The cars that made America
July 7, 2002 9:25 AM   Subscribe

The cars that made America CNN/Money picks the 10 greatest American cars of all time
posted by kirkaracha (19 comments total)
Clearly with choices like the Willys Jeep and the minivan, they're not going for outstanding individual achievement as much as influential to auto history (and why include two Jeeps? and no trucks?). It's an imperfect list, but I can't argue much with the reviews.

I suppose you can argue that the cheapo original Cherokee helped along the SUV boom, though maybe going back to the original Suburban would have made more sense. (Since they're staying domestic one understands why they didn't choose the Land Rover, which really made the SUV a requirement in swank suburbia.) And if you want influential, maybe you need to go with the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon, virtual clones of the VW Golf/Rabbit {really, through Chrysler Europe}, the first real small domestic economy cars. Or you could look at the first Japanese production on US shores, the GM-Toyota joint venture known as NUMMI which produced Chevy Novas and later also around half the Toyota Corollas sold in the US (badged for GM sale as Geo Prizms).
posted by dhartung at 9:53 AM on July 7, 2002

I'd like to be the first to lament the absence of the Gremlin and/or Pacer.

Also, if they're going to include the Cherokee (technically a truck) then the list should also include the #1 worldwide best-selling vehicle of the last twenty-odd years, the Ford F-series pickup truck. Here in the West, everyone has a truck. They built this country, dammit! Let's hear it for the F-Series!


OK, I'll quit.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:54 AM on July 7, 2002

dhartung, I had a Horizon as my second car (the first was a '70 Maverick). It was the most poorly-engineered, cheaply-built, things-break-and-fall-off-for-no-reason pile of excrement I've ever driven. After driving it for about six months and losing half its value, it made me long to have the Maverick back.

Besides, everyone knows the first small domestic economy car was the Nash Metropolitan.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:00 AM on July 7, 2002

Anyone else think that this car is going to end up in the same corner of car history as the Pacer? Oh, did I hear someone say Gremlin?
posted by anathema at 10:21 AM on July 7, 2002

well, those Azteks definitely are ugly, anathema. so you may be on to something. :)
posted by stifford at 10:26 AM on July 7, 2002

There really ought to be mention of the Honda Snivic, the Toyota Corolla, or the Datsun Forgetthename. The Japanese compact cars had a remarkable impact on the American car market.

For starters, it forced the Big 3 manufacturers to finally wake up to the idea of quality. Shook the market right up. If it weren't for the Japanese, we'd probably all still be driving the GM Behemoth Galactic Cruiser, instead of well-built, economical cars. [well, those of us who choose such things, instead of SUVs, at any rate.]
posted by five fresh fish at 12:07 PM on July 7, 2002

The Japanese compact cars had a remarkable impact on the American car market.

That's true, but the title of the article is:

Great American Cars: The cars that made America
posted by BlueTrain at 1:29 PM on July 7, 2002

Didn't stop dhartung nominating the Land Rover!
posted by salmacis at 1:50 PM on July 7, 2002

while a couple of the cars on that list are 'great', most of them are not. the list would more appropriately be named 'influential american cars', but i guess that's less 'marketable'.

and still, as others have pointed out, they've left off some tremendously influential vehicles, most importantly (i'll side with mr_crash_davis on this, having lived in texas myself)) the ford f-series pickup. mcd doesn't exaggerate when he says that america was built by pick-up trucks (and their drivers). love 'em or hate 'em, you can't drive half a mile in the midwest, southwest, or mountain west without seeing a truck. and that includes driving in the cities.
posted by mlang at 2:48 PM on July 7, 2002

but most important of all, where's the '79 monte carlo? now that's a 'great' american car.

and it just happens to be the vehicle in which i learned to drive (this was in 1991, mind you). damn, that was way too much car for a sixteen-year-old boy: roaring down the country roads of exurban dutchess county with my homies; drinkin' beer we'd stolen from the cumberland farms and puffin' on a doobie; listening to (i'm not shitting you) my uncle's collection (the car was a hand-me-down from him) of country & western 8-tracks...

needless to say, i crashed the car within months of getting my license and was demoted to an '84 citation (i'll spare you the obligatory photo link; i think that baby was powered solely by a hamster on a wheel, though), a hand-me-down from my grandfather this time, which had only an am radio and used to blow fuses and stall when turning left at busy intersections. and nobody wanted to go cruising and listen to sportstalkradio... ah... fuck 'em. but i loved that monte carlo.
posted by mlang at 3:17 PM on July 7, 2002

i find the 20 year gap between '64 and '84 most interesting. now that i think about it all four of our current cars fall into that gap, but they're all foreign - hmmm.
posted by cheesebot at 3:48 PM on July 7, 2002

mlang, I just bought a one-owner 1978 Monte Carlo a few weeks ago, to drive back and forth to work (more room than my '90 Grand Am) and eventually give to my oldest son (he'll be driving next year).

I don't know that I'd put it on a list of "great" cars, but it's sure comfortable cruising to work, and it's nice to have a V8 again after being in 4-cylinder purgatory for several years.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:56 PM on July 7, 2002

crash (no pun intended): just tell your boy to be careful with that v8; it's a lot of machine for a teenager. oh, and, just for the record, drinking beer and smoking pot while driving is bad bad bad. also, don't tell him about all the great things you can do in a field or parking lot with rear wheel drive.
posted by mlang at 5:27 PM on July 7, 2002

My first car was a '74 Gremlin..... best dang car I ever had! I could always impress the chicks with the way the exhaust poured out thru the rust holes in my fenders. I don't know why it didn't make the 10 Best list....
posted by spilon at 8:33 PM on July 7, 2002

Well, for those Japanophiles among us, here's Forbes's list of the Greatest Japanese Cars of All Time. There's an SUV of sorts (anybody else here surprised that Toyota was the world's third maker of 4WDs after Jeep and Land Rover?), the forerunner (pun not intended) to the small truck, and even Japan's answer to the El Camino (sort of).

And if anybody can find a "The cars that sunk America" list, I'd love to see it. I bet the Honda Civic would be #1.

That said, I want an F-150 worse than anything. Sadly, even if I could find one in Tokyo, and even if I could pay for it, there's no place to park...
posted by Bixby23 at 9:56 PM on July 7, 2002

No '38 Zephyr? '39 Continental? K-cars? Taurus? Hello?
posted by Ptrin at 10:06 PM on July 7, 2002

"And if anybody can find a "The cars that sunk America" list, I'd love to see it. I bet the Honda Civic would be #1."

I think it's just the opposite. The Honda Civic (and Toyota Corolla and Datsun B210, etc., etc.) forced American car companies to actually compete again in terms of quality and value-for-dollar. My '90 Grand Am just turned over 150,000 miles, which was unheard-of for an American car less than a generation ago but which is now unremarkable. If the Japanese auto industry hadn't turned the market on its ear it'd still be commonplace to see new car showrooms with oil spots on all the carpets, and owners' manuals which would tout oil consumption of a quart every 250 miles as "normal". Those of you in your early twenties or younger may not remember things like that.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:23 PM on July 7, 2002

Fair 'nuff, Mr. C.D. Looking at it that way, I definitely stand corrected. The little J-cars you mention certainly must have played an important role in waking up Detroit.

I suppose I was thinking more about the now popular image (which may only be popular in my head), of Japanese cars as being generally superior in quality and design to even the latest stuff that GE/Ford/D-C have brought to market. Particularly on the west coast, it seems that imports in general, and J-cars in particular, have almost permanently replaced American cars as the only acceptable purchase for many owners (ergo Hawaii & California Big Three = GM/Ford/Honda -- followed closely by Toyota, and only then by D-C).

And just to make sure I do not stand accused of thread hijacking, may I add that the Corvette, which has yet to be mentioned in this thread, is the one American car I can think of that earns praise in Japan. I think they're pretty cool, myself, except for that unfortunate "Disco Stingray" era they went through. Looks like GM's gotten over that, though -- finally...
posted by Bixby23 at 11:22 PM on July 7, 2002

I also think the J-cars should be recognized for revolutionizing the American factories. Most "foreign" cars aren't foreign at all: they're built in America.

So perhaps the "Great American Cars: The cars that made America" should at least recognize those "Japanese" cars built in America...
posted by five fresh fish at 9:54 AM on July 8, 2002

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