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Top 15 American Sports Cars of All-Time

It’s summer time, which means that it’s officially time to pull that cover off your sports car and drive around the nearest lake, beach or 50’s style restaurant (where they bring the food to your car, preferably on roller skates). One of the biggest arguments since the dawn of the ‘horseless carriage’ is: what is the “best” sports car of all time? So, we at BabbleTop decided to put an end to that argument by breaking down the Top 15 American Sports Cars of All-Time, by make and model, to find out which car reigns supreme. 

15. DeLorean DMC-12

The car made famous by one of the most iconic movies of the ’80s, Back to the Future, was actually an abject failure when it was sold earlier in 1981. The DMC-12 is oftentimes referred to as “The DeLorean” because it was the only car that the DeLorean Motor Company produced while in existence from 1981-1983. John DeLorean, founder and namesake of the company, was sent to prison in 1982 for cocaine trafficking after the FBI framed him with almost 60 pounds of cocaine. This had a negative effect on the company, which would fold while he was in prison. The DeLorean itself was unlike any other car that came before it, and it became famous for its winged door design, where the doors opened upwards instead of outwards. While not the fastest car on this list by any means — going 0-60 in 8.8 and 10.5 seconds when tested with a manual and automatic transmission, respectively — it’s still such an iconic car that it had to make our list. Because of it’s iconic status it was announced that 300 “new” versions of the car would be built in 2017, the price of which proves that this is one of the most famous cars ever made. 

14. Cadillac XLR

One of the most expensive cars on this list, the Cadillac XLR, was the first two-seat Cadillac built since the Cadillac Allante of the 80’s. Unlike the Allante, however, the XLR was considered the flagship of Cadillac’s fleet from 2003 to 2009. Built on the Corvette’s Y platform, the XLR had one of a kind styling and a power-retractable hardtop (made from aluminum) which was also unique for it’s time. Rocking the world-famous Caddy Northstar engine, the XLR was also the fastest car in the Cadillac fleet due to the size of the engine vs. the size/weight of the car. Nominated for the North American Car of the Year in 2004, the XLR didn’t come cheap and because of that very few of them were sold, selling just under 3,800 units at it’s peak in 2005. Because of it’s market failure, it’s become a collectors item in recent years which means it’s more valuable than when it was released (fully loaded units could top six-figures). This sleek roadster is, in fact, the most valuable car on this list and while you could argue that it should be higher-up, due to it’s poor initial sales and low popularity, it’s staying right where it is.

13. Pontiac G8

It was said that had the Pontiac G8 been released a year or two earlier than it was (in 2008, during the collapse of the world economy and General Motors) it could’ve saved Pontiac. This car, while only produced for a year and a half, is one of the better cars produced this century. The largest engine this car had was amazingly powerful, a 6.2 Liter V8 that was capable of 415 Horsepower. This also was the first four-door sedan released under the Pontiac brand since the Bonneville and Parisienne in 1986 and the GT version was one of the fastest stock cars in production. Capable of going from 0-60 in just over five seconds (and a quarter mile time of just over 13 seconds), the G8 GT was one of the first muscle cars to be released before the muscle car renaissance that occurred in the mid-to-late 2000’s. The reason for making the list are it’s rarity and power; needless to say, if you come across one of these at your local used car lot, buy it. 

12. Pontiac GTO

The Pontiac GTO is one of the most iconic muscle cars out there. There are two iterations of the GTO: the original from 1964-1974 and the second from 2004-2006. The GTO was created in response to a ban on auto-racing by General Motors, which was a response to a racing ban instituted by the Automobile Manufacturers Association in the late 1950’s. Despite that, the auto-market was extremely interested in this car’s performance. The GTO was created with a focus on performance and began as a special version of the Pontiac Tempest, evolving into a model of its own. Due to the fact that it disregarded some of the GM’s racing-ban restrictions in order to target the customers interested in performance, GM sales manager Frank Bridge only allowed an initial release of 5,000 units. So, if you were one of the lucky people to get your hands on that original model you’ve got a car that’s worth its weight in gold. As a sidenote, the name GTO was based on the Ferrari 250 GTO, which stood for Gran Turismo Omologato and was suggested by John DeLorean himself!

11. Ford Gran Torino

The Ford Torino is named after the Italian city of Turin, which at the time was considered an Italian Detroit, as it was Italy’s manufacturing center back when Detroit was a capital of industry. The Torino was originally an upscale version of the Ford Fairline, produced from 1955 to 1970, when in 1970 the Fairline name was dropped and all “intermediate” Ford cars were called Torinos. In 1972 the Torino was redesigned and introduced as an upscale model called the Gran Torino, with the biggest aesthetic difference being a “large egg-crate grille in an oval opening.” The Gran Torino was a gigantic hit for Ford who would produce nearly half a million units by the end of that same year. While the Gran Torino named expanded onto many body styles, including some amazing station wagons, it only lasted until 1976; however the chassis continued in the Ford LTD II, Ford Thunderbird, the Mercury Cougar and the Ford Ranchero.

10. Chevrolet Chevelle SS

The Chevrolet Chevelle Super Sport — a.k.a. the SS — is one of the most iconic cars of the 60’s and of the early muscle car roster. Specifically created for that new market, the SS was an immediate hit for Chevrolet. The SS package was only a $162 upgrade over the standard Chevelle and might have been the best investment in the 20th century outside of buying stock in Apple Computers. The engine, which was the same rating as the 1957 Chevy Power-Pak 283, was a 283-cubic-inch four-barrel v8 engine pumping out over 220-horsepower. Starting in mid-1964 people could upgrade to a 327-cubic-inch v8 that could produced between 250-300 horsepower. For those into muscle cars, the second generation SS’ that were built between 1968 and 1972 had the more iconic muscle car look and feel, but that boils down to preference among enthusiasts. The last Chevelle SS’ were created in 1978 and one has to think that with the resurgence of muscle cars in the 21st century, we’re bound to see a new SS’ driving down the street someday. 

9. Oldsmobile 442

There are people who would argue that the 442 should be much higher on this list. The only ‘Olds’ on this list, the 442 is a car collector’s dream. The 442, like many cars on this list, started out as an option package. After being an add-on for the F-85 and Cutlass models, it became a model of its own in 1968 with production running until 1980. The name is based on the original model’s four-barrel carburetor, four-speed transmission, and dual exhaust system: 4, 4, and 2. The decal went from “4-4-2” to “442” when it became it’s own model, even though the transmission change from a two or three speed. The first model was created because of the internal competition between Pontiac and Oldsmobile, which were both subsidiaries of GM.  Because of the increased focus on performance from the public, despite the street racing ban, Pontiac had a surprise hit when their GTO version of their LeMans model hit the street. In response, Oldsmobile decided to “beef up” their most popular model at the time, the Cutlass, and from there the 442 (or 4-4-2) model was born. It’s been a gem for muscle car collectors ever since, and is a beacon of hope for people still wanting GM to bring back Oldsmobile. 

8. AMC Javelin

The Javelin was a muscle car built by the American Motor Company in two generations, from ’68 – ’70 and ’71 – ’74. It originally came in two styles, the famous muscle car variant and a ‘pony car’ variant that was widely used by law enforcement in the 70’s, the first pony car with that distinction. For those of you unfamiliar with “Pony Cars”, they are an affordable, compact, and highly styled car with a sporty or performance-oriented image, the first of which was the Ford Mustang. The American Motor Company, however, had an image as an economy brand they were trying to shake, and The Javelin was their first venture into the performance market. They didn’t have the resources to create multiple versions of their first ‘pony car’, so they invested in making it as unique as possible. And apparently it worked! Despite the fact that AMC no longer exists, the Javelin is remembered as one of the most endearing models from the 70’s era. 

7. Ford Thunderbird

There are few cars as representative of muscle cars and the peak of American automotive manufacturing as the Ford Thunderbird. It is one of the most successful models in history for which eleven models have been produced in six decades. The first Thunderbird was originally designed to be a sporty, two-seater convertible, back in 1955. Despite the fact that it was a direct competitor of the Chevy Corvette, it was not marketed in direct competition as a sports car. Instead, Ford marketed it as an upscale model and for which they are credited in creating the new market of personal luxury car. The two-seater expanded to a four-seater in 1958, and the size of the car changed over the years. Unlike many of the cars on this list, it survived the invasion of Japanese cars in the late 70’s and early 80’s. However, interest dropped in the 90’s, and for the first time in forty years Ford had ceased production of their classic model. It was revived in the 00’s as a two-seater and while it had modern amenities it retained the iconic look of the 1950’s model. Between 1955 and the second era in 2005 Ford has produced over 4.4 million Thunderbirds, proving that it’s one of the most iconic American cars ever.

6. Mercury Cyclone

One of the least known cars on this list, though hardly without reverence and prestige, is the Mercury Cyclone. Like many of the models on this list, it began as an upgrade to the Mercury Comet before branching out as it’s own model in 1964, in production until 1971, with multiple variations. While the model would eventually be absorbed into the Mercury Montego, in it’s prime the Cyclone was one of the greatest muscle cars of the era. Compared to the other cars on this list, the Cyclone would have more focus on aesthetic details, such as a steering wheel with spokes and chromed engine parts. It was also one of the most customizable with many options for consumers. While most kids today wouldn’t recognize Mercury model cars, the Cyclone stands as one of the best reminders of the golden era of American cars.

5. Dodge Charger

Apart from the DeLorean models built this year, the Charger is the only model currently in production on this list. The muscle car version began production in 1964, at the beginning of the muscle car era, and the most famous version ended production in 1978. While there were some versions of the Charger designed in the 80’s, most purists wouldn’t consider it the same car, though it would be brought back into production in 2006. It was one of the first muscle cars on the market in the 60’s, and it was one of the first of the muscle car comebacks in the 2000’s. With its success in the new century, it has helped to open the doors of the muscle car revival, a feat worthy of praise for any car enthusiast.

4. Dodge Challenger

Riding the wave of the muscle car revival set by the Charger, the Dodge Challenger would be released as the true, neo-muscle car, said to have maintained the authentic “old school” feel. Funny enough, the Challenger’s origins dated many years before the Charger. It began as the Dodge Silver Challenger, a version of the full-sized Dodge Coronet in ’58 to ’59, and the second iteration would be developed as a ‘pony car’. Critics have described the Challenger as Dodge’s “response to the Mustang and Camaro”. But due to the fact that it joined the ‘pony car’ era too late, it is now one of the rarest cars on this list.

3. Ford Mustang

When you think of the car that started the ‘pony car’ era, you think Ford Mustang. The original Mustang was created five months before the 1965 production season, so there was an original production line called the “1964 and a half models” (despite being advertised as 1965 models) which are extremely rare and you won’t be able to afford with just your allowance money. The Mustang is named after a fighter plane from World War II (the P-51 Mustang), a suggestion made by John Najaar, the executive stylist for Ford in the 60’s. He also helped design the first prototype, the Mustang I, which was test driven by Formula One driver, Dan Gurney, and his lap times were only slightly behind those of Formula One cars. Due to its performance capabilities, the fact that it created its own car market, and the omnipresence it has had since it’s debut release in ’64, it’s not hard to see why the Mustang is so high on our list! 

2. Chevrolet Camaro

Created in response to the Mustang, there have been five generations of the Camaro, the most recent of which debut’d in 2009 as part of the Transformers movies. The development of the Camaro was code named ‘the Panther’ and playfully secretive, with riddle filled telegrams being sent by Chevy’s public relations department. The marketing for the Camaro was the first of it’s kind, setting new records for commercial press conferences. The name apparently comes from a French-English dictionary at Chevy’s headquarters, French slang for “friend” or “comrade”. It tops the Mustang because of its style; it’s got a wide, boxy and ‘mean’ look that stereotypically defines the muscle car. 

1. Chevrolet Corvette

The Corvette is the oldest car on this list and may represent excellence in American car manufacturing better than any other. Beginning in ’53, the ‘Vette (as it’s known) was a convertible introduced at an auto-show for concept cars, the General Motors Motorama, and the Corvette drummed up so much interest that Chevrolet decided to manufacture it for the 1953 year. It has won countless awards over the years and has been considered the most economical in the high-performance luxury car market. If you have a taste for luxury, the Corvette will give you more for your money than any other car on our list. Some of the most highly modified versions have reached horsepower levels that were only dreams once-upon-a-time, and in more recent years is a car more aptly compared to Lamborghini and Ferrari than Mustangs or Challengers, making it our No. 1 American Sports Car of All Time

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