Only ten? We expect this list to be controversial because of all the classics cars we’ve left out, but then that gives us an excuse to come back with another ten...
When the trials of the day are over and one is relaxing on the porch with a Californian Zinfandel and a bucket of buffalo wings, one’s thoughts naturally turn to the top ten cars one wishes one could drive one day. This time, we’ve chosen iconic American classics, and our list is in no particular order based on nothing more scientific than looks, reputation, glamor and mystique.
01 1955 Ford Thunderbird Can you believe this model ran for 50 years, from 1955 to 2005? It went through 11 generations and came to embody a new type of vehicle, the ‘personal luxury car’. Surely, though, the original 1955 two-seater convertible is the most beautiful? It was never designed as a sports car, mind, so if it’s loud ‘n’ dirty American muscle you’re looking for you’ve come to the wrong place.
02 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible
Nothing says ‘excess’ like the Cadillac Eldorado. Launched in 1953 it was another ‘personal luxury car’ and if you wanted your friends (and your enemies) to know you’d made it big, this was the way to do it. It’s the 1959 model that sums it all up. At more than 19 feet long, with giant rear shark fins and double-bullet tail lights, the boot (trunk) alone is bigger than most folks’ living rooms.
03 Chevrolet Corvette
This is an American classic that anyone can own and love today. Chevrolet’s iconic everyman sports car first hit the roads in 1953 and is still going strong in its seventh generation. Later cars are mean and fast, but early models are rather pretty. The 1960 Corvette Convertible is especially attractive, and we love the styling of the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray, whose rear-facing window layout looks like nothing seen before – or since.
04 Hummer H1
The ugly-as-sin three-box Hummer was developed by General Motors from the military M998 Humvee. The H1 is a four-wheel-drive offroader with massive ground clearance and massive ‘approach and departure angles’ which, we’re told, means it can tackle sudden gradient changes without hitting its fenders. On the downside, its engines are designed for durability and tractability, not power or refinement. On the upside, if you keep your shades on people might think you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger.
05 Willys Jeep
Manufactured between 1941 and 1945, the Willys Jeep’s legendary status has been boosted by its appearance in countless war films, military re-enactments and TV documentaries. This is no-frills motoring at its most basic, with no doors, no roof and a bone-shaking ride designed for bombed-out battlefields, not suburban boulevards. The power, such as it is, comes from a 2.2-litre 60hp side-valve engine. If you’re going to do this properly you’ll need to get the GI uniform and helmet too…
06 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440 Magnum
Just to be clear, this is not the car Steve McQueen drove in Bullitt. He drove a Mustang GT Fastback, and it was the bad guys who drove the mean, moody and magnificent Charger. It didn’t end so well for them, though, perhaps because that model had an insane 7.2-litre V8 thundering out some 375hp, but wallowy handling described by one reviewer as like being on a waterbed. That doesn’t stop us wanting one, a lot (a Charger, not a waterbed).
07 DeLorean DMC-12
Yes, it’s the ‘Back to the Future’ car, the one made in Ireland out of stainless steel and designed by one-time automotive savant and John DeLorean. The production run was short, from 1981 to 1983, and its modest 2.5-litre V6 meant it was no supercar, but its gullwing doors and futuristic look have an enduring appeal. John DeLorean’s reputation was tarnished by drug-dealing accusations, but the car’s was not (perhaps because of the stainless steel, ahem).
08 2005-2006 Ford GT
It’s not very often that a modern ‘homage’ to a classic sports car is as beautiful as the original, but the 2005 Ford GT pulls it off, adding an extra dose of everyday road-going practicality over the original 40-inch high (hence the name) race car. Ford plans an all-new 2017 Ford GT, first shown in 2015. It might be a perfectly good car, but it will have to be something really special to outshine the achingly attractive 2005-2006 model.
09 Checker Taxi
As iconic on the streets of New York as the black cab is in London, the bright yellow Checker Taxi has a shape that changed little between the 1958 A9 and the 1982 A12. It might not break any records for either performance or gas mileage, but the Checker combines classic American kitsch with rugged, roomy practicality and head-turning looks (not to mention size).
10 Tesla S
And just to prove that not all American classics are rooted in the past, number ten on our list is the amazing, future-facing Tesla S. Just when we were getting used to the idea that electric vehicles had to be pint-sized biscuit tins with the same range and performance as a unfit cyclist, along comes this massively powerful luxury saloon which can out-drag its petrol car rivals and drive for hundreds of miles on a single charge. We’ve seen the future, and we like it. A lot.
Next week we’ll be in the library with a vintage port, a meat pie and our top ten list of classic British cars to drive before you die.