10 American cars longest in production.
Aside from daily newspapers, no other big business has suffered more dearly over the past few years as a result of the country's financial misfortunes than the domestic auto industry. In the convulsions of the recession, four American car brands died, promising models fell to the crusher, and there seemed to be a new CEO at General Motors every other month. But this is nothing new; it's been covered in the news ad nauseam.
But what about the brands and cars that survived, the road icons that have lasted for 20, 30, even 75 years? We rarely hear about them. So with the help of Ray Magliozzi, co-host of NPR's "Car Talk," and Sheldon Steele, curator of the historic Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, Mass., we've rounded up 10 popular American cars that have enjoyed uninterrupted series production. These cars rewired our brains, changed our expectations and satisfied us with each generation.
Looking for a new or used car? Try MSN Autos' powerful new Decision Guide.
The best sports-car value on this planet was, is and forever shall be the Corvette. From its tame 1953 roots as a 6-cylinder roadster to the supercar theatrics of the latest 638-horsepower ZR1, the Corvette is a rumbling, humbling machine built for the everyman. A $50,000 Corvette can hit 190 mph in one moment, and then switch to a 26-mpg highway cruise in the next. And that's just the base car. "Guys in upper management at GM, they aspire to that car," Magliozzi says. "That's one of the reasons GM probably never killed it."
Like the Corvette, the Ford Mustang has never missed a beat — well, almost never — in nearly 50 years. "The Mustang has always been a pony car, except in the '70s when they got compact," Steele says, referring to the less-than-glorious Mustang II models built during the gas crisis of the 1970s. But even our favorites from the past — the butch Boss and Mach 1 models, the SVT Cobras — can't hold a candle to the latest Mustangs. Today's Mustang GT is almost European in its handling and is positively brilliant for a $30,000 car. Here's hoping it never grows up and moves out.
This year marks the final run of the stately Lincoln Town Car, the beloved cruiser for prom dates, Wall Street executives and, Magliozzi says, "Italian contractors." Sure, the Town Car was outclassed 20 years ago by fancier Japanese and European flagships. But to this day, the long-wheelbase Town Cars and their enormous interiors make ordinary people feel like kings on their way to the airport. That hushed, wafting momentum as you glide down the road is a classic American art, unsurpassed by luxury cars costing two to three times more. Everyone else can have their European-tuned shocks; the Town Car lives one pillow-deep rebound at a time.
While most truck-based SUVs have made their final trip to Target, the Chevrolet Suburban seems to defy all industry wisdom. For 75 years, its performance as a plus-size people-mover has been unmatched. No other vehicle can seat up to nine, tow a huge boat and clean out an attic in the same day.
With its stump-pulling torque and rock-hard frame, the Suburban practically begs for a beating, and never seems to die. No wonder it is America's longest-lasting nameplate and the preferred machine-gunner of the Secret Service.
Nothing is about to steal the thunder from Ford F-Series trucks any time soon. They have been America's best-selling vehicle for 29 years running, and nearly 35 million have been made since 1948. "If you drove pickups from the '50s and '60s, they were a terrible driving experience," Magliozzi says. "[Ford] made the pickup truck a family vehicle." From a basic 4x2 F-150 to the roomy, leather-lined riches of the King Ranch, the F-Series sells on its incredible variety — 12-ton tow rating, anyone? — and hard-working durability. Consider this truck 100 percent recession-proof.
The Ram's head medallion has been clamped on Dodge pickups since the 1930s, but it wasn't until 1981 that "Ram" became the truck's official name. A shocking 1994 redesign turned it into a mini Mack tractor. Since then, the Ram — now a separate Chrysler brand — has been the "brash alternative" to Chevrolet and Ford. Names like Power Wagon, Big Horn and Cummins, the legendary diesel engine manufacturer, are part of Ram's testosterone-filled heritage. Sometimes, the machismo is maddening. From 2004 to 2006, the Ram SRT10 bolted a spoiler on the pickup's bed and the Viper's 500-horsepower V10 engine under its hood. The latest Ram Outdoorsman model packs a rifle lockbox straight off the rear fender.
Since the first 1991 model — essentially a Ranger pickup with five doors — the Explorer was bound for success. During its mid-1990s and early 2000s heyday, Americans ate up more than 400,000 Explorers every year, more than any passenger car in the country. But the Explorer's shine dulled in the latter half of the past decade, as American roadways got jammed with gas-sucking, sedan-crushing SUVs that kept growing more and more ludicrous in size. The latest Explorer has landed softly in Crossovertown, with unibody construction and a 4-cylinder engine. "It's an afterburn of the name," Steele says.
After the Ford Explorer's runaway success, Jeep had to offer a plusher, more upscale version of its bare-bones Cherokee SUV. Jeep's very reason for existence, after all, was to dominate the trails. "It's one of those enduring, iconic brands," Steele says. "People would refer to all sport-utility vehicles as a Jeep, as a generic term." For its debut, then-Chrysler President Bob Lutz smashed the Cherokee through a glass window at the 1992 North American International Auto Show. Even in 2011, the Grand Cherokee remains popular without being pretentious, although the Overland trim, with its air suspension and terrain management, wishes it were a Land Rover.
If you were born after 1984, thank your parents and your friends' parents for buying a Dodge Caravan, the front-wheel-drive, light-duty minivan that redefined the modern family car — and killed off the station wagon. Aside from the lack of speed — "You had capacity for seven people so six could get out and push," Magliozzi says — the first Caravans were perfect for baby boomers' babies. There were three rows of forward-facing seats, a sliding door for tight spaces, and the best cargo capacity short of a U-Haul. Today's parents see the Caravan, and its incredible disappearing seats, as a torture device next to spiffier crossovers. But when it comes to moving six or seven dirty kids and all their junk, nothing beats a Caravan. Except maybe a Toyota Sienna or a Honda Odyssey.
Somehow, as they've mandated stability control and banned Happy Meals, government nannies have let the Jeep Wrangler run wild. Take the top off and expose the bare frame, fold the windshield flat — even race barefoot without doors. It's all legal and certainly not sealed for your protection. Perhaps it's a concession to the Jeep's historic wartime prowess, or because Wrangler owners, with their jamborees and secret hand-waves, never grew up from Cub Scouts. Whatever it is, the Wrangler is our freedom ride. It's the most bare-bones, capable 4x4 on Earth, boasting a timeless, unapologetic design that doesn't PC itself to death.
Clifford Atiyeh is the automotive editor for The Boston Globe and Boston.com. He has contributed to The Times of London, The Wall Street Journal, Popular Mechanics, and spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
- Visit MSN Autos' "Exhaust Notes" blog to keep up on all things automotive.
- In the market for a new car? MSN Autos is pleased to provide you with information and services designed to save you time, money and hassle. Click to research prices and specifications on any new car on the market or get a free price quote through MSN Autos' New-Car Buying Service.
Must-See on MSN
I own a 1998 Corvette C5 coupe. It will touch 170 mph and return 31 mpg at 70 mph, zero to 60 takes around 5 seconds. I have owned it since new and it now has 176,000 miles on the clock. It has never let me down, it starts first time every time. It does not use any oil and has just completed a 2,400 mile, 5 day, trip from Chicago to LA and I didn't even pop the hood to check the oil. A true supercar.
Yeah finally American iron...muscle and all.....no rice burners here. This article must have been written for once by a car person !! Camry s and Hondas are nice for the non car folks.
I would walk before I before I buy a japanese car!! long live American iron !!!
Can you stop with the american car's want to be ricers already!!! I think the american auto industry proved with last years sales that we are making cars to take out the Japs and the Germans just like we did in WWII. If you want a country that makes things buy what they make!!!!
When the government knocked on Fords door they said no thanks!
That is why I drive a f150 and a mustang today!