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The Cars that MADE Detroit ... and US

Since one of the internet discussions currently is what cars ruined Detroit, I thought I would take a different approach – since I am very happy with the American cars I own – and have owned, have had great dealer service, etc. I’d like your opinions: What cars MADE Detroit … and defined us, became a passion with us?

My favorite…my brother’s 57 Chevy hardtop, white over red, 283 v8. A delight and I can attest, a great “chick” car. That’s what makes a great American car.


Cadillac and Buick from the 30s and 50s

Agree, some cars have become icons. The 1955,56,57 Chevy Belairs, early T Birds, Mustangs, Corvettes and Camaros have a lasting presense. Just go to Havana, Cuba,and you get the feeling you are on the set of “Happy Days” or in a Humphry Bogart movie.

US cars shone when the rest of the world produced crappy economy cars and a few luxury cars.

Of course that happy situation would not last forever. But on my last trip to Paris my wife and I were sitting at a sidewalk cafe, and suddenly a 60s Mustang convertible appeared with happily married newlyweds in it. Older US cars with good styling and lots of chrome will forever be popular. It must have cost them an arm and a leg to rent that one.

The 1977 to 1988 Chevy Caprice and the matching Pontiac, Olds and Buick models will go down in history as “the cars that would not die”. In addition to FBI, Taxi, and fleet car use, the Caprice was standard equipment throughtpout the Middle East because of their reliability. A sheik in Kuwait told me he would not go out into the desert with either his Range Rover or his VandenPlas 12cylinder Jaguar. The trusted vehicle was the Caprice and the Suburban.

They were also standard diplomatic cars in many countries. Every Dutch cabinet minister, for instance, had one assigned to him, with chauffer of course.

Having owned both a Caprice and an Impala, I can attest to the stamina of these “dull” cars.

I own one of those cars: 1988 Olds Ninety Eight Regency Brougham – incredible in every way.
I also have an 88 Corvette – still solid and a 1988 Cadillac DeVille – runs/rides/drives like new
It hurts to hear people write GM off and the other American car companies (I drive a 2003 Chrysler 300M Special – never an issue in 6 years of everyday driving). These cars have been great for me and bring back great memories as well. Thanks for letting me share

Certainly my vote would include the

'64-68 Mustang,
all Ford Thunderbirds up to the early '70’s,
GTO’s and all the 'mid '60’s Pontiacs,
and Plymouth Road Runners and anything with a hemi V8

The muscle cars were not the bread and butter cars however. The Plymouth Belvedere with a 318 ci V8 was a very nice car and reachable by the average family. I think many of the late '50’s and '60’s station wagons won’t get mentioned often but were the workhorses of the average American family and much remembered family trips.

The post war American cars were much more solid and reliable than anything else produced in the rest of the world. Somewhere along the line American car companies and their workers figured that no other country could equal the cars put out in America. We got complacent, we got fat, and other countries hungrier for success found niches and exploited them. Gas mileage was not critical, small and nibble were not critical. Even quality was not critical, because the cars sold anyway. The '80’s and 90’s cars had few of the golden American cars we will remember.

I agree the Caprice is an epic car, there may have been fairly dull and didn’t have the fit and finish of todays cars, but the 77-90 caprices were tanks. Same with the cadillac Fleetwoods built on the same frame.

On second thought…and not about the obvious, but I’d make a case for cars that were a little ahead of their times in concept though not in execution, and had trim and features that found their way into the more popular autos.

American Motors Ramblers; which i feel was the first econo. car company before real economy was needed. Still have a need for interior that makes into a bed ?
Studebaker had some styling and ergonomics way ahead of it’s time that would have easily fit in 20 years later. The Avanti comes to mind.

I have a soft spot for failures with a history or ownership of these and others which I still felt were good cars in a nitch that wasn’t appreciated at the time. Failures were as much a part of Detroit’s overall success as the obvious great cars.

Without a doubt…the Checker Cab comp.

Good points, Dagosa

I would be in heaven if I had a Checker Taxi and police Crown Vic cruiser (w/o lightbar) in my garage.

Here’s a start:

Thanks…I’ll check with my wife before I make a bid, and after, I’ll be sleeping in the garage with my “new” car.

I actually made a 1984 Chevy Impala over into a “police special” by buying all the extra parts. It also had the 3.23 rear axle, heavy duty everything and the heavy front and rear roll bars.

If you start with a trailer towing package, then you don’t have to add so much, since you already get the performance axle, heavy duty radiator, HD transmission with oil cooler,HD springs and shocks, alternator, battery.

Things I passed up on were the heavy duty front seat (bone hard) and the barf-proof leatherette upholstery

The car handled great, but the mileage was less than a standard car because of the performance axle.

Studebaker had front disc brakes as standard equipment on the '63 Avanti, and as optional equipment on all of their other '63 cars. This was several years prior to the availability of that feature on competing makes.

Additionally, the Avanti had prodigious power, an integral padded roll bar, instruments angled toward the driver, and those same instruments were illuminated in red, which is far easier on the eyes. All-in-all, the Avanti was truly ahead of its time.

If you take a look at a Studebaker Lark sedan, circa 1964, you will see a car that still looks good today, and that has outer dimensions that are not excessive, while simultaneously allowing great trunk space and good interior room, including a huge amount of headroom.

When equipped with the Mileage Minder Six, Lark sedans were economy leaders of the day. When equipped with the optional Avanti R-2 or R-3 engines, they were capable of incredible acceleration and world record-holder top speeds. All manual transmission models were equipped with Hill Holder, to prevent roll-back on hills.

When you consider that the Studebakers of the mid-60s were essentially just slightly evolved mechanical twins of Studes from 1950, you start to realize that their designs and concepts were truly ahead of their time.

For anyone not familiar with the appearance of the '64 Lark, here is a link to a video promoting the Lark Cruiser, which was their long wheelbase sedan:

Oldsfan, it seems unfortunate that almost all of the responses so far are for cars built over 25 years ago. That might hint at the steepness of the hill Detroit has to climb.

No mopar in there…

The Ford Model T.

Prior to that car all cars all over the world were very exclusive toys for eccentrics with money. The manufacturing approach to building the Model T truely transformed the automotive world.

The 71-72 Cadillac Sedan Deville was the best Cadillac for the time. It was ahead of everything that year.

and the economy in a more general sense from industrial to fordist.