With all the great vehicles to come from America over the years, picking the very, very best is a somewhat arbitrary process. The Model T is arguably the single most important, bringing cars to the masses for the first time, while the F-150 has been America’s workhorse for decades upon decades. With that in mind, here are seven of America’s all-time classics — and the very best example of each.
1981-86 Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler
How do you you choose the best Jeep when they’re all so similar? That’s easy: the Scrambler is the choice here because its longer wheelbase makes for a much more stable vehicle — especially on the highway — and the extra space in back makes it the perfect pickup hybrid we wish Jeep would build again. That, and it just looks so ridiculously cool. Need more proof? Ronald Reagan famously kept one around at his ranch.
1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham
Early Cadillacs were known for their engineering and innovation, while from the 1970s and into the 2000s, Cadillac was in somewhat of a rut before experiencing a rebirth in the past few years. With that in mind, the ’57 Eldorado Brougham is almost inarguably peak Cadillac. Not only is it a gorgeous two-door hardtop that somehow looks refined and flamboyant at the same time, but it was state of the art. Self-leveling suspension, power windows, and even power seats with memory settings were beyond the realm of comprehension for most car owners in the ’50s. Toss in unabashed luxury like a glove box cocktail kit (!), and you’ve got a Rolls-Royce-beating luxury car.
1965 Shelby Mustang GT350
There are a million great Mustangs to choose from. The very earliest are clearly the most important for the car-buying revolution they started, and modern Mustangs are clearly the fastest. The original Shelby GT350, though, is what turned the Mustang from a “secretary’s car” into a desirable performance vehicle. The fact that you could rent them in GT350-H guise and go straight to the racetrack, win, and come home is unfathomable today — and in fact, if you try that with one of the current GT350-Hs, Hertz is gonna be pissed. Not only was the GT350 the fastest Mustang you could buy at the time, it created an entire new breed of performance car.
2017 Camaro 1LE
Like its eternal rival, picking the best Camaro isn’t all that easy. There’s the COPO Camaro — which is one of the most under-the-radar performance cars ever built — the original Z/28, and a host of variants in the past 50 years. I’m going with the current 1LE, but not simply because it’s the quickest of the bunch. Its performance elevates the Camaro out of the domestic performance battle and straight into the international scene. It’s very literally world-class, and that’s kind of a big deal.
1928-1937 Duesenberg Model J
In the 1930s, a Duesenberg Model J could hit 60mph in around eight seconds, en route to a top speed of over 130. Some of today’s cars struggle to do that, over 80 years later. Then, think about the fact that it tended to cost around the same as today’s cars — in absolute terms. Considering the approximate price of a Model J was around $30,000, that’s over $400,000 in today’s dollars, but that doesn’t even take into account how expensive it was. Ultimately, the car’s technical prowess couldn’t overcome the social stigma of driving such an obviously expensive car in the middle of the Great Depression, which is a shame.
1991 GMC Syclone
Some people will see the above photo and wonder if I’m in need of medication for picking a 25-year-old small pickup truck. Others know what this is, and have already sat up in their seat. For the former, the Syclone is a 280hp, turbo V6-having sports truck. It had all-wheel drive back when almost nothing had all-wheel drive. Car and Driver famously ran one in a drag race against a contemporary Ferrari — and won. It wasn’t the first sports truck, and it was nowhere near as famous as the Ford Lightning that was to follow, but for one year, it was an impressive piece of machinery.
1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88
The second-generation Corvette is where the car went from a lovely sporty cruiser to a truly important performance vehicle, and the 1963 “Split Window” coupe is legendary in its own right. But in 1967, there were three little digits on the order sheet that truly set this car apart: L88. GM didn’t want you to tick the box next to them, since that meant giving you a monster 427cid engine that really was never meant for the street. “Officially” rated at 430hp to discourage people from buying it, most estimates have the actual output closer to 550hp. Simply put, it’s a car that’s still fast by today’s standards, and since only 20 were made, it’s kinda valuable. The car you’re looking at here sold for $3.85 million at Barrett-Jackson in 2014. Yeah.