20 Most Iconic American Cars
Hundreds of American car models have come and gone throughout automotive history. Some have arrived and faded into the background...
Hundreds of American car models have come and gone throughout automotive history. Some have arrived and faded into the background without so much as a second thought. Others have entered the market and stayed for decades, becoming a part of American culture. Then there are the cars that were only around for a short time but have made a lasting impression.
Take a journey through the most iconic and notable American cars in the list below.
This list starts off with a sports car that would bleed red, white, and blue if cars could bleed. First introduced in the 1950s, the Corvette launched the muscle car culture that we know and love today. The car is so iconic that there’s an entire museum dedicated to its lustrous history.
Through the decades, the Corvette has built a following with multiple generations of car lovers. Some appreciate the car’s woman-like curves, while others itch for the heart-racing performance. Today’s Corvette is sure to thrill with about 500 horsepower and a 6.2-liter V8 engine.
You don’t have to be a car enthusiast to know of the long-time rivalry between Chevy and Ford. The Mustang is Ford’s muscle car introduced in 1964 and the first model in its lineup of pony cars. The car was an instant hit, and in the years since, Ford has produced over nine million. Just like the Corvette, the Mustang is now ingrained into American culture.
The latest Mustang models come with anywhere from 310 to 480 horsepower and either a 2.3-liter four-cylinder or 5.0-liter V8 engine. There’s literally a car for everyone—the daily commuter as well as the performance enthusiast.
The most iconic of the Mustangs is the Shelby Mustang. First designed by Carroll Shelby and Ford in the 1960s, the Shelby is a high-performance version of the Mustang.
The Charger was just another muscle car on the market in the late 1960s, but then it appeared on the show The Dukes of Hazzard. This catapulted the Charger to icon status. Over the decades, it’s gone through some of the biggest changes in design and performance.
The new models barely resemble the original cars. Today, Dodge has an entire lineup of Chargers that range from basic to all-out hellraiser. If you’re looking for the safe option, choose the 292 horsepower model. If you’re looking for heart-racing speed, look for one of the 707 horsepower models.
Tesla Model S
While it may be the newest model on this list, it definitely deserves to be here. Tesla has made major waves in the American automotive market because it’s a very successful electric vehicle company as well as an independent automaker. The Model S isn’t Tesla’s first car, but it is the one that made the brand popular.
Another muscle car on this list, the Camaro was first introduced in 1966. The car has gone through several remodels and changes over the decades. While the modern models are popular, it’s the older years that are in most demand.
Upon its introduction, GM wanted to make it clear that the Camaro was there to trounce the Mustang. Executives described the Camaro as “a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs.” Today, you can have your own Mustang-killer with 650 horsepower that can go from 0-60 in 3.5 seconds.
While you could technically call the Firebird a muscle car, it’s really so much more than that. It was in production from 1967 through 2002. The ‘70s film Smokey and the Bandit is what makes the firebird so recognizable. Burt Reynolds became so well associated with the car that when he passed away, a fan paid $317,500 for his replica Firebird.
Ford F-Series Pickup
Today, trucks are the fastest-growing sector of the auto market. But it all started with the Ford F-Series. There have been 13 generations and over 35 million trucks produced by Ford in this series. The F100 introduced in 1948 looks largely similar to the truck on the road today. It features a large front end to hold a powerful motor and a flatbed-type back end. One major difference is that the bed of the first trucks were made of wood.
These days, the truck has evolved into several categories. You can find tough workhorses, performance racing trucks, and lifestyle trucks that are outfitted with the latest luxuries.
Just before the Second World War, the military tasked car makers with producing a lightweight off-road vehicle. This Jeep was the perfect solution, capable of withstanding harsh conditions, explosions, and bullet fire. This first Jeep was an all-wheel-drive war machine and only produced from 1942 through 1946. But this birthed the Jeep brand, which went on to be the largest producer of off-roading vehicles and SUVs.
In the 90s, carmakers decided to revisit their roots and give them a modern makeover. Since Chrysler was doing well, executives wanted to celebrate with a special car. The goal was to create a more refined and higher performing Cobra. The result was a Dodge Viper, which made its introduction at the 1989 Detroit Auto Show.
The car is visually striking with its long front end and short rear end. For performance, it came with an impressive 400 horsepower V10 that could rocket drivers from 0 to 60 in 4.6 seconds.
The GTO once dominated drag strips; even Corvette owners weren’t safe from the GTO’s powerful engine. John Z. DeLorean (yes, THAT DeLorean) took the 396 V8 engine and put it in the lightweight Tempest body. The result was a wicked fast car. Pontiac executives still weren’t confident about the sales performance of the GTO and predicted maybe 5,000 would be sold. The car was an instant hit, and sales numbers far surpassed their estimate. Over 32,000 were sold.
Behind trucks, SUVs are the second-fastest growing in sales numbers. These vehicles are large, loaded with technology, and not really meant for conquering the trails. But these lumbering people movers used to be off-roading pros. The Jeep Wagoneer was considered luxurious for its time, based on its ability to navigate through the trails and wilderness.
Ford Model T
A list of the most iconic American vehicles wouldn’t be complete without the Ford Model T. Henry Ford completely revolutionized the automotive manufacturing industry with his creation of the assembly line. Ford just wanted to sell more cars, and he found a way to efficiently produce 15 million Model Ts between 1908 and 1927.
This car is also iconic because it changed the automotive game for Americans. Up until this point, cars were a luxury for the rich. But with the assembly line, the Model T was simple and cheap to make. This lowered the price and opened the door for more Americans to own a car. At one point, half of the world’s cars were Model Ts.
Shelby Cobra 289
This was another brainchild of Carroll Shelby and Ford. The Shelby Cobra used the leftover bodies from the Ace sports roadster and the V8 engine from Ford. The result was a small and nimble yet extremely competent race car.
It was Shelby’s brilliance at the track that made this car dominate across Europe. This success led to numerous factory production “race cars” that were purchased by American consumers.
Duesenberg Model J
You probably don’t recognize the name, but you’ll immediately know it when you see the car. It’s the luxury car of the Art Deco movement of the 1920s. This was the car movie stars and royalty used to drive. Its one-of-a-kind look features large, white sidewall tires, a super long front end, and the spare tire on the side of the car just in front of the driver’s door.
Chrysler Town & Country Minivan
Not every iconic car has to be a high-performance speed machine or symbol of sex. The minivan is a symbol of suburban American culture and synonymous with the “soccer mom.” These spacious people movers can be credited with saving the Chrysler brand in the early ‘80s, as the car brand created this sector of the auto market.
Today’s minivans easily fit eight people and are loaded with the latest technological features. Their smooth and quiet ride makes them a dream to both drive and ride as a passenger. To this day, Chrysler is a leader in the minivan market.
Cadillac Type 51
This was the first car to come on the market with a V8 engine, and it happened back in 1915. Not only is Cadillac a well-established American brand, but the Type 51 is the car people recognize as the car of the early 20th century. Buyers immediately fell in love with the coupe for its large whitewall tires, plush leather seats, and 70-horsepower engine.
This might be one of the lesser-known cars on this list, but its innovative design made it revolutionary in the automotive industry. The designers at Chrysler created one of the first cars that focused on aerodynamics.
It was also dropped off a cliff in a publicity stunt to show its durability. After being dropped, it was driven away. Unfortunately, poor timing was the Airflow’s downfall. Its price tag made it beyond the reach of most Americans, as it was released during the Great Depression.
When the Eldorado came onto the market, it was the height of luxury and comfort. Buyers were delighted with the number of features that came standard. The Eldorado began as an anniversary celebration car in 1953 and remained in production until 2002.
Credit for the Eldorado name goes to a secretary working in the merchandising department. Cadillac held an in-house competition to name their Golden Anniversary car. The celebratory anniversary edition production continued for 10 generations. Each one had a distinct personality that reflected the height of luxury for the times.
Lincoln Continental Mark III
The Lincoln was a jewel in the Ford crown for decades. It was initially released as a “personal luxury car” with an elongated front end and spare tire mounted on the back. While there was an entire line of Mark Series cars, the Mark III made quite an impression. It was developed to be a direct competitor to the Eldorado we just mentioned.
We have Lee Iacocca to thank for the Mark III. This titan of the auto industry is also credited for the Ford Mustang and the Chrysler minivan. Iacocca hoped that the Mark could replace the Thunderbird, whose sales were lagging, while also breathing life into the stalling Lincoln brand.
The Gremlin seemed like a cruel joke at its introduction. It had super-compact dimensions, a weird rear end, and a painfully lacking engine. It also didn’t help that AMC debuted it on April Fool’s Day.
But this weird joke turned out to be a huge success as car buyers turned away from the large, heavy cars built by American manufacturers and selected smaller imports like the VW Beetle and Toyota Corolla. The AMC fit right in with this “smaller is better” trend and became a part of the flower child culture.
Drive Your Own Piece of Automotive Americana
Some of these cars may be a bit of a challenge to get your hands on and are definitely not practical to own as your daily driver. Could you imagine trying to drive to work in a Model T? But there are several cars on this list that are still sold on the market today that are a great choice. Find a car that speaks to you and fulfills your needs and start driving your own American icon.