Car of the Century

We've put a man on the moon, cured polio…and given you a way to order your Christmas gifts online. As we leave the 20th century, it's time to reflect on all the changes it has brought. Yet perhaps nothing has had such a significant impact on our day-to-day lives as the automobile.

Citroen DS
The Citroen DS.

"The idea of a self-propelled vehicle is as old as man himself," notes Prof. Richard P. Scharchburg, Professor of Industrial History, at GMI, (formerly the General Motors Institute), in Flint, Mich. Steam-powered models were built during the earliest dynasties of China. And during the third century A.D., a self-propelled cart — powered by tightly winding up human hair, much like a rubber band — was entertaining crowds in the Roman Coliseum. But it took until the dawn of the 20th century before the first truly self-propelled vehicles hit the road.

And since then, "There's no aspect of America that hasn't been transformed by the automobile," suggests Prof. Michael Marsden, dean of the College of Arts & Science at Northern Michigan University, and one of America's leading scholars of popular culture. "The major rites of passage in American life are centered around the automobile, from the time you're driven home from the hospital as an infant to the day your remains are driven to the cemetery in a hearse."

 

Old Porsche 911
The Porsche 911.

Indeed, much could be said about the rest of the world. Western Europeans buy nearly as many automobiles as Americans each year — and are stuck in even more traffic jams. In Latin America, India, China and Indonesia, few objects represent modernization and industrialization as much as the automobile.

Over the last century, literally thousands of different brands and individual models have been introduced. The U.S. alone has had more than 800 motor vehicle manufacturers. Gone are names like Marmon, Pope and Pierce-Arrow. Yet in many ways, their legacies live on, having provided the "genes" for today's sedans, pickups and SUVs.

 

Mini
The Mini.

Four years ago, a group of more than 135 automotive experts — including journalists, curators and historians — came together to try to sort through all the nameplates past and present. Their goal was an ambitious one: to determine which single motor vehicle was the most significant, the most influential, the most memorable. To judge which one could be called the Car of the Century.

They began with a list of more than 200 different cars and light trucks, products ranging from the French De Dion Bouton quadricyle of 1895, to the modern-day Audi A8. That initial slate was narrowed down to 100, and then to 25, and now, just five finalists. Barely a week from now, at a lavish ceremony in Las Vegas, the winner will be chosen. The COTC jury also will name the century's top automotive designer, engineer, executive and entrepreneur.

 

Volkswagen Beetle
The Volkswagen Beetle.

Which vehicles survived the cut?
  • The Ford Model T
  • The Volkswagen Beetle
  • The Mini
  • The Porsche 911
  • The Citroen DS.

Each of these five represents a critical stage in the evolution of the automobile. One could argue that without any of these, we might not be driving what we do today.

Which of these five would you, our readers pick as the Car of the Century? You have a chance to speak your mind through the poll on this page. Pick your favorite and see how other readers voted. Then enter TCC's Car of the Century Contest.

Click here to send us your e-mail ballot. Choose the winner in ALL FIVE categories. (And remember, clicking on the poll does NOT enter you into the contest!) The first ballot we receive that correctly names all five winners will win the Car of the Century book! In the words of the official COTC Web site: "The 100 Car of the Century Candidates captured in all their splendor by famous car photographer Christian Lohman. The three-quarter front and rear shots give you the maximum information of every car. The easy to read text tells you everything, and a bit more, about your favorite models."

 

CATEGORIES AND FINALISTS

CARS:
  • Citroen DS
  • Ford Model T
  • Mini (all types)
  • Porsche 911
  • Volkswagen Beetle
ENGINEERS:
  • Benz, Carl
  • Diesel, Rudolf
  • Ford, Henry I
  • Issigonis, Alec
  • Porsche, Ferdinand
DESIGNERS:
  • Bertone, Nuccio
  • Bugatti, Jean
  • Giugiaro, Giorgetto
  • Pininfarina, Battista
  • Sacco, Bruno
ENTREPRENEURS:
  • Agnelli, Giovanni Sr.
  • Ferrari, Enzo
  • Ford, Henry I
  • Honda Soichiro
  • Pininfarina, Sergio
EXECUTIVES:
  • Agnelli, Giovanni Jr.
  • Ford, Henry II
  • Iacocca, Lee
  • Lutz, Bob
  • Piech, Ferdinand
Depending on how many complete, correct ballots we receive, we'll also award a pair of COTC T-shirts and some of our own great TCC memorabilia!

Please note that your ballot must carry an e-mail "postmark" showing that it was received NO LATER than midnight on Friday, December 17, 1999 (or immediately before the final results are announced, should the winners appear in the public media before that).

To give you a hint on how to vote, TheCarConnection.com polled a handful of COTC jurors to find how they voted — and how they view this millennium-ending event. We'll be back with the final results in our December 20th edition.


TheCarConnection.com-"I can't imagine any other vehicle but the Model T being named Car of the Century. Nothing has been so influential. The Model T gave us mobility, helped create a middle class, introduced the automobile to American popular culture."

-"The other categories, now they're tougher to predict. I'm having a hard time making my own mind up. But I think the results will reflect the international nature of the COTC jury."


Michelle KrebsMichelle KrebsCOTC Juror and Contributor, The New York Times

-"I guess the Porsche 911 was a bit of a surprise (as an entry on the list of five finalists)."

-"For me, the answer to the question, 'What was the Car of the Century?' is so obvious. How can it be anything but the Model T? I wonder if it is as obvious to everyone else."


Csaba CsereCsaba CsereCOTC Juror and Editor, Car and Driver

-"The concept of the Car of the Century is pretty good, getting broad involvement everywhere in the world, but the initial list underscore the insularity of the car business for much of the century."

-"The big one has to be the Ford Model T. If it's anything else, it's proof that anti-Americanism is still rampant in Europe."


jim mccrawJim McCrawCOTC Juror, Contributor, TheCarConnection.com

-"I don't have much argument against any of the five finalists. They all had long runs, and the Beetle, Mini and 911 are still being produced."

-"Cutting the list from 200 to 100 was the big leap. There were an awful lot of cars we (Americans) never got exposed to. But I know what my number one pick is: the Model T."


marge sorgeMarge SorgeCOTC Juror and Editor, Automotive Industries

-"I think that probably the Model T should be the winner. It's the motor vehicle that most changed the world. It allowed people freedom and privacy. It really made a difference."

-"I think it's important to honor the people behind the vehicles, too. I thought the correct people were there. I'm pleased to see there's global representation."

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