21 most iconic American cars

You'll often hear cars called "iconic"just because they're easily recognizable. But to be truly iconic, a car has to stand for something. It has to be the sort of car that, if you were a cartoonist, you draw to indicate a certain type of person, a certain era or an idea. This car, the 1971 Plymouth Hemi 'Cuda, is iconic because it functions as a perfect stand-in for every high-powered muscle car that ever shredded a set of back tires. When someone says "muscle car" this is probably the car you picture inside your head.

1971 Plymouth Hemi 'Cuda

At its best, the Mustang was, and is today, the Stutz Bearcat of the modern era. It's a symbol of youthful exuberance, even if the person driving it retired 20 years ago.

1965 Ford Mustang

The Bearcat was, arguably, the original American sports car. Its 60-horsepower 4-cylinder engine would seem woefully inadequate today but at the time this thing was a speed monster.

1912 Stutz Bearcat

This car changed, forever, the way America looks. All those other things we associate with cars -- billboards, motels, gas stations, cheesy roadside attractions -- started because just about everybody was buying one of these. The Model T was so successful that, for a long time, nobody even tried competing against this cheap, sturdy car that just kept getting cheaper and more popular.

Ford Model T

Today, we call its descendent the Jeep Wrangler, now a product of the Chrysler Group. But the its roots remain instantly recognizable.

Wiilys Jeep

It looks like a little car that swallowed a very big engine and that's kind of what it is. Yes, the Shelby Cobra's truly iconic body was actually a British import, but this car's got an American Ford engine and it's the product of one very American man's obsession with speed. (That's Carroll Shelby, if you didn't know.)

1962 Shelby Cobra

The split window design only lasted one mode year, but it made this particular model year among the most valuable among Corvettes. This car's distinct futuristic look has made it a fan favorite.

1963 Chevrolet Corvette

Henry Ford may have brought the moving assembly line to the car business, but it was Ransom E. Olds who made the first mass-produced cars. He did it without the assembly line. His curved dash automobile was one of the most popular models in the era before cars started looking like cars. This was the era when many "horseless carriages" still looked like, literally, carriages waiting for horses.

1903 Curved dash Oldsmobile

With its simple straight lines and relative lack of flash this was the black suit and skinny tie of automobiles. It remains, even today, the ultimate expression of simplicity in automotive design.

1961 Lincoln Continental

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