The 1920s marked a major shift in how Americans worked, played, and traveled. Some motorheads maintain that the decade known as the “Roaring Twenties” is thusly named for the roar of automobile engines starting up across the USA as Henry Ford made it possible for the everyman (or woman!) to be a vehicle owner. By the end of the decade, the horse drawn carriage was on its way to being a memory of the past and more than 40 automakers were competing for driver dollars—we have them to thank for the automotive groundwork upon which modern cars are built.
The Twenties saw unrivaled advancement in vehicle function with developments like electric powered cars, front wheel drive, and four wheel drive. As technology surged forward, vehicle prices swooped down, giving millions of middle class families a kind of mobility they had never experienced before. You could say that Henry Ford is the father of the family vacation. The Model-T was a popular way for families to see the country. And with the Model-T vacation came motels, rest stops, and gas stations. And, well, the rest is history.
The cars themselves were pioneers in many ways—both in the automotive world as well across the fast, “unexplored” frontiers of the United States—formerly unknown to many Americans and now accessible via automobile, ready to be discovered. Today, the good ol’ American road trip is a beloved tradition. Here are the top 5 iconic American classic cars of the Twenties, quite possibly the places where license plate Bingo was invented
1.1920-1927 Ford Model-T
For its contributions to modern transportation, the Ford Model-T deserves its own article—or its own website! Originally released on October 1, 1908, “Tin Lizzie” paved the way for future automakers and set the precedent for how cars would be produced for the next century. Indeed, Henry Ford developed the first assembly line meant to produce cars in mass with the Model-T as his test car. Looks like he figured it out because, by 1924, Ford’s assembly line had cranked out 1 million Model-Ts. Not very fast or very beautiful, the Model-T was strictly meant for transportation at its very most basic—a fact which other automakers capitalized on when designing their vehicles for more comfort and convenience. All Model-Ts had a 176 cubic inch L-head I-4 engine with a two-speed transmission and maxed out at 40 miles per hour. They weren’t race cars but, without the Model-T, we wouldn’t have race cars at all!
2.1922 Chevrolet 490
In the early Twenties, as Ford enjoyed total domination of the auto market, Chevrolet was planning its attack. Sure enough, after slashing prices in 1922, Chevrolet jumped from #5 to #2 in the country, selling an astounding 243,479 models. How did Chevy first steal Ford’s thunder? With color. The Model-T was only available in a boring black, so Chevrolet’s cars made quite a colorful splash. Plus, the Chevrolet 490 was less expensive than the Model-T and easier to operate. “Fancy” features like self-starters were only adopted by a grumbling Henry Ford after Chevy did it first.
3.1924 Chrysler Six
The Chrysler Six came on the scene on January 5, 1924 at the New York Motor Show and quickly put Ford and Chevrolet to shame. The car was named “best in class” as soon as it hit the streets and many have compared its influence on automotive history and culture to that of the Model-T, which is quite the compliment. The Chrysler Six coasted quickly to 70 mph, though its speed never compromised its superior ride and comfort—inside the Six’s wide cab was a generous rear compartment, an elegant instrument panel unlike any other, and luxurious velour covers. Buyers loved the Six because it was far more economical than chic road candy like the Packard, which was at the top of high-end American cars. The Six’s sales reflected its ads: “Every month sees demand grow greater.”
4.1927 Ford Model-A
The folks at Ford practically had to twist Henry’s arm to trade in the Model-T for something new, but when Chevrolet began to sneak up on the American king of the auto, the Model-A was born. Rodders and customizers call the Ford Model-A the “A-bone,” signaling the popularity the car shared with its older sister, Lizzie—by the end of the decade, Ford had sold 3 million Model-As. The Model-A featured a new 201 cubic inch water-cooled L-head engine, generating a mean 40 horsepower. And it was speedier, too, jumping from 40 to 65 mph. Irving Kaufman wrote a song that reflects how people felt about the Model-A, “Henry’s Made a Lady Out of Lizzie,” placing the A alongside its sister in automotive history.
5.1928 Studebaker President
No list of early iconic autos would be complete with a Studebaker! Studebaker Corporation, which began as the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Corporation, produced covered wagons long before the company produced cars—shaping early pre-automobile transportation. In 1902, Studebaker began manufacturing automobiles and in 1928, it acquired Pierce-Arrow, allowing it to really carve out a niche in the luxury car market. The 1928 Studebaker President headed up the first batch of new cars after the acquisition and marked the industry’s shift towards style and elegance in addition to function. With its 313 cubic inch L-head engine with 100 horsepower, the President won a slew of speed and endurance records, forecasting society’s move towards racing culture, which would peak over the coming decades.
For more on the top iconic American classic cars of the last century, stay tuned for the upcoming post—the Thirties!