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5 American cars that revolutionised design

5 American cars that revolutionised design

The US has been at the forefront of revolutionary car design throughout history, taking influences from outside the automobile industry as well as from the minds and drawing boards of some of the most talented and visionary designers and engineers the business has seen. Here are five.

01 1941 Jeep MB

The Willys Jeep was truly revolutionary, and while its utilitarian aesthetic is a result of having to (barely) clothe tough, go-anywhere mechanicals, the first civilian 4x4's design won hearts and minds – having already played its part in winning World War II.

Its second life as leisure vehicle was so pronounced that 'Jeep' became the byword for any off-roader, and its popularity has played no small part in the 1990s-onwards obsession with raised-ride-height SUVs, crossovers and 4x4s.

Jeep itself has transformed into a multi-segment brand and is now part of the Italian Fiat empire, but the MB and its Willys forefather will forever be the car that shaped the 4x4 silhouette.

02 1963 Ford GT40

"Don't drive angry," says Bill Murray's weatherman to the eponymous groundhog in Groundhog Day, but designing a car angry can lead to something as spectacular as the Ford GT40.

Created in the resultant fury of a sabotaged bid to buy half of Ferrari, the GT40 was designed to smash the Italian supercar-maker at the Le Mans 24 Hour race, which it duly did in 1966.

That is was a stunning, brutal, impossibly low (the '40' is its height, in inches, from the ground) mid-engined game-changer for the US sports car industry is no footnote, either.

03 1953 Buick Skylark

In the 1950s, American car manufacturing was booming and to celebrate just how awesome things were, General Motors commissioned a series of opulent range-toppers for its brands.

Buick's was the Skylark version of its Roadmaster, created to celebrate the marque's 50th anniversary, which was a hugely expensive and joyously over-the-top convertible that set the tone for a decade of larger-than-life decadence for the American public to wallow in.

But let's paper over the fact that this car helped take Buick to the brink of extinction…

04 1949 Oldsmobile 88

The 1949 'Rocket 88' was America's first muscle car – perhaps not as genre-defining as the Mustangs, Camaros and Challengers that were to follow, but without the super-Olds there would have been no genre to define.

The 88 had a relatively low kerb weight for the era and when paired with the company's new OHV 'Rocket' V8 it was startlingly rapid and dominated the massively popular NASCAR racing circuit in the early '50s.

After going off-sale, the 88 maintained huge appeal amongst hot rodders, and it even had a song named after it.

05 1934 Chrysler Airflow

In the 1930s, the aeronautics industry began to have some influence on its automotive engineering cousin, and various manufacturers began to experiment with aerodynamics.

Chrysler was the first in the US to embrace streamlined design commercially when it released the Airflow.

Hugely innovative, the Airflow had a giant cascading grille, flush headlights, and encased rear wheels to improve the airflow around the car.

Sadly, the Airflow was so far ahead of its time that it was a catastrophic sales failure, but its influence was huge.