From mighty muscle cars, gas-guzzling SUVs, superb sports sedans, ludicrously quick EVs, and even cars that will last longer than 300,000 miles; the land of the free builds some of the most recognizable cars in the world. Known for their ferocious V8 engines and negligence to our planet’s health, we can’t help but lust over American-built cars.
Since even before the year 1900, America partook in creating automobiles. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that American cars remain some of the most iconic automobiles in the world. So, to shine a light on the best American classic cars ever built, we’ve created this list. Throughout this article, you’ll see cars that perfectly encapsulate certain historic periods ranging from before WW1 to the naughty ’90s. Some of these American classic cars became so popular, and the public longed so much for them that carmakers kept alive or even revived many of these nameplates. And in the rare instance that brands did not fulfill the public’s wishes, some talented digital artists gave us a glimpse of what a revived classic would look like today. Here’s a digital return of the iconic Fox Body Ford Mustang HotCars’ digital artist Rostislav Prokop made recently.
So, let’s waste no more time and get straight to business. Here are the most iconic American classic cars that defined an era.
10 Ford Model T
To this day, many still believe that the Ford Model T was the first-ever car, when in fact it was only the first mass-produced automobile that utilized a production process. Still, the Ford Model T remains one of the most recognizable cars of all time, despite its old age.
Introduced in 1908, the Ford Model T allowed ordinary citizens to be able to afford an automobile for the first time ever since the new efficient production process allowed them to sell Models Ts for between $260 and $850. The Model T even made an appearance on the big screen believe it or not. Well… it was Disney Pixar’s animated film, Cars, and the Model T played the role of Lizzie. Cool nonetheless.
9 Willys Jeep
Some cars remind us of an unfavorable place in time, and the Willys Jeep is the perfect example thereof. Despite the Willys Jeep’s cute stature and bare-boned build, for many, it’s a reminder of a time of despair. Built between 1940 and 1949, the Willys Jeep played a vital role for many Allied soldiers back in the day allowing them to cross every terrain necessary.
Although the Willys is a symbol of war, it’s also a symbol of hope. Since the Willys Jeep, Jeep continues to build off-road capable machines that try and live up to the first Willys’ reputation. Well, that is if you can overlook the fact that Jeeps are unreliable nowadays, so much so that we wouldn’t waste our money on some of them.
8 Ford F-Series Pickup
America’s best-selling vehicle is in fact not even a car or SUV, it’s the Ford F-Series pickup. Born in 1948 under the name of “Bonus Built”, the F-Series was a symbol of hope for America that despite the past, there is still a bright future that lies ahead. Not only was it a positive symbol, but it performed as an excellent work truck for the average American citizen.
To this day, the Ford F-Series pickup remains in production, and it underwent many, many changes throughout the years. The Ford F-Series pickup is one of the oldest models that still remain in production in 2023.
7 Ford Mustang
Just as many falsely believe that the Ford Model T was the first-ever car, many believe that the Ford Mustang was the first-ever muscle car when in fact it was the Oldsmobile Rocket 88. That said, the Ford Mustang is most certainly responsible for familiarizing the terms “muscle car” and “pony car” to the average American household.
Unveiled in April 1964, the Mustang came in three different body styles namely a convertible, notchback, and fastback. A few different engines were also available with the first-generation Mustang including the famous 289 cubic-inch V8 with up to 271 hp. The Mustang was such a success amongst Americans that by the 1st of March 1966 (just more than a year of production), Ford sold a million Mustangs in total. Although there are a few different models the Mustang gets morphed into such as the 2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse and the Mach-E GT, the Mustang still remains in production to this day and still gets called the most iconic classic car ever built.
6 Chevrolet El Camino
Speaking of muscle cars… While gas-guzzling muscle cars sold like hotcakes, there was one glaring issue with them: practicality. Since many Americans were blue-collar workers in the ’60s, they needed vehicles that fulfilled their functional needs without being a bland pickup truck everyone and their mothers drove around in. The answer: The Chevrolet El Camino.
At its core, the Chevy El Camino was a muscle car with a truck bed; a muscle truck if you will. The precursor to the iconic Ute. Underneath the 1969 Chevy El Camino SS’ hood hid a 396 cubic-inch V8 with up to 375 hp.
5 1963 Chevrolet Corvette StingRay
Eventually, Americans became almost used to muscle cars, and fat, bulky cars with a monstrous V8 underneath their hood didn’t make anyone as excited as they used to. Once again, Chevrolet came to the rescue and brought the Corvette to life in 1953. The C1 Corvette was a luxury topless cruiser, yet it still lacked power in comparison to other muscle cars of the time.
Once again, Chevy adapted to the surrounding circumstances, which eventually lead to the Corvette Sting Ray’s existence in 1963. The Sting Ray Corvette engulfed a 327 cubic-inch V8, and the Z06 Sting Ray managed to pump out up to 360 hp thanks to one of the best Chevrolet Corvette engines of all time. Not only was the StingRay insanely strong, but it was also one of the most beautiful American cars ever made.
4 Chrysler Town and Country
There’s no doubt that the Chrysler Town and Country is nowhere near as exciting as some of the other cars on this list, but it was a vital vehicle for Chrysler. Built since 1941, the Chrysler Town and Country was the perfect mode of transport for large families who loves to travel. Sometime thereafter, Volkswagen brought out the Type 2 Bus, and it stole some of Chrysler’s customer base.
In retaliation, Chrysler made the Town and Country nearly perfect, and that’s the one everyone remembers. The Chrysler Town and Country station wagon with wooden panels, a spacious leather interior, and enough trunk space for a bed (for some reason), also known as the “woodie”.
3 Dodge Viper RT/10
To this day, and most probably for the foreseeable future too, the first-generation Dodge Viper remains the most dangerous American-built supercar of all time just next to the deadly Shelby Cobra 427 Super Snake. The Viper only came with a manual gearbox, had no doors, no roof, and also lacked any creature comforts which includes traction control. On top of that, powering the Dodge Viper RT/10 uses an 8.0-liter V10 engine that churns out 400 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque.
The toy-like, yet demented Viper perfectly encapsulates the ’90s. This was a period where everything was in its experimental stage. The public still needed to push the boundaries of what’s possible, and in turn, what’s a good idea or bad. Despite its danger factor, the Viper remains one of the greatest American supercars ever made. There is one that might overshadow it… but more on that in a bit.
2 Lincoln Continental
Just like the Willys Jeep was a reminder of an unfortunate time, so is the Lincoln Continental. Since 1940, the Lincoln Continental existed, but no one remembers the first few Continentals. The Lincoln Continental everyone remembers is the fourth generation, especially the convertible 1961 Lincoln Continental limousine. If you don’t know why this car is so important for America’s history, let’s enlighten you.
While chauffeuring US president John F Kennedy in a 1961 Lincoln Continental, someone assassinated him on 22 November 1963 in Dallas, Texas. At the time, the Lincoln Continental was the ultimate form of American luxury, and everyone wanted one… until they didn’t.
1 Ford GT40
The Ford GT40 was the star of arguably the most intense rivalry motorsport ever saw, the battle between Ford and Ferrari. The feud was so legendary that not long ago, one of the greatest car movies of all time about the incident called Ford Vs Ferrari came to fruition. After blood, sweat, and tears, Ford eventually came up with the Ford GT40 MkII, the car that would ultimately dethrone Ferrari after losing to them in the 24 Hours of Lemans in 1964 and 1965.
Thanks to joint efforts between Caroll Shelby, Henry Ford II, Ken Miles, and Phil Remington among others, Ford wiped the floor with Ferrari in the 1966 24 Le Mans race by securing first, second, and third place. This just goes to show, no matter how mighty your opponents may seem, there’s always a way to achieve your goals.
Sources: Ford, Jeep, Car and Driver, Motor Trend