From muscle cars to land yachts, classic cars from the US are a key element of the UK’s old car scene. Iconic classic American cars are the most popular this side of the Atlantic as so many love American muscle cars, helped by their many television and film appearances. But American muscle cars are not the whole picture, as we can see from our top 10 American classic cars line-up, arranged in no particular order.
Let’s start at the beginning with the Ford Model T. More than 15 million of these simple, sturdy cars helped put the US on wheels. What makes the Model T so popular in the UK as well as the US is they are not simply just old American cars, it tells the story of the dawn of motoring.
The Model T introduced the automotive production line and, as a result, it was cheap to buy. It got even cheaper as Henry Ford lowered the price in a stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap method that proved supremely effective. Some Model Ts were built in Manchester in the UK, but most of the cars here now originated in the US. They’re easy to work on, fun to drive, affordable, and come in all sorts of body styles to suit every taste.
As well as the Model T, any American classic cars list must have a Cadillac on it. There’s a huge variety to choose from, but perhaps the classic American Cadillac is the 1959 Coupe de Ville. It arrived at the peak of the 1950s fashion for fins and Jet Age inspiration with its torpedo-shaped lights and chrome bullet bumpers. It also takes up a lot of real estate on the road in a manner only the most iconic American classic car names seem to from this era.
Such scale can make driving a Cadillac Coupe de Ville a test of nerve on narrow British roads, but the big Caddy is easy to drive thanks to its lazy V8 engine, automatic gearbox, power steering, and cushy suspension. There’s also space for all the family in the sumptuous cabin that makes this one of the most desirable, distinctive 1950s American classic cars.
As fins quickly went out of vogue in the 1960s, US drivers were offered new American car logos and none caught the imagination more than the Ford Mustang. The name and badge summed up the Pony Car ethos of performance and fun in a more compact machine. When Ford unveiled the Mustang, it instantly became the most common muscle car as sales outstripped all expectations.
In the UK, it took Ford until 2015 to offer a right-hand drive Mustang, but having the steering wheel on the left has never dimmed the car’s appeal over here. The early cars are considered by many to be up there with the Jaguar E-type as a legendary 1960s machine, but later Mustangs are just as evocative and the later ‘Fox body’ cars are now seen as definitive American cars of the 1980s.
Ford didn’t have it all its own way with the Mustang, though. Long before it arrived, the Chevrolet Corvette had already established itself as America’s sports car. Innovative use of glass fibre bodywork allowed the Corvette to adopt dramatic body styling. Almost all came with strong V8 engines to offer blue chip performance at a blue-collar price.
There are fans for all eras of Corvette in the UK. Some worship the early models, including the C2 Stingray that echoed American’s Moonshot confidence of the period. Later C3 and C4 cars are in good supply in the UK, and superb spares and servicing back-up makes them just as easy to look after and enjoy as a Ford Capri or Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Other muscle cars that capture the hearts and wallets of enthusiasts in the UK include the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Charger. The Camaro was Chevy’s direct riposte to the Ford Mustang and arrived in 1967 with a range of engines to suit all budgets. Just as importantly, where the Mustang lost its looks in the 1970s, the Camaro remained a very pretty coupe, which has seen this generation become hugely popular on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Dodge Charger was immortalized in the Steve McQueen film Bullitt as the car used by the bad guys. It then impressed a whole new generation of fans as the star of The Dukes of Hazzard television show, which explains why so many are painted in bright orange. Underneath, the Charger is a simple to maintain, as are all American muscle cars of the time. Later four-door versions from 2006-onwards saw a renaissance in the Charger name and are very usable everyday modern classics if you can keep up with their thirst for fuel.
Mention of The Dukes of Hazzard brings us to another US favourite over here in the UK – the Jeep CJ7. Daisy Duke made a good choice with this go-anywhere 4x4 that mixes the classic looks of the wartime original with greater cabin space and more powerful engines. If you’re thinking of a classic Land Rover, it’s definitely worth trying the Jeep CJ7 as it may well surprise you with how good it is on- and off-road.
Another functional US classic that has a firm following in the UK is the Ford F-150 pick-up in all its many generations. The first generation F-150 tends to be for the purists, while the 1953-1956 second generation is the one most UK collectors want for its perfect mix of curves, chrome and utility. Later F-150s grew bigger and there are some very quick performance versions, such as the Lightning, but all are essentially enjoyable, down on the farm classics that double as great workhorses.
You could never accuse the Lincoln Continental of being a workhorse. More of a show pony, this luxury spin-off brand from Ford started in 1940 but really found its footing with the clean-cut style of the fourth generation of 1961. Offered as a four-door saloon or convertible with rear-hinged back doors, it was laden with every possible gadget and gee-gaw available at the time. Continentals of the 1970s and ’80s continued this theme, while later generations became less indulgent and opulent.
Rounding out our top 10 of what is considered a classic car in the US and the UK, we have the Pontiac Firebird. Like the Chevrolet Camaro, the Firebird was aimed at luring buyers away from the Ford Mustang and it did this with good looks and a range of engines to suit the budget of all buyers. At its most formidable, you could have an early Firebird with a 325bhp 400cu in (6.6-litre) V8.
The Firebird is another car that made it big onscreen thanks to it starring role alongside Burt Reynolds in the Smokey and the Bandit films. This was a Trans Am model, which took its name from a race series in the US that added further appeal this swoopy coupe.
There are many more American classic cars to pick from. Let us know which ones are your favourites in the comments below.