There are many legendary vehicles from the last 100 years. Even decades later, these iconic vehicles are representative of the eras in which they were most popular. From early American vehicles and war Jeeps to muscle cars of the 60s and 70s, even practical vehicles from the 90s and 2000s, these iconic vehicles define the American automobile experience.
The Most Iconic Car of the 1910s: Ford Model T
Produced from 1908 to 1928 by the Ford Motor Company, the Ford Model T was the first car to be mass-produced and available at an affordable price for American families. Henry Ford famously decided to use an assembly line to quickly put the cars together rather than making them one at a time. This allowed him to make the Model T more affordable. The Model T revolutionized American travel and made it possible for more people to travel by vehicle. The Model T was designed to be exceptionally easy to drive, as many of the people who bought it had previously only driven horses. More than 15 million Model T cars were built, a record that wasn’t broken until 1971 by Volkswagen.
The Most Iconic Car of the 1920s: Ford Model A
Not surprisingly, Ford continued to produce iconic vehicles in the early decades of American motoring. The Ford Model A was introduced in 1927, replacing the Ford Model T. It was produced from 1928 to 1931. The Model A was introduced as competitors, including General Motors, adopted the Ford mass production system and began to offer models superior to the Model T. Ford improved upon its original iconic design and stood up to the competition with the Model A. The Ford Model A was produced in a wide variety of styles, and it was the first Ford to use the standard set of controls we know today, including the clutch, brake, throttle, gear shift, and steering wheel. With nearly five million Ford Model As produced, this vehicle was the best selling model of the era.
The Most Iconic Car of the 1930s: Cadillac V-16
During the Great Depression, lavish lifestyles and luxuries were put on the back burner. But even in this difficult time, car manufacturers continued to innovate, making cars more powerful, convenient, and comfortable than ever before. Cars made in the 30s introduced radios, heaters, automatic transmissions, and more powerful engines. They took on a sleeker look and lost the buggy style that most vehicles had before. Many vehicles from the 1920s and early 1930s are known as gangster cars for their use during the Prohibition era. The Cadillac V-16 was a luxury vehicle with many built in 1930 before the Great Depression truly set in. Only just over 4,000 Cadillac V-16s were produced, and all were finished custom to order. The Cadillac V-16 was developed as a powerful multi-cylinder car and received exceptional attention from the public and press. Today, Cadillac V-16s are considered to be among the best prewar vehicles and can sell for more than $500,000.
The Most Iconic Car of the 1940s: Willys Jeeps
Originally manufactured during World War II, the U.S. War Department adopted the Willys jeep model for transporting soldiers. In 1944, Willys introduced the CJ (Civilian Jeep), creating the first mass-produced 4×4 vehicles made for civilians. This model was produced with few changes until 1986 when the Jeep Wrangler replaced the CJ. The Willys-Overland Jeep was named an International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1991, and commemorative Willys Special Edition Jeep Wranglers were produced in 2004 and 2005.
The Most Iconic Car of the 1950s: Chevrolet Corvette
Sports cars became popular in America in the early 1950s. Unfortunately, at the time, no American car manufacturers were making them. But Chevrolet changed that with the introduction of the Corvette in 1953. While the earliest Corvette models were slow and unreliable, 1955 models had excellent performance and quickly became known as America’s Sports Car. Today, the Corvette is still in production in its seventh generation. Corvettes have earned numerous awards and have even been notably driven by NASA astronauts. They’ve also been used for racing and have been selected as the pace car for the Indianapolis 500 13 times.
The Most Iconic Car of the 1960s: Ford Mustang
With a rivalry spanning generations, the Mustang is Ford’s answer to the Chevy Corvette. Since the Mustang’s introduction in 1964, the two American sports car models have both enjoyed timeless appeal. In its first 36 months, Ford sold 1.7 million Mustangs. It was Ford’s most successful model launch since the Model A. The Mustang was the first of the pony car class of American automobiles. After its introduction, competitors, including the Chevy Camaro, Pontiac Firebird, and Dodge Challenger, were introduced. Now in its sixth generation, the Ford Mustang is beloved and a popular staple in popular culture and film as an American sports car. Appearances include Steve McQueen’s Mustang in “Bullitt,” a 1971 Mustang Fastback in the original “Gone in Sixty Seconds,” and the song “Mustang Sally.” Like the Corvette, the Mustang has been involved in racing worldwide and has won numerous awards. A National Mustang Museum is currently in development in North Carolina.
The Most Iconic Car of the 1970s: Pontiac Firebird
Nothing says the 1970s like a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am complete with a firebird painted on the hood. Though the Firebird was introduced in 1967, the pony car really hit its stride in the 70s, with a second-generation introduced in 1970. This new generation has a more muscular look and increased performance when many other sports cars struggled under government regulations. By 1975, competitors Camaro Z28, AMC Javelin, Plymouth Barracuda, and the Dodge Challenger were all discontinued while the Firebird remained. In the 60s and 70s, Firebirds were used in the Trans-Am series. Production of the Firebird ended in 2003, and all Pontiac vehicles ceased production in 2010. One of the most beloved vehicles in American television and film, the Firebird reached practical character status on “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Knight Rider,” and “Rockford Files.”
The Most Iconic Car of the 1980s: Porsche 959
In the 80s, turbo vehicles became popular among mainstream drivers. And with a top speed of 197 miles per hour, the Porsche 959 was an answer to that popularity. Introduced in 1986, the Porsche 959 was once the fastest street-legal car in the world. At its introduction, the Porsche 959 was praised as one of the most advanced sports cars and one of the first high performance vehicles to come equipped with all-wheel drive. The 959 was particularly popular with the rich and famous car collectors, including Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates. In fact, a 959 owned by Bill Gates that was stored for 13 years by the Customs Service at the Port of San Francisco prompted Bill Gates to help pass the Show and Display law that changed federal importation of cars like the 959 with unusually high significance. The 959 is still known as one of the best cars of all time.
The Most Iconic Car of the 1990s: Toyota Camry
In the 90s, car shoppers began to value highly dependable, popular vehicle models often suited for daily commuting. That made Honda Accords and Civics best sellers in the 90s decade, but it was the Toyota Camry that launched its continued domination of the American car market in this era. Still the best selling car model in the U.S. today, even Toyota Camrys from the 1980s and 1990s are on the road and in demand today for their legendary reliability and long service life. The Camry has retained its value over the decades. Though it originated in Japan, the Toyota Camry was named as the most American made car in the United States in 2015, with more than 75 percent of its parts and manufacturing in America. In Eastern and Southeast Asian markets, the Camry is seen as a luxury vehicle. It has been the best selling passenger vehicle for many years in America.
The Most Iconic Car of the 2000s: Toyota Prius
With rapidly increasing gas prices and an increased focus on environmental matters, American consumers embraced the Toyota Prius as an alternative to the average sedan. This was particularly pronounced after Hurricane Katrina shot gas prices sky high in 2004. It was introduced worldwide in 2000 and reached three million in sales by 2013. Today, the Prius is the world’s top selling hybrid vehicle. The second generation Prius introduced in 2003 was particularly popular and was often tough to find for sale due to the high demand. Prius vehicles were everywhere in the 2000s, and they continue to be popular today. The Prius is now in its fourth generation and has improved its fuel economy on average by about 10 percent with each generation.