Great American Cars, 1950-Present

By Chuck Hawks

I tell my friends that I prefer performance cars because, as a motorcyclist, I don't really like to drive and I want to get where I am going quickly! At present I am driving a 2011 Chevy Camaro SS. Previous personal daily drives that fit that basic philosophy have included a 1959 Triumph TR-3, 1965 Dodge Dart GT (Commando), 1971 Plymouth Sport Fury, 1991 Honda CRX, 1996 Ford Probe GT, 1999 Ford Mustang Cobra SVT and 2006 Chevy Monte Carlo SS.

What constitutes a "great" car is definitely subjective and I do not pretend to be an automotive expert. I am just an average American of my generation whose formative years were influenced by the annual Fall unveiling of Detroit's new cars and popular car and motorcycle songs. The Beach Boys' put "409," "Little Deuce Coupe," "I Get Around," "Don't Worry Baby," "Shut Down" "Little Honda" and "Fun, Fun, Fun" on the pop/rock charts. Jan and Dean contributed their big hits "Dead Man's Curve" and "Drag City" to the popular car culture. Bruce Springsteen was not afraid to record car related songs, including "Racing in the Street," "Born to Run," "Thunder Road," "Darlington County," "The Promised Land" and "Something in the Night." Do you remember "Riding With Private Malone" (David Ball), "Hey Little Cobra" (Rip Chords), "Hot Rod Lincoln" (Johnny Bond), "No Particular Place to Go" (Chuck Barry), "GTO" (Daytonas), "Born to be Wild" (Steppenwolf), "Bat out of Hell" (Meatloaf) and "Mustang Sally" (Wilson Pickett)? There are dozens of car songs that influenced teenagers like me and New Country artists are recording new car related songs for today's youth. It is not surprising that, experts or not, we all have our favorite cars.

This list is not restricted to, but favors, high performance automobiles, since that is my predilection. It also favors two door coupes, since I have never had any use for the extra weight, bulk and decreased structural rigidity of four door automobiles. ("Four door sport sedan" is an oxymoron.)

American automakers have tended to produce "generations" of their various models. For example, the second generation, (4-seat) Thunderbird was sold in the 1958 - 1960 model years. To prevent unnecessary duplication, I have tended to include only the first or significantly improved models from each generation. Thus, of the second generation T-birds, only the 1958 T-bird is included in the list below, although my personal favorite is the 1960 version. When more than one car is listed for a particular year, they are in alphabetical order.

I welcome suggestions for additions to this list. E-mail suggestions to:

  • 1950: Buick Riviera, Cadillac Coupe de Ville Hardtop, Chevrolet Deluxe Bel Air Hardtop Coupe
  • 1951:
  • 1952:
  • 1953: Buick Skylark Convertible, Cadillac Eldorado Convertible, Chevrolet Corvette (C1)
  • 1954:Pontiac Star Chief Coupe
  • 1955: Chevrolet Corvette V8, Chrysler C-300, Ford Thunderbird (1st Gen.)
  • 1956: Chevrolet Corvette, Continental Mk. II, Ford Thunderbird, Plymouth Fury
  • 1957: Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe and Convertible, Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner, Ford Thunderbird
  • 1958: Ford Thunderbird (2nd Gen.), Plymouth Fury Golden Commando
  • 1959: Cadillac Coupe de Ville, Plymouth Sport Fury
  • 1960: Chevrolet Impala 348ci Tri-Power Convertible
  • 1961: Buick Skylark, Chevrolet Corvette, Ford Thunderbird Convertible (3rd Gen.), Lincoln Continental, Oldsmobile Cutlass, Pontiac Tempest Le Mans
  • 1962: Chevrolet Impala SS (409 c.i.), Pontiac Gran Prix, Studebaker Avanti
  • 1963: Chevrolet Corvette Stingray FI "Split Window" Coupe (C2), Ford/AC Cobra 289, Pontiac Gran Prix, Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk (Super Hawk R2)
  • 1964: Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Coupe, Ford Thunderbird (4th Gen.), Pontiac Gran Prix (421 HO), Pontiac GTO
  • 1965: Buick Riviera GS, Chevrolet Impala SS, Dodge Dart GT (Commando), Plymouth Barracuda Formula S, Shelby Mustang GT350 (Cobra),
  • 1966: Ford/AC Cobra 427, Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396, Chevy II Nova SS (327 V8), Dodge Charger (426 Hemi), Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 (L69), Pontiac Gran Prix
  • 1967: Chevrolet Camaro SS, Chevrolet Corvette Stingray (L88 engine), Ford GT40 Mk. II, Mercury Cougar XR-7/GT, Pontiac Firebird Ram Air, Pontiac GTO Ram Air
  • 1968: AMC AMX (Go Package), AMC Javelin (Go Package), Chevrolet Corvette Stingray (C3), Dodge Charger R/T, Oldsmobile Toronado, Plymouth Road Runner Hardtop, Shelby Mustang Cobra GT 500
  • 1969: Chevrolet Camaro ZL-1, Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Coupe (C3), Dodge Charger Daytona, Ford Mustang Boss 429, Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
  • 1970: Chevrolet Camaro SS (Gen. 2), Chevrolet Chevelle SS (LS6), Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, Chrysler Hurst 300, Dodge Challenger R/T, Ford Torino Cobra, Oldsmobile 442 (W-30), Plymouth Sport Fury GT (6-barrel)
  • 1971: AMC Javelin AMX (Go Package), Plymouth Barracuda Hemi 'Cuda, Plymouth Sport Fury GT (Six-pack)
  • 1972:
  • 1973:
  • 1974: Ford Mustang II Mach I
  • 1975:
  • 1976:
  • 1977: Chevrolet Camaro Z28
  • 1978: Chevrolet Corvette Silver Anniversary Edition
  • 1979:
  • 1980:Pontiac Firebird Turbo Trans Am
  • 1981: Chevrolet Citation X-11
  • 1982:Buick Grand National, Pontiac Firebird Trans Am (3rd Gen.)
  • 1983:
  • 1984: Chevrolet Corvette (C4)
  • 1985:Ford Mustang SVO
  • 1986: Pontiac Fiero GT
  • 1987: Cadillac Allante'
  • 1988: Buick Reatta Coupe, Pontiac Fiero GT
  • 1989: Ford Taurus SHO, Ford Thunderbird SC (10th Gen.), Pontiac Firebird Turbo Trans Am
  • 1990: Buick Reatta Convertible, Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1
  • 1991:
  • 1992: Dodge Viper
  • 1993: Cadillac Allante'
  • 1994: Ford Mustang SVT Cobra (5.0L V8)
  • 1995:
  • 1996: Dodge Viper GTS, Ford Mustang SVT Cobra (4.6L, DOHC V8)
  • 1997: Chevrolet Corvette (C5), Plymouth Prowler
  • 1998: Chevrolet Camaro Z28
  • 1999: Ford Mustang SVT Cobra
  • 2000: Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R
  • 2001: Chrysler Prowler
  • 2002: Chevrolet Camaro SS 35th Anniversary Edition, Chrysler 300M Special, Ford Thunderbird (11th Gen.)
  • 2003: Ford Mustang SVT Cobra "Terminator" (Supercharged 4.6L V8)
  • 2004: Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS Supercharged
  • 2005: Chevrolet Corvette (C6), Ford GT, Pontiac GTO
  • 2006: Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, Chrysler Crossfire SRT-6 Coupe
  • 2007: Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500
  • 2008: Dodge Challenger SRT8
  • 2009:
  • 2010: Chevrolet Camaro SS, Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 (5.4L V8, 540 hp), Ford Taurus SHO
  • 2011: Cadillac CTS-V Coupe Black Diamond Edition, Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 (Alu. 5.4L V8, 550 hp)
  • 2012: Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
  • 2013: Chevrolet Corvette 427 Convertible (60th Anniversary)
  • 2014: Chevrolet Corvette Stingray (C7), Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 (5.8L V8, 662 hp)

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Copyright 2011, 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.