"Greatest" "American" "car" designs "from the modern era"


Stool Chef
Apr 12, 2005
San Francisco area, CA, USA
2015 Mazda 3 S GT, 2015 VW e-Golf
What do you think are the greatest¹ American² car³ designs from the modern era⁴?

¹"greatest" - define as you will...most impactful on the industry? Most daring? Most beautiful? All valid options.
²"American" - made in America? Made elsewhere, but American company? Designed in the US, but sold elsewhere? Any of those are fine
³ "car" - Car? Truck? Van? Whatever, just 3 wheels
⁴ "from the modern era" is a phrase Doug Demuro uses for his car auction website, and it means from 1981 to today. Feels as worthy as any other arbitrary demarcation line...

Here's the first one that came to mind for me:
1994 Dodge Ram. Once the 1997 F15 came out I prefered that, but up until this model, the pickup trucks for a long time prior had about as much "design" as a shoebox. From 1993 to 1994, annual sales for the Ram nearly tripled with this new design, then continued to grow every year for 5 more years.

The 1994 Dodge Ram kicked off the "Big Rig Style" aesthetic for American pick-up trucks that's continued for nearly 30 years.

For reference, here are the 1993 pickup options on the market at the time:

1993 Dodge Ram:

1993 Ford F150:

1993 Chevy Silverado:
And also the Dodge Durango SUV.

Basically, most of the cars and trucks that Tom Gale designed at Chrysler during the 90s could fall into this category.
The GM G bodies from 82-87 all look pretty good, but the Oldsmobile Cutlass is my favorite. Bonus if it is a Hurst/Olds or a 442.


I also have a soft spot for the 87 Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2.
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Man...when I made this thread, the Ram was the first one that came to mind because I had just seen a nice, clean example so it was top of mind. But, honestly, I didn't actually think I'd have a hard time coming up with very many more. Almost every one I could think of was either Japanese or European-designs (and I'm trying to keep away from those, even though I said they'd be allowed). 😅 The Ford GT I cheating because it's basically a 1960s GT40 if you squint.

OK, here's one than came to mind:
Polarizing for sure, but it was super unique at the time. In convertible form, I prefered the 85% Corvette-alike Saturn Sky, but then Pontiac came out with the hard top with the removeable roof panel, and the design struck a chord with me. Which was a bummer, because there were so many disapointing aspects to the car...

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Oh I can do daring. By daring I mean the butt of many jokes.



The crossfire was a collaboration with Daimler-Benz so I don't know if that counts.

If concept designs are allowed I nominate the Hy-wire, way ahead of its time.
The thing with the Solstice is that the front end looks incredibly Japanese, like it's some sort of chibi anime icon. I'll post some more of Tom Gale's era of Chrysler classics.

The Chrysler LHS: Yes, it's kinda blobby in a very 90s way, but it's brashly extroverted and very American.


The Plymouth Prowler: You gotta admit, for an actual mass-market car company to make it, this was a bold move.

C'mon. Aside from being an icon in its own right, that crosshair grille and angry eye headlights have defined the face of the Dodge brand for decades.
Interesting that there's lots of Mopars in here.
I was thinking the same thing when I was scrolling through my brain's index.

The Prowler and Viper are good choices.

The PT Cruiser never would have happened if the VW New Beetle hadn't been such a success, so in a way, it was a bit less risky than it would have been otherwise, though nothing exists in a vaccuum.

If we're talking about concepts, the Oldsmobile Alero was one of my favorites.


But what we got, was a barely-more-handsome Pontiac Grand Am coupe.

Credit where it's due, from the blobby 300M to the blocky, amateurish first 300C, I have to say that the 300C really grew on me as the facelifts progressed, looking stately and strong, with some nice detailing in the end...though it's been looking long-in-the-tooth for a while now. Still a bit bulky and boxy, but it has presence. I think I prefer the new-ish Lincoln Continental, and there are details I like about it more...but when you step back and look at the overall design, I don't think it has as much "punch" as the 300C.
Honestly, I think the New Beetle should count. After all, it was designed by the extremely American J. Mays and built in America (the continent, that is)


As a car, it is rather an appalling thing (not that you could say that at the time without getting flamed on the internet), but it did single-handedly created the Retro car craze that we're still enjoying today. Making it, rather surprisingly, one of the most influential cars of the decade.

The reason there's so many Mopars in here was the result of its brush with death, it's only after the Daimler merger that things go off the rails pretty quickly. In design terms, you get rather more bloated designs replacing the crisp, modern lines of their predecessors (see WK vs WJ Grand Cherokees for an especially egregious example). Of particular note, I would like to suggest the Gen1 LH cars, as represented in this post by the Chrysler Concorde


Here's a full-size American sedan you could own and not feel like you compromised on much. With its cab-forward design, powerful V6 engines and an interior that didn't embarrass itself like it did on the other contemporary American cars in this segment, you could buy this over a Camry or an Accord, or the less expensive German sedans and feel good about it. Certainly more than on a whale Caprice or the Aero Vic.
The hilarious thing about the whole LH platform was that its longitudinal FWD layout was a Renault leftover from the AMC acquisition.
I'll throw in a mention of the 2005 Mustang. It was one of the first new "attainable" cars I Iusted after. So much so, that I rented one for my birthday weekend in 2006 to drive up the coast. The Camaro was just killed off a couple years before due to slumping sales, and the whole domestic sports coupe (aka pony/muscle car) segment was very nearly dead in the US. This new Mustang was successful enough to revitalize a whole category, for which we now (at least for now...but not much longer) have had 3 competitors (Mustang, Camaro and Challenger) and I don't think we'd have that if it weren't for this 'Stang. I think even if the Mustang was killed off, and the Camaro still came back with its car exactly as it did in 2009, I don't think the segment would have gotten the same boost as it did from the 2005 Mustang. It was still prehistoric (live rear axle, only 300hp V8), but it was good enough, and the modernized retro style carried it.
Double post, because the mods are asleep...

I was (and still might slightly be) a bit of Ford fan boy. Not to the nut swinger level, but to some degree lower than that. Much lower than that. Therefor, I'm going to talk out of both sides of my mouth here.


I wanted a Ford Lightning. I still want one, but as good as they looked....


Dodge did it better with the Ram SRT-10.


To @NecroJoe 's point about the 2005-2009 Mustang. I submit that the GT500 was just that little bit more that the standard car needed. Some of that power, but the rest is the more aggressive grille and bumper.


Meanwhile, the above (the Mercury Marauder), I submit as the best looking modern body on frame car. Take the pedestrian Crown Vic/Grand Marquis, swap in about 100 more HP and black it out, all of it. (Though I believe maroon, silver and dark blue were available later).


As a short break from the Ford content, the only Corvette I have ever liked/wanted. The C5 ZO6.

And lastly...


The last (hopefully) Ford Thunderbird. This is to @gaasc 's point. Pure, unadulterated, nostalgia design. So perfectly executed, no one wanted to spend the $35,000 to 45,000 for a car at the time. I mean, now a Toyota Corolla can be that much.

So to sum up, I don't have a pick, but I do have some favorites.
I've always had a soft spot for the Thunderbird gen just before that one. The (*very* violent) car chase from Jade played a part in that. Hilariously, the Thunderbird was the "bad guy" and the "good guy" was a silver Taurus who caught up to him. Arguably as good a San Francisco chase as Bullit. Jumps, off-roading, and a Chinatown parade. With all of that said, it was not a "greatest American design" by any stretch of the imagination. :lmao:
It may be controversial here, but I think the greatest American car design from the modern era does not come from Detroit, but California. The Tesla Model S. I my opinion, it was the automotive industry's "iPhone moment".

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I was just thinking the same thing yesterday, but I was on a walk at the time, and forgot to post it when I got home. Ha!

OK, so the faux grill didn't last long, but the design itself proved that an EV could look like a "normal" car, and I think it's aged very well. It's a 10-year old design now, and hasn't changed much aside from face-lifts.
I think this deserves to be mentioned here (and yet another Mopar (sort of):


The first American unibody 4x4, and the first non-military unibody 4x4 anywhere. Arguably the first crossover because of said unibody construction (though some would say the Eagle - also designed by AMC - was really the first).

Iconic design, extremely capable (and basically unlimitedly so with modification), practical, and surprisingly compact.
Yeah, probably the Model S. Nothing else from the US has driven the industry forward as much in recent decades.

(I think the SUV/crossover trend has driven it backwards)