Ten Best-Looking American Production Cars
Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. That qualification aside, I hereby announce my choices for the ten best-looking American production (no concepts, no one-offs, no customs) cars (no trucks or SUVs) ever manufactured. They are listed in chronological order:
|1935 Auburn 851 Boattail Speedster: Styled in desperation by Gordon Buehrig (modified leftover '33-'34 bodies were used to produce it) the 1935 Auburn 851 Boattail Speedster hit a design home run.
While production and sales were relatively low, the car has been given posthumous homage by numerous kit car builders as well as model and toy makers. Matchbox's Yesteryear diecast version remained in production for over 10 years.
|1936-37 Cord 810/812: The body design of the Cord 810 was the work of designer Gordon M. Buehrig and his team of stylists. The unforgettable, handsome and distinctive coffin nose can be seen from the opposite end of any Concours show field - it's that distinctive.
The first American front-wheel drive car with independent front suspension caused a sensation at the New York Auto Show in November 1935. The crowds around the new Cord were so dense, that attendees stood on the bumpers of nearby cars just to get a look. Many orders were taken at the show but no production vehicles were available until February 1936.
The 810/812 series was the last gasp of the dying Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg empire. After ACD folded, the Cord tooling was used to produce other makes of automobiles. More photos and information about the remarkable Cord 812 can be found here.
|1940 Ford DeLuxe: Ford's chief designer E.T. 'Bob' Gregorie oversaw the styling of this machine. It remains one of the handsomest of mass-produced low-priced prewar American cars.
On the DeLuxe line, the grille spread out to reach the fenders and the new sealed-beam headlights were pushed wider still. The car was prow-nosed but gave the appearance of greater width and a bit of upscale Lincoln Zephyr influence around its headlights.
|1940-41 Packard Darrin: Dutch Darrin, the man behind the 1937-1942 Packard Darrin, was a legendary designer and coachbuilder whose cut-down doors - known as the Darrin Dip' - became his signature.
The low-production Packards which bear his name were gorgeous cars of the era and are highly sought-after today. In my opinion, the 1940 and '41 models are the best-looking of the bunch. More photos and information about the gorgeous Packard Darrin can be found here.
|1940-41 Lincoln Continental: In 1939, Ford chief stylist Bob Gregorie designed a low, swoopy Lincoln convertible for Edsel Ford to cruise around in while wintering in Florida. So many of Edsel's friends wanted to buy the Zephyr-based one-off, that FoMoCo put the car into production as the Lincoln Continental.
The photo shows two Continentals on the field at Pebble Beach in 1996. The black cabriolet in the foreground is a 1941 model; the burgundy coupe beside it is a 1940 model. Sadly, a 1942 redesign caused the loss of the Connie's distinctive and beautiful chrome waterfall grille.
|1953 Studebaker Starliner coupe: Raymond Loewy's team (including designer Bob Bourke) styled this revamped Studie. Compared to other cars of the era, the Studebaker looked low, sleek and futuristic. It made its competition look stodgy.
Ads proclaimed "The New American Car With the European Look," although most European cars of the early postwar era looked pretty old-fashioned; many were prewar designs. Perhaps Studebaker marketeers were thinking of the sleek Jaguar XK-120 or of some of the daring one-offs from Italian coachbuilders Ghia or Bertone seen at the Paris, Geneva and Turin Auto Shows.
Nevertheless, the tasteful Studebaker coupes inspired other American car companies to get lower and sleeker with their future offerings. More photos and information about the innovative '53 Studie can be found here.
|1956-57 Continental Mark II: The Mark II was introduced in October 1955 at the Paris Auto Show. It was offered in only one body style, a two-door hardtop coupe and was a virtually hand-assembled car with a price tag of $10,000.
Styled by FoMoCo employee John Reinhart and his crew, the Mark II is now revered as one of the best styled cars of the 1950s. Its good looks are timeless. It rides and drives with a grace and quietness not found in other cars of that era. I speak from experience, having owned two of them - a 1956 and a '57 model.
The above photo is of my 1956 Mark II which won the best in Class FoMoCo trophy at the 1994 Lincoln & Continental Owners Club Meet. Much more about the Continental Mark II can be found here.
|1957 Ford Thunderbird: Designed by FoMoCo stylist Frank Hershey, the Thunderbird entered production for the 1955 model year as a sporty two-seat convertible.
Positioned directly against the Corvette pricewise, Ford billed the Thunderbird as a boulevard cruiser rather than a sports car, putting a greater emphasis on the car's comfort and convenience features rather than its inherent sportiness. This paid off; during the '55-'57 period, the little T'bird oursold the Corvette by more than five-fold.
In 1957, the Thunderbird was revised with a reshaped front bumper, larger grille, canted tailfins, and bigger tail lamps. In my opinion, this is the best looking of the two-seat 'Birds. The public seemed to agree; it was the best selling Bird during the first three model years. More photos and information about the sporty '57 Thunderbird can be found here.
1961 Lincoln Continental: When the 1961 Lincoln Continental was introduced the automotive trade press was stunned. The car's look was a dramatic departure from the styling of the 1960 Lincoln - in fact, it was a complete break from the fins, fat chrome trim and dog-legged windshields which were so characteristic of all cars of the prior five years.
Styled by Elwood Engel, the new Lincoln Continental was a clean, elegant design which influenced the look of many of the cars of the 60's including the '63 Pontiac Grand Prix, '63 Buick Riviera and '64 Imperial. But the Lincoln Continental was more than just a pretty face. It was a highly engineered product as well. It offered a host of features and engineering improvements to make it a luxurious, quiet and dependable automobile.
Car Life magazine awarded the Lincoln Continental its 1961 Engineering Excellence Award; the Industrial Design Institute gave it an award for its overall appearance and execution. Now wonder - it's still a handsome automobile.
Read more about this exceptional vehicle here.
|1963-72 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray: Derived from the one-off 1959 Sting Ray racer (General Motors Design V.P. Bill Mitchell and styled by Pete Brock and Larry Shinoda), the 1963 Corvette was a stunner from every angle.
Car & Driver noted that: "Waiting lists of great length and duration for the Corvette Sting Ray at all Chevrolet dealers' are the best proof of the public's acceptance of the new model. ... The new all-independent suspension has completely transformed the Corvette in terms of traction and cornering power."
Zora Arkus-Duntov summed it up this way: "For the first time I now have a Corvette I can be proud to drive in Europe."
C&D added, "We understand his feelings and are happy to agree that the Sting Ray is a fine showpiece for the American auto industry, especially since it is produced at a substantially lower price than any foreign sports or GT car of comparable performance."
The silver-blue '63 roadster in the photo above was owned by me from Summer 1965 to Spring 1967.
In 1968, a new body was fitted to the Corvette; it, too, was a stunner. Its looks were derived from the Bill Mitchell-Shinoda Mako II concept car, which was unveiled in 1965. (My first encounter with the Mako was at the New York Auto Show.) While the Corvette carried on with this new body until 1982, the '68-72 models contain the pure design without the additions of unstylish front and rear ends mandated by the 1973 bumper regulations.
The two models below illustrate the differences between the two bodystyles:
These are not the only good-looking American cars. Here are some runners-up that didn't make my top ten: '34-40 LaSalle, 1936 Ford, 1936-41 Lincoln Zephyr, 46-48 Chrysler Town & Country convertible, 1953-55 Corvette, 1955 Chevrolet, 1956 Lincoln, 1956 Cadillac, '56-57 Studebaker Golden Hawk, 57 Chrysler 300C, 1963-65 Buick Riviera, 1966-67 Oldsmobile Toronado, 1984-96 Corvette, 1978-85 Cadillac Eldorado, 1992-97 Cadillac Seville and 2005-06 Ford GT. (posted 6/27/12)
Other Pages Of Interest
copyright 2012-21 - Joseph M. Sherlock - All applicable rights reserved
The facts presented on this website are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.
Spelling, punctuation and syntax errors are cheerfully repaired when I find them; grudgingly fixed when you do.
If I have slandered any brands of automobiles, either expressly or inadvertently, they're most likely crap cars and deserve it. Automobile manufacturers should be aware that they always have the option of trying to change my mind by providing me with vehicles to test drive.
If I have slandered any people or corporations, either expressly or inadvertently, they should buy me strong drinks (and an expensive meal) and try to prove to me that they're not the jerks I've portrayed them to be. If you're buying, I'm willing to listen.
Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.