Top 10 Classic American Cars of All Time

April 4, 2012

Classic American cars are more than just antiques; they exemplify the best of American manufacturing. Find out the 10 gold standards of American cars.

Ask 20 classic car enthusiasts to give you a list of the ten classic American cars of all time and the chances are you'll get 20 different lists. Still, there are some cars that will probably show up on many lists.

  • 1953 Chevy Corvette. Debuting in 1953 as the first American two-seater sports car, the Corvette is the ultimate American sports car. They only handmade three hundred that year, making it very rare.
  • 1960s Ford Mustang. The car that started the "pony car" tradition, the Mustang is the second longest running production vehicle in Ford history. The 1960s Mustangs are the most sought after.
  • 1960s Pontiac GTO. Designed by John DeLorean, the GTO has been a big part of American culture since its debut. Some consider the GTO to be the first real "muscle car".
  • 1969 Dodge Charger. Known by many as "The Dukes of Hazzard car," the Dodge Charger was introduced in the 1966 model year, but the second generation is the one to be considered a true American classic car.
  • 1960s Chevy Impala. When it was introduced in the late 1950s, the Impala was the top of the Chevy line. The 1965 model holds the industry record of selling over a million cars.
  • 1960s Chevy Camaro. An iconic vehicle, the Camaro was introduced as a competitor to Ford's Mustang. Its sister car, the Pontiac Firebird shares many of its designs and parts. While the Camaro is still in production today, the 1960s models are the most collectible.
  • 1960s Ford Thunderbird. The Thunderbird was originally introduced as a two-seater—Ford's response to Chevy's Corvette. Starting with the 1958 model, it had four seats. Of special interest to collectors is the 1967 model which was the first to offer a four door version—equipped with "suicide doors".
  • 1968 to 1970 Plymouth Road Runner. A return to the no frills type of muscle car, the Road Runner is another popular American classic car.
  • 1950s Chevy Bel Air. Although the name was used by Chevrolet for any hard top Chevrolet, the actual Bel Air as a model debuted in the mid-1950s. It remains one of Chevy's most popular classic cars.
  • 1960s Lincoln Continental. Sharing "suicide doors" with the Ford Thunderbird, this Lincoln was a smaller car than the earlier versions. Convertibles are especially popular with collectors.

Characteristics of American Classic Cars

For most people, American classic cars simply mean an old vehicle. But for car enthusiast who knows more about this kind of vehicle, a classic car definition goes beyond being an "old vehicle." The definition pertaining to classic car is complicated since different schools of thought have their own definitions for what should be considered as a classic car.

Definition of a Classic Car by Organization

  • A vehicle that is 25 years old or older is a classic car according to the Antique Automobile Club of America (ACAA).
  • The Automobile Club of America describes a classic car as expensive when new and manufactured in limited quantities.
  • A vehicle manufactured from 1925 to 1948 is defined as classic car by the Classic Car Club of America.
  • A vehicle which is 15 years or older is considered as an American classic car by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Definition of a Classic Car by Insurance Companies

Most car insurance companies consider a vehicle as classic car if it is at least 15 to 20 years old. It needs to be garaged if not being used, be driven no more than 2,500 miles annually and owned by a person who also has another car he or she drives for regular use.

Finding Classic American Cars for Sale by Owner

While there are a number of possible sources for your classic car purchase there are advantages to buying from the owner rather than a dealer. For one thing, the owner should have a lot more information and documentation on the vehicle. Such information can help you with any restoration and can add to the value of the car.

Local Classifieds

Check out local classified ads both on the Internet and in newspapers. There's a chance you'll find the classic American car for sale that you want. Many (but not all) classified ads are for sale by owner vehicles. Many times it's easy to distinguish the owner sales from the dealer sales by the ad, but another thing to look for is multiple ads with the same contact information. That's sure to be a red flag for a dealer sale.

Auction Sites

Auction sites can present a host of problems when searching for a car, but as long as you observe some precautions it's possible to find a classic American car for sale by owner. Once again, many of the auctions could be dealers, but many times these sites let you look at other auctions by the seller. If you can do this it should give you an idea about whether you are dealing with the owner or a dealer.

Classic Car Shows and Sales

While a lot of the cars available at these types of shows are sold by dealers, many are also for sale by owner. You are sure to find a lot of classic American cars for sale there—and more on display. You'll also meet a lot of people who share your hobby and can probably help you find other local resources you might have missed.

Classic American Cars for Sale: A Buyers Guide for Getting Cheap Prices

When looking to buy a classic American car, there are actions a buyer can take to help find the right car and get it at a better price. Many tips that apply to other cars also apply to vintage autos. However, there are some tips that are unique to classic car value.

Understand Values

When purchasing any car, research that vehicle. This is particularly true when it comes to vintage autos. It's important to focus on one period and type of car so that you can familiarize yourself with the classic car value of that particular specimen. Without that information you can wind up spending more than the car is worth. Doing the right research can save a lot of money.

Understand Restoration

When looking at classic American cars, it is very important to understand the keys to restoration. For a car to be considered classic or collectible, it needs to be restored to stock conditions. That means that not all restoration is good. A sun roof on a car that didn't originally come with one detracts from its collector value. Also, just because a seller paid a certain price for restoration, doesn't mean that the restoration should have cost that much. They might have just overpaid. No matter how good the restoration work is, it will never raise a car's value above the upper limits for that vehicle.

Get an Inspection

Whenever buying a used car, an inspection is a good idea. Taking it to a trusted mechanic can help you to detect potential problems. Whether those problems are reason to avoid the purchase, cause for a price reduction or simply a checklist of future repairs, it is better to know than to get blindsided by them later. Finding a mechanic with experience in classic cars (or better yet, the specific model you are looking to buy) can also help in determining whether the car has been restored in a fashion that maintains its classic status or not.

Buy on Your Schedule

Never get pushed into buying a car because the deal might not be available if you wait a day. Set a schedule for yourself and stick to it. Sellers often try to create a sense of urgency in a potential buyer to cause them to gloss over potential problems in a vehicle. Taking your time will allow you to make an informed and well thought out decision that could prevent buyer's remorse. If you miss a car because of waiting, it might be a missed journey into a money pit investment.

Does Having Your Car in the Classic Car Club of America Raise Its Value?

The Classic Car Club of America, the country's only national antique car club, and the host of such events as the Hershey Car Show and the Pebble Beach Show, does not raise the value of your car, as such. But having it listed in the club's guide, especially if there are some good pictures available, cannot hurt the value either. The value of your classic car is determined by weekly auctions, as well as by publications. Such as Hemmings Motor News and Old Cars Weekly. These carry the results of all auctions and shows. The results are also instantly listed on their websites.