For over a century, the car has been king in the USA. Millions of cars have rolled off the production line, supporting millions of jobs – though according to figures from the Indiana Business Review, both the number of vehicles made and the number of people employed in the US automotive industry have been falling steadily.
Cars are not losing their popularity with American drivers, however. Figures from Statista show that there were 272 million vehicles registered in the US in 2017, second only to China. And the automobile continues to have a huge impact on the cultural life of Americans, as it features in everything from TV shows and movies to hit songs and video games.
Read on to learn some surprising facts about the American car culture.
20 The Ford Model T Was The First Mass-Produced Car
Ford is one of the most iconic names in American motoring, and Henry Ford led a revolution in 1908 when he launched the Ford Model T – the first mass-produced car. Previously, cars had been hand built, one after the other. However, Ford workers today can put together dozens of cars in one day.
19 In 1916, 55% Of The Cars In The World Were Ford Model Ts
The Ford Model T was a hugely influential car in its day and remains one of the most recognizable names in the automotive industry even in the 21st century.
In 1916, thanks to mass production and effective marketing, 55% of all cars in the whole world were Ford Model Ts, according to topspeed.com, a figure that's never been beaten.
18 Chevrolet Introduced The First Car Radio In 1922
In these days of connectivity and in-car entertainment systems, it seems unthinkable that there was ever a time when motorists wouldn’t have been able to listen to music while on a road trip. Yet the first car radio was only made available in 1922, by Chevrolet, and cost $200 (the equivalent of almost $3,000 today) with an antenna that covered the whole roof.
17 The 2011 Ford Crown Vic Was The Last Car Built With A Cassette Deck
For years, all drivers and passengers had with which to entertain themselves on long journeys was the radio and a cassette deck, both of which have been made almost obsolete by new technology. However, the cassette deck survived longer than many people realize. The last car to be built with one as standard was the 2011 Ford Crown Victoria, according to autoguide.com.
16 Nevada Was The First State To Issue A License For Driverless Cars
Automotive technology has moved even beyond hi-end in-car entertainment, with gadgets to help prevent collisions now widely available, and driverless cars being tested throughout the US. According to Reuters, Nevada was the first state to issue a license for driverless cars in 2012, with Google the first to take the state up on the new initiative.
15 "In My Merry Oldsmobile" Was The First Song Written About A Car
Cars have become a staple part of American rock ‘n roll, with songs about cars such as "Little Red Corvette" by Prince and The Beach Boys’ "Little Deuce Coupe." Perhaps the first song ever written about a car was "In My Merry Oldsmobile" by Gus Edwards, with lyrics by Vincent P. Bryan.
It even featured in commercials for Oldsmobile and was covered by Bing Crosby.
14 The Peanuts Characters Were First Animated For A Ford Fairlane Commercial In 1957
The popular Peanuts cartoon strip had been in newspapers since 1950, but they didn’t make their first appearance on television until 1957. While we all know and love the Charlie Brown and Snoopy cartoons, the Peanuts gang first appeared on the small screen in a commercial for the new Ford Fairlane before going on to appear in a number of other ads for Ford.
13 Smokey And The Bandit Made The Pontiac Firebird Trans Am A Cult Classic
Music isn’t the only medium through which cars have become part of popular culture. Movies have also featured four-wheeled stars since the silent era. The Pontiac Firebird Trans Am became something of a cult classic thanks to its starring role in the 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit. The film even helped boost sales, according to the Detroit Free Press.
12 A Car Is Stolen In The U.S. Every 6.5 Minutes
Not everyone has the proper respect for the automobile’s revered place in American life, however. Vehicles are often vandalized, damaged, or even stolen, and figures from the National Insurance Crime Bureau suggests that one car is stolen every 6.5 minutes – a total of 765,484 thefts in 2016, according to the FBI.
11 The Honda Civic Is The Most Stolen Car
While many car thieves are opportunists, waiting for the right moment to strike, there are some cars that are more likely to be stolen than others. An article in Forbes found that the Honda Civic was the most stolen car in the U.S., with just over 45,000 thefts in 2017, closely followed by the Honda Accord.
10 The 1964 Pontiac GTO Is Widely Considered To Be The First Muscle Car
Muscle cars are a peculiarly American phenomenon, and remain popular today even though some might think that their heyday has passed. Generally, it's agreed that the 1964 Pontiac GTO was the first muscle car, though there are those who argue that the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket V8 should have that auspicious title.
9 A DeLorean Was Chosen For Back To The Future Because John DeLorean Was In The News
No one could imagine the Back to the Future trilogy without the time-traveling DeLorean, even though it was a slightly unexpected choice. But why did the filmmakers choose such an unusual car?
According to CNET, writer and director Robert Zemeckis came up with the idea of using the car because its designer, John DeLorean, was in the news at the time having been arrested on drug charges.
8 American Commuters Spend 54 Hours A Year Stuck In Traffic
Cars are becoming increasingly luxurious as the 21st century continues, with everything from heated seats to cell phone connections available for the busy driver. One of the main reasons for such innovations is the amount of time that motorists spend in their cars. CNN reported in 2019 that American commuters were spending an average of 54 hours a year stuck in traffic.
7 The First Batmobile Was Based On A 1955 Lincoln Futura Concept Car
One of the most famous cars in popular culture is the Batmobile, which has undergone some dramatic changes over the years. Many people still think of the Batmobile from the Batman TV series as the original and best, a stylish creation which was based on the 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car.
6 Al Capone's Cadillac Was The First Armoured Limousine
Politicians, businessmen, and celebrities buy cars today with security in mind, bearing features such as tinted windows and even bulletproof glass for those who are willing to pay the price. Al Capone’s 1928 Cadillac is thought to be one of the first armored cars ever made, according to The Globe and Mail.
5 NASCAR Banned The 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona For Being Too Fast
Motor racing started in Europe in the last decade of the 19th century but has grown in popularity around the world since, with NASCAR and Indy Car both taking off in a big way in the U.S.
Car manufacturers have tried to create vehicles that will give them a competitive edge, but the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona was banned by the NASCAR authorities for being too fast and too successful.
4 309 Dodge Chargers Starred As The General Lee In Dukes Of Hazzard
The Dodge Charger also played another important role in pop culture, with the General Lee car front and center in the TV series Dukes of Hazzard. A total of 309 different Dodge Chargers featured in the show, according to the Vintage News – hardly surprising given all the stunts they had to perform!
3 Tail Fins Made Their First Appearance On A 1948 Cadillac
Cars have changed dramatically since the days of the Model T Ford, not only under the hood but also in the way they look. One of the most iconic features of American cars in the 1950s and 1960s was the tailfin, which according to CBS, made its first appearance on the back of a 1948 Cadillac designed by Harley Earl.
2 The Mustang Driven By Steve Mcqueen In Bullitt Is Valued At $4 Million
One of the most famous car chases in movie history is in the 1968 film Bullitt in which cop Steve McQueen races a 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback around the streets of San Francisco. The two cars used in the film are collectors’ items these days, and one of them was recently valued at between $3 and $4 million, according to Hagerty.
1 Herbie Was Played By 50 Different VW Beetles In The Love Bug Films
Another iconic movie car – though in a very different way compared to the Bullit Mustang – is Herbie, the Volkswagen Beetle who starred in a series of films between 1968 and 2005. Over the years, Herbie was played by 50 different Beetles, according to New Atlas, with one selling in 2018 for $128,700.
Sources: Motor Trend, The Vintage News, Auto Guide, CBS News