Everyone needs a hero, right? Throughout the decades, cars have been the subject of much adoration with posters, top trumps cards and magazines all showcasing just how connected people feel with four wheels and an engine.

Well, it’s always a good time for a trip down memory lane! Here, we look at the most popular cars through the decades, exploring the most decade-defining cars from the 1900s to now.

Best car of the 1900s – Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost

In the 1900s, car ownership was reserved for the wealthy. Those with money purchased cars for comfort and status with cars becoming increasingly accessible as the years went by. 1910 marked a significant time – cars became larger and more powerful and it became increasingly common to see them parked on family driveways.

One of the most famous cars from this decade is the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. Produced from 1907 to 1926, it was smooth, quiet and hailed by some as the ‘best car in the world’. Designed by Henry Royce, it was introduced at the Olympia Motor Show and later became the most famous luxury car in history. To this day, antique Silver Ghosts (pre-1930) remain highly desirable.

Other famous cars from the 1900s include the Cadillac V-8 Type 51, the Stutz Bearcat and the Packard Twin Six.

Photo by Elizabeth Smith on Unsplash

1920s – Ford Model T

The Roaring Twenties saw a vehicle revolution. Not only did the iconic decade see the introduction of some of the most beautiful cars ever made, but vehicles became safer, more affordable and more powerful. Cars were mass-produced and no longer reserved for the rich. Henry Ford and the mass production of the Ford Model T played a major role in this.

Ford Model T was one of the most popular cars of the 1920s and by the time it ceased production in 1927, over 15 million Model Ts had been built and sold. And although its electric start became an option in the late 1910s (arguably classing it as one of the popular 1919 cars), it catapulted in the 1920s and became the symbol of Henry Ford’s vision to ‘democratise the automobile.’

Other iconic 1920s cars include the Duesenberg Model J, the Bugatti Type 41 Royale and the Mercedes-Benz SSK.

1930s – Buick Series 40

In the 1930s, cars became smoother and more aerodynamic. The focus shifted somewhat away from style and instead car designers fixated onto cars’ mechanical qualities with heaters, radios, footboards, sunshades and security glass for windscreens introduced.

One of the most iconic cars from this decade was the Buick Series 40. With new models produced in 1936, 1937, 1939 and 1940, it was the 1934 model that became the most popular. Powered by a rear-wheel drive, it was a large car noted for its styling and eight-cylinder engine performance.

The 1930s also saw the introduction of other iconic cars including the Ford V-8 Cabriolet, the Plymouth Model 30U and the Chrysler Airflows.

1940s – Vauxhall 10HP

Thanks to World War II, the 1940s saw a low supply of metal and many families were forced to reduce their outgoings for a more frugal life.

After peace broke out in 1945, cars emerged back into the mainstream with one of the most popular models being the Vauxhall 10HP. The 10HP wasn’t exactly cutting-edge but it was likeable and inoffensive with a comfortable cabin, leather upholstery and a superior ride.

Other popular cars from the 1940s include the Tucker Torpedo, A6 1500 Maserati and the 356 No. 1 Porsche.

1950s – Jaguar XK120

The 1950s represented a time of great change in the motoring industry. The world was recovering from war and companies which had at one point been putting all of their efforts into helping the overall war effort now had to revert to making consumer cars once again.

One of the most iconic cars of the decade was the Jaguar XK120. Produced from 1948 until 1954, the XK120 was initially available as a drop-head, though a hardtop version was released later on. Elegant and innovative, the car’s name famously referred to its top speed – a heady 120mph.

Other popular cars from the 1950s include the Ford Thunderbird, the Chevrolet Bel Air, the Austin MINI, the Porsche 550 Spyder and the BMW 507.

1960s – Aston Martin DB5

The 1960s rolled into sight and with it came a shift in cars too. One of the most iconic and irresistible vehicles during the decade was the Aston Martin DB5.

Buoyed by the ‘Bond effect’ – a DB5 was a memorable Bond car in the 1964 flick Goldfinger – this legendary grand tourer became an instant bedroom poster hit and remains that way to this day. It reached top speeds of 142mph and travelled from 0-62mph in 7.1 seconds.

Other iconic cars from the 1960s include the MINI Cooper, the Jaguar E-type, the Ferrari Dino, the Volkswagen Beetle and the Lamborghini Miura. And as for Britain’s most popular car, that was the Austin/Morris 1100.

1970s – Ford Escort MK2

As the 1960s drifted away and the 1970s came in, the Americana effect came into play. Cars became bigger, squarer and more imposing than they ever had been before. On the other hand, there was a major fuel crisis during this decade and many British factories saw major staff strikes.

Still, that didn’t get in the way of the production of some classic cars and the Ford Escort MK2 was one of the most standout designs. This second-generation Ford Escort arrived in 1975 with more refined styling, a more economical design and a wide range of engine, trim and body shell options.

Other popular cars from the 1970s include the Volkswagen Golf, the Range Rover, the Mercedes-Benz R107, the Chevrolet Corvette and the Honda Accord.

1980s – Ferrari Testarossa

If the 1970s were starting to get flamboyant, then the 1980s took things to a whole new level. Cars were a reflection of this too, with arches that got wider and looks which became even more head-turning than ever before.

And if there’s one which stands out more than any other, it’s the Ferrari Testarossa. A household name even now, the Testarossa’s wide, flared-out appearance and impressive performance saw it star in TV shows, films and programmes the world over.

Other iconic and popular cars from the 1980s include the Porsche 911, the Vector W8, the Renault 5 Turbo, the Buick GNX and the Ford Mustang 5.0.

1990s – Ford Escort Cosworth

The 90s brought a new direction to cars. Performance was the name of the game, and people wanted more liveable yet enjoyable cars that they could use on a daily basis. Enter the Ford Escort Cosworth – one of the most iconic modern-day performance cars.

Manufactured in small numbers, the ‘Cossie’s’ reputation was huge. Swift and attractive, it became popular with private motorsport teams. Designed with a four-wheel-drive system that distributed the engine power between front and rear in 34:66 ratio, it featured an iconic rear spoiler to increase downforce and improve traction.

Other iconic 1990s include the Ford Fiesta, the Vauxhall Astra, the Rover 200, the Vauxhall Corsa and the Rover/MG Metro.

The 2000s – MINI Cooper

The 2000s took a decidedly retro turn, with many manufacturers looking back to by-gone days of motoring for new model inspiration. A key adopter of this was the all-new MINI Cooper, which took on BMW engineering with classic British styling.

Funnily enough, the combination was an instant hit and set up the brand to become the powerhouse that it is today. The BMW-built MINI offered sharp handling, accurate steering, solid brakes and iconic retro styling.

Other popular cars from the 2000s include the Fiat 500, the Porsche Cayenne, the Nissan Qashqai, the Ford Fiesta and the Renault Megane R26.R.

The 2010s – Alpine A110

As the 2010s came into view, car technology started taking huge leaps forward. But despite the increasing adoption of electric and hybrid, we’ve got to hand the decade to a car which stripped things back to the relationship between driver and car – the Alpine A110.

The little Alpine not only looks fantastic, but it’s equally mesmeric to drive. Light, agile and great in the bends, this compact two-seater coupe demonstrated the world’s best automotive engineering and hit 0-62mph in the low fours.

Other significant cars from the 2000s include the Tesla Model S, the Toyota RAV4, the Porsche 919 Hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt and the Mitsubishi Mirage.

The 2020s – BMW i3

So what does the future hold for iconic cars? We’re only a couple of years into the 2020s but it’s already evident that electric cars are going to be a mainstay in the segment. We also predict a continued ramp-up of autonomous technology – although the chances of self-piloted cars this decade are looking pretty slim.

Of all the EVs on the block, one of the most popular and accessible trims is the BMW i3. It’s stylish, compact and good to drive with an all-electric powertrain to dramatically reduce long-term running costs.

Other standout cars from this decade so far include the Tesla Model 3, the Honda e, the Hyundai Kona Electric, the MINI Electric and the Renault Zoe.

Now that we’ve celebrated the most popular cars in history, you’re hopefully feeling more inspired about your next car purchase. From Ford and MINI to Porsche and BMW, shop a wide variety of used and classic cars at Motors.co.uk.