enter the Miata, with a classic design and reliability previously unheard of in a two-seat roadster. The Mazda became an instant success, leading the way for the BMW Z3, Porsche Boxster and even the newly resurrected MG, the MGF.

For years now I've been telling anyone who will listen that if GM wants to market a successful Caddy, it should re-introduce the '59 with modern technology like ABS, air bags and the Northstar engine. What has this got to do with the New Beetle? In a word -- nostalgia. Its immediate popularity attests to the fact that VW has pulled off a veritable marketing coup. But the New Beetle is a far departure from the original, in terms of both creature comforts and ride. A water-cooled front-engined, front-wheel-drive layout replaces its predecessor's air-cooled, rear engined, rear-drive layout. And the New Beetle owner now has the advantage of heat and defrosters that actually work without having to fire up an auxiliary gas heater.

Will we see college kids stuffing themselves into New Beetles to beat world records? While the New Beetle doesn't lend itself to dune-buggy conversions or custom-car kits, I've seen more than a few of them running around with Herbie the Love Bug colours. Yes, the spirit of the original remains intact -- it even comes with a small vase and silk flowers for all those nostalgic flower children of the '60s.


This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.


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