By on July 4, 2014

800px-FOB_DETROIT-NEW_CARS_ARE_LOADED_ONTO_RAILROAD_CARS_AT_LASHER_AND_I-75_-_NARA_-_549696

In honor of Independence Day, I’d like to pose a simple question to you all. What is America’s Finest Automotive Hour?

As many of you know, I have not lived that many years on this earth, and so I lack the context to properly look back upon America’s auto industry and judge for myself. A few things come to mind: the Ford Taurus, the Chrysler minivans and the LS1 V8 come to mind as beacons of innovation. The Ford Fiesta ST and Jeep Grand Cherokee stand out as “fun to drive” all-stars. I am constantly blown away by all three domestic pickup trucks, which I think represent the finest American-made vehicles at any price.

But I’m Canadian. And old enough to be your kid (in many cases). Tell us what you think stands out as a high point for the American automobile. The best answers submitted by the end of business will get highlighted in a separate post.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

148 Comments on “Question Of The Day: America’s Finest Hour...”


  • avatar
    Vega

    Fiesta ST? A car developed in Europe and produced in Mexico can never be ‘America’s finest hour’, no matter what the badge says.

    • 0 avatar
      omer333

      Nothing says “AMERICA!” like importing talent.

      • 0 avatar
        dwford

        That’s old thinking. Ford’s products are designed by a global engineering team and sold globally. No more local only design. Which is why we have seen the global Ranger (not for USA) and Ford Everest (not for USA) testing in the US, and why the US designed Fusion and Edge are headed to Europe and beyond.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible.

    Nothing exemplifies the success of post WWII America like that automobile.

    For large parts of the world’s population it symbolized the American dream.

    Can you picture Elvis, JFK, Ike or Sinatra riding around in a BMW or Audi or even a CTS or ATS?

  • avatar
    DougD

    Maybe an overly obvious answer, but when Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt won Le Mans in 1967 with the Ford GT40 Mark IV. Finest 24 hours?

    BTW I’m Canadian too, only foreigners will answer this question today since Americans are hopefully all outdoors having fun and not staring at a computer. Happy 4th!!

  • avatar
    Duaney

    Honestly? The finest hour by our American car companies was when they all stopped making cars, and went to work making the weapons to defeat the Axis powers in World War Two.

    • 0 avatar
      Astigmatism

      Was going to say exactly the same thing. The Arsenal of Democracy was unquestionably the finest hour of our automobile industry, and one of our finest hours as a nation, period.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      You both beat me to it. And the finest is not only what we built, but how fast (24 months in 1940-41) it took us to do it, while still producing commercially available product at the same time.

      Now, if you insist on getting it down on one specific car: 1955 Chevrolet. Runner-up: 1920’s Model T Ford (when they got the price down below $300.00).

    • 0 avatar

      I hadn’t thought of that, myself, but that was definitely their finest hour. Nothing else even comes close.

      A particular car? The Model T. And Henry Ford’s having the good sense to pay his workers enough so that they could afford it. If today’s big capitalists understood what Ford did, our country would be in much better shape today.

      • 0 avatar
        qest

        I came to say this, so:

        +1

      • 0 avatar
        tbp0701

        Also one of my first thoughts: Ford deciding to pay his employees enough to buy what they were building tremendously altered the US and most of the world.

        A couple others that come to mind (and also already mentioned) are the invention and mass production of the Jeep during WWII, the GT40 at LeMans and the lunar rover.

      • 0 avatar
        JuniperBug

        This is a widely repeated “fact,” but according to at least one account, Ford didn’t raise the wages for altruistic reasons. Having heard his story, it would be hard to believe that’s something he would do.

        More likely, the reason he raised wages was because the assembly line process was so tedious and difficult, that worker turnover was incredibly high. It was unprofitable to be constantly training new workers, so Ford offered high wages to entice workers to stay.

      • 0 avatar

        Henry Ford didn’t pay his workers more so they could afford a Model T. Paying people to buy your products, even your employees, is not a business model. Because of how Ford implemented the assembly line, reducing assembly to the simplest possible tasks, working there was not a very pleasant task, particularly if you were timed with a stopwatch. Ford had insanely high turnover on new hires, making over 40,000 hires in one year just to keep 13,000 on the job. So he paid them more money.

        Paying your employees to buy the goods they make is the equivalent of moving money from one pocket to the other, subtracting, of course, some costs.

    • 0 avatar
      ect

      Not automotive, but your post reminds me that, in 1999, I got a tour of the Lockheed plant in Marietta GA, which was originally built for the war effort. According to the plant management, the site was a farmer’s field when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and the plant started producing B-24 Liberators in July 1942. Now, that’s impressive!

    • 0 avatar
      jdmcomp

      Second that, the Ford Liberators and GM fighters as well as all the other manufactors who pitched in proved America’s greatness.

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      The JEEP

  • avatar
    J.Emerson

    The Flint sit-down strike.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    With 707 HP ICE Challengers and 650 HP ICE Corvettes and great 7-speed manual transmissions and RWD and traction control and safety up the wazoo…
    well, I’d say right about……
    NOW! (11:00 AM ET, 4th of July 2014).

    ——————–

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    Finest hour? 5:57 AM (sunrise) in Detoit, the 1st September, 1969. There was still hope that the black day in July ’67 could be reconciled, and the promise of the 1970s were just on the horizon.

    You could get any vehicle you wanted then; paid for by a good paying job with health and pension benefits. A job whose only qualification was the ability to fog a mirror.

    Finest vehicle hour? The Dodge and Ford ambulance trucks of WW-I. They proved their worth and rescued a lot of Dough-boys who came into harm’s way.

    Happy Independence Day.
    :-)

    • 0 avatar
      cargogh

      I forgot the date of the riots-I was four, but was thinking about 1967. It was notable for several redesigns like the ’67 Mustang fastback and the spectacular Eldorado. It introduced both the 5th gen of F-Series Fords and GM’s 2nd gen of CK, along with the Dodge Coronet RT and Plymouth GTX. It was the last year for the Continental 4-door convertible and the C2 Stingray.

  • avatar
    The Heisenberg Cartel

    In years since my birth, the Tesla Model S, easily. No American car has taken a crap on the status quo so effectively in a LONG time.

    Runners up: Mustang Boss 302, the current gen Ram 1500, and the Cadillac CTS-V

  • avatar
    skor

    The Model T, the car that democratized motoring.

  • avatar
    spreadsheet monkey

    The ’92 Camry.

  • avatar
    geeber

    The 1928 Ford Model A, which brought style and great engineering for the price to the masses.

    • 0 avatar
      Zykotec

      I’d say (as a big fan of both model A’s and the V8’s later) that the model A probably marks the beginning of the downfall of American car engineering. This was the first model by Ford that was built also for style and speed, starting a downfall that peaked around 1970 when American cars were only styling and speed, and pretty much nothing else…

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        Style and speed have always been used to sell cars. With the Model A, lower income buyers were given the chance to enjoy those attributes in their cars, too. If Ford hadn’t brought out the Model A, someone else would have brought out something similar to it (actually, Hudson did, with the Terraplanes of the early 1930s).

  • avatar
    John

    Another vote for now. The fact that for just under $54,000 you can buy a Corvette that has 455 horsepower, gets 29mpg on the highway, has safety features galore, produces a minimal amount of emissions, and will out handle a 1980’s or earlier Ferrari means to me that we are living in the best time ever for American cars.

    You could buy a car with similar horsepower in the golden age of muscle cars, but it got single digit gas mileage, would be out handled by a modern base model Honda Civic, you could smell the raw gasoline coming out the tail pipe, and was far, far less safe than any current car.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      The problem with “now” is that while American cars are truely the best they have ever been; so is everyone else’s; and much of today’s “American” cars were designed and built overseas. So with the exception of pickup trucks and the Corvette; there is little of America in American cars anymore.

      I would say it was the 1950s. American cars then were truely something different from the rest of what the world had to offer, and were the envy of much of the world. Design details like tail fins made their way to European cars; while very little went the other way. It was a high time for the United States, and the cars we built reflected that time.

      As the United States began to lose it’s way with the death of JFK and Vietnam in the 1960s; our greatness still showed both in our cars and the country as a whole with achievements like the Apollo program and the SR-71. By the 1970s, it was time for a reset.

      If you choose to define American greatness as a single car, then yes, the Model T would be it. The Taurus is a personal favorite, and it did signal America’s return from the Malise era as well as being in the forefront of technology like aerodynamics. But I think other cars would fit the term “American greatness” better.

      EDIT: The Taurus was also the death of American styling; chrome bumpers and trim, vinyl roofs, crease and tuck/fusalage styling, everything that was a Ford in 1980 was replaced by “European styling” of little or no chrome, body colored bumpers, and blackout trim. Styling from that point on got most of it’s influence from Europe, not the US; it died with the Fairmont and the LTD.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Well said!

        Anyone trying to sell one of today’s American cars has to realize that there is always a European or Asian model with better specs.
        As an example the new American muscle cars might make 600hp but the Germans build a car with over 1,000hp.

        Same with luxury, reliability and even style.

        The 50’s was America’s heyday. And the cars build in Detroit in the 50’s were the best in the world (even though Britain actually exported more cars then than America or any other nation).

        Yes the Model T was important but the 50’s were the apex and the ’59 Caddy was the height of the apex.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Hmmmmm, American cars of the 1950s versus American cars of the 1920s. I don’t know which decade I would give it to.

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        But I can buy the world’s best here…well except for your damn little diesel mini pick-ups but I can live with that.

      • 0 avatar
        CapVandal

        The postwar golden age mostly wasn’t that golden. And it was a function of the remainder of the world’s manufacturing capacity being demolished in WWII. We were the only country with capital resources and the ability to purchase modern automobiles.

        Finest moment? During Mr. Mulally’s first month on the job (2006), Ford dramatically mortgaged most of its assets, including its blue oval logo, to borrow $23.5 billion.

        “we obtained $23.5 billion of new liquidity in December 2006, including proceeds from a convertible debt offering of $4.95 billion, proceeds from a secured term loan of $7 billion and a secured revolving credit facility of $11.5 billion. This resulted in total automotive liquidity of about $46 billion at year-end 2006, which we believe should allow us to fund the restructuring and product development priorities discussed above, and provide us with a cushion for a recession or other unforeseen events in the near term.”

      • 0 avatar
        piro

        Tesla Model S.

        Most American car in America.

  • avatar
    rokop

    America’s finest automotive hour was when the astronauts of Apollo 15, 16 and 17 drove around on the moon in the lunar rover in 1971 and 1972. No other country equaled that feat, and probably won’t for some years to come.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      Chrysler and Project Redstone help paved the way for that too.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh, I’d say Mars Curiosity beats that. But that was a good one.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      “…drove around on the moon in the lunar rover in 1971 and 1972.”

      In a lightweight EV, nonetheless. Of which the Tesla is a spiritual descendant.

      I often wonder how dramatically different the world would be had the Model T did not have Rockefeller’s throw-away byproduct of his kerosene lamp-oil (gasoline) to sway its choice of propulsion from the turn of the century trend of BEV’s.

      I guess two World Wars might have happened differently (or not at all).

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        I try not to beat up on the B&B, but your comments on this topic are so far removed from reality that I have to comment.

        The Model T was intended to be an everyman’s car; and back then, many ordinary people still lived in rural areas. What’s more, before the Rural Elctricfication Act (REA) of the 1930s, most rural homes did not even have electricity. How are you going to recharge your electric car if you house does not even have electricity?

        Henry Ford built several cars before the Model T, and they were all gasoline powered. (Model Ts could also run on kerosene or ethanol.) The fact that gasoline at the time was cheap because it was a throw-away byproduct made it a perfect source of fuel because it WAS cheap and easy to make available.

        The Model T was more than just the family car. It was also the basis for a truck, which was also widely popular. There was even a kit sold that replaced the rear axle of the Model T with an extension frame and steel wheels to convert it into a farm tractor; an affordable alternative to the huge steam tractors then in use. While it was not very practical, it heralded today’s small and affordable farm tractors that replaced the steam and i.c. giants of the Model T era. The Model T engine itself went on to lead a second life driveing pumps and generators on the farm as well as other marine, industrial, and military uses.

        All of which is why I agree the Model T was by far the greatest American car every built; and no battery powered car then or now (or in the future) would have achived such greatness. World War I had absolutely nothing to do with “big oil” and gasoline cars; and World War II would likely not have happened were it not for the WWI and the crushing surrender terms we imposed on the Germans.

        Alternate histories make great science fiction; but have no place in a piece on American automotive greatness.

        • 0 avatar
          shaker

          All good points, and you are correct, my musings had little to do with reality.

          A little “Wond’ring Aloud” on a blog shows I’m not too smart sometimes – but…

          The magnitude of the growth of industrial societies, and their ability to wage war was directly influenced by cheap and accessible liquid petroleum fuels – history would have been much different had we been limited to coal, steam and electricity.

          Yes, the Model T changed history.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    There can be no debate it has to be the Model T Ford as the finest hour. Reliable, durable, economical, reasonably quick, it offered more bang for the buck than any car in history when compared to its contemporaries. Part of its price advantage was due to the utilization of modern assembly lines that greatly improved productivity, which was copied by every mass-market auto maker around the world. In fact, it was so good that just about every major government around the world enacted taxation based on engine size specifically targeting the Model T to to protect local manufacturers. Its basic layout – water-cooled front engine and gearbox with rear wheel drive, left-hand steering wheel was also the model for most global cars until the late 1930s and US cars until the late 1970s.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    The era that brought the tail fin to the American automobile marked the high point in this country’s hopeful flight into the future, a future that sadly has soured in a multitude of ways and has seemingly given the lie to our hopes for better days ahead for all. I lived through those imperfect but optimistic times, and you can hardly recognize this being the same place today.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    The 1967 model year, for offering the largest array of convertibles. Pontiac alone in 1967 offered ten different convertibles: GP, Bonneville, Ventura, 2+2, Catalina, GTO, LeMans Sport, LeMans, Tempest Custom, and Firebird; I’m extrapolating from that. In any case I miss true family-size convertibles that didn’t make you feel like you were sitting in a high-walled bathtub, as the late and unfortunate Chrysler Sebring/200 did.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    The Model T’s manufacturing process changed the car from a toy to a tool and is remarkable and worthy, however, I think the Tesla Model S has shown the world what the USA can do in the world we live in today.
    The 1st all electric car that is powerful, practical and looks great. It is designed and built in the USA by Americans.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Pick any hour during 1969. The golden age of the Muscle Car.

  • avatar
    Krivka

    1963 Corvette and 1969 Mustang Shelby GT 500

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    The conversion from civilian to full-battle-ready that the American industry in general, and the American auto industry in particular, did during WW2.

    The hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of jeeps, armored vehicles, trucks and tanks that Detroit and the lesser ones built, were used successfully in all theaters of war, not only by the US forces, but by all the Allied forces.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    C7

    • 0 avatar
      hybridkiller

      +1

      Love it or hate it, arguably the quintessential American sports car, six decades of being maligned, ridiculed, and in general, getting it’s ass kicked by “real” sports cars…
      …but not anymore. American born, bred, designed and built, the Corvette can finally consider itself “world class”.

  • avatar
    LALoser

    Any car that is there to take people to work, kids sports, outings with family and friends and is therefore a building block of personal freedom.

  • avatar
    Fred

    I’m going to vote where I put my money, 1985.5 Mustang SVO. Then again it was more of a European design than American.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    1955 Chevrolet and the small-block V8. GM had a 50% market share, and still made excellent cars. The small-block concept lives on to this day.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    The original Mustang.

  • avatar
    sportsuburbangt

    There sure are a lot of Dusters in that pic.

    Finest hour would be 1942-1945. I don’t think we would be able to accomplish that level of manufacturing again. Just to put it in prospective at the height of WW2 we were assembling the B17 at the rate of a plane in 55 minutes.

    We are too dependent on globalization to accomplish that today.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    1955, no one above, or even near. Quality and pragmatism had probably been going downwards since Edsel forced his dad to stop further developing the model T, but the rise towards power and styling and the fall in quality seemed to cross each other in the mid 50’s. It went pretty fast downwards quality wise after that, even if a few technical innovations made sure the US manufacturers were still above everyone else until about the mid 60’s when they became as bad as the rest of the world, before plummeting even further… Everything after that was only good for movie props (you could say that for most late 50’s cars too) but with a lot of international help US cars are getting quite good again now (and by US I now also include Hondas and Toyotas)
    PS, this is only the best of my objective judgement.
    (subjectively I love everything built in ’57 or ’67, and boattail Rivieras, and a lot of other technically crappy cars)

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      > Quality and pragmatism had probably been going downwards since Edsel forced his dad to stop further developing the model T

      I don’t quite get this statement. The ultimate problem with the Model-T was that Henry wanted to keep building it essentially unchanged. Edsel could see that they needed to change to stay competitive. People were becoming more affluent, and Chevy was offering a better car for a modestly higher price than the Model-T.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      Edsel Ford didn’t force his father to stop development of the Model T. The elder Ford had decided to do that on his own, and sales fell catastrophically after 1923 as a result. If anything, Edsel had to beg his father to approve the development and production of the Model A. The Ford Motor Company probably would have gone bankrupt by 1930 if the elder Ford hadn’t approved the Model A.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    The F-100, it got it all started. Almost everyone has driven, rode in, used; or at the least has a good pick-up story. For decades, pick-ups where the vehicle of choice for hard working blue collar class. They have morphed into luxury vehicles with the amenities of a luxury car plus 4WD and a big-ass V8. This whole morphing thing is worth another column. Everyone has used a truck for its God-intended purpose; to haul something. It may have been yours, your uncle Bob’s, or your friend may have helped you haul something. As faithful as your family dog, comfortable as a pair of broken in boots, and as good feeling as an old pair of jeans. They’re ours, they’re part of of freedom-loving heritage, and they’re uniquely American. The humble pick-up truck.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    November 30, 1965. The publishing date of Unsafe at any Speed, which woke America up to the safety hazards in the Corvair, and broadly in cars of that time. That book, and the resulting focus on safety, saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

    • 0 avatar
      Duaney

      You’re kidding right? Anyone knows that the Corvair was proved to be as safe or safer than any other car in it’s era. After years of extensive testing the Federal Highway Safety Administration proclaimed the Corvair safe in 1972. Nader also bashed the Volkwagon Beetle and any other rear engined car with swing rear axles. Ralph Nader, a guy who didn’t own a car, and didn’t drive was probably the least knowledgeable “expert” on automobiles of all time.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        As a response to Nader’s well researched “Unsafe at any Speed”, GM launched a campaign against Nader, hiring private detectives to tap his phones and prostitutes to try to trap him.

        Even before the book, there were over 100 lawsuits pending against GM by consumers suing because the car was not safe to drive. Rear engine, swing axle designs handle very differently from what most people are used to. They are no longer in production for a reason.

        Duaney ,
        If you truly believe the Corvair is such a safe car, then I wish you many (safe) years of driving one.

        • 0 avatar
          Duaney

          GM made some foolish moves then, I guess that their mindset was that they couldn’t believe that Nadar was attacking their car, they considered him some nut case. If you read the well researched book, “The Assassination Of The Corvair”, you’ll find out that these lawsuit’s were a feeding frenzy by trial lawyer’s trying to get rich off of the Corvair, because of Nader’s book and because the Corvair was different, and because GM had deep pockets. GM wasn’t expecting anything like this, so being unprepared, did loose the first lawsuit. However facing many more lawsuits, GM decided to defend itself, and with careful research of the Corvair handling, and proper Courtroom displays and explanations of Corvair design, they NEVER LOST ANOTHER LAWSUIT. The reason that Corvairs are no longer made is that their competition became the Mustang, and people at that time wanted to accelerate fast with a big engine, so GM introduced the Camaro as the Corvair’s replacement. The 1965 Corvair was the best handling American car built, with a Corvette style suspension, but couldn’t compete with the typical “muscle cars” of that era. The air cooled engine was difficult to achieve the coming emissions standards, so GM and Volkswagon abandoned air cooled motors. Yes, I drive a 1960 Corvair all the time and I feel perfectly safe, in fact with the huge crush area of the front end of the car, that design is one of the safest car’s to be in during a front end collision. I don’t have the statistics, but I would imagine that many thousands of people were killed in Mustangs, what with a huge engine in the front and the light weight body and chassis in the rear, and the resultant poor handling from such a poorly balanced car.

  • avatar
    caljn

    any 1970 full size GM product.

    • 0 avatar

      Kidding me, right?

      • 0 avatar
        msquare

        Nope. 1970 was probably GM’s peak, as it was the year before all the plants fell under the control of the centralized GM Assembly Division. Prior to that, the divisions ran the plants and had direct control over build quality. Also, engineering and design became more centralized after 1970.

        The 1971 full-size cars were technically improved but their quality was a step below. Higher-end cars were cheapened badly. The Vega came out half-baked.

        GM rode its laurels for decades afterward as market share declined.

  • avatar
    glwillia

    I would say late-20s to early-30s. The golden age of American luxury, with Packards, Duesenbergs, Pierce-Arrows, and the mighty Cadillac V16. This era also produced the Ford V8, of Bonnie and Clyde and later ‘deuce’ fame.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    The Corvair! Back when GM was still a leader in innovation. If they had kept a modest R+D budget, we’d still have them. Think 911 and a 3 Series!

  • avatar
    carguy

    In the midst of the bailouts and finger-pointing Tesla emerges with not just disruptive technology but a new business model for selling cars. Blessed be the entrepreneurs and risk takers.

    • 0 avatar

      Didn’t Tesla get a bunch of government money?

      • 0 avatar

        starting with the subsidies that go to buyers

      • 0 avatar
        billfrombuckhead

        Like Jeep, VW, French government bailed out Nissan, the posterchild for “government motors” bailouts is Hyundai/Kia, then there’s all the money allegedly libertarian states gave foreign companies to steal jobs from other American states, Alabama even had the National Guard doing grading work for Mercedes, then there’s all the TARP money Toyota got, then theres all the help MITI gives JapanInc manufacturers, then there’s all the currency manipulation the Japanese government has done to help it’s exports while American soldiers and taxpayers have defended them from the Soviets, the Communist Chinese and the crazy North Koreans.

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    I was going to say the ’55 Chevrolet V8 hardtop, but then a number of posters reminded me of the Model T Ford. What can you say? In 1928 almost 90% of all light motor vehicles were found in the US and Canada. More than half of those were Model T Fords. Hurrah for planetary transmissions and the manual spark advance!

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    Henry Ford’s automation which made cars available to the middle class.

    But the finest hour? When Ford built 650 B-24 bombers a month at its Willow Run plant. 23 per day. Faster than the enemy could shoot them down.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    May 5th 2010 when a South African built product with a big Benz inline 6 saved my life on a road in Baghdad because my Government realized we didn’t have the best products for that mission and went out and bought it for us. Yeah, I’d go with that whole moon rover bit if that wasnt so personal.

  • avatar
    jmo

    With the talk of US industry and WWII. At it’s peak during WWII US defense spending was consuming 37.5% of GDP. In today’s environment that would 6 trillion/year. 500 Billion a month.

  • avatar
    April

    Right now is the best time.

    Overall today’s motor cars last longer, ride and handle better, get better gasoline mileage, are safer and need less routine maintenance.

    Few people long for bias ply tires, leaded gasoline, recirculating ball steering, metal dashboards with stiff metal knobs that punch pretty little holes in your skull in a collision.

    • 0 avatar
      hybridkiller

      +1

      There you go again, being all sensible and stuff…

    • 0 avatar
      billfrombuckhead

      Say goodbye to carburetors, blade keys, c/d players, shift levers, power steering pumps…….Say hello to back up cameras, U-connect, adaptive cruise control, self parking cars, capless gas tanks, seamless awd, a car like the wonderful new 200S AWD……….the great new all weather American touring car that is 70% the price of an Audi Quattro and makes TRDbarus look like Studebakers.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      +2 just for the safety aspect and the fact that your chances of surviving a crash are better today then they’ve ever been should qualify as a “finest hour”

  • avatar
    kitzler

    I have to say the 1955 Model Year: Before 1955 cars changed ever so slightly, they were definitely recognizable from one year to the next, then in 1955, from Cadillac (actually 1954) Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Chevrolets and Plymouths, Chrysler and Imperial, Dodge, Ford, Mercury Lincoln, Packard, Hudson, Nash, Willys, all these nameplates changed dramatically and fins became the rage.

    With other world makes so bland, American design stood out, turns out they were also great cars and quite reliable, heaters became standard equipment and Chrome ruled.

  • avatar
    ambulancechaser

    I’d say the moment the US Government bailed General Motors so they could continue slapping together a shockingly poor quality, life threatening product. Too big to fail indeed!

  • avatar
    billfrombuckhead

    Today’s Chrysler products like the Grand Cherokee, Wrangler, Cherokee, Ram truck, Dodge Charger, Dodge Challenger, Chrysler 300 and the new Pentastar powered AWD 200

    Mopar uber alles

  • avatar
    stroker49

    Excellent suggestions from many.
    A great well built car directly related to the 1955 was 1977 Caprice.

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    America’s Finest Automotive Hour?

    July 4, 1776.

    The day a bunch of guys told the world that they were setting up a new country where a man could be anything he was willing to work for. From that day on, a man didn’t have to be a king, or be friends with a king, to design and build and bring to life something awesome.

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    That was America’s Finest Automotive Hour – they just didn’t know it.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

      Excepting the labor of untold numbers of slaves, who had none of these rights, and the polarization of our society that exists to this day.

      I guess that makes me a “glass half-empty” sort.

    • 0 avatar
      hybridkiller

      Regardless of what one thinks about the founding fathers, they gave birth to a nation that, in the relatively short span of <250 years, has risen to global economic and military superiority.
      We have often misused that power – sometimes with good intentions, sometimes not. But the thing that makes us truly different has never been, IMO, articulated more eloquently than in this:

      "We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we’ve done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in…"
      -Colin Powell, January 2003

      My biggest fear is that the USA has never been more vulnerable to the kind of corruption and complacency that has brought down every "empire" in history.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    In terms of styling and customer options, I’d say 1957. In terms of the mechanicals catching up with styling, I’d go with 1968-70. In terms of representing what America seems to stand for to many, wretched excess, 1973-75, despite the strangulation of the classic American big V8. In terms of the domestics catching up with the Europeans and Japanese on automotive tech, styling, packaging and reliability, well, that’s a process that took the entire 1990s and part of the aughts, and is still incomplete.

    Come to think of it, we probably haven’t seen our automotive finest hour yet. That might be a good thing. The British finest hour was early in WWII, during the blitz, but it still marked the end of the British Empire as a world power. A milestone like that is best noted/recognized in a requiem after the subject has died, and we ain’t dead yet.

  • avatar
    dartman

    Henry Ford and the Model T. Ford had the vision we all enjoy today and it was translated into the Model T.

    “I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.” – Henry Ford

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    The Model T stands out as a vehicle that heralded mass production in the USA. There were probably more efficient and easier to operate vehicles at that time but none were mass produced and as readily available as the “T”.
    It still ranks in the Top 10 of all time world sales at 16.5 million vehicles.
    That is impressive considering the fact that it hasn’t been built for 86 years.

    Interestingly enough, the F150 sits at 35 million units.
    The model T rates #8 and the F150 #2 in all time global sales.

  • avatar
    baconator

    It’s hard to argue with the posters who say it’s the 1950s, but I’m going to try anyway: America’s finest hour is actually right now. The Big 3 are thriving in an industry that has significant excess capacity and many companies (Peugeot, Citroen, Mazda) have uncertain futures. GM is vying for largest market share in the Chinese market. Ford is vying for largest market share in the EU, and despite it’s troubles, GM’s Opel / Vauxhall is still in 4th place.

    In terms of product, the Fusion / Focus / Fiesta are all among the leaders of their respective classes in both the US and Europe. Dodge / Chrysler products are keeping Fiat afloat in profitability and the 300M / Jeep Grand Cherokee are globally respectable products.

    In GM’s portfolio, the Corvette and multiple Cadillacs are providing memorable and competitive cars for enthusiasts, and taking the fight to manufacturers (BMW?! Porsche?!) that no GM product was even remotely competitive with from the 1970s through the turn of the century. And yeah, LSx, FTW.

    And then there’s Tesla, which has managed to go from zero to outselling the S-Class, 7-Series, and A8 *combined* inside of 10 years.

    America is finally turning out great cars, just as the German luxury marques are struggling to define what makes them premium, and the Japanese are mostly turning out reliable mediocrity (and much of it in U.S. factories). How is this not a great time for the Big Three?

  • avatar
    billfrombuckhead

    The greatest family car ever made is the new Dodge Durango Hemi AWD and Ron Burgandy isn’t the only one saying that anymore. Talk about a “swagger wagon”. Even Consumer Reports head test guy drives one.

    Then there’s the new 707hp Challenger!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Mopar has rental cars more exciting than most of the appliances KoreaInc sells.

    I admit that Detroit while coming back like Peyton Manning in 4th quarter won’t defeat JapanInc’s appliance mobiles, Google’s autonomous cars will do that.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      What does Dodge have to do with Detroit anymore? The column is about America, not Italy.

      • 0 avatar
        billfrombuckhead

        Dodge Durango imported from Detroit and in your face like an angry rapper with a big chrome grille and a big……………

        It is funny that an immigrant growing up in a Canadian Detroit suburb saw more value in Chrysler than these American hating Libertarian ideologues who would sell their own souls to make make the Koch brothers, Wall Street, foreign government motors like Toyota and Hyundai, anybody but American workers wealthier. I know much of it is racism but most of it is the sicko Ayn Rand religion so many have bought into.

        • 0 avatar
          hybridkiller

          Bill, as much as I despise the Koch Bros, the Ayn Rand nonsense, and am an unapologetic Mopar lover from way back, with all due respect you may want to dial it back just a bit – you’re making BTSR look tame by comparison. Just sayin’…

      • 0 avatar
        hybridkiller

        “What does Dodge have to do with Detroit anymore?”

        In a world where a Camry has more American-made parts in it than a Mustang, and all of these companies are global shareholder-owned, there’s no simple answer to that question.

        • 0 avatar
          billfrombuckhead

          You trust cars.com? ROFL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          Here’s a much more accurate survey that takes into account R and D, suppliers, administrative activities and other important content left out by the advertising shills at Auto Traders weak sister competitor

          http://kogodnow.com/autoindex/

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            I reviewed the Kogod rankings, Bill, – they are kind of a mess. DuBois makes multiple obvious mistakes, including:
            – not understanding that the Compass/Patriot platform was engineered by Mitsubishi
            – not knowing that Chrysler is Italian
            – thinking that Denali is a GMC model, rather than trim.

            This isn’t careful work.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            That Kogod rankings is a joke. I can’t believe anyone takes that seriously. There are car models completely missing or applied to the wrong manufacturer, cars being shown built in the US that aren’t and I guess VW cut Porsche loose because even though Audi is listed as under the VW umbrella Porsche is not. There is no mention of Fiat anywhere with or without Chrysler. Total misinformation

  • avatar
    billfrombuckhead

    In fact it’s time for a TTAC comparison test. Rent a Durango and compare it to any comparable third row Japaninc, KoreaInc or the latest Eco-boost Ford Exploder.

    Today’s Hemi Durango=greatest American family car ever made. They ought to make a Chevy Chase Vacation movie at the drag strip around it.

    To paraphrase David Alan Coe “if that ain’t American, you can kiss my………”

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      “if that ain’t American…”

      It isn’t Bill, It’s Italian with a German-American ancestry. I know it hurts, Bill, but the truth sometimes does… Sorry

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      So you completely discount the mini-van that Chrysler brought out and is celebrating a 30 year anniversary and say that the Durango is the “greatest American family car ever made”?

      No Bill, the minivan is what has carried countless kids and families across the continent and the world. The Durango will fade away once again.

  • avatar
    troyohchatter

    At one point in time over 50% of the automobiles in the WORLD were Ford Model T’s. I think that pretty much ends the discussion as there was no other car that had such an impact on the world.

  • avatar
    bufguy

    I’d have to say the 1920’s when America produced cars that were truly world class…the 3 P’s….Packard, Peerless, Pierce Arrow as well as Duesenberg and Cadillac

    • 0 avatar
      hybridkiller

      Do you really think cars that were primarily status symbols of the wealthy and privileged few are the best tribute to American excellence? You know, the whole “All men were created equal / endowed with certain unalienable rights / life, liberty, pursuit of happiness – all that stuff?

      • 0 avatar
        SC5door

        Engineering excellence yes.

        4 wheel Hydraulic Brakes? Airbags? Electric Start? Stability Control? All items originally on high priced cars that eventually made it down to “regular” cars.

  • avatar
    luvmyv8

    There’s so many, but I guess I can name some that are signifigant un my view…..

    The ’64 Pontiac GTO; the first salvo in the muscle car wars.

    The ’64 Mustang; what hasn’t been already said about it?

    The ’68 Plymouth Road Runner- my personal favorite here. Why? It was a budget racer. By the late 60’s, sure you could have plenty of muscle cars, the problem was they were expensive and were pretty much loaded luxury wise…. like the Plymouth GTX, fast but expensive. The GTO, again it was upscale. Enter Plymouth. Take a bare bones coupe (I mean a total stripper with a taxi spec interior) add a special 383 with 440 heads and other goodies, add the necessary performance parts and keep the options list simple, just have other performance pieces such as the 426 Hemi. Oh and make the horn go “Beep Beep!” Yes please……

    The ’69 Dodge Polara (police special) when equipped with the 440 Magnum, this car would eat muscle cars; top speed was 147 MPH, from a fullsize battle cruiser BACK then on period tires…..

    ’69 Corvette ZL1; only 2 were known to be made. Take a 427 V8, BUT make it from all aluminum so that it weighed the same as a 327, make it stupid powerful, but under rate it at 430 hp when in reality it make 500+ and yeah, good times. Probably the most insane car from that era.

    Mid to late 70’s Trans Ams; the muscle car party was dead by ’73. Small and economical were in. Safety was in. So what did Pontiac do? Built a rolling middle finger. The SD455 was Pontiac’s defiance cast in metal. This “smogger” engine could run with the pre emission era performance engines. Though the SD455 was killed off after ’74 due to the catlytic converter, Pontiac still kept trying when even the Corvette gave up, Pontiac kept a 455 as an option, then at least the 400. In the late 70’s, if you wanted a fast american car, it was either a Trans Am or a Dodge or Plymouth police car with a 440. Oh and Smokey and Bandit kinda helped too.

  • avatar

    EV1

  • avatar
    shaker

    As a lot of politicians like to say, “I believe America’s Finest Hour is Yet to Come”.

    Renewables to power daily commuting.

    Petroleum for defense, air travel and plastics/chemistry.

    People often cite petroleum as a “gift from nature” (or God, as the case may be), yet we waste it on frivolous things when there are now alternatives.

    • 0 avatar
      hybridkiller

      Mankind’s propensity for making bad choices and just screwing up our world in general – another gift from God. A gift of which we often take full advantage.

  • avatar
    Pan

    Henry Ford’s invention of the automobile assembly line. It brought down the cost of cars, making them available to the average person.

    • 0 avatar

      Ransom Olds was making automobiles on an assembly line years before Henry Ford did. Ford’s contribution to mass production was breaking assembly down into very simple tasks that could be performed by minimally skilled labor, tasks that could be timed with a stopwatch. As a result, Ford Motor Company was a terrible, mind-numbing place to work. The year Ford implemented assembling the entire car via the new process, 1913, Ford had to hire something like 45,000 new hires just to keep 13,000 on the job. That’s why he started paying $5/day.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        “Henry Ford is generally regarded as the father of mass production. He was not. He was the sponsor of it.”

        -Charles E. Sorensen Vice President Ford Motor Co (Under Henry Ford)

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @Ronnie–Good points. The great thing that Henry Ford did was come up with the first affordable mass produced car. As you correctly pointed out Ransom Olds was the first to use an assembly line for manufacturing autos. Henry Ford produced the Model T as the first automobile that the average person could afford which is a real example of what America has stood for when it comes to autos. I would have to agree with the other comments that as a country the US was at its finest hour when we as a country went in full production of planes, tanks, ships, trucks, and other weapons during WW II. No one had ever done that before and it was our ability to do this that made us great along with our military commitment. It would have been a dark future for us all if we as a country would not have gotten involved in WW II.

  • avatar
    salguod

    I’d say 1955 – 1969. Lots of innovation and cool cars. This era brought us:

    Continental Mark II
    Eldorado Brougham
    Corvair
    Lincoln Continental 4 door convertible
    FWD Toronado
    Mustang
    Turbo Olds and Corvair in 1962
    GTO
    GT40
    Shelby Mustangs
    Rope drive GM Compacts
    Small block Chevy V8
    Thunderbird
    Fuel injected Chevies
    Hemi Chryslers
    Muscle cars
    Tri-5 Chevies
    Chrysler 300 letter cars

    I’m sure I’m still missing some. Outside of the early days of car building, I don’t know of any era that produced so much awesome as this.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Busy yesterday so getting here late. I consider the Model T to be more the start of the industry than it’s finest hour. As for the war conversion to tanks and planes, that was a matter of survival. It was necessary and a fine hour but it was essentially mandated as much as voluntary. I grew up reading all I could about cars and my first car was a 47 Studebaker with a flathead six.

    1955 was the year with the most significant change in available cars in my life. Specifically the 1955 Chevy with the 265 V8. Chevy had gone to the fully pressurized oil system in 1954 and they came out with the 265 in 1955. In 54 the chev was the match for the 239(?) ford or the late model flatheads with a 235 six. That was also the engine for the Vette. The 265 changed everything and essentially gave birth to the Ford 272. I don’t really know which came first but think they each knew what the other was doing. Chrysler didn’t come out with the A series engines till 56. Of all this there were two things that were world changers.

    1. The sbc became the engine of choice for hot rodders. Sure remember all the farmers with pulling their old Ts and As out of the field, selling, and watching and they magically sprouted highly chromed sbc engines and being driven by folks with more money than I.

    2. Suddenly the Vette and chevy coupes had an engine they could work with.

    I think 1957 had some big changes (black widow, FI, Nascar etc) but starting in 1955 you could buy cars that suddenly weren’t junk.
    Probably someone 30 years older than I thinks it was the 32 Ford and it’s lookalikes. Someone 30 years younger would probably give it to something like a turbocharged civic or mitsubishi eclipse. I suspect there is no universal answer but to me 1955 was the year that kickstarted things that happened during the next 50 years.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      “Probably someone 30 years older than I thinks it was the 32 Ford and it’s lookalikes. Someone 30 years younger would probably give it to something like a turbocharged civic or mitsubishi eclipse. I suspect there is no universal answer but to me 1955 was the year that kickstarted things that happened during the next 50 years.”

      To put a lid of sorts on things; when the Model T and the manufacturing changes that made it possible came about; it made the car affordable and available to everyone. The automobile was no longer something only the wealthy could afford; and it became part of the American and later the global landscape.

      The Ford Model A of 1927 and the V-8 in 1932 then raised the bar for the everyman’s car a step higher; the Packard, Peerless, Pierce Arrow, Duesenberg and Cadillac marked a high point for luxury cars for some time.

      The 1955 Chevy and it’s peers then set the stage for the next 30 years; the 1959 Cadillac and the Lincolns of the era reached another peak for the luxury car.

      Then, as Derek first mentioned, the early 1980s was the next period of drastic change, as the RWD barges that were the laat vestige of 1950s engineering were swept away by lightweight, more aerodynamic FWD cars like the Reliant K and the Chrsyler minivans that came from them and the Ford Taurus. It was these three, along with the offerings from Japan that has shaped the American scene up to the present day. Yes, this period is my personal favorite, because like wstaringteacher; I was a young man in college and watched this change unfold before my eyes; the Plymouth Reliant wagon I owned after a 1974 Plymouth Fury III was a revelation with it’s gocart handling, excellent mileage, AM/FM stereo built in, yet could still seat six in a much smaller package.

      I think most can agree the Model T was the most revolutionary car ever built; but which of these was America’s finest hour? Or was it when as others have said, not when we were producing cars at all; but when we converted our industrial might to fight WWII? Sure it, was a combination of despiration and mandate; but it nevertheless showed what America could do when we were driven as a country to do something great; as was the Apollo program. It will be decades before either of these achievements are surpassed; maybe never.

      I have said it before, but I think we are overdue for another automotive revolution, but what will it be? I know some here think it is the Tesla; but to me it is too expensive and has too many shortcomings in terms of range to be it. I secretly fear it will be the cartoonish bug that is the Google car.

    • 0 avatar
      jimbob457

      When the year 1954 started, my flathead Ford was fast. It was a pain to keep tuned with dual carbs. It idled a little rough because of its cam. It had a short life expectancy because it was bored and stroked. It needed Ethyl gas. It made too much noise for the local cops. It was fast.

      One year later it was only half-fast.

  • avatar
    matador

    The World War II Jeep.

    Enough said.

  • avatar
    SC5door

    Duesenberg.

    4 wheel hydraulic brakes.

    • 0 avatar
      msquare

      The 1924 Chrysler.

      4-wheel hydraulic brakes for the masses. Plus a six-cylinder engine with seven main bearings and a built-in oil filter. It didn’t have too many absolute firsts, but combining all the latest engineering features in a moderately-priced car definitely was a first.

      The Model T was advanced for 1908 but primitive by 1927, its final year of production. Chrysler was building arguably the best car in the world by then, as NOBODY could match it feature for feature at the price.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    “So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
    -Hunter Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

    In 1968, the high water mark reached Detroit.

    While one set of Chicago goons took on hippies, Steve McQueen took on another set in his ’68 Mustang GT on the streets of San Francisco. Young executives trolled about in powerful, classy Eldorados and Mark IIIs, while less-than-executives got Riviera and Toronados. Chevrolet rolled out a new Corvette shaped like a lingerie model and blessed with God-pounding speed and handling. All it took to turn an average family coupe into a future Barrett-Jackson GTO, 4-4-2, SS, Super Bee or Roadrunner was a few hundred bucks and a check mark on an order sheet. Engines had names like Hemi, or Cobra Jet. Ponycars reached a zenith of performance, style and power that wouldn’t come again for another three decades. Even basic family sedans came packed with style and power.

    This wasn’t a model year – it was a master class on automaking.

    In a few very short years, the EPA, OPEC, imports, the double-nickel, and a sudden, catastrophic loss of taste in Detroit’s styling studios would make all this into a distant, mocking memory, but in 1968, this was all in the future, and the American automobile reached a glorious, beautiful, high-octane peak.

  • avatar
    DrGastro997

    I’ll have to say it’s FA (factory automation). America changed the world ever since the implementation of FA, resulting in mass production. It has been improved both here and globally, but the fundamentals will forever exist.

  • avatar
    Riley Kestrel

    Greetings from Hungary!

    I was just wondering about that question today morning, and now I found that article.

    I think that 1955 was the best year in the history of automobile, not just in the US, but in the whole world.

    Just a few example:
    – First year of tri-five Chevy, and SBC engine too.
    – Packard’s glorious swan song with Torsion-Level Ride, Twin-Ultramatic transmission, OHV V8 engine and redesigned bodies. I’m fond of senior Four-Hundred or three-tone Caribbean.
    – Chrysler introduced the Hundred Million Dollar Look
    – GM’s four-door Hardtops went on sale.
    – First model year of Ford Thunderbird.
    – First V8 in Plymouth.
    – All-time record sales in domestic market.

    And you can find milestones in Europe, too:
    – Introducing of Citroen DS
    – Debute of first Wartburg (OK, that was not a big deal unless you lived behind the Iron Curtain – here it was a significant car.)
    – Pininfarina introduced the Lancia Florida, which became the most copied design in the sixties from England to East-Germany.
    – Peugeot launched the 403 series, Mercedes-Benz the beautiful 190SL (R121), Rolls the Silver Cloud, MG the legendary A roadster, etc.

    Maybe these facts make clear my point of view.

  • avatar
    Tom Szechy

    The Lincoln Continental of the sixties (4th gen I believe).
    The most understated beautiful car ever designed.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • ToolGuy: @mcs, Do you think he got the promotion because he drove the “right” vehicle? If...
  • mcs: Well, with the money he’s saved by driving the jeep, maybe in the holiday spirit, he could spring for some...
  • BobinPgh: Did the fact that according to Chrysler, it was “Suddenly 1960!” have anything to do with the...
  • ToolGuy: Re: XJ Cherokee This individual (current CEO of Amazon) has a net worth of something like $400 million and...
  • olddavid: I agree. I live where most electricity is generated by hydro and/or nuclear at Hanford. In my travels I see...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber