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Studebaker Museum and SAH select the world’s 10 most influential cars

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Photo courtesy Studebaker National Museum.

They range in status from iconic to mundane and in age from ancient to fairly modern. Some seem relatively straightforward while others appear almost out of left field. Yet the 10 vehicles selected for the Studebaker National Museum’s latest exhibit share two traits: None are Studebakers, and all of them helped shape automotive history.

As opposed to many of the museum’s exhibits, 10 Cars That Changed the World, which opened last month, doesn’t feature cars selected by the museum’s staff. Instead, museum officials, working from the concept expressed in the exhibit’s title, enlisted the members of the Society of Automotive Historians to choose the 10 via ballot. They came up with about 70 suggestions, ranging from the 1939 Oldsmobile with its automatic transmission to the 1986 Ford Taurus with its aerodynamic design.

Andrew Beckman, archivist for the Studebaker National Museum, told Design News that only three or four vehicles – the Ford Model T, the Volkswagen Beetle, the World War II Jeep, and the first minivan – made the final list relatively unanimously. “But beyond that, there was no majority,” he said. “No one’s ballot completely agreed with anyone else’s.”

One would expect many of the 10 to date from the earliest decades of the automobile industry. Indeed, in addition to the Model T, the exhibit also includes an example of the Curved-Dash Oldsmobile, which introduced mass production to the automobile industry just after the turn of the Twentieth Century, and a 1912 Cadillac Model 30, the car on which Charles Kettering’s electric self-starter debuted.

However, others date to as late as the turn of the Twenty-First Century. The front-wheel-drive Mini and the Citroen DS both featured innovative technology that would soon become widespread; the first-generation Ford Mustang, on the other hand, showed other automakers how to market successfully to specific demographic groups; and the 2001 Toyota Prius, though not the first hybrid, at least thrust alternative powertrains into the spotlight.

The task of rounding up examples of the 10 vehicles on the SAH list fell to museum staff. The 1901 Curved-Dash Oldsmobile came from the R.E. Olds Museum in Lansing, Michigan; the 1984 Dodge Caravan from the Fiat Chrysler collections.

In addition to the exhibit, the museum will host at least a couple of related talks by SAH members during the exhibit. Don Capps – who recently spoke on the myth behind how Germany got its silver racing color – will discuss the Jeep’s role in winning World War II on July 18. Then Ed Garten, the vice-president of SAH, will discuss the Volkswagen Beetle’s journey toward icon status on August 15.

The exhibit itself will run through January 6. For more information, visit