Classic American cars, while full of style and presence, weren’t known for their ability to…
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.