Even if you accept only the latest possible date for the invention of the car and ignore all prior claims, manufacturers have had over 130 years to work on the concept. Cars built today are so far removed from those of the late 19th century that they have little in common except that they have wheels, they have room for a driver and (usually) one or more passengers and they carry their power source and fuel on board.

There are many reasons for this, including technological advances (sometimes brought in from other industries), cost reduction, increasingly tough legislation, customer demand and in many cases brilliant ideas conjured up in the creative minds of the people who make cars possible.

Progress has been constant, though that is not quite the same thing as saying it has been steady. As we’ll see, two advances made in the 1930s each had an almost immediate impact and a third, though not accepted quite so quickly, foreshadowed what would come later when the time was right.

While other trends have come and gone, the design of almost every car built today still partly relies, without question or comment, on the three big changes made in that decade. Even though the cars of that decade now look very old-fashioned, it may have been the most significant period of car development the industry has ever experienced.

But it didn’t all happen then. Before and after the 1930s there were changes which influence the way cars are today. Let’s have a look at them.