It was little more than a carriage with three wheels. But it had an engine – a single-cylinder petrol – and its maker, Karl Benz, went on to run a fairly successful car company. If it weren’t for his invention we wouldn’t be making this list at all.
Technically the Honda Insight came first, but it never caught on like the Prius did. From the moment Cameron Diaz, or was it DiCaprio?, was papped in one, it became the most fashionable way to save the world. Even though it actually won’t. But nevertheless, it is a brand that everyone is familiar with.
It might look a bit shonky compared to its successor, Bloodhound, but in 1997 it travelled at 1228 km/h, becoming the first car to break the sound barrier. It’s held the record ever since, which tells you just how incredible that number actually is.
Remember what the model T did for the US? It put millions of ordinary citizens on the road and inspired the rear-engine layout of Porsche’s later 911. The key turning point was when British Army Major, Ivan Hirst, recognised that there was "something there" and pushed for the factory to be re-opened, as part of restoring the German economy after the war.
The capstone was the deal formed with Heinrich Nordhoff to run VW and, ultimately, to take the VW Beetle to the US. This account ends in 1970 when the VW Beetle was one of the best selling cars in the US. And, even locally, you still see the originally shaped beetle driving around almost on a daily basis.
Was a 400+km/h road car really necessary? Of course not. You could ask similar questions of the moon landings, or of the Taj Mahal. But, this wasn’t about meeting a practical demand, it was about mankind showing off to the universe. And it worked. Even though today there are quite a few road cars that will just break the record, The Veyron was the first to break the 400km/h mark and, because of that, will leave its mark in the history books.
Before this thing came along, rally cars had been joyously swinging their arses around every corner until the rear wheels found enough grip to push onwards. Arses still swayed when four-wheel-drive arrived, just at much higher speeds…
Car manufacturers spend millions of rands making sure their cars don’t fall apart or break down. But all they really need is to take a good look at a Hilux, as Top Gear tested on numerous occasions, because it's the toughest vehicle at a reasonable price. To Top Gear's credit yet again, the Hilux was also the first road car to reach the North Pole.
Before the Model S arrived you’d have to fill your battery-powered car with fresh electricity every three miles or so. What the world needed was a plug-in machine that could do a proper journey of, say, 300km or more. The S is that thing. Somewhat more importantly than all, and I say this with confidence, electric cars have always looked hideous! Tesla brought sexy back into the design, and it's looking good!
They’ve covered more than 9.6 million kilometres (keeping in mind that the circumference of the Earth is only just over 40000km) and collected over 20 million gigabytes of imagery. They’ve revolutionised route planning and helped us find some of the best roads in the world. And yet traditionalists say you can’t beat a map. Nonsense.
After Enzo blocked a deal for Ford to buy Ferrari, Henry Ford II ordered his racing division to build a car that could destroy the Italians at Le Mans. In 1966 he got his wish when three GT40s crossed the line in flying formation… in first, second and third.
Have we missed any cars off the list? Let us know in the comments below.