American cars are bold and brash and are often at the forefront of the automotive industry. Without American ingenuity and foresight, modern cars wouldn’t have accessories such as car stereos, V8 engines, muscle cars, intermittent wiper technology or the electric starter. The American car industry has had a huge effect on the industry as a whole.
This article will celebrate that ingenuity by talking about the Top 10 iconic cars in American history. These cars that are known for their style, their innovation and their long lasting effect on the industry. These are the cars that truly changed the world for the better.
Top 10 Iconic Cars in American Motoring History
10. Ford Model T
Produced between 1908 through 1927, the Ford Model T was initially designed as a “farmer’s car.” This vehicle was built for the masses and it meant to serve the needs of a mostly rural nation. However, it became much more than that. It initially was priced at $825 a vehicle, but through refinement of the mass production process, Ford was able to lower the cost of the vehicle to around $260. They were so popular that over 15 million were made and no one could compete against this cheap and sturdy “every man’s” car for quite a while.
9. Duesenberg Model J/SJ
Produced between 1929 and 1937—during the Great Depression—the Duesenberg Model J/SJ was a car that was the exact opposite of the cars driven at that time. It was meant for those who had money during those hard economic times, which was a selected market indeed. However, what this car was able to do was to define a style that would influence all manner of vehicles all over the world. The “J” model had the innovative “convertible coupe” and the “SJ” model had super-charged engines that were capable of going as fast as 104 MPH. The “SJ” models were really the icons of the rich and famous—with American stars such as Clark Gable and Gary Cooper owning the only two short-wheelbase models—but unfortunately only 36 “SJ” units were manufactured in total. And although the company went out of business in 1937, the cars available today are still as beautiful as they ever were.
8. Tucker 48
The Tucker 48 was invented during the 1940s because the big 3 auto manufacturers of the day—Ford, GM and Chrysler—failed to produce the innovations that wowed Preston Tucker. He sensed a genuine lack of ingenuity in the industry and set out to change it, which he did. With innovations such as a centered third head lamp that turned with the wheels (known as a cyclops eye); an independent four-wheel suspension; four-wheel disc brakes and a separate locking mechanism on the parking brake to prevent theft, this car was well on its way to automotive history. Unfortunately, thanks to several setbacks—such as a lackluster premier, a SEC investigation and an inability to get raw steel thanks to questionable political moves on the part of their competition, the company would build just 51 cars before they ran out of money and eventually went out of business. Today, these cars are worth over $1 million dollars apiece.
7. Chevrolet Corvette
Known as the first American sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette is still a classic icon of America’s desire for speed. However, when it debuted in 1953, it was ironically very slow and unreliable. Still, it garnered enough interest for it to go into production and by 1955, Chevrolet had worked out the kinks. They had invented a car that was not only good looking but also had the performance that automotive enthusiasts wanted. But its style and its speed wouldn’t sync up until the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray Coupe was released. A car that had a split rear window, precision handling, a sleek magnesium alloy and aluminum body, and a powerful 327 V-8 300 HP engine. Today, they are manufacturing cars such as the C6 with ZR1 package, a car with a super-charged 6.2 L LS9 V8 engine that can compete with fast foreign cars at half or a third of these cars prices.
6. Cadillac Eldorado
First launched in 1953, the Cadillac Eldorado is a car that was manufactured for almost 50 years. It is also an iconic car that was loved for generations and driven by everyone from President Eisenhower to Elvis Presley. It had huge tail fins that are recognizable by just about anyone. From 1953 to 1967, this car was a rear-wheel drive car but was changed to a front wheel drive in 1967. In 1959, the tail fins grew even larger and complimented other additions such as dual bullet taillights, roof pillar configurations and deck lid beauty panels. During the 1970s, it began to lose favor with the American public—mainly due to its gas guzzling V8—but it has still earned its title among the most iconic American cars.
5. Ford Mustang
Based on the same platform as the Ford Falcon, and introduced at the 1964 World’s Fair, the Ford Mustang would go on to become one of the most recognizable American cars. It launched the “pony car” movement–a term used to describe compact, affordable and sporty performance oriented cars. This allowed it to tap into the imagination of America’s youth and at the same time become a symbol of it. Despite being manufactured at the same time as other pony cars—such as the Camero, and Firebird—the Ford Mustang still managed to sell more than both of them combined. While always fast and sporty, the real performance of the Ford Mustang wouldn’t be unleashed until the Shelby GT350 hit the scene in 1965. The Ford Mustang is now in its fifth decade and shows no sign of losing its competitive edge in the American muscle car market.
4. Shelby Cobra
The Shelby Cobra–also known as an AC Cobra or a Shelby AC Cobra—is the stepchild born of the deal between Ford and British carmaker AC. It was a deal brokered by racecar driver Carroll Shelby and resulted in huge American V8 engines being wedged into British sports car, the AC Cobra. The result was pure genius. Known for their huge leg pipes and flared fenders, the 427 Cobra would go on to become the consummate car of the 1960s. Unfortunately, their run would be short lived and production would eventual end in 1967.
3. Pontiac GTO
The Pontiac GTO is an iconic vehicle built between 1964 and 1974. It was originally named after Ferrari 250 GTO. It would become the signature car for GM during the 1960s and eventually the ideal image of the American muscle car—a car that was light but had a lot of power. Today, the “Judge”, as it is otherwise known, will remain an iconic American car that will continue to live on in our memories of late night cruising, street racing and burnt rubber.
2. Jeep Wrangler
The Jeep Wrangler is a modern descendant of the Willys-Overland Jeep that was commissioned for the United States military during World War II. By the end of the war, more than 700,000 Jeeps had been built. This gave American ground forces a distinct advantage. In fact, General Eisenhower said as much when he said, “The Jeep, the Dakota airplane, and the landing craft were the three tools that won the war.” Although Jeep is now owned by Chrysler and produces a wide range of different utility vehicles, it is quite clear that the Wrangler embodies the spirit of the first Jeeps and combines toughness and style with off-road maneuverability.
1. Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S has shown that America still has some manufacturing flair in its arsenal. This car wouldn’t have came into existence without the entrepreneurial spirit that made this country great and it has changed the conversation about electric powered vehicles. They are no longer the stuff of imagination, but are here and real–made of American steel and forged by American ingenuity. And by making the car one of the quickest American sedans ever built, going 0-60 in just over 3 seconds, the manufacturer has shown that it is not only environmentally responsible but cool as well.
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Author: David Ross
He was born and raised in Detroit and is an avid, car enthusiast. To reach him, go to Twitter – @davidcmoss
Image credits: David Ross
Image 7: Image courtesy of James Emery / Wikimedia Commons / CC 2.0