With roots tracing back to the 1800s, the modern auto industry grew out of the grand ideas of entrepreneurs like Henry Ford. Since the inception of wagon-inspired vehicles, the industry has seen everything from the futuristic musings of John DeLorean to the Earth-friendly and design-conscious concepts by Elon Musk to the latest iteration of the "flying car," which debuted this week.
While the whole world bared witness to the meteoric rise and fall of the Big Three auto companies -- General Motors, Ford and Chrysler -- small, private labels have continued to carve out niche markets for vehicles with unique designs and uses.
As a global fuel crisis wears on, a newly competitive market for alternative fuel vehicles has emerged, while industry execs and enthusiasts continue to be enamored by Jetson-inspired plane-car concepts, like the Terrafugia Transition, which was unveiled at the New York Auto Show this week. Created by a group of MIT-trained engineers, the Transition is a two-passenger vehicle with the capabilities to take off and land from over 5,000 U.S. airfields and travel on any road, all powered by high-performance gasoline. "The flying car is something I was promised a long time ago and I want it," Carl Dietrich, Terrafugia's founder told Bloomberg News.
As with any industry, the automotive world has its share of unique characters and scandal, so we've rounded up some of the more memorable vehicles and the brilliant entrepreneurs behind them.
<strong>The Studebaker Corporation</strong> <a href="http://www.germanheritage.com/biographies/mtoz/studebaker.html" target="_hplink">Founded in 1852</a> by the five Studebaker brothers, the American manufacturer was based in South Bend, Indiana. The Studebaker Corporation <a href="http://studebakermuseum.org/p/about/history/" target="_hplink">started making electric cars</a> in 1902 before following up with gasoline powered cars in 1904. Notable cars included the "Bullet Nose" Land Cruiser and the Studebaker Avanti. While they would end operations in 1966, <a href="http://studebakermuseum.org/p/about/" target="_hplink">there is now a museum</a> in South Bend to celebrate Studebakers contributions to Indiana and the auto industry.
<strong>Tucker</strong> The Tucker Sedan was designed by Michigan native Preston Tucker in 1948 and began production that same year in Chicago. Only a year and 51 cars later, the Tucker Sedan ceased production due to negative publicity from the news media. Many believe that this press was <a href="http://www.thefreelibrary.com/What+caused+the+Tucker+automobile+corporation+to+fail?-a0189290263" target="_hplink">controlled by the "Big Three"</a> automakers who feared the cars innovations and politicians with a stake in the auto industry. The car has recently been appraised to be worth $1.2 million.
<strong>DeLorean Motor Company</strong> With a car made famous by its role in the <em>Back To The Future</em> films, the DeLorean Motor Company was founded by John DeLorean in 1975. DMC's turbulent ride came to an end in 1982 when the company filed for bankruptcy. <a href="http://eightiesclub.tripod.com/id305.htm" target="_hplink">DeLorean was involved in a notable drug smuggling arrest </a> to try and save the company, but was later acquitted on grounds of entrapment. Texas entrepreneur Stephen Wynne continues to manufacture and sell DeLorean cars and parts <a href="http://delorean.com/" target="_hplink">under the DeLorean name</a>, but his dealings have no association with the original company.
<strong>Venturi Automobiles</strong> The French sports car company operated from 1984 to 2000 before being purchased in 2001 by Monaco millionaire Gildo Pallanca Pastor, who decided to direct production toward electric vehicles. The <a href="http://www.venturi.fr/" target="_hplink">company</a>, which operates out of both Monaco and Columbus, Ohio has since developed leading alternative energy technologies, most notably the world's first energy-autonomous car, which runs on solar and wind power.
<strong>Tesla Motors</strong> <a href="http://www.teslamotors.com/" target="_hplink">Tesla Motors</a> is a Silicon Valley-based company that specializes in producing luxury electric vehicles. CEO Elon Musk is a true entrepreneur, co-founding SpaceX and PayPal along with Tesla Motors.
<strong>Fisker Automotive</strong> The Anaheim, Calif.-based automaker was founded in 2007 by Ford and Aston Martin designer Henrik Fisker and has since grown to 750 employees. The Fisker Karma (pictured) is a four door sedan that was one of the first plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The Karma has proven to be a <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/life/departures/2012/02/eco_friendly_sports_cars_is_the_hybrid_fisker_karma_better_than_the_electric_tesla_roadster_.html" target="_hplink">worthy competitor</a> to Tesla's Roadster model and now costs over <a href="http://www.green.autoblog.com/2011/12/13/fisker-hikes-karma-price-again-now-above-100k/" target="_hplink">$100,000</a>.
<strong>Commuter Cars Corporation</strong> Struck by inspiration while sitting in California traffic, <a href="http://www.commutercars.com/" target="_hplink">Commuter Cars</a> founder Rick Woodbury and his son Bryan went on to create the fastest and one of the safest single-passenger vehicles, called the Tango. Built around a race car-grade roll cage, the Tango only takes up half a lane and is capable of lane-splitting, which is legal in some states and Europe. With a base price of over $120,000, models have been bought up by George Clooney and Google executives.