The Most Iconic Cars Ever Made

By Jake Schroeder
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Photo Courtesy: Rob King/Wikimedia Commons

Cars have changed a lot over the years, but one thing about them remains the same — people love iconic makes and models. Each decade had its own versions of the automobile that won out over the rest, and many car manufacturers improved upon previous designs to make new cars that much better and entice consumers. As the decades went on, new designs, drive styles and body types were introduced, but some have stood the test of time better than others.

Dodge Brothers Model 30, 1914

John and Horace Dodge became car-industry pioneers when they created Dodge Brothers Company in 1914. They grew up in an automotive family working at their father's shop, so they got off to a good start when it came to designing and producing cars.

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The two went on to start the well-known Dodge brand and subsequently introduced the Dodge Brothers Model 30. The classic sedan was the first four-door vehicle with a steel roof. The sedan was the last car John Dodge owned before his death in 1920.

Chrysler Imperial 80, 1926

Starting in the early years of the automobile, Chrysler made vehicles that were designed to be both reliable and stylish. In 1926, the company released the Imperial 80, a car that was meant to make a competitive mark on the auto industry.

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Luxury vehicles like those from Cadillac and Lincoln were popular at the time, but upon release of the Imperial 80, it was obvious that Chrysler had come to win. The car had a six-cylinder engine that had 92 horsepower, and Chrysler was so confident that the Imperial was worth buying that it offered a speed guarantee on the vehicle.

Lancia Lambda, 1923

Lancia is a car manufacturer based in Italy that’s been around since 1906. The car company pioneered the sports tourer with its Lancia Lambda in 1923. The car was the first to offer an independent front suspension system and a V4 engine.

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Lambda was way ahead of its time in the car-manufacturing business, offering advanced engineering for the weight of the car, the types of materials used and the construction formats that differed from the typical cars of the time. Lancia became a part of the Fiat Group in 1969 and is now known as Lancia Automobiles.

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Rolls Royce Phantom I, 1925

Rolls Royce has become synonymous with luxury and affluence over the years — and for good reason. The cars are generally sought after by the rich and famous, and brides and grooms often use them as wedding limousines. In 1925, Rolls Royce introduced the Phantom I, a replacement for its popular 40/50 Silver Ghost.

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The Phantom I had a much better engine than its predecessor at 7.7 liters and six cylinders. It also had disc brakes, which were fairly new at the time. Its elegant, modern design was a welcomed upgrade from previous Rolls Royce models.

Bentley 8 Litre, 1930

Perhaps no car make is as widely recognized for being a luxurious status symbol quite like a Bentley is. Back in 1930, Bentley launched its very last car before Rolls Royce purchased the company: the Bentley 8 Litre.

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The vehicle ran at 230 horsepower, and even with all the rich touches in its design, it could hit speeds of over 100 miles an hour. The car was personally vouched for by W.O. Bentley himself when he told the public that the ride would be silent, even while running at top speeds.

Ford Roadster, 1932

The Ford Roadster was arguably the car that started the hot rod trend among Americans and other car enthusiasts around the world. The car was the main player in speed and drag racing because of its V8 engine and accessibility that allowed mechanics to easily modify it.

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The popularity of the car can be attributed to its great racing abilities but also to its cheap price tag. It also had both five-window and three-window suicide door options. The Beach Boys' hit song "Little Deuce Coupe" helped secure its popularity almost three decades after the first Roadster came off the line.

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Pierce Silver Arrow, 1933

The futuristic look of the Pierce Silver Arrow was something people marveled at when it was released in 1933. It boasted enclosed fenders, and the swooping bodywork was unlike anything anyone had ever seen in car production.

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The unique car had a V12 engine, which was rare at the time, and could hit speeds of up to 115 miles per hour. At the time the car cost $10,000, which, accounting for inflation, would be almost $200,000 today. It's no wonder that only a few of the cars were ever produced.

Cadillac V16, 1938

There's a reason why people use the name Cadillac to describe something that’s the best of the best. The car company started strong and has kept it up. Back in 1938, it introduced the powerful Cadillac V16, a beautiful and heavy car that hit the pinnacle of popularity shortly after its release.

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The smooth ride that the V16 engine provided was one of the main draws when it came to purchasing a Cadillac back in the day. The company’s use of this engine lasted until the 1940s when it replaced that engine with a V8 on all Cadillac models.

Buick Century, 1941

The Buick Century was once one of America's most powerful vehicles to hit the road. The car could hit speeds of over 100 miles an hour — with a most comfortable cruise at 80 miles an hour — and got power from an eight-cylinder engine with 165 horsepower.

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Buick's brand reputation, even today, owes the Century some gratitude. If it wasn't for this specific car, it's not certain that Buick would’ve ever been able to make performance one of its major selling points. The Century was released in a fleet with six other models.

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Lincoln Continental, 1942

Lincoln’s production was put on hold during WWII, but that wasn't before it released the Continental with a slightly new design that included front-end sheetmetal. Most of the Lincolns released before the war didn’t vary much from their predecessors, but the Continental was decidedly different.

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The V12 engine didn't surpass other powerful cars of the time, but with its 292-cubic-inch engine, it sure stood out. Apparently fewer than 140 of these cars were ever made, so their rareness is something that helped secure their popularity.

Chevrolet Fleetmaster, 1947

Perhaps one of the most recognizable cars on the list is the Chevrolet Fleetmaster. Although it didn't have much of a style change from the previous model, it did take some 1930s designs and update them a little bit to make this one of the most sought-after convertible cars of the decade.

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Over 600,000 Fleetmasters were sold in America in 1947, showing that they were on everybody's car wish list that year. Its classic looks and reliable engine made for a car that offered both new excitement and familiar comfort.

Mercury 8, 1949

When the custom-car culture of the ‘40s took over for machine-heads across America, the Mercury 8 was a top choice. The design and composition of the car had drastically changed from its predecessor, which made it that much more desirable among car lovers.

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The Mercury 8 offered a new flathead V8 but kept the same peaked hood and wicked fenders that it had in years prior. The car was so popular that its fame still lives on today for hot rodders — some of whom spend upwards of $50,000 just to update and modify these vehicles.

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Volkswagen Beetle, 1950

The 1950 Beetle was a vast improvement on the older versions of the classic car, which was released in the late 1930s, and the 1950 version saw a rise in sales by over 100%. Over the years since its release, the Beetle has gone on to become one of the best-selling cars in history.

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Volkswagen is now one of the biggest car companies in the world, and for good reason. The reliable German engineering and sleek and updated styles that it continues to release are just a couple of the reasons why VWs are so popular.

Chevrolet Corvette, 1953

Even people who don't care much about cars know about the Chevy Corvette. The car has been pushed in pop culture and became a classic almost instantly upon its release. This was the first "sports car" in American-made history, and it became a staple on the roads in the U.S.

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The 1953 version of the ‘Vette had a six-cylinder engine with a soft top for those hot summer days. The side windows were actually detachable, and it was lightweight, made of fiberglass. 1953 was the first year of sales for this iconic car — and it only came in a color called Polo White initially.

Chevrolet Bel Air, 1957

Even in the 1950s, this was a surefire contender for car enthusiasts everywhere. Saying it was a beautiful take on automobile design even back then was a complete understatement.

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The fins on the 1957 Bel Air were the largest in Bel Air history, and the choice between convertible or sedan made the car that much more desirable. The V8 engine was so powerful that, had the term "muscle car" existed at the time, the Bel Air would’ve been the best muscle car around.

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Studebaker Avanti, 1962

The Studebaker Avanti is one of the rarer luxury coupes ever made. Fewer than 5,000 of the cars were manufactured, and the lifespan of the car was reportedly just a year. The Avanti was originally marketed to the public as "the only four-passenger high-performance personal car."

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The Avanti's body was made of fiberglass, and the design was revered among car enthusiasts. The car’s safety rating was off the charts, and it offered high speeds with its 289 Hawk engine and supercharger.

Pontiac GTO, 1964

The ‘60s were the beginnings of the American muscle car, and the GTO kicked that era off with its high horsepower and small body design. The V8 engine was one of the most powerful at the time. The car also had hood scoops, even though they weren't functional initially.

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With its firm suspension and custom tires, the GTO was a performance car that set the standard for others to follow. The style of the car was popular, of course, but the thrilling speed it offered had buyers waiting in line for their chance to drive one.

Porsche 911, 1965

Just about anything from Porsche is many a car lover's dream. This particular luxury model has been making waves since its conception. When the Porsche 911 was released, it was the start of the car company's long reign over the industry; the 911 set a standard for racing.

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In the beginning, the flat engine wasn't all that impressive, but when the 911 was released, it came with a bigger, more powerful engine. This allowed Porsche to hit the market running and get enthusiasts interested in the stylish and fast racing powerhouse. New versions of the 911 have been released yearly since 1965.

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Stutz Blackhawk, 1970

The Stutz Blackhawk was the perfect example of 1970s style. The Italian car was produced on an American chassis, and it was the epitome of luxury, costing buyers upwards of $30,000 for the cheapest option. With inflation, that would be over $200,000 today. Only about 600 of the cars were ever made.

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The Stutz Blackhawk was a famous-people car, and owners included Johnny Cash and Elvis. The cool factor of the car coupled with its hefty price tag gave the vehicle its infamy, and it soon became a status symbol for anyone who could afford it.

Ford Ranchero, 1972

The Ford Ranchero was the 1970s’ version of a lovechild between the pick-up truck and the sporty sedan. The pick-up cars were made to haul and cruise, and people loved the way they drove, along with their appearance, at the time.

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The Ranchero ran on a V8 engine, so it got a good amount of power for its day. The 1972 version wasn't the first ever made, but it was the most popular because of its design and cargo-carrying capabilities. It was the perfect combination of a pick-up truck, stylish sedan and station wagon.

Pontiac Trans Am, 1977

The Pontiac Trans Am ruled the 1970s when it came out. Pop culture took the car and ran with it. The car was featured in the movie Smokey and the Bandit, making it more famous than it already was. The front decal of a "screaming chicken" made it a standout on the road.

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The Trans Am ran on a 6.6-liter V8 engine with an option that offered 200 horsepower. The handling of the Trans Am was top notch, and it rivaled its competition, winning over the hearts of every muscle car lover in the United States.

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DeLorean, 1981

Everyone who's anyone will recognize the DeLorean as the fast, time-traveling car from the hit film Back to the Future. The butterfly doors, the cool boxy style and the fact that it could time-travel (in the movie) made the car an iconic ‘80s staple.

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Before it was in the movie, the DeLorean had a hard time making a name for itself among tough competitors such as Ferrari and Porsche. With an engine with only 130 horsepower, there's a reason it didn't match faster cars of the time. It's still the famous DeLorean, though.

Volkswagen GTI, 1983

Another Volkswagen on the list is the GTI, the first hatchback made to be a sporty alternative to common four-door automobiles of the time. The car was cheap for its day, costing buyers less than $10,000. That made ownership of the cool compact easy and affordable.

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The GTI also offered upgrades from its predecessor, the Rabbit, such as firm suspension and bigger tires. It only had 90 horsepower, but its speed wasn't an issue because of its small size. Its diminutive proportions were something new back when it was released, and people loved the GTI's new style.

Ferrari Testarossa, 1985

Another iconic car that was made famous by pop culture, the Ferrari Testarossa was featured in the hit TV show Miami Vice. The advanced vehicle was so far ahead of its time that it was almost impossible to believe Ferrari had accomplished such a feat.

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The car ran on a 12-cylinder engine and it was a speedster, reaching 60 in fewer than 6 seconds. The speed mixed with its unique style made it an icon waiting to happen.

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Mazda Miata, 1990

Taking a page out of the classic European roaster's book, the Mazda Miata showed up in 1990 with a truly unique look and feel. The handling of the car was top-notch when it was released, and at under $14,000, it wasn't too expensive for the everyday driver.

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After its release, it became the top choice in cars for racing enthusiasts because of its lightweight body and speed abilities. The Miata was so well made and so unique that it's arguably still in its own class.

Porsche Boxster, 1997

The inspiration for this car’s design came from the 550 Spyder, and it measured up nicely. It was designed to introduce to people the idea of driving a sports car without having to go full speedster.

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The Boxster had 201 horsepower, which gave it the desired speed needed to zip around tracks or country roads. In 2006, a hardtop version of the Boxster called the Cayman was introduced, and it took the vehicle’s classic style and made it new all over again.

Pontiac Aztek, 2000

The Pontiac Aztek might not be the coolest car on the list, but that doesn't make it any less iconic. The crossover was supposed to be a shining light in the world of SUVs, but it just didn't hit the mark. People didn't like its looks or driving abilities.

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It ran on a measly 185 horsepower — way too small for its size. People didn't love the drivability of the Aztek, and they hated the way it looked even more. Regardless of its lack of success, the Aztek still remains a highly recognizable crossover today because of its design.

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Audi R8, 2006

Audis are typically marketed as high-end, luxurious sports cars, and the Audi R8 was no different. Its predecessor didn't impress because it resembled a VW Golf more than anything else. But with the R8, the manufacturers decided to use a chassis that was more in line with a Lamborghini.

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The V8 engine ran on a whopping 420 horsepower, which made the "supercar" more fun to drive than a lot of its competitors. It became both a leisure sports car and a daily driver because not only was it fast and powerful, but it was also a dream to maneuver.

Tesla Model S, 2012

When the Tesla Model S arrived on the scene, it was the first car made without inspiration from any other automobile that came before it. This electric car was unique in almost every aspect, and the style made all other electric cars look, well, pretty dull.

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The driving range of the Model S made it possible for owners to hit the road much longer in this car, getting around 265 miles on a single charge. The Model S changed the electric-vehicle game and offered high-tech options that other cars just didn't have.

Tesla Model 3, 2018

Tesla is really making a name for itself in the electric-vehicle industry, and the Tesla Model 3 is a perfect example of an icon of the road. The sport sedan offers a 300-mile range on a single charge — at an affordable price tag to boot.

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Handling on the sports car is amazing, taking just a few seconds to reach 60-mile-an-hour speeds. The initial release saw only 2,000 Model 3s built, so their exclusivity matched that of Tesla's previous models, but increasing production in recent years has made more of these cars readily available.

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