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American car brands – check which cars are from USA

6 June 2022

Massive, gas-guzzling, exaggerated in every aspect – this is how American car brands have been perceived for years. Is such view right – and if yes – has anything changed in this matter? Here’s what you should know about car manufacturers from USA.


What were the first American car brands?

Most people associate the beginning of the automotive industry in USA with the Ford Model T. And although it certainly was a breakthrough model, it was created only in 1908. The Model T stood out for its simple and easy to repair construction, soft suspension, and high clearance facilitating driving through off-road. Driving was also supposed not to require any advanced skills. In other words – Henry Ford wanted to create a car for everybody, and so he did. But the thing is that – considering the production in USA – Ford wasn’t first.

The oldest American brand of car mass-production was founded in 1897 and it existed until 2004, when it was liquidated due to the gradually falling sales. It was Oldsmobile. The company was taken over quite soon, in 1908, by General Motors, in whose portfolio it remained for nearly a hundred years.


Other American car brands with long history are i.a.:

  • Buick – a company founded in 1899, and, similarly to Oldsmobile, incorporated into GM in 1908
  • Packard – a manufacturer of luxury cars founded in 1899, and in the mid-twentieth century joined with Studebaker and liquidated several years later
  • Rambler – a brand which existed from 1900 to 1914, and then again from 1950 to 1969

In 1900, a company called Dodge was also founded. Cadillac was founded in 1902, and Ford – in 1903. Willys – an off-road cars manufacturer – was founded in 1908, Chevrolet and GMC – in 1911, Lincoln was founded in 1917, Chrysler – in 1925, and Pontiac – in 1926. Certain brads are way younger, such as Hummer, which was founded in 1992, and Tesla – in 2003.


Classic American cars

For years, fuel in USA has costed a lot less than for example in Europe. The country itself is of an enormous size, which means that there’s no need to worry about the space. These factors, among others, impacted the classic cars from America. Models offered by various brands stood out for powerful but at the same time inexhaustible engines (which in turn translated into their service life) and their size noticeably bigger compared to the European cars. The cars from across the ocean were also almost always equipped with the automatic transmission.

There are also certain differences in the preferences of the American drivers. In the United States, there are almost no combi cars sold – which are very popular in Poland. Sports cars, luxurious vans and pickups are a different story – they are an inherent elements of the American peculiar scenery.



A sports car with a long hood, roaring engine and the rear wheel drive? When it comes to the American car brands, it’s definitely not enough information to point to a specific model. The so-called muscle cars were offered by various manufacturers. One of them was Dodge.


Dodge Charger

The first Charger was presented in 1966. It has rotating headlights – they’d withdraw when off – and the V8 engines, of which the smallest(!) was of 5.2-liter capacity. The second generation debuted very soon, already after two years. A “humble” 3.7 engine (still in the V8 system) was added, and the bodywork was redesigned, but the character of the car remained the same.

The new model – third generation Charger – debuted in 1971, and, surprise, along with the classic V-angle models, a new straight-six one. It was a response to the increasing fuel prices and the insurance costs – as we can see, even the American automotive industry was subjected to certain constraints. In 1975, another Charger, of the fourth generation and quite extravagant, was released, after which the name change was introduced. The successor of Charger IV was Dodge Magnum.

However, the history of the Charger model does not end here. During 1981-1987 Dodge Charger was produced, which did not resemble its first models at all. It was a 3-door coupé with R4 engines which capacities ranged between 1.7-2.2 liters. In 2005, another car of such name is produced – and again, it was different than the first model. It was not a muscle car anymore (although it is referred to by some as a 4-door muscle car), but an over 5-meter long sedan, with V6 and V8 engines under its hood.  Its dive is transferred to the rear axle or to four wheels.



Ford Mustang

Along with the muscle cars, there were the so-called pony cars produced parallelly. They were slightly smaller, which was a response to the customers’ expectations – it somewhat counters the belief that Americans have always been keen on the biggest cars. Smaller bodyworks translated into limited space for engines. Therefore, their size had to be relatively reduced. Pony cars were therefore slightly slower, but it doesn’t mean that they were slow. An example of this can be the most famous representative of this category – Ford Mustang.

The first Mustangs were sold in the 60s. of the 20th century, preceded by a series of prototypes. The Ford engineers were at that time looking for a response to the Chevrolet Corvette. This car was expensive, which was an obstacle to the spread of its popularity. Ford tried to cover the needs which Chevrolet had failed to satisfy. Mustang for all the years of its production – which is still on-going – has always been relatively affordable. What is more, Ford allowed customising the car quite extensively, by offering extra parts and accessories.



Ford Mustang evolved with time, and the subsequent models were more or less popular. In the meantime, the legendary brand is still going well, and since 2014 – aside from the massive, V-angle engines – they get also equipped with the 2.3-liter R4 EcoBoost engine.


A thing which was supposed to be the nail in the coffin of cars, nomen omen predominantly for the mustang, has become an excellent move. Thanks to the smaller engine, the Ford Mustang has started to matter in Europe.


Chevrolet Camaro

Ford’s response to the Chevrolet Corvette was definitely effective. Effective to such an extent that the Chevrolet started to feel obliged to provide its response sooner. The Ford Mustang was already the most popular, which was a big challenge for the General Motors group. The Chevrolet Camaro was supposed to rise to the challenge.

The car was similar both to the Mustang, as well to the Dodge Challenger – another representative of the pony cars. It characterised with a long hood, but also a quite subdued, at least at first, design. The first generation of the Camaro started to be manufactured in 1966, offered in coupé and cabrio versions. Primarily, the car was pretty small – especially for the American standards. It was 469 cm long… but only at the beginning, as with every subsequent generation – it gradually grew.

The second generation Camaro was produced from 1970 to 1981, based on the same platform as its predecessor, however, with a totally new bodywork. And in fact – compared to the previous cars – the new Camaro definitely took on a new character. Under the hoods of the subsequent models, the massive V-angle engines were installed – mainly V6 and V8 – although the Chevrolet would make also exceptions and would install the straight-six ones (in the 3rd generation, there were also the 2.5-liter L4s – however, in the following ones there were none, and only the “Vs” remained).



The fifth generation looked totally different than the fourth one – and in addition, it was supposed to be destined for the European market. But the Camaro – and the Chevrolet itself – did not preserve long in Europe. Eventually, the car with the massive engine ceased to be offered in the Old Continent in 2019, when it was deemed that the further battle with the rigid emission standards is senseless.



Oldsmobile definitely deserves to be considered as one of the automotive classics of the United States – after all, it’s the oldest American brand. It was joined to the General Motors group in 1908 and… it seems that it didn’t work out well for it. For years, the group had been offering various models which whose popularity varied. In 1985, over one million of the Oldsmobile cars were produced, but at the end of the 1990s, such results were only a distant memory. Therefore, the GM group made a final decision to liquidate the Oldsmobile.

Why did things turn out this way, and not the way it happened for other brands which are successful until today? Although the Cutlass model brought the Oldsmobile to the top 3 position of the best selling American manufacturers (in 1972), it was an exception rather than a rule. The company had in its offer some breakthrough models – such as the first American car with the automatic transmission in 1940, or the first American car with the front axle drive in 1966. All of this was, however, in vain.

On the one hand, the Oldsmobile range of model was vast (in the most current history perhaps only the pickups are missing). On the other hand, it seemed that the cars did not have a specific target group of customers. The GM group consisted of many manufacturers – and the group did not have a specific plan for all of its car brands. This translated into the gradually weakening position of the Oldsmobile, and its eventual failure.


Ford F-250 and other P series pickups

A luxurious car driving which adds chic to the urban boulevards, and then can be driven on the off-road, by the way carrying four washing machines – if not more? This the history of the Ford pickups which are known all over the world, although, in fact, they dominate the American market. Why? Due to their massive size, of course. The latest version of the F series pickup can be up to 618 cm long. These cars are definitely not for the European roads. However, they are perfect for the American roads – which is why they are so popular.

It all started in 1947 – from a pickup which initiated the F-series. It characterised with round fenders, massive bodywork and quite narrowly arranged headlights. Primarily, these cars were supposed to be utility, with large load capacity (from 0.5 to over 2 tons). Only with time, they gained more luxurious character, for which they are known until now.



For 75 years of manufacturing, there have been twelve subsequent generations of the popular pickup, each of them introducing bigger or smaller changes. Ford has been evolving in pair with the preferences and needs of the customers from USA. The versatile car were also appreciated outside of the United States. Besides, it was manufactured not only in the States. The F-150 and F-250 Fords were also manufactured in Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil and Canada.


Ford F-150 Lightning – the American brand introduces the electric pickups

Driven by huge V6 and V8 engines, the pickups consumed enormous amounts of fuel and Ford knew that sooner or later, it will have to put an end to this. And this happened recently – in 2021. Sine then, the customers can order the F-150 Lightning model which has two electric motors instead of the combustion engines. And if anybody thought that tis concept would have no chances to succeed, they were wrong. Already after 3 weeks, Ford had over 100.00 orders from customers wanting to drive an electric pickup.


American family vehicles

The popular American car brands include also the family cars, which means that they are appropriately bigger. Some jokingly say that they never run out of the cup holders… but these are present in practically every car nowadays. It’s worth noticing, that American and Poles differently imagine the concept of a family car. For Poles, a casual combi is deemed to be a perfect family car. In America – it has to be at least a minivan, although there are exceptions.


Chevrolet Orlando

The Chevrolet Orlando is a very interesting example of an American family car which… doesn’t have a lot in common with America actually. Yes, it was produced by an American brand, but it wasn’t destined for the American market. The first generation Orlando went on sale in 2010 as a global model – manufactured in Korea, Vietnam, Russia, Venezuela and Uzbekistan, and offered i.a. in Europe and Russia. The minivan was withdrawn from Europe in 2014, along with the entire range of the manufacturer, and a year later from Russia. The Chevrolet Orlando was never sold in the United States. However, it was sold in Canada.

The relatively small, by the American standards, minivan was 465 cm long and was equipped with small gasoline engines (1.4 or 1.8) and the 2.0 diesels differing in power (130 or 163 HP). On the same platform, shared with i.a. the Cruze and the Opel Astra, it could fit – at least in theory – 7 people. The first generation Orlando ceased to be produced in 2018. It was followed by the second one – manufactured in Shanghai and destined solely for the Chinese market.



Ford Mondeo Hybrid

Categorised as a D-segment the Ford Mondeo is one of the best models of the brand. Interestingly, its name doesn’t tell much to the American drivers. The first generation already – manufactured in Germany and Belgium – in 1992-1996 was offered in USA under different names – as the Ford Contour and the Mercury Mystique. The current, fifth generation – whose production is currently coming to an end – is known on the American market as the Fusion model.

The new Mondeo was offered in a wide range of drive, starting with a three-cylinder 1.0 and ending with a 240-HP 2.0. However, an interesting version is the one equipped with an additional electric engine. The Ford Mondeo Hybrid (or the Ford Fusion Energi) offered 187 HP – definitely enough to effectively and quite economically drive a comfortable limousine. 


GMC Yukon

The GMC brand SUVs are referred to as full-size, which does not reflect the reality to the full extent – at least, if you consider them from the European point of view. The last GMC Yukon XL is 573 cm long, has a 10-speed automatic transmission and – of course – a V8 engine. If anyone thinks that the 6-liter models era has ended long ago, they’re wrong. The 6.2-liter V8 in the GMC Yukon has even received an EcoTec3 designation – try not to smile…

The Yukon is definitely a top tier luxurious car, which is reflected by its price and the exploitation costs. It can without doubt work as a family car – on condition that it is used by a really wealthy family. If anyone prefers the Cadillac aesthetic – then the Escalade is its twin GMC model.



Chevrolet also has its SUV – it’s the Suburban model. That’s the characteristic of the company.


Chrysler Town & Country

The town of the countryside – if anyone ever wondered about the purpose for the Town & Country model that the Chrysler would choose, the name shows it all. Interestingly, this name was destined mainly for the American market, where the slightly enlarged and more luxurious version of the Voyager model was offered. It was true for all the generations – including the 5th one – released for production in 1988 and manufactured until today (the 6th generation).

Chrysler Voyager (Town & Country) is famous all over the world mainly as a family car, able, depending on its version, to fit from 5 to 8 passengers. If there was no need to fit the entire family on board, the Chrysler offered also a spacious trunk. In Poland, the fifth generation of the minivan could be found under the name of the Lancia Voyager.


Chevrolet Impala

The American car brands especially spoil the need-driven families, an example of which is the next model on our list – the Chevrolet Impala. Since 1999, it was manufactured solely in Canada, however, the latest generation – the 10th one – is being manufactured both in Oshawa, and well as in the capital city of the American automotive industry – Detroit. We ware going to focus on this one precisely, as it was very popular compared to other models.

As for the American car brands, the last Impala seemed to be quite a reasonable offer. Produced until 2020, the car was 511 cm long, equipped with the front axle drive, and, considering USA, it had really small engines. These were the Ecotec of the 2.4 and the 2.5 capacity straight-four engines, as well as the 3.6-liter V6s. However, the practical car did not make it for the restructuring in 2018. The GM group announced then the withdrawal of many models – including the Impala, but also the twin model of the Astra, the Cruze, and the electric Chevrolet Volt.



Which American car brands are considered as “iconic”

Which American car brands can be considered as iconic? Depending on the agreed criteria – probably every second or at least every third of them. Let’s limit them to only selected, particularly interesting examples:

  • Cadillac
  • Jeep
  • Shelby
  • DeLorean
  • Hummer

The Cadillac is an American brand famous for one of the most luxurious cars. It’s been like that practically since the very beginning. It offered the nearly legendary limousines, such as the DeVille or the Eldorado, but also the SUVs – like the big Escalade model.

The Jeep – a legendary off-road cars manufacturer – it’s a brand which doesn’t need to be introduced. It’s been an inherent part of the history of the American automotive industry, although since 2014 it’s been a part of the Fiat company (today it’s a part of the Stellantis “mega-company”). The Willys, the Wrangler and the Cherokee are its most famous models.

The Shelby American is a brand which dealt with remaking sports Fords, in effect of which the definitely iconic Shelby GT350 was created. But Shelby also offered its own cars – in collaboration with the British AC Cars brand, two models were created – the Shelby Cobra and the Shelby Daytona.



The DeLorean Motor Company is an exceptionally interesting manufacturer, in case of which some could even wonder whether it existed at all, as the only car they’ve seen was the one featured in the Back to the Future films. DeLorean really existed – and from 1981 to 1983 it manufactured its only model, DMC-12, of which nearly 9.000 copies were issued.



The Hummer is a brand which was founded in 1992 in Detroit. It became famous for its gigantic and gas-guzzling SUVs – H1, H2 and H3. Still in the previous century, the company was taken over by the General Motors group, and after more less a decade, it decided to liquidate the brand. It has been reactivated quite recently, although under the aegis of GMC. The Electric Hummer EV is the first vehicle under this name, which does not threaten your wallet when it comes to visiting the petrol stations.


What about the hot rods?

One more peculiar trend has come from across the ocean – the so-called hot rods. There didn’t get much recognition in Poland, unlike in Sweden. However, the enthusiasts of these specific vehicles can be found all over the world.

The hot rods are hand-made vehicles, created in such way that they resemble the T and the A models, which were produced many years ago by Ford. Depending on a particular user, a hot rod can be based on the used or the new parts. The cars are usually deprived of the “redundant” elements – such as the engine hood – in order to reduce the weight. The suspension gets lowered and the power gets increased.



The so-called hot rod era has ended long ago – it lasted from 1945 to around 1965 – but until today there are still people eager to create an extravagant project. In the States, the enthusiasts of these cars create some kind of a subculture.


Cars from USA in other countries

There are many companies which deal with importing cars from the States. The whole procedure might take some time, but it isn’t complicated usually. It’s also often profitable. The slightly damaged cars (not only of the American brands but also the European ones – such the Audi or the BMW – destined for the American market) can be purchased in USA on auctions in attractive prices and – after making certain modifications which adjust the car to the European requirements of the road traffic.

It’s an opportunity to come into possession of an interesting car, often very distinct from the versions available in Europe. Equipped with bigger engines, different equipment, and sometimes just standing out, because the American car brands – at least some of them – still favour the rule that the car is used for driving, not only for moving.



Are you interested in this article? Also check out the products offered by autoDNA – a leading provider of vehicle history reports in Europe and the US.VIN check can help you guard against additional costs associated with buying a car with an unknown past. The service is available 24/7 throughout the year. You will perform a free VIN lookup by using the Internet and having the body number (VIN) of the vehicle you want to check.


Also read other articles in our series:

  1. “What do the French car brands stand out for?”
  2. “What are the Italian car brands like?”
  3. “What are the German car brands like?”
  4. “Which Japanese car brands are popular?”


American car brands – check which cars are from USA
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American car brands – check which cars are from USA
Massive, gas-guzzling, exaggerated in every aspect – this is how American car brands have been perceived for years. Is such view right? Check!
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