As a longtime hobby and a newer trend, interest in car collecting keeps ballooning. Car collections are as much a small-town tradition as they are a serious business, pairing prestigious auction houses with wealthy bidders. Collecting classic cars is something that grows in interest each year, across the board, and around the world.
With so many outstanding classic American models to choose from, and with the difficult task of choosing just 10, here’s a range of the most iconic classic cars that were made in America.
10 1991 Dodge Viper – $60,000
A cobra and viper are extremely venomous fanged snakes, but only a cobra can flatten its hood as a fierce warning. Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca wanted a 1990s Cobra. Carroll Shelby partnered with Iacocca in 1988. He even drove the 1991 Viper as the pace car for the Indy 500, officially announcing the debut of the virile Dodge two-seat roadster.
It was the most powerful sports car in the American game. The Viper was raw performance. It packed 400 horsepower, with no hint of luxury or class, just an explicit V10. To compare, the top Corvette ZR1 had only 375 horsepower. The Viper’s engine was made with aluminum. Its body was made of Kevlar and carbon from Lamborghini, only adding to its value. A car collection is only improved with a first-generation Dodge Viper.
9 1906-1908 Ford Model K Roadster – $252,000
The Ford Model K was a performance automobile. As a roadster and as a touring car, it was an upscale ride and sold accordingly.
The Model K was one of the first-ever performance models. In 1907, it cost $2,400, which is pricey for the time. Henry Ford’s Model T, to compare, was about $300 to start. But a lot more people bought them. The Model K was popular and sold well. It had an inline-six engine with 40 horsepower. The roadster was able to go 60 to 100 mph. It sold 500 units in 1907, making it the top-selling six-cylinder car in the world.
8 1963 Ford Thunderbird Sport Roadster – $34,000
The Ford Thunderbird was one of Ford’s bestsellers. It captured the imagination of Americans, and by 1963, the model was starting its 3rd Generation. But they weren’t cheap. In 1963 a Thunderbird cost over five thousand dollars.
The first Thunderbird hit the streets in 1955. Ford had a bit of a PR problem the time Elvis Presley lost a wheel on a tight turn, but the value of these cars will stay strong forever. One T-Bird sold for $660,000, it was the highest sale of any Thunderbird. No American classic car collection is complete without a Ford Thunderbird.
7 1962 Shelby Cobra 427 – $200,000 to $5.5 million
The Ford Shelby Cobra 427 is a car of legends. It is small, lightweight, spry, and jettisoned by a V8. It’s a raw racer with nothing to flaunt but pure speed and performance. While looking like an icon.
Carroll Shelby orchestrated the building of this car, and it’s now one of the most iconic American sports cars ever made. It’s unlikely to find a great-condition Cobra for under one million dollars. The top sale of a 1965 Shelby Cobra 427 was $13,750,000 in 2016.
6 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray Coupe – $85,000
While it would be nice to find a 1963 Corvette Sting Ray under $100,000, these classics can fetch up to $192,000. It’s somewhat scarce and getting more so each year. Just 21,513 units were made. Another reason its value is high is that it is a darling of collectors. The split window in the second-gen is highly attractive to Corvette lovers and an iconic feature that only exists in the past.
But it’s not just nostalgia. Sting Rays have an elegant interior, power windows, steering, brakes, and other creature comforts. Some even have air conditioning, rare back then.
5 1969 Yenko Super Camaro – $54,000
One might assume, understandably, that Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) racing a Yenko Super Camaro for the win in 2 Fast 2 Furious would make it an instant classic.
In real life, a real race car driver made this car great. The 1969 Yenko Super Camaro was the pet project of Corvette racer Don Yenko, four-time champion of Sports Car Club of America. His tinkering tuned a Camaro into a muscle car beast. The 1969 Super Camaro was a 7.0-liter, 450-hp, Super Sport with lots of fiberglass matched by a heavy-duty suspension. The Yenko trim came with larger 16-inch wheels and a 140-MPH speedometer. He made only 64 Yenko Super Camaros. And that’s why one of these classic muscle cars sold for $600,000 in 2017.
4 1961 Chrysler 300G Coupe – $45,000
The 1961 Chrysler 300G Coupe is styled with suave and sexy lines but what it hides inside is the beast of its beauty. The muscular build of this Chrysler engine is related to the 1955 to 1956 Daytona 500 winners. It has a 6.8-liter V8 engine with up to 400 horsepower. Jay Leno said on his show Jay Leno’s Garage, that in the 1960s, the Chrysler 300G was “affectionately” referred to as “The Bankers Hotrod.”
A muscle car at heart, the 300G softens the potent feel of raw power with a pampered and classy interior. Leather, chrome, four bucket seats, and swivel seats are some of the upscale features of the two-door coupe that was also available in convertible form.
3 1965 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 – $400,000
This wasn’t the first time Carroll Shelby, and then Ford president Lee Iaccoca collaborated, and, as we know, it wasn’t the last. This time, the goal was to build a race car that is legal by road standards. The Mustang Shelby GT350 was the outcome. A 289-cid V8 was tuned to 306 horsepower by adding an aluminum high-rise intake plus a Holley four-barrel carburetor, and a few other things, like a dual exhaust system. A fiberglass hood and shelf lightened it. Racing stripes were optional. Which begs the question, why would anyone opt for monochrome?
The record sale price of a GT350 classic American muscle car was $3,850,000. That one sold in 2020 at Mecum auctions. It was white with thick blue racing stripes, just in case you’re wondering.
2 1965 Galaxie 500 “Cammer” – $100,000
This 1965 Galaxie 500 is special because it is fitted with a monster under the hood. It was an experimental engine designed to beat Chrysler’s HEMI at NASCAR tracks. But instead, Chrysler’s HEMI and Ford’s “Cammer” were both banned. These weren’t stock cars, the race association argued.
That was the truth. This 427 SOHC V8 overpowered everything, even its own brakes. In 1965, it was the most powerful automobile engine. It’s called a “Cammer” for its single-overhead-cam (SOHC). It didn’t get to race NASCAR, but it wasn’t for nothing. The “Cammer” did some serious damage racing the drag strip. An estimated 500 427s “Cammers” were built by Ford between 1964 and 1967, so it’s rare to come across an American muscle car like this one.
1 1964 Pontiac Le Mans GTO – $49,000
If GM had its way, the first muscle car would not have been a Pontiac. GM preferred to cater to loyal elderly buyers who grumbled about the new “Supercars.” Instead, the folks at Pontiac set the bar for what a muscle car should be. The one and only John DeLorean was behind it, tapping into a market he knew was out there. 1965 saw the sales of the Pontiac GTO double, and the checkered flag went down on the muscle car race.
The GTO was as powerful as it was timeless in design. A big block 6.5-liter V8 with 325 horsepower was under the hood. This car could haul, making 0-60 in 5.7 seconds. Car and Driver notably likened it to the Ferrari GTO. As the first actual muscle car, it deserved the attention. The 1971 Pontiac Judge GTO convertible is the most valuable GTO, worth $339,000.