From Bel Air cruisers to bucking Broncos, low-slung Impalas to hotrod Novas, or muscle-bound Mopars, pretty Pontiacs, killer Cobra replicas, and everything in between – the classic car landscape is filled with legendary icons from just about every car maker. We’re fortunate enough to have some of the world’s finest vintage automobile examples drive through our doors every day, and although we’d need to publish a virtual encyclopedia to explore them all on their individual merits, we can’t resist but highlight some of our staff favorites and yearly best sellers below.
Chevrolet Bel Air
We call these ground-breaking Chevrolets the Tri-Fives – encompassing three years and four models: the 150, 210, Bel Air, and Nomad. Most people categorize these cars under the umbrella of the upmarket Bel Air, and other than subtle variations in drivetrains, interior/exterior trim, and options, they’re largely the same beautifully designed classic. Launched in 1955 to instant success, “The Hot One” ran the gamut from the economical 150, to the median 210, and culminating in the luxury Bel Air, although even the spacious Nomad wagon was uber-popular. A facelift in 1956 increased surging sales, and with America’s thirst for horsepower getting stronger, the big V8s stoked our hotrodding obsession. The 1957 Bel Air is the ultimate Tri-5 – as famous as Elvis, baseball, and apple pie – with distinctive exterior trim, ornate interiors, and dynamic drivetrains that cemented the car into US motoring royalty.
Chevrolet’s flagship, the Impala started our love of the long, low, and luxurious full-size car. Produced for 50+ years and over ten generations, the 1958-67s are considered the best, although the ’68-’72 and ’94-’96 models are rapidly growing in popularity. The party got started in ’58 with what’s largely considered the Impala’s most unique design to date, where the tradition of long, wide, and low-slung sedans with quad-headlights also began. GM efficiency resulted in shared body shells with Buick/Olds/Pontiac in ’59-‘60, but these early X-bodies also featured beloved, dramatic Art Deco-styling. 1961 ushered in the first ‘SS’ and ‘Bubbletop’ versions on GM’s shared B-platform, while the similar-looking ’62-’64s have essentially become the exemplar for the nameplate. ’65-67 Impalas brought bigger and rounder bodies, and with them all-time industry sales records.
Also known as the Chevy II in its early years, the Nova was GM’s foray into the compact market, where the Ford Falcon was outpacing the failing Corvair. “Maximum functionalism with thrift” was the mandate, and the 1st gen Chevy IIs (technically, Nova was the upmarket submodel before it became the sole nameplate in ’68) didn’t disappoint with lightweight construction, minimal thrills, and purposeful drivetrains. Offered in 2/4-doors, convertibles, and wagons, the chiseled economy cars became popular with the hotrod scene, culminating in the first ‘SS’ in ‘63. Redesigns and V8s in ’64-’65 were incorporated to keep up with the Chevelle, although they didn’t make a dent until the 2nd gen ’66-67 years. The 3rd gen (’68-’72) Novas featured a major redesign, with big V8s and muscle-bound styling that rivals the Chevelle even today. The 1969-1970 SS396 Nova’s are arguably the best of the breed.
From the minds that brought us the Mustang, the Bronco is widely considered to be the world’s first major-production SUV. A civilian off-roader built to compete against the Jeep, the Early Broncos are etched into the American zeitgeist among legendary classics. Featuring a boxy, 4x4-only design based on simplicity and economy, the uber-popular 1st gens are symmetrical, feature flat glass and straight bumpers, and are offered in 3 styles mostly unchanged through 1977 – 2-dr wagons, roadsters (until ’68), and half-cabs (until ’72). 1978-’79s enter the full-size SUV market, directly adopted from F-Series trucks, a trend continued in the subsequent ’80-’86 “Bullnoses”. “Bricknose” 4th gens and the bigger and more rounded “OBS” 5th gens are based on SWB F-150s and offer more options and luxury, including the desirable Eddie Bauer edition.
While most American automakers were acquiescing to federal and insurance agencies and winding down the muscle car era, Mopars (Dodge, Chrysler, and Plymouth) pretended not to get the memo. And even when they finally did comply, they still went kicking and screaming into forced governmental subjugation with some of the most powerful vehicles ever made. From the Bullitt-chasing 1968 Dodge Charger to the iconic 1971 Plymouth ‘Cuda, or the world-beating 1970 Dodge Challenger – you could not get a more “street-legal yet track-ready” production car from any other manufacturer. We’re barely scratching the surface of awesomeness here, with icons like ‘440 Six Pack’, ‘Magnum’, and ‘HEMI’ to still be bandied about, not to mention ‘AAR’, ‘Daytona’, and ‘Super Bird’, just to name a select few.
Without John DeLorean’s Pontiac GTO, there may be no muscle car era. No Hurst shifters. No hood tachs. No go-wings. Pontiac was immensely proud of its hard-earned performance reputation, so when GM banned all division involvement in auto racing, the company focused on street performance – from whence came the GTO. Argued by many to be the ‘father’ of all muscle cars, the 1964 GTO (an option on the Tempest LeMans) is the only year with horizontal headlights. Stacked headlights took over 1965-67, with the GTO becoming its own model in ‘66, and the powerful 389 Tri-Power debuted in 1964. Curvaceous, “Coke-bottle” semi-fastbacks with Endura front bumpers debuted in 1968, and hi-performance cars like the Ram Air III & IV 1969-1970 GTO Judge were truly the pinnacle of Pontiac performance.
Pontiac Trans Am
Spanning four generations, Pontiac set GM’s F-body platform ablaze with their Firebird specialty package, the Trans Am. By upgrading the power, handling, and looks of the already slick coupes and convertibles, Pontiac Motor Division proved to the world they wouldn’t be sacrificing performance. While muscle cars were being choked and displacements were shrinking, the “Super Duty” Trans Am bucked the trend in the mid ‘70s. The smallest engine offered in the first 10 years of the Trans Am was a 400 V8, while the 455 V8 was further punctuated based on various Ram Air inductions. After a lone offering in 1969, 2nd gen Trans Ams were mostly similar until 1975 with swoopy designs and single headlights. ’76 debuted urethane bumpers and wraparound rear glass, culminating in the Bandit-style Trans Ams from ’77-’81. The redesigned 4th gen stormed back in 1993 with aerodynamic styling and top muscle-car performance under the WS6 banner, until production ended in 2002.
There’s a myriad of replicas, kit cars, and tributes in the collector car world, but none are quite as exciting as the Shelby Cobra Replica. Modeled after the legendary Shelby AC Cobra collaborations from 1965-67, these incredibly lightweight roadsters pack a huge punch, regardless of whether they carry feisty small blocks, period-perfect 427/428 tribute big blocks, or even fuel-injected powerplants. Recreations have been built by professional shops for decades, offering ‘the common man’ a chance at exhilarating performance, precise handling, and legendary styling at a fraction of the cost of the genuine article (which these days tip the scales deep into six figures). Ranging from 1:1 period-correct builds to custom creations, companies like Factory Five, Superformance, Backdraft, and Lone Star et al have exploded on the scene since a federal law was passed allowing small automakers easier access to consumers without the overhead of a major automaker.