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One of the world’s largest automakers, General Motors has been manufacturing cars since it was founded as a holding company for Buick in 1908.
Since then, GM has sold millions of vehicles annually, and many of these models have become staples of American culture.
To get an idea of which GM models are the most iconic and important over the company’s history, Karl Brauer, Senior Analyst & Editor-at-Large at Edmunds.comlisted his top picks.
Some of the models launched iconic lines, others marked the beginning of a revolution in the auto industry as a whole, and some are simply time-honored favorites of drivers and collectors.
So, what are the most iconic GM models of all time? Click ahead to find out!
Produced by Paul Toscano
Posted 15 Nov 2010
Officially the "first" muscle car, Pontiac's GTO was created under the leadership of John DeLorean and promoted by Jim Wangers, two iconic GM designers, says Brauer.
The car took its name from the highly successful Ferrari GTO, but made performance accessible to the average American by packaging a large V-8 engine in a relatively small, light, inexpensive vehicle. The recipe would prove effective for every domestic car maker that followed the GTO's lead over the next 10 years.
The ‘69 Camaro won numerous accolades and had the honor of being the Indy 500 pace car in the year of its release. It continues to be seen as a design/styling triumph, and inspired the fifth-generation Camaro when Chevy revived the model in 2010.
Almost a quarter-million (243,000) ‘69 cars were sold, a number that wouldn't be eclipsed in annual Camaro sales until 1978. According to Brauer, this Camaro could arguably be the most iconic model of the entire muscle car era.
1963 marked the first year of the second-generation Corvette, the only model year to feature the split-window design over the rear cargo area that held true to the original designer, Larry Shinoda's vision.
It was the first Corvette with an independent rear suspension, and the overall shape is still considered the most visually appealing in the Corvette's 57-year history, says Brauer.
The first V-16 production car in the United States, the Cadillac V-16 was the brand's top-line model from 1930 to 1940 and competed with brands like Bugatti and Duesenberg.
All bodies were built to custom order, and it was the quickest accelerating car on the planet from 1938-1940. This was arguably the peak of Cadillac's existence in terms of prestige, says Brauer.
The 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado was the first use of front-wheel drive from a modern mainstream U.S. automaker. The Toronado was not only innovative in the use of front-wheel drive but unique for its sleek exterior design that used a large, sloping rear window and hidden, flip-out headlights.
The heavy-duty design of the front-drive components proved durable enough to withstand the stress of transmitting power from heavy V-8 engine, and the Toronado influenced future front-wheel drive models from GM.
Although seven model years into the second-generation Firebird, the 1977 models starred in one of the highest-grossing films of 1977, Smokey and the Bandit.
Karl Brauer notes that “between the car's attractive design, compelling black-and-gold paint scheme and the visuals of the movie it became an instant star on the American roads of the late 1970s and continues to be sought after today. Its design is considered one of the cleanest, most enduring in the history of American cars.”
The longest-running model name in the automotive market, Chevrolet introduced the Suburban in 1935 and has had some version of this vehicle in production line-up ever since.
The Chevy Suburban continues to be one of the best-selling utility vehicles on the market and has served as both a work vehicle and a popular form of family transportation for over 75 years, says Brauer
“A styling exercise in excess,” says Brauer, the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado somehow manages to be both shocking and compelling at the same time.
He notes that the ‘59 Eldorado was produced at the height of the "fin" era and took the concept over-the-top with rocket-ship shaped taillights located halfway up the towering fins. Large chrome bumpers, wide whitewall tires and bright colors completed the package and pay homage to the Fabulous 50s of American automotive design.
Few cars are as widely recognized and adored as the 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air, says Brauer. The last of the 1955-1957 "shoebox" Chevy's, the '57 model featured the popular tail fin design of the era but enhanced it with a large, triangular chrome treatment. This gives the car an upscale look without upsetting the clean design and proportions of the overall shape.
The ‘57 Bel-Air also offered powerful V-8 engine options, including one of the earliest applications of fuel-injection technology, he says.
The newest model on the list, Brauer believes that the new CTS will join the ranks of the most iconic GM models of all time.
Cadillac is still rebuilding its former world-class image, but the distinctive design and high performance offered by the modern CTS-V sedan, coupe and wagon is proof the division might become a world-leader again, Brauer says.
He notes that the CTS offers an impressive visual statement, but it's backed up by a high-quality interior, excellent driving dynamics and an extremely powerful drivetrain.