20 December 2013

USA, USA!— The Most American Classics Of All Time

Automotive designers have cribbing from each other since the dawn of the automotive era. Often it’s less obvious to borrow from far away than from your own backyard. Witness the countless European-inspired American cars we’ve seen over the years (like the 1989-97 Ford Thunderbird, a virtual copy of the 1977 BMW 630 CSi).  Europe has been known to return the favor on occasion, too, as anyone who has ever seen an Opel GT (which looks for all the world like a 2/3-scale ’68 Corvette) can attest.  The cars on this list dispense with any of that “hands across the water” nonsense. They couldn’t have come from anywhere else — they’re as proudly American as it gets:


  1. 1970 Plymouth Hemi Superbird: As over-the-top as anything got in the golden age of the American muscle car, the wild, aerodynamic nose cone and 11-story rear wing were designed to ensure NASCAR domination back in the days when the race cars actually had to resemble something you could go into a showroom and buy.  Add the massively powerful and virtually handmade 426-ci hemi V-8, and you’ve got another “only in America” classic.
  2. Jeep CJ-5: The CJ-5 was actually a variant of the Korean War-era military Jeep. Far more suited to civilian use than the WWII-era Jeep, the CJ-5 was a hot seller for American Motors, which took over Jeep’s parentage from the old Kaiser Automotive Group. Its familiar face is in every “greatest generation” newsreel and our favorite WWII/Korea movies from “Patton”  to “M*A*S*H.”  Few things say “America” like a Jeep CJ. 
  3. 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Seville: Not only was the name of this car over-the-top (combining two names that would do just fine on their own), but it marked the high-water point for the tailfin fad inspired by the WWII Lockheed P-38 Lightening fighter plane. These were the Empire State Building of tailfins, with twin rocket-like tail lamps embedded in them.  Any ’59 Caddy is a simply stunning work of art from an era of unmatched American optimism.
  4. 1964 Pontiac GTO: The Goat (which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year) can reasonably lay claim to starting the muscle car craze. The idea was to stuff a gigantic 389-ci V-8 into the smallest body possible (the Pontiac Le Mans). And although the name was a direct theft from Ferrari, nothing else about the GTO could have come from anywhere else but America.  With Pontiac gone for good, another revival seems unlikely. May it rest in peace.
  5. Ford F-Series: America invented the pickup truck with the 1925 Ford Model T pickup. And although everyone from Toyota to VW has dabbled in them, the center of the pickup universe will always be in the U.S.  Perhaps the most quintessentially American pickup is the 1948-52 Ford F-Series. 

55 Reader Comments

  • 1
    John Stoddart Henderson, Nevada 89052 December 23, 2013 at 12:53
    While I agree with the Ford F-series, I drive a 1940 Chevy Pickup, one of the last ones built before WWII. It is in "if not mint-outstanding condition" do to restoration and I still drive it. I have many pictures and some of the original(70+ year old pieces, like the headliner). While my dear departed uncles who loved their fords, I love my Chevy.
  • 2
    Rick Clarksville NH December 25, 2013 at 15:24
    You truly missed one. RWB American Motors Rebel Machine, or S/C Rambler Scrambler. In color and name. Sorry, nothing more "American".
  • 3
    Bill Leake Colorado December 25, 2013 at 15:28
    Although off most people's radar screens, the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado was ahead of it's day with its front-wheel drive and retractable headlights. Yeah, I know, the Cord had them prior; however, the Cord was a very limited edition car with a very limited life span. Lastly, the Oldsmobile marquee, too, is gone for good.
  • 4
    Steven D. Reich Del Mar, CA December 25, 2013 at 15:30
    How can you leave out the 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang!!??
  • 5
    Steven D. Reich Del Mar, CA December 25, 2013 at 15:31
    How can you leave out the 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang!!??
  • 6
    david beach Wilsonville Oregon December 25, 2013 at 15:31
    The Station wagon is pure USA. I've been wheeling around one since 1974...current daily driver is 1962 Country Squire
  • 7
    Steven D. Reich Del Mar, CA December 25, 2013 at 15:31
    How can you leave out the 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang!!??
  • 8
    Steven D. Reich Del Mar, CA December 25, 2013 at 15:32
    How can you leave out the 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang!!??
  • 9
    Steven D. Reich Del Mar, CA December 25, 2013 at 15:33
    How can you leave out the 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang!!??
  • 10
    Noel Florida December 25, 2013 at 15:34
    No Corvette or Mustang in the list ?
  • 11
    Richard Lee Arkansas December 25, 2013 at 15:41
    "USA, USA!— The Most American Classics Of All Time." And you missed the 1953 Studebaker!! Shame on you.
  • 12
    Joseph Zundel Westland Michigan December 25, 2013 at 15:47
    The 1959 Pontiac is A long forgotten car but was A BEAST in its day.
  • 13
    marshall watson tallapoosa Ga. December 25, 2013 at 16:05
    I had a 1970 superbird new 1970 with a 440 six pack I drove it in northeast Ohio, it wood run at 148/ to 150 mph .
  • 14
    Larry Forrest Wichita,ks December 25, 2013 at 16:23
    The 1965 plymouth 426 Street Wedge was the dominate street car in 1965. My plymouth was covered in Mopar High performance as the Goat Slayer.
  • 15
    Ken Tennis Florida December 25, 2013 at 16:38
    I had a 1966 Toyota land Cruiser 4 x 4 pick up truck. Raise the hood and park it next to a Chevy with a Blue Flame 6 and you couldn't tell the difference. Wish I had kept it but someone talked me into selling. Very, very rare today.
  • 16
    Jay Reno December 25, 2013 at 16:43
    I wouldn't give credit to Ferrari for "inventing" the name GTO. They were simply the first to use it, but the name came from an FIA racing class identifying the grand touring production based cars with engines over a defined displacement. Gran Torisimo Over (GTO).
  • 17
    Cary Massapequa, New York December 25, 2013 at 16:57
    One that you definitely forgot should be the first generation Mustangs that began the Pony car era.
  • 18
    Bags MA December 25, 2013 at 17:16
    Can't forget the 1970 Chevelle convertible. Y'know, 454 standard? It's even on a US postal stamp for cryin' out loud!
  • 19
    Ron Wisconsin December 25, 2013 at 17:55
    The 1965 Chevrolet Covair. European styling combined with American horsepower. Correctly labeled as the poor man's Porsche. This car had the best handling and gas mileage of any American car of it's time. This car, unfotunately, was about ten years ahead of it's time.
  • 20
    Bruce Kline Boston,MA December 25, 2013 at 18:15
    How could you leave off the Corvette?
  • 21
    Larry white lake Michigan December 25, 2013 at 18:35
    How about the Model T. It was pure American.
  • 22
    E. Fudd WV December 25, 2013 at 19:10
    I believe you meant P38 Lightning.
  • 23
    Joel United States December 25, 2013 at 19:10
    You left the most prominent car of all off the list: the Model T Ford. This is the car that put America on wheels. In 1919, half the cars in the world were Model T Fords. From 1910 until sometime in the late 1920's this was the car that most people learned to drive first, was the first car they owned, and, for not a small number of folks, lost their virginity in.
  • 24
    Ken Texas December 25, 2013 at 19:16
    A discussion of "only in America" classics is incomplete without mention of the iconic 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396.
  • 25
    mad Kentucky December 25, 2013 at 19:32
    Copy of a BMW and then can't even put a pic...BUllshit Boys
  • 26
    Tim Cameron Wi December 25, 2013 at 19:42
    How can you leave out the car that is on most car show posters, the 57 Chevy.
  • 27
    Huntley Hennessy United States December 25, 2013 at 19:44
    I've got another one for you. Yesterday I brought home a 1972 Ford Ranchero. 45k miles and very nice and as American as you can get. I've owned El Caminos too over the years and the closest foreign makes are the Utes from Australia.
  • 28
    John Glass United States December 25, 2013 at 19:49
    My all american classic is a the Corvair. I own a 1963 Corvair Spyder 1of 1 made. It seems like every car show I take it to, someone say's there is a classic. My mom or Dad or someone they knew had one in the 60s. You can check mine out at http://www.cardomain.com/ride/3184163/1963-chevrolet-corvair/photo-gallery/ John Glass
  • 29
    Nick Romano United States December 25, 2013 at 20:08
    Really nice cars and I agree with you but I think the 1957 Chevy convertible should be added to your list.
  • 30
    sal est babylon ny December 25, 2013 at 20:11
    i would like to know more about 1966 n0va
  • 31
    Carl NH December 25, 2013 at 21:07
    The 59 Caddy has to be the most ugly, over the top car made since the end of WW2. Id be ashamed to list it as an American example. Sales were putrid also. The Ford F series was the first new pickup since the 42-43 models and stil relied on the underpowered 239 flathed V8 and even smaller 6. The 54-56 F-100 to F-350 set the first modern look and engine technology and sold prices seem to support that. American yes, but I dont consider any Jeep CJ as a classic anything except a military icon and a civilian toy. My choice to fill in the missing spots is the Gen 1 Mustang and a 40 Ford coupe or convertible and with a serious nod to the 53-54 Studebaker Starlight coupe. Since I bought a 64 GTO convertible new with tripower, 4 spd, 4.10 posi rear, and more I'll always cheer that model and have had a few of the early F-150's
  • 32
    Cork Adkins Nebraska December 25, 2013 at 21:18
    you are kidding right
  • 33
    Val Zephyrhills Fl. December 25, 2013 at 22:00
    Nice cars, I have a Riv & a46 aerosedan.I only buy GM FORD or Chrys no forein JUNK! & I don,t know why You can,t say MERRY CHRISTMAS?cause if YOU don,t You,re offending ME
  • 34
    Donna Long United States December 26, 2013 at 17:09
    How could you not have included the 1955-1957 Thunderbird?
  • 35
    Rick Reinstein Colchester, VT December 26, 2013 at 05:17
    How about the Ford Mustang, Plymouth Roadrunner, Chevy Camaro, Javelin, and the 57 Chevy? Cadillac Eldorado??You gotta be kidding!!!
  • 36
    Rick Alta Loma, CA. December 26, 2013 at 21:20
    Don't forget the Mustang!
  • 37
    Bill graham Scottsdale December 26, 2013 at 09:37
    When the conversation turns to the "winged cars", people usually refer to the Superbird, but the Daytona was first and in my opinion a much nicer design as it was based on the Dodge Charger and not the less agressive Plymouth Satelite. Could it be the name "Superbird" that catches peoples fancy?
  • 38
    Jim Kiefer Martinsville, VA December 26, 2013 at 10:27
    Can't forget the baddest of them all! '70 Chevelle LS-6, no list would be complete without it.
  • 39
    bill Collopy IL USA December 26, 2013 at 10:33
    1955 Chevy convertible 1962 Chevy Bel Air 2dr sedan 409 cu in 409 h.p. 1967 Chevelle S/S convertible
  • 40
    joe caputo USA December 26, 2013 at 10:47
    How do you ignore the MUSTANG. It created a whole new vehicle category, and it's unmatched production numbers forced Chevrolet, Pontiac, Plymouth, Dodge, American Motors, and Mercury to build a pony car or miss out on the biggest demographic - the baby boomers. Sales and profits where off the charts for Ford.
  • 41
    Leonard Zapala Troy, NY December 26, 2013 at 11:45
    No car before WW2 is a classic. An era often called the "Classic Era". So, only things that are in living memory are important?
  • 42
    Thomas Madere United States December 26, 2013 at 12:09
    If only I still had some of the now classics I once owned, a 58 Corvette, a 63 Ford Galaxie fastback with 425 HP 427 and 4 speed, a 65 Corvette roadster the L79 engine,and a 67 Olds 442. The one I would most like to have back is the 63 Galaxie.
  • 43
    Randy Minnesota USA December 26, 2013 at 12:32
    The 1969 SC Rambler and 1970 Rebel The Machine in their red white and blue are perfect examples from "American Motors"
  • 44
    jay norton Tempe, Arizona December 27, 2013 at 14:46
    The '70 Plymouth? You've got to be kidding me! Where is the original Chevrolet Corvette, Ford Thunderbird and Mustang? All of these are miles and miles ahead of any Plymouth (except for the more modern Prowler).
  • 45
    Bill wisc December 27, 2013 at 17:09
    not the 5 vehicles, except for the GTO, that I (or anyone else I talked to in my circle of gearhead friends) would have picked. I can only assume that the reporter is an east coaster.
  • 46
    Nit Picky SC December 27, 2013 at 17:22
    P38 Lightning. Lightening is what Michael Jackson did.
  • 47
    Gary Walsh California December 30, 2013 at 12:30
    What about the 67 big block Corvette?
  • 48
    Rob Howard Tennessee January 2, 2014 at 09:41
    I think the 70's Pontiac Trans Am's should also be on this list, with the big ole flaming bird graphics sprawled across the hood - can't get any more American than a "Screaming Eagle"!
  • 49
    Rebecca Parker Hot Springs, AR 71913 January 2, 2014 at 11:11
    What about the American Motors Javelin? Had one in college in 1968.
  • 50
    Don Houston January 4, 2014 at 15:32
    Why all the hoopla over the 64 Mustang?? Those cars were non factors in true classic car vocabulary. Squeaky suspensions and underpowered. I'd go the 65 GOAT over the 64, but at least the GOAT made the list. Should have been number one!
  • 51
    ken phoenix January 22, 2014 at 17:33
    this list that mr.sass put together is the most bogus list ever compiled about american classics. Ask the readers to submit their own lists and none of his would even come close.
  • 52
    Eric Huntington Beach March 26, 2014 at 19:09
    57 shoe box Chevy, 63 split window corvette, and 289/427 AC Corbra, the arrival of the Mustang that stopped the world in one day
  • 53
    bill worm new london wisconsin March 26, 2014 at 21:03
    what about my 57 dodge coronet 2 door ht sold at Iola car show?
  • 54
    Ken Geelhaar 3rd rock from the Sun March 28, 2014 at 09:55
    How could you forget the Chevrolet marketed GEO METRO convertible. Americas ULTIMATE DRIVING MACHINE! 40 plus MPG, top down fun! Put one gallon of gas in that Superbird and one in my Geo and I will pass it, pick up the driver and drive her to get more gas. Although it does depend on what she looks and smells like. :-)
  • 55
    Guy Easton, Sr. Coast of Oregon April 18, 2014 at 06:24
    WHAT ABOUT THE 1964 COMET??? Mercury wanted to make headlines with the durability of its big little car. In late September 1963, five early production 1964 Comet Caliente hardtops built at the Metuch­en, New Jersey, assembly plant were prepared for a record-breaking en­dur­ance run at Daytona International Speed­­way in Florida. Each car was nearly identical except for color, with the 271-bhp 289 V-8, three-speed transmission, and hand-selected 2.70:1 rear axles. A team of nearly 20 drivers and 40 support crew members accompanied the cars to the track, where for 42 days, 24 hours around the clock, the cars racked up 100,000 miles. Average speed-including required maintenance, fuel stops, driver changes, and other repairs-exceeded 105 mph, with top speeds often going close to the 120-mph mark. During the run, only one of the four cars suffered a problem big enough to pull it out of the trials when a rocker-arm spring crystalized and snapped. After six weeks of constant driving, the rest of the Comets drove the entire distance with nothing more serious than the need of a tune-up and oil changes. Comets undertook another test the following March by running the East African Safari rallye. Incomplete Caliente hardtops from the Los Angeles plant were delivered to the Long Beach, California, shops of longtime Mercury magician Bill Stroppe. There, 271-bhp engines, four-speed transmissions, 4.57:1 axles, and special lighting and safety equipment were fitted. Wearing a distinctive blue, white, and orange paint scheme, half of the cars were prepared to practice and check out the route with the other half prepared for the event itself. This was no Sunday drive, but a grueling event in which the cars were punished beyond most people's imagination. Of the five Comets entered, only two finished, placing 18th and 21st of the 21 cars to make it to the end. However, 94 cars had started the rally, so just getting to the end of the course was commendable. Also during the 1964 season, Mercury sanctioned a run of Comet drag racers to compete in the National Hot Rod Asso­ciation's B/FX and A/FX classifications. Again, these cars were sent from the factory with no engines installed-even the engine space in the VIN was left blank. Under the twin-scoop hoods of the A/FX cars was a highly modified 427-cid V-8 similar to that found in the racing Fairlane Thunderbolts. One of the most successful drivers in the sport, Don Nicholson, posted a better-than-90-percent win ratio in his A/FX Comet. Other legends such as Ronnie Sox and Gary Dryer were among those who campaigned the cars on the quarter-mile.

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