Cars have changed beyond recognition since the first was built more than 130 years ago, through the development of thousands of innovations and new pieces of technology.
Here are the cars that broke the mould, first introducing us to the joys of, among others, the automatic gearbox, air conditioning, turbocharging and, of course, windows that go up and down at the touch of a button. Click through the gallery to check them out. Let’s start at the beginning...
FIRST CAR: Benz Patent-Motorwagen (1886)
It was the world's first car, and while the layout of Karl Benz's three-wheeled design didn't share much with the cars of today, it still changed the world as we know it.
FOUR WHEELS: Daimler Motorised carriage (1886)
The first car in the world with four wheels, this was developed in parallel with Benz's three-wheeler, yet its maker Gottlieb Daimler didn't know of Benz's creation.
SUPERCHARGER: Mercedes (1921)
Before turbocharging became popular, car builders turned to a supercharger when a power boost was needed. Mercedes was first to use the technology as far back as the early 1920s.
MONOCOQUE: Lancia Lambda (1924)
Compared with today's sophisticated designs, the Lambda's unibody construction was more of a semi-monocoque. But it was still the first to dispense with a separate chassis. The Lambda was also the first car to feature hydraulic shock absorbers.
FRONT-WHEEL-DRIVE: Tracta (1928)
It's often assumed that Citroen's Traction Avant was the world's first front-wheel drive car, but not so. It made FWD popular, but the French firm Tracta introduced front drive six years earlier.
CAR RADIO: Cadillac La Salle (1929)
Debate rages over which was the first car to feature a factory-fit radio. The 1929 Cadillac (and its subsidiary La Salle) was available with a dealer-fitted Delco-Remy unit, although it is believed a 1933 Crossley was the first car to feature a factory-fitted AM radio.
V16: Cadillac (1930)
The only 16-cylinder car recently in production is the Chiron, but this is where it all started. The world's first production V16 proved popular, with Cadillac building 4,076 of them.
8-SPEED MANUAL: Maybach DS8 (1931)
You could be forgiven for thinking that we’re still waiting for the first eight-speed manual gearbox, but it actually arrived as far back as 1931, mated to an 8.0-litre V12 in the Maybach Zeppelin DS8.
HEATER: Nash (1933)
Crude heaters were available for cars as early as the 1920s, although they were always aftermarket items rather than factory-fit. It wasn’t until 1933 that a relatively compact and efficient factory-fitted heater was available, when Nash introduced its new range.
OVERDRIVE: Chrysler Airflow (1934)
Designed to maintain cruising speed at lower-revs and thus aid fuel economy, Overdrive would become very popular on upmarket cars of the 1950s and 1960s, but it was introduced several years before the war on the ill-fated Airflow.
COUPE-CABRIOLET: Peugeot 401 Eclipse (1934)
Ford revived the folding hard top with its Skyliner of 1957, but this was the first coupé-cabriolet. The idea wouldn't become popular until the 1990s, thanks to the Mercedes-Benz SLK.
DIESEL: Mercedes 260D (1936)
Debate rages over the first production diesel car; prototypes from Citroen, Saurer and Peugeot came earlier, but this Mercedes 260D is commonly held to be the first production model.
AUTOMATIC: Oldsmobile (1939)
Until the introduction of the Oldsmobile Hydra-Matic in 1939, if you wanted to drive a car you had to change gears yourself. The four-speed automative unit in the Hydra-Matic changed that.
HATCHBACK: Citroen Traction Avant (1939)
Although the Traction Avant had been introduced in 1934, it would be another five years before the introduction of the Commerciale edition, which became the world's first hatchback.
SAFETY WINDSCREEN: Tucker ‘Torpedo’ (1948)
Cadillac had pioneered the use of shatter-proof windscreens as far back as 1926; Tucker introduced the 'safety windshield' - a pop-out screen - in its ill-fated 1948 Torpedo.
DISC BRAKES: Chrysler Crown Imperial (1948)
It would be the late 1950s before most car makers started using disc brakes, but the Chrysler Crown Imperial featured them, on all four wheels, in 1948. Even now, seven decades on, some economy cars still feature disc brakes only at the front.
FIVE-SPEED MANUAL: Lancia Ardea (1948)
Lancia introduced the Ardea in 1939 with a four-speed manual gearbox. When the third series appeared in 1948 it featured an extra ratio in the transmission – making it the first car in the world to be fitted with a five-speed manual gearbox.
SAFETY CELL: Saab 92 (1949)
For years Saab and Volvo competed with each other in building the world's safest cars. Saab introduced the world's first safety cell in its 92.
V6 ENGINE: Lancia Aurelia (1950)
The V6 has clear advantages over a straight-six: being more compact helps with weight distribution and packaging. The first production car to use a V6 was the Lancia Aurelia of 1950.
LAPBELTS: Nash Statesman & Ambassador (1950)
From 1950 you could order your Nash with lap belts up front, but you had to pay extra for them. Standard belts wouldn't appear until Saab introduced its GT750 in 1958.
GAS TURBINE: Rover JET1 (1950)
Gas turbine turbine technology represented the future back in 1950. But fuel consumption was horrific and transmitting the power to the road wasn't all that straightforward. It never caught on in cars. It was more widely used elsewhere, notably in the US Army's main battle tank, the M1 Abrams.
ELECTRIC WINDOWS: Imperial (1951)
The first power-assisted windows were fitted to the 1940 Packard 180, using a hydro-electric set-up. It wouldn’t be until 1951 that purely electric windows were fitted to a car; the Chrysler Imperial was the first car to feature them.
POWER STEERING: Imperial (1951)
We take it for granted now, but until Chrysler's Imperial division started to offer power steering on its 1951 models, drivers just had to accept that city driving was a pain.
SYNCHROMESH: Porsche 356 (1952)
When Porsche fitted synchromesh to all four ratios of the 356 in 1952, it became the world's first car with an all-synchro 'box. Until then, double-declutching was the order of the day.
FUEL INJECTION: Goliath GP700 (1952)
Many assume Mercedes was first to offer a fuel-injected petrol engine, in the 300SL. Goliath, part of Germany's Borgward, actually pipped Mercedes to the post with the low-volume GP700 Sport.
GLASSFIBRE: Woodill Wildfire (1952)
Glassfibre was the wonder material of the 1950s, and was used to revive many a pre-war car. The Wildfire was the first car to feature a glassfibre bodyshell.
AIR-CONDITIONING: Nash Ambassador (1954)
Packard offered air conditioning on its cars from 1939, but the system was very costly and grossly inefficient; it also took up the entire boot space. Nash overcame such hurdles aided by being sister company to a refrigerator manufacturer, Kelvinator. Using that firm's know-how Nash was first to offer an affordable fully integrated heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system from 1954, in its Ambassador.
SELF-LEVELLING SUSPENSION: Citroen DS (1955)
With air suspension and electronically controlled dampers now commonplace, the self-levelling suspension of the DS might not seem that special - but it was groundbreaking in 1955.
MPV: Fiat 600 Multipla (1956)
Decades before the term multi-purpose vehicle was coined, Fiat built the world's first. It was tiny and cramped, but the Multipla could carry six people - albeit not in much comfort.
CENTRAL LOCKING: Packard (1956)
The introduction of central locking isn’t very well documented. Packard likely got there first, introducing a power door lock system on its 1956 range.
AIR SUSPENSION: Cadillac Brougham (1958)
A feature that even now is fitted to only the most luxurious of cars, Cadillac introduced air suspension on its top line models more than half a century ago, delivering a magic carpet ride.
CRUISE CONTROL: Imperial (1957)
American roads have long been the perfect environment for cruise control, so it's no surprise an American firm, Imperial, was the first to introduce the tech, back in 1957.
CVT: DAF 600 (1958)
They're now more popular than ever before, thanks to sophisticated electronics in cars like the Toyota Prius, but when Daf introduced the Continuously Variable Transmission it was a purely mechanical system.
3-POINT SEATBELT: Volvo Amazon (1959)
Volvo is renowned for its work in making cars safer and the introduction of the three-point seat belt in 1959 has arguably saved more lives than any other safety feature. To its credit, the company offered the belt patent-free for other car makers to use.
THERMOSTATIC FAN: Peugeot 403 (1959)
Even well into the 1960s and 1970s many cars featured a fixed cooling fan that ran as long as the engine was running. Peugeot introduced the thermostatic fan in 1959. The system cut in only when the engine is up to optimal operating temperature, so the engine warms up faster and is therefore more efficient.
ALTERNATOR: Plymouth Valiant (1960)
As any cyclist will know, the problem with dynamos is that they struggle to generate much power for a car’s other electrical systems, such as lighting. Alternators are far more efficient, but they didn't arrive until 1960, when the Valiant got the first one.
SEALED PRESSURE COOLING: Renault 4 (1961)
Until the arrival of the Renault 4 you had to top up your cooling system periodically, and boiling over was common. The 4 introduced the sealed pressurised system.
TURBO: Oldsmobile F-85 Turbo Jetfire (1962)
There's much debate over the identity of the world's first production turbocharged car. The answer is this Oldsmobile. It was swiftly followed by Chevrolet's Corvair. BMW and Saab's efforts were much later.
CLIMATE CONTROL: Cadillac Sedan de Ville (1964)
Air-conditioning rapidly became a must-have item for cars in the warmer parts of America, and the battle was on to improve it. GM fitted automatic ‘Comfort Control’ air conditioning on the 1964 Cadillac Sedan de Ville, among other models: set the desired temperature, and it will stay there. In theory, at least.
ROTARY ENGINE: NSU Wankel Spider (1964)
When Felix Wankel introduced the rotary engine, little did he know what grief was ahead. NSU bit first, with its Spider, but the technology would eventually break the company, delivering it into the arms of its rival, Volkswagen, in 1969.
ADJUSTABLE STEERING WHEEL: Cadillac (1965)
For the 1965 model year, Cadillac introduced a steering wheel that could be adjusted for reach and rake. That’s more than half a century ago, yet still some cars don’t offer this facility.
ELECTRONIC IGNITION: Fiat Dino (1968)
Nowadays, one of the most popular upgrades for classic cars is to convert the old points-based ignition system to an electronic alternative. If you’ve got a Fiat Dino you don’t need to swap though; when it arrived in 1968 it was the first car to be produced with electronic ignition as standard.
MECHANICAL ABS BRAKES: Jensen FF (1968)
Although anti-lock brakes are now mandatory on all new cars, such technology seemed fanciful when British sports car maker Jensen introduced the mechanical Dunlop Maxaret system on its four-wheel-drive FF.
HEADLAMP WASH/WIPE: Saab 95/96/99 (1970)
The idea of wipers for headlights seems rather archaic nowadays, with today's active headlights cleaned by high-pressure water jets. In 1970, when Saab introduced headlamp wash/wipe for its cars, it was cutting-edge technology that would become widely adopted - even by Rolls-Royce.
DRIVER-SIDE AIRBAG: Oldsmobile Toronado (1973)
Airbags were first introduced on the Toronado in 1973. It would be more than two decades later before they were commonly fitted to European cars.
RUNFLAT TYRES: Mini 1275GT (1974)
When BMW launched its first 'new' Mini in 2001 it famously came with run-flat tyres - but it was the original Mini that pioneered such technology. Developed by Dunlop, the Denovo run-flat tyre was available on an array of British Leyland models.
TURBODIESEL: Mercedes 300SD (1977)
The idea of driving a normally aspirated diesel car would fill many with horror, but until the 300SD, that's how it was. From here on though, the turbodiesel would gain ground and increasingly become the norm for larger cars in Europe.
ELECTRONIC ABS BRAKES: Mercedes S-Class (1978)
The first modern four-channel fully electronic anti-lock braking system wouldn’t be available until 1978, when Mercedes offered it as an option on its range-topping S-Class W116.
TRIP COMPUTER: Cadillac Seville (1978)
Even the most basic economy car now comes with some form of trip computer. The first analogue trip computer was to be found in the Saab GT750 of 1958; the 1978 Cadillac Seville introduced us to the concept of the electronic trip computer, two years after the arrival of the Aston Martin Lagonda, with its fully electronic - and fully unreliable - dashboard.
VVT: Alfa Romeo Spider (1980)
The first patents for variable valve timing were granted in the 1920s and Porsche revisited the technology in the 1950s. But it wouldn’t be until 1980 that the first production car was available with VVT – the Alfa Romeo Spider. Generally, the tech improves performance, economy, and reduces emissions.
TWIN-TURBO: Maserati Biturbo (1981)
Why settle for one turbocharger when you could have two? Until the arrival of the Maserati Biturbo in 1981, nobody had built a twin-turbo production car but the Maser blazed a trail with a technology that’s now common.
REMOTE LOCKING: Renault Fuego (1982)
We've got used to being able to lock and unlock our cars from afar, and this was the car that started it all.
NAVIGATION: Honda Accord (1982)
It didn't use satellites, but the 1982 Accord was offered with a navigation system called the Electro Gyrocator. It was very expensive, which is why it's likely that none were ever sold.
STEERING WHEEL AUDIO CONTROLS: Nissan 300ZX (1984)
Until the 1984 300ZX you had to reach over to adjust the radio volume. Nissan solved that inconvenience - from now on you could just press a button on the steering wheel and it was all taken care of.
FLY-BY-WIRE BMW 7-Series (1987)
Relying on mechanical linkages for everything is bad news. It impacts on packaging plus things seize up or wear, leading to poor reliability. How much better if you can activate things electronically. In 1988 BMW introduced a throttle-by-wire system on its E38 750iL – which was also the first European car to be offered with a navigation option.
PASSENGER AIRBAG: Porsche 944 (1988)
Considering the airbag made its debut in 1973, it's amazing to think that only the driver would get one for the next 15 years. But finally, in 1988, the passenger airbag made its debut.
HEADS-UP DISPLAY: Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme (1988)
The advantages of reflecting important information onto a driver’s line-of-sight was learned from military and, then, civil aviation; the first automobile version was developed by Hughes Electronics and fitted to the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme as a cost-option, and showed the car’s speed on a digital display.
ALLOY MONOCOQUE: Honda NSX (1990)
By the 1960s most car makers were building cars with a monocoque construction, for lower production costs. But the alloy monocoque wouldn't come until 1990, with the NSX.
SAT-NAV: Mazda Eunos Cosmo (1990)
The idea of an in-built navigation system has been around since the 1950s but it wasn’t until 1990, with the arrival of the Mazda Eunos Cosmo, that the tech became a reality, operating via the US Air Force’s GPS.
It was not very accurate, until big steps were made in 2000. We have President Clinton to thank for fixing that – he ordered the Pentagon to make GPS as precise for civilians as it was for the military.
CARBONFIBRE MONOCOQUE: McLaren F1 (1991)
When you're building a car that costs £530,000 (US$689,000) plus taxes, you don't have to skimp on the specification. That's why McLaren used the F1 to introduce the world to the carbon-fibre monocoque.
QUAD-TURBO: Bugatti EB110 (1991)
Just two years after the first twin-turbo engine was introduced, Bugatti built the world's first road-going production car with four turbos. How long until we see a six-turbo engine?
REVERSING CAMERA: Toyota Soarer (1991)
Although the 1956 Buick Centurion concept car featured a rear parking camera, such tech wouldn’t appear on a production car until 1991. First to get it was the Japanese market-only Toyota Soarer; a spoiler-mounted camera fed a signal to a colour screen on the dash.
ESP: Mercedes-Benz A-Class (1995)
Electronic Stability Programe (ESP) helps reduce crashes and will soon be fitted to all new cars, and the A-Class was first to be fitted with it. When the system detects a loss of steering control, it brakes individual wheels to counter oversteer (rear-wheel skidding) and understeer (front-wheel skidding).
COMMON RAIL DIESEL: Alfa Romeo 156 JTD (1997)
Common rail fuel delivery was pioneered in the 1960s, but it wasn't fitted to a production car until 1997, when it arrived in Fiat Group products, badged as JTD, or uniJet Turbo Diesel. A fuel injection technology, it delivers greater engine flexibility leading to greater power, improved fuel economy and lower emissions.
ADAPTIVE CRUISE CONTROL – Mercedes-Benz S-Class (1998)
The 1995 Mitsubishi Diamante blazed the ACC trail, but only the throttle and gears were controlled; the brakes weren’t also applied. The first car to offer a full system as we know it today was the Mercedes S-Class W220, launched in 1998.
KEYLESS-GO – Mercedes S-Class (1998)
Pulling a key from your pocket and pressing a button – it’s all just SO much effort. How much easier would it be to just walk up to the car door and grab the handle to get in? From 1998 you could, with the arrival of the Mercedes S-Class W220 – and another groundbreaking double for the S-Class in this gallery.
LED LIGHTS: Maserati 3200GT (1998)
Shifting to LEDs has allowed car designers to experiment far more with shapes thanks to the ready availability of compact lighting. LED lighting is also more efficient, durable, and reliable than regular bulbs. The 3200GT was the first car to use LED rear lighting in 1998; the Audi R8 would follow in 2007 with LED headlights.
VOICE CONTROL: Infiniti Q45 (2002)
If you bought a new Infiniti Q45 in 2002, no longer were you in danger of being carted off by the men in white coats when you talked to your car. That’s because for the first time ever you could control the navigation with your voice – as long as you didn’t have a strong accent of course.
PLUG-IN HYBRID: BYD F3DM (2009)
The first globally available plug-in hybrid was the Chevrolet Volt/Vauxhall-Opel Ampera. But BYD offered the F3DM in China two years earlier; a handful found their way to Europe.
VVT DIESEL: Mitsubishi ASX (2010)
Despite the fact that the first production petrol engine with variable valve timing had arrived in 1980, it would be another three decades before the same tech would be applied to a production diesel engine, with a livelier, freely-revving engine being a key benefit.
48 VOLT ELECTRICITY: Bentley Bentayga (2015)
For as long as we’ve known, cars have had 12-volt electrical systems. But with evermore complex trickery on cars - electric anti-roll bars and electric turbos, for example - more power is needed to run them. The Bentayga got there first with a 48V system, just pipping its cousin, the Audi SQ7.
DRIFT MODE: Ford Focus RS (2016)
All hail electronic trickery. For it gave us the first-ever Drift Mode in the Focus RS Mk3, which allows the car’s attitude to gracefully and gradually build with power, and the RS to dance through the latter part of the bend with a few degrees of opposite lock applied. Others have since followed. Strictly for track use only, mind.
The original car magazine, published since 1895 'in the interests of the mechanically propelled road carriage.'
The weekly British title Autocar is the world's longest-running car magazine, with an editorial team of over 20 people in-house and a host of contributors from all over the world.
It is also a thriving digital brand around the world, and also publishes several international editions in territories including China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and India.