How Much Do You Know About the History of Automobiles?

John Miller

Image: spokemotors

About This Quiz

Is it a Model T or a Toyota Tercel? Since the early 1900s, the auto industry has changed in incredible ways, changing four-wheeled vehicles from curiosities to necessities around the world. Along the winding highway of auto history, thousands of companies have sprouted and died, and reckless drivers have, too. (Those early cars weren't exactly big on the safety features.) What do you really know about automobile history?

In our quiz, we’ll take a look at some of the earliest automobiles — do you know where the first cars started spinning their wheels, and which technologies they used to do their work? The earliest designs are very different from today’s, but did you know that engineers considered many alternate fuel sources other than gasoline?

Cars didn’t just change vacation plans. These inventions overhauled society in fantastic ways. Do you remember the names of the cars that really shifted America’s ability to travel? And do you know how these companies changed consumers’ buying habits, too?

Whether you love Ford or Chevy, Dodge or Chrysler, Jeep or Tesla, cars are ingrained in human culture around the world. Step on the accelerator and see if you can keep up with our car history quiz!

In the 1770s, people tried to created cars that ran on which fuel source?

As far back as the 1770s, inventive types were hoping to make automobiles that ran on steam. But these primitive vehicles were nothing like gas versions that eventually came to rule the world.

Where was the automobile invented?

In the 1880s, Karl Benz, a German entrepreneur, built the first gas-powered automobile. German and French engineers were the first to really set the industry into motion.

By 1905, which fuel source firmly established itself in the automotive industry?

Steam and electricity were used in some very early cars. But by 1905, the auto industry was set on gasoline as its fuel of choice, and more than a century later, gas is still king.

What was one reason that gas-powered cars triumphed over steam and electric versions?

Gas cars, particularly the early versions, had much better range than steam or electric models. It meant that you could drive a lot farther without stopping to refuel.

Which early car company sold the Model T?

The Ford Model T is, quite simply, the most iconic car of the early American car industry. It was reliable and affordable, which made it accessible even to families of modest means.

Ford produced the Model T for about how long?

For nearly 20 years, Ford cranked out Model T cars at a prodigious rate. By the time the "T" was put out to pasture, more than 15 million had been sold.

From 1915 to 1925, Model Ts only came in one color. Which color was it?

Early black paint dried faster than other colors ... meaning that Ford could make Model T cars more quickly if they stuck with that color of paint. So, for a decade, all Model Ts were black.

What was one major advantage of gas engines over steam versions?

Steam engines had a few pros during the early days of cars. But they would occasionally explode, something that gasoline engines typically only do in movies.

Henry Ford brought which concept to car manufacturing?

Ford didn’t invent assembly line production, but he made it an effective option in the auto industry. Soon, Ford’s mass production techniques were building cars at an astonishing rate.

Which company was NOT one of the "Big Three" American car companies of the early 1900s?

Jeep wasn’t one of the so-called "Big Three." The Big Three were Ford, Chrysler and General Motors.

Why did all civilian vehicle production in the United States cease in February 1942?

Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and America immediately mobilized every heavy industry to produce war goods. From 1942 until 1945, there were no civilian vehicles made in the country.

What was Detroit’s nickname during WWII?

During WWII, Detroit became known as the "Arsenal of Democracy." The city’s heavy concentration of car manufacturers meant that it was a vital supplier of war goods.

When did steam automobile engines finally become irrelevant?

Steam engines gradually improved until about 1930. But the interwar years were a booming time for gasoline engines, so steam technologies were essentially mothballed.

Where was the electric car invented?

Germany, again, was a leader in auto engineering, especially when it came to electrics. In 1888, an engineer named Andreas Flocken made a working electric vehicle that’s generally regarded as the world’s first.

What was the purpose of the company named Panhard et Levassor?

Founded in 1891, Panhard was the first company to build nothing but cars. The company has been through many changes in its long life, but it is still in manufacturing today.

In 1906, a car called the Stanley Steamer set a world record for the fastest mile by car. What was the car’s top speed?

The steam-powered Stanley Steamer completed a one-mile journey in just 28 seconds in 1906. The car’s top speed was around 127 MPH, fast even by today’s standards.

American Horatio Nelson Jackson was the first person to do what?

Jackson and his partner Sewall Crocker were the very first people to drive all the way across America in a car. They started on May 23, 1903 and headed east from San Francisco.

Horatio Jackson set out to cross America in 1903. How long did the journey take?

In a time when paved roads were still rare, particularly in the West, the cross-country trip was a wild ordeal. It took Jackson and his mechanic 63 days to go from San Francisco to New York City.

Henry Ford revolutionized car manufacturing. How else did he affect American industry?

Ford didn’t just make car manufacturing more efficient, he also changed American labor, providing a standard work week schedule and better pay and benefits.

In 1980, which company overtook the United States as the world’s leading car maker?

After decades of American dominance, Japan took the lead in car manufacturing in 1980. In all corners of the United States, businessmen and politicians sounded the alarm.

In 1901, Mercedes unveiled the first car that came equipped with all essential equipment. What was the car’s horsepower rating?

The 1901 Mercedes was simply called the Mercedes 35 hp, which denoted its horsepower rating. It was a true car instead of the stagecoach-like versions that preceded it.

What was the original purpose of the 1901 Mercedes 35 hp?

Even in the earliest days of cars, engineers wanted the machines to go faster and faster. The 35 hp model was a racing machine that was later refined for civilian use.

In 1906, how much did a Ford Model N cost?

In 1906, the Model N cost $600, making it a truly affordable option for many Americans. After accounting for inflation, $600 would be around $16,600 today.

Which company pioneered the concept of "planned obsolescence" with regard to vehicles?

Starting in the 1920s, GM began pushing styling and "newness" as a car selling point. The idea was to condition people into buying new vehicles regularly even though their older cars still suited their needs. "Planned obsolescence" is still very much a profit driver in the car industry.

Which Japanese car maker was the first to begin assembling vehicles in the United States?

In 1982, Honda was selling so many cars in America that it simply began making them there. The first factory opened in Marysville, Ohio.

How did World War II affect motor travel in the United States?

Because tires and gasoline were restricted by rationing, civilian motor vehicle travel plummeted. Few people had the means or money to use a car regularly during the war.

Adolf Hitler had a hand in the development of which famous car?

As Hitler sharpened his Third Reich, he realized that the German people needed affordable motor vehicles. He dreamed up what eventually became the Volkwagen Beetle, which became the world’s best-selling car.

Which car company was the first to include computerization in one of its vehicles?

In 1968, VW broke trail as the first company to include a computer it is models. The computer was used to control the electronic fuel injection system.

True or false, did the Model T get drastically cheaper by the end of its production run?

It’s true, after 20 years in production, the Model T was far cheaper than it was in the early days. In the mid-20s, you could buy a coupe Model T for less than $300, about half of the initial cost.

What is the best-selling car ever?

The compact and fuel-efficient Toyota Corolla was introduced in 1973. Since then, Toyota has sold more than 40 million of these little cars, making them the best-selling vehicle in history.

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