A Brief History
On June 30, 1953, Flint, Michigan gave birth to an American legend, the first Chevrolet Corvette. In production ever since, the car has remained a 2 seater throughout its history and has become an American Icon, a car that symbolizes the United States and the American car industry. Here we list 10 such motor vehicles (leaving room for pick-ups and SUV’s) that are unmistakably American. Not necessarily the best, but the ones most people around the world would think of being associated with the USA.
10. Dodge Viper.
Built off and on since 1992, the Viper is a piece of raw Detroit Iron meant to blow away gravity and friction with power instead of finesse, an American trait indeed. With as little as 400 horsepower to as much as 640 horsepower, the Viper has always had a large V-10 engine between 8.0 and 8.4 liters. Too few Vipers have been made for it to rank higher (somewhat over 25,000).
9. Nash Rambler.
Made from 1950 to 1955, this was the first successful American compact car. Blistering the road at a 0 to 60 mph time of 21 seconds (if you do not realize it, that is much slower than today’s cars) and a top speed of 81 mph, the Rambler made its money by being cheap (under $2000) and economical to operate (over 25 mpg, quite good for those days). The engine marginally improved to a peak of 85 horsepower and the 1955 model got a (then) record 27.47 mpg for a car with an automatic transmission. In 1958 The Playmates had a hit song called Beep Beep about a “little Nash Rambler.” It was in the Top 40 for 12 weeks and got as high as #4.
8. Chrysler Minivans.
First appearing in 1984, the Dodge/Plymouth/Chrysler stable mates were not the first minivans ever made, but they certainly were the first made in massive numbers, spawning imitators from the other car companies. General Motors and Ford do not even bother competing anymore, and the Chrysler products rule the world of soccer moms as the king of American minivans. The fact that they are now made in Canada and not the US certainly keeps them low on the list.
7. Ford Mustang.
The “1964 ½ “ Mustang was the first of the “pony cars” and with the exception of the ill fated Mustang II has been the American answer to (relatively) cheap tire burning performance. A lot of bang for the buck, Mustang sold as many cars as Camaro and Firebird combined when they were all built at the same time. Only Mustang has been built continuously between American competitors, with AMC Javelin and Firebird history, Camaro taking 2003-2009 off, and Dodge Challenger only recently making a comeback attempt.
Starting with the World War II variety and the post war Jeep CJ (civilian jeep, get it?), Jeep is owned by Chrysler now and produces a variety of vehicles. It is the Wrangler, however, that evokes the origins of what Jeep means to off road mobility, and is America’s premier entry in that field. (Please do not put the Hummer H-1 in this category, they are as rare as hens’ teeth.)
5. Ford F-150 Pick-Up Truck.
Starting life in 1948 as the Ford F Series, the pick-up truck was no longer based on a car platform. In the past 32 years in a row, the F-150 has been the best selling vehicle in the US and Canada, and for the last 43 years has been the best selling pick-up truck. As such, it has assumed the mantle as the face of American motor vehicle manufacturing and has worn it well.
4. 1959 Cadillac Eldorado.
As Cadillac is the premier American car, Eldorado was the premier Cadillac back in ‘59. A poster child for excess, the highly chromed and finned monster 2 door was the most expensive American car at the time, and nothing else in the world looked like it. When you drove past in one, anyone who saw it knew what it was and what it meant, which was conspicuous consumption at its most American extreme. The Eldorado was built in its original concept from 1953 to 1967 when it got a remake as a front wheel drive car. The 1959 model featured the most ostentatious tail fins of the tail fin era. Its 130 inch wheelbase and curb weight over 5100 pounds meant it was a comfort cruiser, not a sports car.
3. 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air.
This year and model in particular are the epitome of Americana. They may have well named the car the “Nostalgia.” For whatever reasons, everything about it came together at that point in time when the US was still on top of the world, pumping out babies and cars as fast as possible. The fin was in!
2. Chevrolet Corvette.
The car has evolved from a sporty little coupe to a massively powerful supercar that can compete with foreign cars costing double or triple the Corvette’s price. Made in Kentucky instead of Michigan, the “vette” has become General Motor’s flagship car.
1. Ford Model T.
The king of American cars, more Model T’s were built than any other American car (15,000,000). Voted by an international poll as the most influential car of the 20th Century, the little (1200 pound) car sold for as little as $260. At one point in the early 1920’s, almost half of all cars in the world were Ford Model T’s. Cracked fact: In 2002 Ford made 6 Model T’s from parts that were never used and from new parts made from old specs to be used to celebrate the 1903 centennial of Ford Motor Company.
Question for students (and subscribers): Which ones would you add? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Editors of Car and Driver. Car and Driver Corvette: Iconic Cars. Filipacchi Publishing, 2011.