Top 10 Classic American Cars That Changed the Auto World

Top 10 Classic American Cars

Even before the Model T began rolling of Ford’s first assembly line…

…the American cars were taking their place at the vanguard of the automotive world.

Inventions like:

the electric starter, automatic transmission, production V8 engine, car stereo, and the muscle car are all American…

…and every of these inventions has had a deep effect on the way people interact with their cars all over the world.

At their best, American cars offer performance, glamour, luxury, ingenuity, affordability, or any combination of these.

During the Great Depression the art deco streamliners of the ’30s were a beacon of optimism.

The symbols of post-war prosperity:

the tail-finned land yachts of the ’50s  and the tire-scorching muscle cars of the ’60s were representatives of the embodiment of straight line performance.

A recent crop of exotic performance cars has proven that Americans can even go toe to toe with today’s best European hypercars.

History has proven again and again that a car doesn’t need to be a sales success to change the world.

Listed below are top 10 classic American cars that changed the automotive landscape and became icons:

1. Tucker 48

top 10 classic american cars

Credit: Patrick Ernzen/RM Sotheby’s

Most of the cars produced in the ’40s were warmed-over versions of pre-war models…

…the 1948 Tucker looked like something out of the future, with safety-minded features like:

padded dash, a reinforced passenger cell and third headlight that turned with the wheels.

The brainchild of industrialist Preston Tucker, the company achieved national attention after a successful public relations and fundraising tour, but it has only been able to create 51 cars before they ran out of money.

The collapse of the company became a national scandal, and there were indications from the U.S. government that the company’s executives made a fraud.

However the Tuckers have become some of the most valuable American cars ever built because of their rarity and historical significance.

This car was sold by RM Sothebys in August 2014 for a price of $1,567,500.

2. Cadillac Eldorado

1958-Cadillac-Eldorado-Brougham, Top 10 Classic American Cars That Changed the Auto World Forever

Credit: Darin Schnabel/RM Sotheby’s

Meanwhile the Cadillac’s star-studded past, only few models shine as brightly as the Eldorado.

This model was launched in 1953, and the range-topping Caddy was an ultra-exclusive flagship car that attracted buyers from President Eisenhower to Elvis Presley.

By the end of the decade, the redesigned four-door model was priced more than a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud and it was considered as one of the most elegant cars in the world.

In 1967, the Eldorado was re-imagined as a radical two-door “personal luxury coupe,”…

…kicking off one of the most popular segments of the late ’60s and ’70s, and becoming the second front-wheel drive car ever built by General Motors.

Proving that there is lots of magic left in these old Caddys, this 1958 model was sold at this year’s Amelia Island auction by RM Sotheby’s for $148,500.

3. Chevrolet Corvette

1961-Chevrolet-Corvette-1024x721, Top 10 Classic American Cars That Changed the Auto World

Credit: General Motors

By the period of the early 1950s, America had developed a small but significant appetite for sports cars.

But there was a problem:

No American automaker was offering them.

In 1953, Chevrolet presented the Corvette, a V6-powered roadster which was as pretty as it was unreliable and slow.

By 1955, Chevy had worked out the problems, and provided the Corvette with performances to go with its looks.

Since that time, the Corvette has started to be known as “America’s Sports Car,” and gathered one of the most loyal fan followings of any car in the world.

In 2014, a 1967 race-prepped L-88 Stingray Corvette was sold for $3.85 million

…what makes this model the most expensive ‘Vette of all time.

4. Shelby Cobra

Top 10 Classic American Cars That Changed the Auto World, Shelby Cobra

Credit: Ryan Merrill/RM Sotheby’s

The Cobra was the brainchild of chicken farmer-turned race car driver Carroll Shelby…

…and it was born when he brokered a deal between the British carmaker AC and Ford to shoehorn massive American V8 engines into the lightweight roadsters.

The 427 Cobra, built from 1965 to 1967, is probably the most iconic of Shelby’s cars.

Having massive leg pipes, flared fenders and a performance-tuned Ford V8, it is probably the quintessential sports car of the 1960s.

Although it was not a financial success in its day, the Cobra is fast even by today’s standards, and many collectors are ready to pay a premium for them.

This 1967 “Semi-Competition” Cobra was sold by RM Sotheby’s for $2,117,500 at this year’s Amelia Island auction.

5. Ford Mustang

Top 10 Classic American Cars

Credit: Ford

Certainly, sporty cars having the epithet affordable came before the Mustang, but nothing has ever matched its level of success and timeless appeal.

Presented at 1964 World’s Fair, the Mustang perfectly tapped into the growing youth market, and kicked off the great pony car arms race of the 1960s.

By 1967, the Mustang got its competitors in the name of the Chevrolet Camaro, Plymouth Barracuda, Pontiac Firebird and AMC Javelin.

Ford had already sold 1.7 million Mustangs in its first 36 months, despite a suddenly crowded market.

Now in its fifth decade, you can still find the Mustang in the center of the red-hot American muscle car market.

6. Plymouth Roadrunner Superbird

Top 10 Classic American Cars, Plymouth Roadrunner Superbird

Credit: Michael Furman/RM Sotheby’s

Along with the almost identical Dodge Daytona model, the Roadrunner Superbird was Plymouth’s aerodynamically-enhanced homologation special for the 1970 NASCAR season.

It’s pointed beak and comically large rear wing helped to achieve a difference on the track (top speed was upwards of 180 miles per hour)…

…but it’s polarizing looks, Loony Toons decals (Plymouth licensed the Road Runner character from Warner Bros.), and 18.4-foot length made the sales a real flop, so unsold Superbirds were sitting on dealer lots until the mid-’70s.

With fewer than 3,000 built, for this rare and iconic ‘Bird can be said that represents the peak of muscle car madness.

This car was sold for $363,000 by RM Sotheby’s in 2013.

7. AMC Eagle

Top 10 Classic American Cars, 1986-AMC-Eagle-Wagon-frnt-lft-1024x791

Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Maybe the American Motors Corporation is long gone…

…but their last great idea has grown to become one of the most successful segments in the auto market.

This struggling automaker in 1980 introduced the Eagle, a lifted sedan and station wagon with a four-wheel drive system borrowed from its Jeep brand, creating the world’s first crossover SUV.

This car was a rare bright spot for AMC in the ’80s, and was sold in respectable numbers until it was absorbed by Chrysler in 1988.

Although AMC was gone a long time ago, its engines lived on in Jeep products well into the ’90s, and after years of semi-obscurity, the Eagle is finally starting to find its due in the pages of automotive history.

As all-wheel drive crossovers continue to explode in popularity, they can all trace their roots directly back to this offering from America’s last major independent automaker.

8. Saleen S7

SaleenS7, Top 10 Classic American Cars That Changed the Auto World

Credit: Saleen

Saleen had long created their reputation on tuning and supercharging Mustangs, and although the S7 was created around Ford performance parts, it was not just tuner project.

Presented in 2000, the S7’s unique hand-built chassis and 7.0 liter Ford V8 placed amidships made the S7 a real world class supercar.

It could strike from zero-to-60 in the low three second range, and it competed in the prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Le Mans races.

In 2005, two turbochargers were added to the car, which boost the engine from 550 to 750 horsepower.

Production of this model ended in 2009, but having a top speed of 248 miles per hour, the S7 is still one of the first American supercars that could to stand up to Europe’s best.

9. Ford GT

Top 10 Classic American Cars

Credit: Ford

Manufactured between 2004 and 2006:

The GT was presenting a modern incarnation of Ford’s iconic GT40 racer of the late ’60s.

The looks of those cars is so timeless that despite the fact that the GT40 and GT were built 40 years apart…

…they shared more than a passing resemblance.

The GT produced in the 21st century was powered by a 5.4 liter supercharged V8 and was having the performance to fly from zero-to-60 in the mid-three second range.

But no matter the fact that the GT was a high profile halo car for Ford…

…production ended after only 4,038 of the mid-engined supercars were created.

An all-new GT was unveiled at 2015’s Detroit Auto Show, and Ford has a plan to enter the car in the 2016 endurance race at Le Mans…

…exactly 50 years after the GT40’s historic 1-2-3 finish.

10. Hennessey Venom GT

Hennessey Venom GT, Top 10 Classic American Cars

Credit: Hennessey

In 2005, the Bugatti Veyron transformed the performance car landscape by becoming the fastest and most powerful car ever built.

Refusing to be surpassed, Texas-based Hennessey Performance Engineering revealed the 270 mile per hour Venom GT, and in that way boldly snatching the title away from the French-German company.

Implementing equivalent basic blueprint set by Carroll Shelby with the Cobra, the Venom GT starts with a lightweight body and chassis from the British Lotus Exige, and crams an American 1,244 horsepower 7.2 liter turbocharged V8 (from General Motors) behind the seats.

The Veyron was limited to 450 cars, but Hennessey plans to produce only 10 of the $1 million cars a year…

…which will make the Venom GT one of the rarest hypercars in the world.


From luxury to ingenuity to speed, the classic American cars mentioned here played a significant role in the evolution of the automotive industry…

…and each model has earned its place in history.

From well-known titans like the Ford Mustang to nearly-forgotten trailblazers like the AMC Eagle, the modern automotive landscape wouldn’t be what it is today without these icons.


Inspired by: CheatSheet

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