Travel down the winding Highway 141 in Colorado, and you’ll understand why it’s a favorite route for motorists and motorcyclists. With sweeping vistas around nearly every curve and long stretches where you’re the only motorist, it’s the kind of road that car enthusiasts dream about. So, it makes sense that just off this highway, you find the Gateway Auto Museum. Part of Discovery Channel founder John Hendrick’s Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa, the museum is home to 52 classic cars devoted to celebrating and showcasing the history, design, ingenuity, and social impact of the American automobile. Here, the docents have helped to draft a list of the greatest cars of all time, including a few that reside in the resort’s unobtrusive low-slung pueblo-style museum.
Created in 1886 and powered by an internal combustion engine, the Motorwagen was essentially the world’s first motor car (previous automobiles were powered by steam or electricity). Only 25 were built, and the four-stroke engine that powered the early models produced less than one horsepower. Despite its meager speeds, the vehicle paved the way for the future of cars as we know them today.
Anyone who thinks electric cars are an invention of the twenty-first century is sorely mistaken. The Waverly Electric was produced from 1896 to 1914 and was owned by celebrities, such as Diamond Jim Brady, Willa Cather, and Thomas Edison among its owners. Marketed as a woman-friendly automobile, The Waverly was easy to start, easy to drive, and usually came with an enclosed coach body to protect long skirts from dirt and debris.
Ford Model T
Part of the collection at the Gateway Auto Museum, the Model T (or “Tin Lizzy,” as Henry Ford called it) influenced every single automobile that came after it because of its groundbreaking and more cost-effective assembly-line production method. Between 1908 and 1927, 15 million models were produced. The increase of motorists as a direct result of this first affordable car led to the creation of America’s highways, gas stations, garages, and roadside motels.
Marketed as a car that anyone could afford, the Volkswagen Beetle has been in production since 1936 and has a somewhat scandalous origin story (developed with the help of Ferdinand Porsche, the Beetle was the brainchild of Adolph Hitler, which is ironic, given it later came to be known as the “Love Bug”). This compact car had several notable innovations that set it ahead of its time, including rear-wheel drive and a rear-mounted engine. It was also the first car to have four-wheel independent suspension. To date, more than 21 million Beetles have been built, making it one of the most produced cars in history.
The coolest car you’ve never heard of, the Cord L-29 was the first front-wheel-drive automobile sold in America. Introduced in 1929 and featuring a radically different arrangement of the engine and transaxel assembly, the L-29 had an elegant design that elevated it above its competitors. Unfortunately, the timing of the release coincided with the stock market crash of 1929, and after a few years, the L-29 was taken out of production. You can see a sister model – a 1936 Cord Phaeton – on display in the museum.
Ford 150 Pickup Truck
Introduced in 1948 to replace car-based pickups of the early ’40s, the F150 is now in its 13th generation thanks to its durability and reliability. Refined over the decades in styling, design, bed, engine design, suspension, and platform, it has been the best-selling vehicle in the United States since 1982 and the best-selling pickup truck since 1977.
Throughout the ’50s, General Motors hosted auto shows that displayed fancy prototypes and concept cars. But once out of the spotlight, the vehicles were supposed to be destroyed. The Oldsmobile F-88, designed in 1952 and 1953, was one of those dream cars that wasn’t destroyed and is today considered one of the greatest expressions of automotive design to ever come from North America. Only two were manufactured, with one of those now on display at the Gateway Auto Museum. Purchased for $3.24 million, the two-seat roadster with a fiberglass body is the collection’s crown jewel and possibly the world’s rarest automobile.
Proof that necessity is the mother of invention, the Mini was created by the British Motor Company in a period of drastic gas rationing in Great Britain in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Despite being just 10 feet long to achieve better gas mileage, the earliest Mini comfortably sat four people thanks to an engine that was mounted transversely, instead of front to back, allowing for more interior room. Since then, the Mini has been the inspiration behind later generations of small and smart cars.
In the first six months of production in 1964, the Mustang was the fastest-selling car in history. It has since become an icon of style and performance among American automobiles, escorting in the “pony car” class of affordable sporty coupes with long hoods and short rear decks. Competitors raced to release their own versions, such as the Chevy Camaro, the Pontiac Firebird, and the Dodge Challenger. In 1964 alone, the Mustang was the pace car for the Indianapolis 500 and won both first and second in class at the Tour de France international rally. The museum is home to a 1967 Mustang Shelby GT 500 Fastback, designed by the legendary car constructor and race car driver Carroll Shelby.
The Porsche 911 has been beloved on the racetrack and streets alike ever since it was first introduced in 1964 and is now one of the longest-standing sports cars ever. Air-cooled with an output of 130 horsepower and sophisticated rear suspension, as well as a horizontally opposed six-cylinder power plant engine, its continuous refinements over the years make it one of the most popular sports cars on the roads. In 1999, the 911 came in fifth place in the international “Car of the Century” competition – behind other notables on this list, like the Ford Model T, the Volkswagen Beetle, and the BMC Mini.