Best 1920's Cars

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Many modern innovations we use today in our automobiles were invented in the 1920s. Join us as we explore some of the best 1920s cars.

The best cars of the 1920s are listed below, with descriptions of each one.

  • 1925 Ford Model T
  • 1928 Ford Model A
  • 1928 Chevrolet Series AA Capitol
  • 1927 Chrysler Imperial
  • 1929 Duesenberg Model J
  • 1925 Bugatti Type 35
  • 1929 Cord L-29
  • 1928 Studebaker President

By the time of the roaring twenties, it was clear that the automobile was here to stay. Congress recognized this fact when it passed the first Federal Highway Highway Act in 1921. The act would number routes, provide money for road improvements, and speed up the development of new freeways. Car companies had employed mass production techniques for a few years and were busy cranking out large numbers of autos yearly. Americans were abandoning horse-drawn carriages in record numbers and opting for more modern modes of transportation. During the decade, car companies raced each other to innovate their vehicles while trying to win the confidence of the American public. Let’s explore some of the most influential vehicles to emerge from the 20s.

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What Are The Best Cars Of The 1920s?

Many cars could make the list of the best vintage cars of the 20s, but we wanted to choose vehicles that significantly impacted the automotive industry as a whole. While Henry Ford might have dominated the automotive world with the Model T, several great cars began to vie for attention. Several modern innovations, like front-wheel drive, improved engines, hydraulic brakes, and even shatter-proof glass, occurred in the latter half of the decade.

1925 Ford Model T

1925 Ford Model T
1925 Ford Model T

In 1925, Ford Motor Company was pushing out nearly 10k cars daily (over 2 million for the year). The car was leading the pack of affordable cars ($260), that in 1924, when Ford Motor Company produced its ten millionth car from the assembly line, over half of all the cars on the road were the Model T. Despite upstarts like Oldsmobile, Dodge, and GM trying to compete, they simply did not have the resources to do so, until Chevrolet did so in the late 1920s.

The basic concept of the Model T remained unchanged (although modifications were made) for much of its duration through the mid-twenties. The car was powered by a 2.9L inline four-cylinder that produced 20 hp and a top speed of around 40 mph. The engine was designed to run on a variety of fuels. Floor pedals controlled the transmission, while the accelerator was a hand unit on the steering wheel.

Despite its popularity, the Model T was not without problems. Flat tires were common, and many owners found that since the T was a rear-wheel drive car, it was easier to back up a steep hill. (Part of this was due to the gas tank being under the seat for 1925 models and being gravity-driven, so when you backed up on a hill, the gas would flow to the engine, providing more consistent power).

1927 Ford commemorated the Model T with a ceremony marking its ending. And while the old beast was quickly becoming outdated by the mid-twenties, Ford built its dynasty on being the only game in town for nearly two decades.

1928 Ford Model A

1928 Ford Model A
1928 Ford Model A

By the mid-twenties, Ford saw its automotive dominance show signs of cracking. Even though the Model T had been built for nearly twenty years, other manufacturers (who adopted Ford mass production) techniques were gaining ground. Many offered better engines, standard features, and even more comfortable rides than the Model T could dream of. The introduction of the Model A was an attempt to right the ship, shore up public loyalty and reestablish Ford as the only legitimate automaker in the world.

The Model A was a revolutionary design departure for Ford, including standard clutch, brake, and throttle pedals, with the gear shift emerging from the floor. (The Model T had two gears, controlled by pedals. The left pedal was for gearing, the middle pedal was engaged for reverse, and the right pedal was the brake, while a hand throttle controlled the acceleration).

The powerplant for the Model A was a 3.3L L-head four-cylinder that produced 40 hp and had a top speed of 65 mph. (The Model A was much faster than the previous Model T). The car had excellent acceleration for its day, and new vibration-absorbing engine supports helped cushion the ride. Other features included four-wheel mechanical brakes that were sealed to prevent dirt and grime buildup and shatterproof glass in the windshield, which was an industry first.

Ford offered the Model A in almost every configuration and style possible, from the small Roadster to the large Town Sedan (with three side windows). Ford put numerous standard features on the Model A, like windshield wipers, titling beam headlights, taillights that incorporated brake lights, rearview mirrors, and a theft-proof ignition lock. Ford would sell nearly 4.8 million Model As during its short four-year lifespan. At its reasonable price ($385 - Roadster to $1,400 - Town Sedan), Americans snatched the car up.

1928 Chevrolet Series AA Capitol

1928 Chevrolet Series AA Capitol
1928 Chevrolet Series AA Capitol

Not to be outdone by Ford’s introduction of the Model A, Chevrolet debuted its Series AA

Capitol in 1927 for the ‘28 model year. The car was an instant bestseller, with over 1 million Series AA sold that year, before Chevy changed the styling to the AB National, selling even more than it had the previous year.

The Series AA was offered in many configurations, from the Coupe to the much more sizable Fordoor, to the full-sized Town Car. At $575 for the Coupe and the Town Car priced at $795, the Series AA proved to be an effective family hauler. One major innovation for the Series AA was the movement of the throttle to the floorboard (to match the Ford model A) and a rearview mirror, a rear gas tank, and gauges for fuel, oil pressure, and speedometer. The car included automatic windshield wipers and a tool kit in case owners needed to make repairs.

While the vehicle only lasted a year, the Series AA ended Ford’s dominance and propelled Chevrolet toward stardom for the next several years. More than that, it showed Ford’s vulnerability and gave other automakers ideas for making cars increasingly affordable.

1927 Chrysler Imperial Series 80

1927 Chrysler Imperial Series 80
1927 Chrysler Imperial Series 80

When the Imperial debuted in the summer of 1926, Chrysler was a relatively new entry into the automotive industry. While it gained a good reputation with the Chrysler Six (known for its advanced engineering and reasonable price), Chrysler decided to compete with more expensive cars in an already crowded luxury field.

The Imperial was advertised as the “incomparable example of splendid manufacture.” Chrysler had to convince potential owners that the 4.7L inline-six could perform as well as larger inline eights like those on the Cord L29 or the new V8s that Cadillac and Lincoln were using.

Even though the Chrysler Six produced 92 hp, the only way to show America the car's resilience was to drive it from San Francisco to New York and back to Los Angeles non-stop, so, in 1927, the car did exactly that.

Chrysler labeled the Imperial as the E80 due to the high cruising speed of 80 mph that it was reported to be able to do. The Imperial came in various configurations, from a five-passenger Phaeton and Sedan to a two-person coupe, roadster, and top-tiered limo. Convertible and open-top models were also produced. Standard interiors included leather and a rear robe rail that doubled as an exit handle (on hardtop models). The convertibles had a rumble seat that could be opened or closed from a lever near the front seat. The Sedans included expensive walnut trim to provide riders with a sense of ultimate luxury.

The first generation of the Chrysler Imperial was built for a couple of years, but the nameplate would continue as the flagship of Chrysler for almost six decades.

1929 Duesenberg Model J

1929 Duesenberg Model J
1929 Duesenberg Model J

Sometimes timing is everything. After the luxury automaker Cord purchased their company, the new Duesenberg company introduced their new Model J. With a high-powered 7L (420 cubic inch) motor that produced 265 hp and a top speed of 91 mph, the car made its debut in the winter of 1928. Production started the following year, and by the time the American economy crumbled in October, less than 200 models had been made.

The initial idea behind the car was to compete with European models like Rolls Royce, and for a few short months, the Duesenberg J delivered both in power and price. Most models were handcrafted, with intricate attention to detail and special coachbuilding, pushing the price to an average of $15,000 each. For a time, the car was the most powerful and highest-priced car money could buy. As you might expect, very few Americans could afford such cars, but that didn’t dissuade Duesenberg from producing the cars regardless.

Every detail of the car was immaculate, with exquisite leather surfaces, the wood grain on the doors and dash, and an instrument panel with warning lights to remind owners to check the battery or perform oil changes. Each car had four-wheel hydraulic brakes, a solid front axle and suspension, and a gold eagle Duesenberg emblem affixed to the front grille.

The economic crash in 1929 crippled sales, and even though some special Duesenbergs were made for the next few years (including a 1935 SSJ for Clark Gable), the company closed its factory in 1937.

1925 Bugatti Type 35

1925 Bugatti Type 35
1925 Bugatti Type 35

If you want to make the list of the best racing car, one great way to do that is to win over a thousand races in six short years. The Bugatti 35 was credited with setting dozens of speed records and winning more races than any other car. The truth is that other racing cars could not keep up with the Bugatti.

Powering the race car was a modified 2.0L inline overhead cam straight-eight that produced over 90 hp and had a top speed of 118 mph. (It would be four short years before the Type 35B would peak at 125 mph, with a 2.3L eight). The secret to the engine was an innovative crankshaft supported by five roller bearings and a couple of ball bearings. The engine could rev to 6,000 rpms, and the dual carburetors sucking air into the engine boosted the power to racing levels.

As the company began to blaze a presence on the racing circuit, rich customers wanted a version of the race car that could be purchased, so in 1925 Bugatti obliged and made 92 road models. Most privately owned Bugattis were raced, but even when they weren’t, they were tremendously fun to drive.

1929 Cord L-29

The Cord L-29 was the first front-wheel drive car manufactured in the United States.

Powered by a Lycoming built 4.9L inline eight, the car produced a top speed of 80 mph (which it rarely reached). The engine placement gave the car a nice, sleek, low appearance, which Cord hoped would appeal to wealthy buyers. Designed to be a luxury car with modern technology and ultimate comfort, The Cord had other innovations, such as electromechanical shifting controls and constant-velocity joints.

While having cutting-edge components might sound fine, the Cord had serious performance problems. The car weighed nearly 4,700 lbs, which forced the eight-cylinder motor to struggle (particularly going up hills or on slick surfaces) when fully loaded with occupants. The velocity joints were constantly breaking due to the car’s massive expanse and inability to smoothly handle rough terrain (most roads were unpaved). Customers found the Cord a beautiful yard ornament. At a nearly $3,000 MSRP, American customers (even ones with money) just didn’t see the need to purchase an expensive car that wouldn’t work.

Despite its problems, the Cord L-29 is one of the prettiest cars ever. Customers could choose a Four-door sedan, Convertible, Brougham, and Cabriolet with a rumble seat. With luxury features, many of its designs won automotive awards. In addition, the Cord was one of the first cars to offer a full instrumentation panel with gauges for nearly everything.

Unfortunately, the Cord simply could not compete, and when the Depression hit, the factory closed in 1932, with only 4,429 units made. (The cars are quite valuable in today’s market).

1928 Studebaker President

In the mid-twenties, Studebaker’s president, Albert Russel Erskine, decreed his desire to make the finest luxury automobile regardless of cost. When the first President emerged from the factory in 1926, many felt that Erkine had accomplished his task. But the public was even more impressed when Studebaker came out with the 1928 model car equipped with a smoother, more powerful straight eight.

The President was part of the Prestige line of Studebaker cars (joining the “Commander” and the “Dictator”). Powered by a 5.1L straight-eight engine that produced 100 hp, the car was extolled for its quiet running and high performance. The straight-eight included a thermostat, a force-feed fuel pump to ensure a steady flow of gasoline to the carburetor and an extra large radiator to handle.

The President was formed with a welded all-steel frame and top, which provided strength and stability for the car. The sales brochure from that period compared the safety of the frame to the likes of a “steel railroad car or steel ship.” The President’s design incorporated narrow window pillars, which aided the car’s safety by eliminating blind spots. Using steel helped lower the car’s center of gravity, providing more stability. The car's handling was superb, and the ride was extremely comfortable with hydraulic shocks and large five-foot rear springs. Many of the larger seven-passenger Presidents were used as limousines.

Inside, the President exuded luxury with finished walnut dashes and side panels. With Broadcloth or two-tone Mohair upholstery and lush velvet carpeting, the car offered a touch of class everywhere you looked. Standard features included several items, like silk cords and curtains for privacy, jeweler-fashioned hardware, a tool kit, extra light bulbs, spark plugs, a one-ton jack, and a cigar lighter (or ash receptacle for the rear seat passengers).

The President Eight sold well in 1928, with more than 16,500 units being made. With a price tag of around $2000, the car proved a worthy competitor for luxury cars like the Packard, Cadillac, and Chrysler’s new Imperial.

Unfortunately, the success was short-lived as the Depression created serious cashflow issues for the company. Studebaker went into receivership in 1933, as its stock became worthless, and Erkine committed suicide a short time later.