Great American Cars, 1950-Present

By Chuck Hawks

I tell my friends that I prefer performance cars because, as a long time motorcyclist, I want to get where I am going quickly. Previous personal daily drives (all of my cars are daily drivers, as I have never owned more than one car at a time) that fit this basic philosophy have included a 1959 Triumph TR-3a, 1965 Dodge Dart GT (Commando), 1971 Plymouth Sport Fury, 1991 Honda CRX, 1996 Ford Probe GT, 1999 Ford Mustang Cobra SVT, 2006 Chevy Monte Carlo SS, 2011 Chevy Camro SS and my current daily driver, a 2016 Corvette Stingray.

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, raised in car crazy Southern California during the 1950's and 1960's, whose formative years were influenced by the annual Fall unveiling of Detroit's new cars and the popular car and motorcycle songs of the time.

The Beach Boys put "409," "Little Deuce Coupe," "I Get Around," "Don't Worry Baby," "Shut Down," "Little Honda" "Custom Machine," "Drive-In," "This Car of Mine" and "Fun, Fun, Fun" on the pop/rock charts. Jan and Dean contributed their big hits "Dead Man's Curve" and "Drag City, " among others, to the popular car culture.

Do you remember "Hot Rod Lincoln" (Johnny Bond), "No Particular Place to Go" (Chuck Barry), "Mustang Sally" (Wilson Pickett), "Hey Little Cobra" (Rip Chords), "GTO" (Daytonas), "Born to be Wild" (Steppenwolf), "Bat out of Hell" (Meatloaf) and "Riding With Private Malone" (David Ball)?

In the 1970's and early 1980's, 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."

There are dozens of car songs that influenced people of my generation 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, Plymouth De Luxe Three Passenger Coupe
  • 1951: Hudson Hornet, Nash-Healy Roadster (234.8 cu. in.)
  • 1952: Lincoln Capri Coupe, Nash-Healy Roadster (252 cu. in.)
  • 1953: Buick Skylark Convertible, Cadillac Eldorado Convertible, Chevrolet Corvette (C1), Nash-Healy Le Mans Coupe, Studebaker Commander Starliner Coupe
  • 1954: Lincoln Capri 2dr Convertible, Pontiac Star Chief Coupe
  • 1955: Chevrolet Corvette V8, Chrysler C-300, Ford Thunderbird (1st Gen.)
  • 1956: Chevrolet Corvette, Continental Mk. II, Oldsmobile Super 88 Holiday Coupe, Plymouth Fury
  • 1957: Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe and Convertible, Chevrolet Corvette (fuel injection), Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner
  • 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, Ford Thunderbird (3rd Gen.), Lincoln Continental, Oldsmobile Cutlass, Pontiac Tempest Le Mans
  • 1962: Chevrolet Corvette, Chevrolet Impala SS, Dodge Polara 500, Plymouth Sport Fury, Studebaker Avanti
  • 1963: Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray "Split Window" Coupe (C2), Ford/AC Cobra 289, Pontiac Gran Prix, Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk (Super Hawk R2), Studebaker Super Lark
  • 1964: Buick Skylark, Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray Z06, Ford GT40, Ford Thunderbird (4th Gen.), Pontiac GTO
  • 1965: Buick Riviera GS, Buick Skylark Gran Sports, Chevrolet Impala SS, Dodge Dart GT (Commando), Plymouth Barracuda Formula S, Pontiac Gran Prix (421 HO), Shelby Mustang GT350 (Cobra)
  • 1966: Ford/AC Cobra 427, Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396, Chevy II Nova SS, Dodge Charger (426 Hemi), Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 (L69), Oldsmobile Toronado
  • 1967: Chevrolet Camaro SS, Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray, Dodge Coronet 440 R/T, Ford GT40 Mk. II, Mercury Cougar XR-7/GT, Pontiac Firebird Ram Air, Pontiac GTO
  • 1968: AMC AMX (Go Package), AMC Javelin (Go Package), Buick Skylark Gran Sports, Chevrolet Corvette "Mako Shark" (C3), Chevrolet El Camino SS, Chevrolet Impala SS, Cobra GT500, Dodge Charger R/T, Dodge Dart 426 Hemi (Lo23), Dodge Super Bee, Oldsmobile 442, Oldsmobile Toronado, Plymouth Road Runner Hardtop, Shelby Mustang Cobra GT 500
  • 1969: Chevrolet Camaro ZL-1, Chevrolet Corvette Stingray (ZL1), Dodge Charger Daytona, Ford Mustang Boss 302, Ford Mustang Boss 429, Ford Torino Talladega GT, Mercury Cougar Eliminator, Plymouth Road Runner, Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
  • 1970: AMC Rebel Machine, Buick GSX, Chevrolet Camaro SS (Gen. 2), Chevrolet Chevelle SS (LS6), Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, Chrysler Hurst 300, Dodge Challenger T/A, Ford Torino GT Cobra Jet, Oldsmobile 442 (W-30), Plymouth Barracuda, Plymouth GTX, Plymouth Sport Fury GT (6-barrel), Plymouth Superbird, Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
  • 1971: AMC Javelin AMX (Go Package), Dodge Challenger R/T, Dodge Demon 340, Plymouth Barracuda Hemi 'Cuda, Plymouth Duster 340 Twister, Plymouth Sport Fury GT (Six-pack), Pontiac Firebird 455
  • 1972: Hurst/Olds Cutlass Supreme
  • 1973: Pontiac Firebird Trans Am (SD-455)
  • 1974: Ford Mustang II Mach I
  • 1975: Chevrolet Cosworth Vega
  • 1976: Chevrolet Corvette (L-82)
  • 1977: Chevrolet Camaro Z28
  • 1978: Chevrolet Corvette Silver Anniversary Edition
  • 1979: Ford Mustang Indy Pace Car
  • 1980: Firebird Turbo Trans Am
  • 1981: Chevrolet Citation X-11, Pontiac Firebird Turbo Trans Am
  • 1982: Buick Grand National, Pontiac Firebird Trans Am (3rd Gen.)
  • 1983: Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, Ford Mustang GT, Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe (9th Gen.)
  • 1984: Chevrolet Corvette (C4)
  • 1985: Ford Mustang SVO
  • 1986: Pontiac Fiero GT
  • 1987: Buick GNX, Cadillac Allante'
  • 1988: Buick Reatta Coupe, Pontiac Fiero GT
  • 1989: Ford Probe GT (1st Gen), Ford Taurus SHO, Ford Thunderbird SC (10th Gen.), Pontiac Firebird Turbo Trans Am
  • 1990: Buick Reatta Convertible, Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1, Dodge Daytona Shelby
  • 1991: Eagle Talon TSi, Plymouth Laser RS Turbo
  • 1992: Dodge Viper RT/10 (1st Gen.), Eagle Talon, Plymouth Laser RS Turbo
  • 1993: Cadillac Allante', Ford Probe GT (2nd Gen)
  • 1994: Chevrolet Impala SS, Ford Mustang SVT Cobra (5.0L V8)
  • 1995: Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, Ford Probe GT, Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe
  • 1996: Chevrolet Camaro SS, Dodge Viper GTS (2nd. Gen.), Ford Mustang SVT Cobra
  • 1997: Chevrolet Corvette (C5), Ford Probe GTS, Plymouth Prowler
  • 1998: Chevrolet Camaro Z28, Pontiac Firebird WS6
  • 1999: Ford Mustang SVT Cobra, Plymouth Prowler
  • 2000: Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R
  • 2001: Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Chrysler Prowler
  • 2002: Chevrolet Camaro SS 35th Anniversary, Chrysler 300M Special, Ford Thunderbird (11th Gen.)
  • 2003: Dodge Viper ZB (3rd Gen.), Ford Mustang SVT Cobra "Terminator" (Supercharged 4.6L V8)
  • 2004: Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, Chrysler Crossfire, Dodge Neon SRT-4
  • 2005: Chevrolet Corvette (C6), Chrysler Crossfire SRT-6, Ford GT, Pontiac GTO
  • 2006: Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, Chrysler Crossfire SRT-6 Coupe
  • 2007: Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 (5.4L), Pontiac Solstice GPX
  • 2008: Dodge Challenger SRT8 (6.1L), Dodge Viper Phase II ZB (4th Gen.)
  • 2009: Cadillac CTS/V, Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500KR, Pontiac Solstice GPX Coupe
  • 2010: Cadillac CTS-V Coupe, Chevrolet Camaro SS (Gen. 5), Ford Taurus SHO
  • 2011: Cadillac CTS-V Coupe Black Diamond, Dodge Challenger SRT8 (6.4L),Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500
  • 2012: Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Ford Mustang Boss 302, Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 (5.8L)
  • 2013: Chevrolet Corvette 427, Dodge Viper VX (5th Gen.), Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca, Shelby Mustang GT500
  • 2014: Chevrolet Camaro Z28, Chevrolet Corvette Stingray (C7)
  • 2015: Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat
  • 2016: Cadillac ATS-V, Cadillac CTS-V, Chevrolet Camaro SS (Gen. 6), Ford Shelby GT350R Mustang
  • 2017: Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport, Chevrolet SS Sedan, Dodge Charger Daytona, Dodge Viper ACR, Ford GT
  • 2018: Buick Cascada Sport Touring, Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, Chrysler 300S (5.7L V8), Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, Ford Focus RS
  • 2019: Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 (ZTK)

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Copyright 2011, 2018 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.