Home Runs: Best-Selling American Cars of the Last 50 Years
As they grapple with their massive challenges, the domestic automakers can at least look back at a history packed with colorful winners and losers. Here is a rundown on the top ten best-selling American cars of the past 50 years.
List by Gary Hoffman
Sales: 27 Million
(1959 through 2008)
The F-Series largely took top honors because Ford stayed with the same naming protocol for its main line of trucks for decades. Its biggest seller, the F-150, was introduced in 1974, and became the base model of the F-Series in 1983, replacing the F-100. It accounted for one-third of F-Series sales right out of the gate.
Sales: 12.4 million
(1958 through 1996)
The rear-wheel-drive Impala originated as the high-end model in the Chevrolet line-up. GM sold the first 10 million by 1972, but the model headed downhill as front-wheel drive began dominating the market. Annual sales slid to about 50,000 units in the 1980s. If you count the new front-wheel drive model launched in 2000, the number of Impalas sold rises to about 16 million.
Sales: 11.9 million
(1961 through 1999)
The Cutlass nameplate graced an array of cars ranging from compacts and sport coupes to luxury cars. One of the high points came in 1975 when the Cutlass Supreme became the best-selling midsized car in the U.S. The Cutlass 4-4-2 (with a four-barrel carburetor, a four-speed transmission, and dual exhausts) was Oldsmobile's answer to the Pontiac GTO in the 1960s.
Sales: 9 million
(1964 through 2008)
The Mustang just turned 45, but it still has the youthful appeal it had back in the 1960s. The original pony car racked up sales of more than a million vehicles in its first year and a half of existence. It couldn't maintain that pace, but it's still the only pony car to have an interrupted production run extending more than four decades. And it has remained true to its rear-wheel-drive tradition.
Sales: 7.4 million
(1986 through 2006)
With its aerodynamic shape, the Taurus ushered in a new styling era and sold a million units in a little over three years. And it continued to do well into the 1990s. But as pickups and SUVs became dominant, Taurus sales as well as investment in its further development began to suffer. It was phased out in 2006, although quickly revived as full-sized model when the Ford Five Hundred fizzled.
Sales: 6.4 million
(1982 through 2005)
The Cavalier, the GM standard-bearer in the compact class for a generation, was the right car for customers looking for front-wheel drive and improved fuel-economy as the 1980s began. Just two years after its launch, GM sold more than 462,000 Cavaliers, and it never sold less than 300,000 for the remainder of the decade.
Sales: 6 million
(1959 through 2005)
GM produced eight generations of the LeSabre, and the nameplate enjoyed the longest, production run -- 46 years -- of any car nameplate in U.S. history (although Ford's Mustang will soon surpass it.) The model, considered one of the brand's entry-level vehicles, frequently landed at the top of the sales charts in its segment. The Lucerne and the LaCrosse have basically replaced it.
Sales: 6.3 million
(1990 through 2008)
Ford says the Explorer is nearing the end of its life as a true midsized SUV, and a crossover is waiting in the wings to replace it. But the model still had a fantastic run, roaring to more than 400,000 in sales as late as 2001. It took an economic meltdown and soaring gasoline prices to bring its sales below the 200,000 mark in 2007 and 2008.
Sales: 5.5 million
(1982 through 2008)
Ford established the Ranger as an import-fighter and an option for truck lovers hard-hit by the oil crises of the 1970s. During its very first year, it featured a range of engines (four- or six-cylinder gasoline, or four-cylinder diesel) and a four-wheel drive option, leaving its Ford predecessor, the Mazda-built Courier, in the dust. In 1985, Ford sold more than 230,000 Rangers.
Sales: 5.4 million
(1981 through 2003)
The Escort became a best seller almost as soon as it was launched, and Ford had to produce as many as 300,000 to 400,000 units annually to keep up with demand. Unlike its predecessor, the aging (and at times incendiary) Pinto, the Escort featured front-wheel drive. The Escort was considered Ford's first world car but bore no relation to the largely British-built Escort of the 1960s and 1970s.
Now, view our gallery of the Strike Outs: The Worst-Selling American Cars of the Last 50 Years
Click here to see the full list >> Worst-Selling American Cars of the Last 50 Years.
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