Everyone recognizes certain names in automotive history: Henry Ford, Carroll Shelby, Enzo Ferrari. But there's a slew of heroes and quasi-celebs who're tucked safely under the radar. Here's ten commenter-chosen unsung car heroes.
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Danomyte
10.) Bob Kearns
Suggested By: DennyCraneDennyCraneDennyCrane
Why They're Important: Where would we be without Mr. Kearns' development of the intermittent wiper? Probably in a ditch somewhere. His invention of wipers that could be operated at variable speeds meant that you didn't have to have your wipers going crazy for just a light mist.Though he had to fight legal battles for years to be formally recognized for his contribution to society, he is now recognized as the father of the intermittent wiper blade.
Photo credit: Wayne State University
9.) Felix Wankel
Suggested By: ODD DOOD
Why They're Important: The name may be unsung to most of us, but to the Mazda faithful, he's revered as a god amongst men. The inventor of the engine that bears his name, Felix Wankel never went to college or even graduated high school. During World War II, he designed seals and valves for German aircraft and torpedoes, after being arrested for leaving the Nazi party. Some years later in 1957, he'd invented the Wankel rotary engine, and the rest is history.
Photo credit: MotiveMag
8.) "Big Daddy" Don Garlits
Suggested By: eaglescout1984
Why They're Important: Though slingshot dragsters look really cool, they're even more unsafe than the regular ones used today. The man responsible for changing the design so that the driver sat in front of the engine is none other than "Big Daddy" Don Garlits. When part of his foot was taken off by an exploding transmission in one of his dragsters, he decided to develop a design that moved the driver ahead of most of the mechanical bits in the car, and into clean air, where he would be safer. He was also the first drag racer to pass 170, 180, 200, 240, 250, 260, and 270 miles per hour in the quarter mile.
Photo credit: The Buzzard
7.) Luigi Chinetti
Suggested By: Mister Scroggs
Why They're Important: Mr. Chinetti is the man responsible for bringing Ferrari to America. In 1949, he drove a Ferrari at Le Mans for 23 hours and 40 minutes of the race, handing it over to Baron Selsdon of Scotland for only 20 minutes. He won that race, Ferrari's first appearance at Le Mans. He was the first, and for a long time only, dealer of Ferraris in the United States, operating out of a dealership in Greenwich, Connecticut. He also established the North American Racing Team, which fielded Ferraris for competition all over America and the world.
Photo credit: Carlos Ghys
6.) President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Suggested By: Middleswine
Why They're Important: For developing the Interstate Highway System in the 1950's, President Dwight D. Eisenhower earns a spot on the list. America would not be nearly as car-centric if not for these sprawling black ribbons of asphalt that crisscross the country. Originally intended to aid in military movement in the event of conflict, the Interstate now is mostly for the movement of civilians and goods. There are 46,876 miles of Interstate, and they're all thanks to the efforts of President Eisenhower.
Photo credit: Centroufologicotaranto
5.) Ed Roth
Suggested By: coastierox
Why They're Important: Always wacky and irreverent, Ed Roth's Rat Fink defined an era of art and hot rod decoration.He's less well known for his advancements in hot rod design with fiberglass, changing the form from one that values just speed to one that appreciates good design and artistic expression as well. His Beatnik Bandit and Orbitron cars area some of the most iconic and strange looking hot rods of all time, and his characters from his cartoons can be seen in decal form on the back windows of thousands of care across the country and around the world.
Photo credit: The Selvedge Yard
4.) Wunibald Kamm
Suggested By: JonZeke
Why They're Important: Without Mr. Kamm's aerodynamic discovery, we wouldn't have such amazingly beautiful cars as the Ferrari 250 GTO, Cobra Daytona Coupe, Ford GT40, Citroen SM, Triumph TR 6, and Honda CRX, not to mention everyone's favorite- the Toyota Prius. Kamm's discovery of the abruptly-ended tail not only helps aerodynamic efficiency, but looks really cool.
Photo credit: ATZ Online
3.) Jan Wilsgaard
Suggested By: Dirlotron
Why They're Important: This is the man who is responsible for the 242 we all know and love. You may have heard of some of the other folks on today's list, but I'll bet you didn't know who Jan Wilsgaard was. As Volvo's Chief Designer from 1950 to 1990, he's the man that brought you such hits as the Volvo Amazon, 242, P1800ES (the wagon, not the coupe) 760 and 145. He is responsible for creating and developing the design language used by Volvo up until very recently.
Photo credit: Volvo P1800 Club
2.) European Photographers of the 1950's and 1960's
Suggested By: Mister Scroggs
Why They're Important: Scroggs listed a number of these heroes of the lens, and they're all equally deserving of every honor we can give them. They risked life and limb to bring us some of the best photographic documentation of some of the best cars and drivers the world has ever seen. Scroggs' list includes:
Andre van Bever
Each one of these shooters has turned out amazing work, and as Scroggs says, "fire up yer Google image search, and seek some knowledge."
Pictured: Bernard Cahier with Enzo Ferrari
Photo credit: Memoires de Stands
1.) John Fitch
Suggested By: Porschephile
Why They're Important: Everyone's favorite elder statesman of racing, John Fitch has done more in his 92 years (93 in August) than five men could have done in the same amount of time. From racing for the factory Mercedes Benz sportscar team (he was Pierre Levegh's co-driver at Le Mans in 1955) to winning Sebring, the Mille Migliaand the 1951 Argentine Grand Prix, his accomplishments on the track were pretty impressive. Among other things, he also invented the Fitch Barrier system, which everyone sees but few know about.
Photo credit: 123People