National Automotive Icons – United States

Corvette Stingray

I thought I’d have a little fun with a new series – national automotive icons. Which car is the best representative from that country’s manufacturers?

I was going to start the series right here in Australia, but I have to resolve some inner personal conflicts as to what’s eligible. Eg. the Camry is manufactured here and in big numbers, but it’s hardly an Australian car (even if it’s driven by heaps of Australians).

Anyway, to the USA we go…..

I’ve done absolutely no research. This is purely a (significantly large) gut exercise based on my own views as to what are the five most iconic American cars. Which cars best represent the most memorable and the best aspects of US car-making in my mind?

There will be a poll tomorrow. Feel free to disagree with me and add your own suggestions in comments and I can add the most robustly defended candidates into the poll.


Chevrolet Corvette

This is probably my #1 choice for Americana and I’ve chosen the Stingray for the photo as that’s the Corvette that first comes into my mind.

First, you have the curves. They’re a timeless bit of sculpture that speak of a more decadent, less politically correct time. You’ve also got the rather loud suite of V8s fitted to these cars, painfully inefficient by today’s standards but supremely emotive. The car screams exoticism and drama from every angle, even if the chassis underneath can’t necessarily cash the cheques the body is writing.

It’s a fair way down my automotive bucket list, but at least it’s there, and there are very few American cars I’d bother with other than this one.

Ford Mustang

I don’t think I had a choice about this one, did I?

The Mustang looks fantastic and Steve McQueen’s Bullitt is about as iconic as Mustangs get, hence the picture.

Actually, I have to admit that of all the cars featured here, this is the one where the original appeals to me the least, but the modern-day version of it appeals to me the most. I reckon Ford have done an outstanding job with the modern Mustang. I hope they don’t do what most companies do and change it for change’s sake. Refine, yes. Fundamentally change? Better to kill it off.

Ford F150

When you think of North America, you have to think Trucks. And when you think Trucks, you have to think Ford F-Series.

The F-series is STILL the #1 vehicle sold in the US by an overwhelming margin. In July 2012 there were 49,000 of them sold in the US, nearly 20,000 more than the #2 vehicle (Toyota Camry). The F-Series is a sales juggernaut because it does what it says on the box – it’s big, it’s tough and the 2012 version is even relatively fuel efficient with it’s turbocharged six cylinder ecoboost engine.

Dodge Charger and every other famous vehicle from TV and movies.

I almost went with the Bandit Trans-Am here, but I had to fit a Dodge in and who can resist the General Lee?

American entertainment has given us plenty of car chases to marvel at, featuring a who’s-who of manufacturers and models. There’s the Bluesmobile, Starsky and Hutch’s Gran Torino, the 1948 Ford Custom from Grease and a million others.

But I love the Charger (and the Challenger) so let’s go with that one. These, to me, are the muscle car era at their muscliest and the muscle car era was one of the best times in US automotive history IMHO.

1957 Chevy Bel-Air

Growing up here in Australia, the garden variety performance cars that my mates all desired were Holdens and Fords. But the holy grail of Street Machines was the ’57 Chevy.

The shape, the chrome, and of course, the fins.

We’ll never get cars that look like this again. Modern design rules mean that all cars are basically the same shape. To a very large extent, it’s only the face that manufacturers draw on the shape that differentiates one car from another.

In many ways, that’s a good thing. Those design rules have saved a lot of lives over the years. In other ways, the romantic car guy in me regrets that the most expressive car designs of the future will be restricted to those who have the money to pay for them.

That the 1950’s and early 1960’s are remembered as ‘Happy Days’ is not without reason. The automobile was really hitting its stride as an affordable, desirable form of personal transportation. People dreamed of hitting the open road and designs like the ’57 Bel Air brought those dreams to life.


So there’s my list of five iconic Americans.

If you’ve got any to add to the list, comments are open. I’ll add the most vigorously defended options to the poll tomorrow.

Fire away!

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  1. Holden is the only unique brand to Australia no? Eventhough the guys at Turn 10 (Forza Motorsport) have Holdens compete in Euro only races… 😀

    Cheers… Corvette… Nah the Ford Mustang

    1. Oh I’d like to include, if I might, Plymouth’s coolest. The HEMI Cuda… A Legendary Muscle car. 0-60 in under 6 seconds 41 years ago was Faaast.


  2. A good starting list. I’d probably add the 1965-1967 Oldsmobile Toronado and the slab-side Lincolns to this list. Perhaps even the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado.

    In a popular vote, the ‘Vette wins, and the Mustang is a close second.

  3. As for the modern Mustang and what may come next for it, I just read something the other day (I forget where now) that said Ford plans to depart from the “retro look” in the next generation of the Mustang. What that means is not clear, but this current generation definitely had some nods to the original Mustang, so if that is what they mean by “retro”, sounds like the next Mustang will be quite different.

    I guess it could end up being something like the Honda Accord, another model that has been around for years, but the new ones do not remind me at all of what I think of when I think of the classic Accord. (Not that an Accord is classic in the same sense as the Mustang, of course.)

  4. Swade – great topic and I like some of your choices, but as an American I think you must have a Cadillac on this list. My pick would be a 1972 El Dorado Convertible. Sure it’s a boat and drives like one, but there is nothing more American than the opulent arrogance of a Caddy.

    Also I’d like to see a Camaro in here somewhere, but it’s another of the muscle cars and you’ve got two on the list already.

  5. I am with you 100.0 percent on the Corvette. And that exact model, also. My only problem with it is that it is a GM product. But since it is from the days when GM was actually functioning, I’ll let it pass. 🙂

    But I would like to raise a hand for the cars of old; things like Ford’s Model T V8, and beautiful extremes like Duesenberg and Auburn. Very American, indeed. Both the mass-products and the Hollywood Dream machines.

  6. General Lee was a bit of a cartoon character but I get it. The iconic Mopar car has to be the white 1970 hemi Challenger from the cult classic movie Vanishing Point. That or the mini bike the naked girl was riding.

  7. In strong agreement with several suggestions already made. My top five:

    ’29 Duesenberg Model J Dual-Cowl Phaeton

    ’36 Auburn Cord 810 Westchester

    ’59 Cadillac Coupe De Ville

    ’63 Corvette Sting Ray Coupe

    ’65 Ford Mustang GT

    … let’s face it, it’s pretty much all downhill after that.

  8. Brilliant idea! It should keep a lot of people occupied through your winter down there (our green winter) 🙂

    I don’t understand why you have a truck on the list (the F150)? And if there has to be one I would go for a Peterbuilt!

    You ask for arguments if we introduce other cars to the list, så here goes:
    Ford V8 (model 18): Face it, it’s the prototype to almost all american cars for the next 70 years! Sure they had different bodies, but mechanically this is the mother.
    (Pink) Cadillac, the ´59 series 62 would do nicely. But maybe you don’t like convertibles? I notice nobody mentions them here, even though it’s such an icon.
    Studebaker Golden Hawk (1956), not because it’s better than the Bel Air, I just like the shape better.

  9. I’d have to add the Chevrolet Corvair. Killed off by Ralph Nader, but still memorable.