Hidden in a large, hangar-like structure in the Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels, Belgium, is AutoWorld: a massive car museum with over 250 vintage European and American automobiles on display. Taking a few hours to tour this collection is like walking through the last 100-plus years of automotive history.
The earliest automobiles were based on horse carts, so it's no surprise that the oldest vehicles in the collection resemble carriages. Often, the automaker sold just the chassis and engine, upon which the customer would commission a coachbuilder to build a custom body.
Separating chassis and body construction made each automobile unique, but it also made them difficult to buy and very expensive. The assembly line built Ford's Model T was one of the first vehicle to change this, heralding the era of mass production. During the nearly 20 years that it was produced, more than 15 million Model Ts were built.
In the '30s, we begin to see automakers experimenting many new features that persist even to today in modern automobiles. For example, this Type 7A is Citroen's first front-wheel-drive vehicle. It also features an integrated monocoque and an independent front suspension.
One of the best ways to improve overall performance is to reduce a vehicle's weight. Where modern vehicles use carbon fiber and composites, this 1930 FN Type 1400's body is made of imitation leather stretched over a wooden frame.
1950 Volkswagen Beetle Type 1, 1957 Citroen 2CV AZ
Like the American Model T, Ferdinand Porsche's Volkswagen Beetle Type 1 was a revolutionary moment in automotive history. With over 20 million examples produced, the "People's Car" is often cited as the world's most successful automobile. Of course, it spawned a number of imitators.
The Isetta was an Italian microcar built by German manufacturer BMW. The driver entered through a large door on the front of the vehicle, climbing around the steering column, which was hinged at the floor.
Early Porsche models emphasized function over form in their pursuit of performance. However, when Ferdinand "Butzi" Porsche (grandson of THE Ferdinand Porsche) penned the 911 with Karmann, he wanted to make sure that the coupe was both fast and beautiful.
The Alpine A110 was a gorgeous sports car built by a French manufacturer between the 1962 and 1977. Its four-cylinder engine was good for anywhere between 55 and 250 horsepower depending on the year, model, and race series.
Over 1.5 million examples of this aerodynamically shaped sedan were produced following its launch in 1955. Designers obviously didn't have access to computers and wind tunnels at the time, so the silhouette was formed based on testing, intuition, and an eye for style.
I've only scratched the surface of the hundreds of cars, carriages, and motorcycles on display. If you have a love for cars and happen to find yourself in Belgium, I'd highly recommend a trip to the Autoworld museum.