How Well Do You Know American Car History?

By: Steven Symes
Image: Richard Smith

About This Quiz

Americans have had quite a love story with the automobile, even though it was invented in Germany. You could argue that the history of the automobile chronicles the history of the United States from the early 20th century on, and you wouldn't be wrong. The culture of the country, as well as the economy has been closely tied to the vehicles we use to get around.

While you probably have no idea what car JFK or FDR drove, or even if they did drive, you likely know other interesting facts about cars and their place in this country's past. After all, quite a few automakers were born in this nation, although most of them are long dead and some even mostly forgotten. Still, their influence lives on in how vehicles are deigned and made today.

With a new crop of automakers rising up in the United States once again, and some of them dying off in short order, American car history is continuing to take shape. You never know: the car you're driving now could end up being a prized museum piece one day.

Test out how well you know American car history right now by taking this quiz!

What was the first vehicle Ford built?

It was on October 1, 1908, that the first Ford Model T rolled off the assembly line in Detroit. Until the Model T's production end in 1927, shoppers had scooped up 15 million of the cars, which were affordable enough for average people to own.

Where did Tesla build its first Gigafactory?

Nevada won in the race to host the first Tesla Gigafactory in the world, which is located in Storey County. Construction started on the massive facility in June of 2014, but construction is happening in phases as production of batteries ramps up.

What was the first American muscle car?

In general, people agree that the Olds Rocket 88 was the first real American muscle car. It packed a 303 cubic inch V-8, but thanks to the lack of technological know-how at the time, it only produced 135 horsepower. Still, it paved the way for future muscle cars.

In what year did Chrysler buy AMC?

AMC tried to take on the Big Three, but it lost in a painful battle. Rather than go out in a blaze of glory, the automaker suffered a slow and painful death, until Chrysler acquired the company and only kept a few products alive, namely the Jeep line and the Eagle name.

During what time period did the first Jeeps come out?

The U.S. military needed a small, highly maneuverable vehicle that could get around the front lines and even behind enemy lines in the war, and Willys-Overland, Ford, and American Bantam Car were selected for the challenge. The result was a vehicle that maintained its popularity long after the war ended.

When did the Dodge Neon first debut?

While it's remembered today for being a "cute" beater car, the Dodge/Chrysler/Plymouth Neon actually incorporated some innovative designs. For example, the ACR version was a mean competitor in SCCA's Showroof Stock class, while the R/T was also a legitimate track vehicle.

Who is credited with creating the Ford Mustang?

Many people actually contributed to the creation of this pony car, but Iacocca is often given the majority of the credit. He was the one who believed a stylish, smaller car would help Ford recover from the disastrous Edsel launch, and he was right.

What was the first car Chevy made?

In 1912, Chevrolet made its mark on the automotive landscape with this luxurious, high-performance car. It packed a six-cylinder engine and quickly became a favorite of people who wanted something quick, yet comfortable.

What year was Hudson founded?

The Hudson Motor Company was launched by visionaries Roy E. Chapin, Howard Coffin, and George W. Dunham, with Joseph L. Hudson, a department store owner, providing most of the financial backing. For their time, Hudsons were often highly advanced, pushing automotive design to new heights.

What illegal practice helped lead to the creation of NASCAR?

Back when Prohibition was a thing in America, people didn't just stop drinking. In the South, bootleggers would use young drives who had cars that looked stock, but were actually quite modified, to quickly transport liquor to speakeasies. They often had to outrun rivals and the police. This maverick racing attitude spawned what would become NASCAR in 1948.

When was Tesla originally founded?

Tesla hasn't been around that long, and yet it's already had a huge and controversial impact on the industry. Its headquarters were originally in San Carlos, but presently are located in Palo Alto, a fact that alone makes this a different kind of automaker.

When did the legendary Duesenberg finally fold?

In its formative years, Duesenbergs were considered some of the finest and most sought-after cars in the world. Thanks to the Great Depression and people vandalizing any of these cars they could get near, the automaker wasn't able to continue operations.

In what decade did the EPA start phasing out leaded gasoline?

While controversial at the time, the EPA started an initiative to get rid of leaded gasoline completely. This was spurred by the fact that cars and trucks were the major contributor to lead emissions, which posed a serious threat to the public's health.

Where did the Chevrolet "bowtie" badge come from?

Despite the popular story that Willam C. Durant saw the bowtie pattern on some wallpaper while vacationing in France, an interview with his widow revealed that it actually came from a newspaper Durant read while on vacation in Hot Springs, Virginia.

From where did the Buick Regal GNX get its name?

GNX stood for Grand National Experimental. The Grand National part came from the NASCAR series of the same name, which Buick had won two years in a row ,1981 and 1982. The GNX was the last celebration of the Grand National line, and it was by far the most potent one made.

When did the Hummer H1 become available to civilians?

To really make a splash in the civilian market, AM General recruited none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger to endorse the Hummer H1, a move that worked remarkably well. Despite angering environmentalists, rich Americans and other people around the globe scooped up these vehicles like candy.

What year did both GM and Chrysler receive government bailouts?

Many people today improperly remember President Obama as being the one to push for the bailouts, but it was under President Bush that they were approved. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, the move cost taxpayers $9.3 billion.

When did the AMC Eagle first launch?

Most people didn't realize just how revolutionary the AMC Eagle was for its time. While it was offered as a coupe and sedan, it was the all-wheel-drive wagon that sparked a revolution that would sweep through the automotive industry, one that's still alive today.

What was the first model year of the Chevy Corvette?

While the 1953 Corvette wasn't as powerful as those after it, thanks to the car not packing a V-8, it was the first in a line of automotive icons. Chevrolet named the car after a fast and aggressive warship to evoke an emotion out of a generation that fought around the world for freedom, and it worked.

When did "The Fast and the Furious" originally hit theaters?

While not all car fans have liked the impact this film and its sequels have had on the automotive landscape, there's no denying their influence. The film won 11 awards, including the Most Intrusive Musical Score from The Stinkers Bad Movie Awards.

When did Cadillac switch the location of its headquarters to outside of Michigan?

To help the brand differentiate itself from the rest of GM, Cadillac boss Johan de Nysschen relocated headquarters to Manhattan. It also puts Cadillac in the lap of American luxury, plus opens up recruitment to people from other industries, such as fashion.

When did Fisker Automotive fold?

Fisker Automotive started up operations in 2007, meaning it didn't even last a decade. The automaker had only produced one vehicle for the market, the Karma, which was plagued with problems, contributing to the company folding.

During what time period did GM stop offering the Camaro?

Despite being an icon for the brand, and much to the horror of enthusiasts, GM announced the Camaro would be eliminated from the Chevrolet lineup indefinitely. When it returned in 2010, the Camaro was initially available only as a coupe.

When were the last of the original DeLoreans made?

Thanks to a number of problems, including low demand and high production costs, the DMC-12 never took off as a success. The final three, which were gold at the request of customer American Express, were finished on Christmas Day, making for a bitter end.

During what years did Chrysler offer the infamous Airflow?

Chrysler believed the Airflow, one of the first cars to be designed using an air tunnel, would revolutionize the auto industry. It didn't make that kind of splash, but the car does still have a dedicated cult following.

Which automaker has been accused of engineering the Great American Streetcar Scandal?

While never proven, this theory accused GM of buying mass transit systems and private railways all over the United States, then shutting them down or greatly reducing service. Supposedly, the point was to boost demand for cars.

When did the Eagle brand officially end?

Eagle was turned into a fairly prominent brand name in the Chrysler lineup, after that automaker bought the remains of AMC. For the most part, Eagles were rebadged Mitsubishis, making for a weak brand.

What company made the body and chassis for the original Shelby Cobra?

Carroll Shelby took advantage of the fact that the AC Ace was being discontinued, and shoved a hulking American V-8 in the car. The result was the first Shelby Cobra, which hit the market in 1962 and has been scaring drivers since.

When did GM take the lead as the largest car manufacturer in the United States?

Once 1929 rolled around, GM had surged past rival Ford, which was previously the largest automaker in the country. To continue growing, GM grabbed international automakers like Vauxhall, Opel, and Holden in the '20s and '30s.

Which American automaker invented hydraulic brakes?

The Duesenberg Model A, the brand's first production vehicle, launched in 1921. It included hydraulic brakes, something the Duesenberg brothers had created when racing cars, but never patented. That patent probably would have saved the company from going under.

What types of vehicles did GMC make during WWII?

GMC made a variety of trucks for the U.S. and its allies during the war, most notably the CCKW350 series. Those 2.5-ton 6x6 trucks had the nickname deuce-and-a-half, with other half a million in use during the war effort.

When did Dodge originally release the Viper?

The first production Dodge Vipers launched for the 1992 model year, with Lamborghini helping to cast the 8.0-liter V-10 engine that gave the cars a wicked bite. For the time, the 400 horsepower the Viper boasted was nothing less than phenomenal.

In what year did the Bullitt Mustang first debut?

Technically, the Bullitt Mustang was first revealed for the film, with cars built to look like it hitting dealerships at about the same time. Ford has brought the Bullitt back many times since, including a special 50th anniversary edition.

Where did hot rodders originally get the idea of fogging nitrous into engines?

During WWII, American bombers needed to cross the English Channel and make runs over mainland Europe quickly, or they would very likely be shot down. The Air Force outfitted the bombers with nitrous foggers to give the engines a temporary boost at the right time, something the soldiers remembered when they returned home.

In what year did GM acquire Cadillac?

GM was actually a new company when it bought Cadillac, which was the top luxury automaker in America at the time. The purchase price was $4.5 million, an amount that's laughable today but was quite a sum at the time.

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