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10 Best Classic American Cars

Updated on July 31, 2018
1955 Chevrolet with "suicide doors"
1955 Chevrolet with "suicide doors"

These exciting automobiles prove that America has produced some of the best cars in the world


It seems safe to write that millions of people love classic American automobiles. The beauty and technological achievements of these cars has dazzled folks since the early 1900s. Fortunately, rather than discard these cars in junk yards, many people have restored these precious automotive marvels so future generations can gaze upon them.

The following is a list of the 10 best classic American automobiles – and they were all made in America, not some other country such as Japan, Korea or Italy. Cars from these countries are fine, but they aren't American cars.

Moreover, it’s possible some impressive old models may not be in this compilation, since there are so many contenders, but this list could represent a pleasing approximation, and that’s good enough for this writer.

Please keep reading!

1. 1949 Mercury Eight Custom Coupe


The Mercury Eight, whose advertiser’s penned the tagline: “The car that truly dares to ask ‘Why’?,” essentially boasting that this automobile offered both power and economy. The car’s engine was a version of the Ford flathead V8; it could push the vehicle along with 95 hp and attain up to 20 mpg in fuel efficiency, not bad even by present standards. In those days, you could buy a “Merc” for about a thousand dollars, making this a very practical car, and many thousands of people coughed up the dough to buy it.

Over the years, the Mercury Eight has become a favorite of hot rod enthusiasts, as the accompanying photo to this article will attest. Many customized versions of the Mercury Eight can be seen on the road as well. By the way, various Mercury Eights make appearances in the movies “Rebel Without a Cause” and “American Graffiti.”

2. 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Tri-Five


The Tri-Five Chevys, as they were called, manufactured from 1955 to 1957, are some of the most collectable cars on the planet, and perhaps the greatest of these illustrious Chevrolet autos is the 1957 model, with its distinctive, jutting tailfins, “twin rocket” hood design and tri-color paintjob. Perhaps even more impressive is that the 1957 Tri-Five models offered the choice of seven different V-8 engines, including a Rochester, fuel-injected, high-compression 283. Also sporting 283 hp, this is the first production line motor to achieve 1 hp per cubic inch, making this notable auto a production line hot rod!

Needless to point out, “rod rodders” and customizers love the Tri-Five Chevys and countless ones can be seen on the road and in car shows. After all, millions of Tri-Fives were bought by people around the world. Maybe you own one.

3. 1965 Ford Mustang


The first-generation Ford Mustang was billed as a pony car, - a compact passenger vehicle that emphasizes stylishness, affordability and performance. Among other pleasing aspects, the interior of the Mustang offered bucket seats and a floor shifter, both very popular with folks in those days. Priced at about $2,300, the Mustang was a bargain and its swept back look proved quite popular with buyers. The available engines varied somewhat, but the most popular seemed to be the 289 cubic-inch V8 with either a two-barrel or four-barrel carburetor.

The introduction of the pony car spawned many imitators, including Chevrolet’s Camaro, Plymouth’s Barracuda and AMC’s Javelin. Understandably, there are still many first-generation Mustangs on the road, while many of its imitators are rusting in junk yards.

4. 1966 Cadillac Fleetwood El Dorado


At least one full-size personal luxury car belongs on this list. The Fleetwood El Dorado was a two-door convertible with a plethora or accessories, including front and rear safety belts, variable ratio steering, optional heating pads beneath the front seats and seatbacks, headrests, reclining seats and an AM/FM stereo system. The engine was a 429 cubic-inch V8 with 340 hp, which included a patented quiet exhaust system. Moreover, this model had a three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic automatic transmission, first used in 1964 Cadillacs.

For luxury, power and performance, the Cadillac El Dorado was pretty much top of the line, with the exception of the Buick Riviera and the Lincoln Mark series. Nobody makes these beautiful cars into hot rods, of course; when possible, they keep them in mint condition purely to impress.

5. 1964 Pontiac GTO


Although the first muscle car may have been the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88, the Pontiac GTO was one of the more prominent muscle cars to emerge in the American car market in the middle 1960s. With numerous options available for the 1964 “Goat,” as it was sometimes called, maybe the best package included a 389 cubic-inch engine, with a four-speed manual transmission and 3 two-barrel Rochester carburetors, comprising a “six-pack,” as they were nicknamed. This car could reach 60 mph in about six seconds or around a 100 mph in the quarter mile.

Some GTO models included a Bobcat kit, providing higher compression and advanced timing, adding 30 to 50 hp to the vehicle, as long as high octane gasoline was used. When properly tuned and maintained these Goats were monsters of the road.

6. 1953 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible


General Motors began production of their Chevrolet Corvette sports car in 1953. Included in the C1 series of Corvettes, which were built from 1952 to 1962, these ‘vettes as they were called, utilized a “Blue Flame” six-cylinder 235 cubic-inch engine and a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission; and, to save money on tooling costs, the body was constructed of fiberglass rather than steel. This early Corvette could generate from 105 to 150 hp (depending on modifications) and hit 60 mph in about eleven seconds.

Eventually, the Corvettes became perhaps America’s most popular domestic-built sports car, and anybody who owns one of these early ‘vettes certainly has a prize vehicle to show off at car extravaganzas.

7. 1962 Chevrolet Impala Super Sport


The Third Generation of Chevrolet’s Impala featured the 1962 Impala Super Sport, a somewhat sportier model than the standard Impala. (Perhaps the most distinctive difference for the SS was its bucket seats in the front.) Most versions of the Impala offered various V8 engines - the 283, 327 and awesome 409. Interestingly, The Beach Boys produced a hit single entitled “409,” which immortalized the virtues of muscle cars for a generation of car enthusiasts. But the only automatic transmission available for these cars was the two-speed Powerglide.

By the way, the Third Generation of Chevy Impalas is very popular with the Hispanic people of California, as well as folks in countries such as Cuba. Just put one on the market and they will come!

8. 1940 Ford Coupe


The 1940 Ford Coupe was a simple and cheap car – sold at $600 brand new in those days (equivalent to about $9,200 in present dollars). This proverbial blue collar automobile featured a 136-cubic-inch, in-line six-cylinder engine, though many people preferred the 221 cubic-inch flathead V8, which generated 85 hp and 157 foot-pounds of torque. To modern enthusiasts, these are not impressive numbers, but the coupe was a great car in olden times. Just ask your father or grandfather.

These days, many 1940 Ford Coupes, and other similar models, have been hot-rodded and customized about as much as any other American car and, because of this, the 1940 Ford Coupe may be considered the quintessential classic American car.

9. 1968 Plymouth Satellite


The Plymouth Satellite models emphasized performance – you couldn’t buy one with anything less than a V8 engine. Perhaps the most popular Satellite engines in those days were the Commando 383 with a four-barrel carburetor, offering 325 hp; the 426 Hemi V8 that pumped out over 400 hp; and the monstrous 440 Magnum V8, introduced in 1967. Astonishingly, the 1966 Satellite “Street Hemi” engine included two four-barrel carburetors, generating a mind-boggling 425 hp!

The Plymouth Satellite, particularly with the ones with large V8s, was an impressive muscle car with which one could “smoke the tires” all day and night. It’s easy to understand why many of them are still chewing up the asphalt.

10. 1955 Ford Thunderbird Convertible


The First Generation of Ford’s Thunderbird models captured the fancy of many American car aficionados. Billed as the answer to Chevy’s Corvette and labeled as a “personal luxury car,” this early Thunderbird was a two-seat convertible with a removable fiberglass hardtop (a fabric convertible top was an option). This T-Bird as many called it, offered a 292 cubic-inch Ford Y-Block V8 engine with a four-barrel carburetor, which could blast the car forward at 110 to 120 mph. It was also an economy car of sorts, getting as much as 18 mpg.

Often nicknamed “Little Birds,” the cars of this First Generation of Thunderbirds have become an iconic make of American cars. Early sales of these cars were brisk, and if you own one in good or even bad condition and wanted to deal it, your sale would probably be just as easy.

Please leave a comment.

© 2014 Kelley Marks

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    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      Brad Masters 

      6 months ago from Orange County California BSIT BSL JD

      Kelley

      The inside of the 60' is the same as the 59' and the instrument panels it really nice.

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      6 months ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, bradmasterOCcal. Many other cars could have appeared on this list, and the '59 Chevy would be a good pick, but I prefer the body style on the 1960 Chevy Impala, perhaps because my parents bought one brand new, and it was so cool, ya know?...

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      Brad Masters 

      6 months ago from Orange County California BSIT BSL JD

      Kelley

      Nice article, and great cars.

      I would like to comment that the 1962 Chevy, a car that I bought used. It was a Red Convertible with the small 283, but still a good mover.

      The comment is that the 62 was just a squared off version of the 61'. I believe that the 61' had the 348 cu block instead of the 409. Other than that the 62' should be in the same generation. Much as the 60' was the same as the 59'.

      I also had a used 59' Black Convertible, again with the 283. I am also surprised that the 59' Chevy didn't make it to your list.

      Thanks

    • profile image

      Craig 

      9 months ago from Dushore, pa

      awesome list!

      I especially love the Mustang (first car I ever drove) as well as the GTO.

      Whats your thoughts on the GM NAPCO line of the 50's? Not fast but surely very utilitarian and could pull a house.....

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      2 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, PoggyDobby. The 1968 Plymouth Satellite is truly bass-ass. Later!

    • PoggyDobby profile image

      PoggyDobby 

      2 years ago from Probably Earth

      Really interesting article! Glad you didn't forget the Plymouth Satellite. That's a beast.

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      3 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, GoldenRodLM. The first car I owned was a 1962 Chevy Impala. I wish I still owned it! Anyway, Back in those days, if you were young and living in California, particularly southern Cal, you were a king or queen. Later!

    • GoldenRod LM profile image

      John R Wilsdon 

      3 years ago from Superior, Arizona USA

      I think that your selections are great The 62 Impala is very fine. The woodie at the top reminds me of a friend's when I was in the service. It was green, and while in California he was king. Nice hub. Thanks for the memories.

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Alphadogg16. That muscle car Smokey drove was one hot machine, wasn't it? Later!

    • Debraw50 profile image

      Debraw50 

      4 years ago

      Just click on my name and you can see the article I wrote about the 1980 El Camino SS. The car in the picture is ours. And the year of the Trans Am that Burt Reynolds drove is either 77 or 78. The first year of the rubber bumpers. And I agree with Alphadog, thumbs up on your hub.

    • Alphadogg16 profile image

      Kevin W 

      4 years ago from Texas

      Great list of cars Kosmo. I was always in love with the 65' Camaro & that Pontiac Firebird with that Burt Reynolds drove in Smokey & the Bandit, not sure of the year. Thumbs up on your hub.

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Debraw50. I'd like to see that El Camino you have. Anyway, all of these classic cars are loaded with class - and cost lots of money to restore and keep in mint condition. It would cost a fair amount of money just to keep them from being stolen. Later!

    • Debraw50 profile image

      Debraw50 

      4 years ago

      Very nice article Kosmo, takes us all down memory lane with these fantastic classic cars. I am a big, big fan of the Classic cars. I have one myself, the 1980 El Camino SS, which also could have been on the list, but I think the ones you chose to put in your article are all awesome beauties.

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, DrMark1961. Lots of cars could have been on this list, including the '69 Charger. Later!

      As for you Tom Schumacher, the 389 with a four-speed and a six-pack was awesome, man. Wish I had one now. Later!

    • Tom Schumacher profile image

      Tom Schumacher 

      4 years ago from Huntington Beach, CA

      The 64' Pontiac GTO is such a classic and one of my favorites. This pic, in particular, is stunning. A 4-speed 389 cubic inch engine...Ah!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 

      4 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Awesome list. About the only thing I would change is replacing number 9 with the 69 Dodge Charger.

      I enjoyed this---thanks!

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Zingali. You gotta love those classic American cars. Later!

    • Zingali profile image

      Joe Cinocca 

      4 years ago from Pasadena, CA

      Very nice, Kosmo!

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