When William C. Durant founded General Motors In 1908, his dream was to build a variety of automobiles that could serve not just the rich and powerful but also the ordinary working man. It didn’t take long for his dream to come true, as GM was selling millions of cars by the ’60s. With influential brands like Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Buick, Pontiac, and La Salle under its wing, GM became the largest automaker in the world and led global annual vehicle sales from 1931 to 2007.
Unfortunately, GM didn’t have a good start to the 21st century, as the global recession left it staring down the barrel of bankruptcy. Thankfully, the beloved brand survived and is still standing tall today. The main reason why GM survived is its proven ability to produce amazing cars. No gearhead was ready to say goodbye to a company that has produced some of the most iconic American cars ever. So let’s explore the ten most important vehicles GM and its subsidiaries have ever made.
10 Chevy Corvette
After World War II, the popularity of sports cars exploded in the US, driven by demand from the millions of returning soldiers who had been exposed to European cars. Noticing the trend, Chevrolet got to work and came up with the iconic Corvette in 1953.
The Corvette was an instant hit, loved for its sporty design, power, and the fact that it was a lot cheaper than the best European sports cars of the day. This successful formula is the reason why the Corvette is still in production today. Currently in its eighth generation, the Corvette is still as popular as ever and is widely considered to be America’s greatest sports car.
9 Pontiac GTO
The Pontiac GTO was not the first muscle car. However, it’s widely considered to be the first ‘real’ muscle car and one of the main reasons muscle cars became a separate segment within the auto industry. The GTO was the idea of John DeLorean, who wanted to create a performance car that the masses could afford.
The idea worked like a charm. The GTO’s formula of a small, light, and inexpensive V8-powered car earned it many customers and became the template for other manufacturers looking to produce muscle cars. Pontiac was sadly discontinued a decade ago, but its legacy will live on forever thanks to the GTO.
8th Cadillac CTS-V
The 21st century hasn’t been great for GM, but it still manages to give us a future classic in the form of the CTS-V. Introduced in the early 2000s, the CTS-V is the perfect car for those who want a bit of luxury mixed with an extremely powerful drivetrain.
The latest CTS-V comes with a monstrous 6.2-liter LT4 supercharged V8 engine cranking out 640 hp and 630 lb-ft of torque, making it the most powerful Cadillac ever created. A 0-60 of 3.5 seconds and a top speed of 200 mph have earned the CTS-V the nickname “four-door Corvette.”
7 Chevy Camaro
After Ford and Pontiac introduced the Mustang and GTO, respectively, Chevrolet’s answer was the Camaro. Chevrolet unveiled the Camaro at a highly anticipated press preview in 1966, and gearheads immediately fell in love with it. It was arguably the best-looking muscle car at the time and offered plenty of power to play around with.
Chevrolet has produced the Camaro for the past 55 years over six generations and has sold more than 5 million units. Like the Mustang, the Camaro has had its fair share of good and bad model years. Some of the best model years include the 1969 Z28, the 1985 IROC-Z, and the 2010 fifth-gen Camaro.
6 Buick GNX
The ’70s and ’80s will forever be remembered as the worst period for muscle cars. Rising fuel prices and new emission regulations forced automakers to abandon the mighty V8s that had dominated the ’60s, resulting in the slowest muscle cars ever.
Thankfully, Buick found a new way to generate a crazy amount of power without going against emission regulations — turbocharging. In 1987, Buick unveiled the GNX, but instead of a V8, it had a 3.8-liter turbocharged V6 with just under 300 hp on tap. The GNX could go from 0 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, beating some of the fastest European sports cars of the ’80s. Unfortunately, due to the high cost of producing the GNX, Buick made only 547 examples.
5 Oldsmobile 442
Oldsmobile had a turning point in the ’60s. With the demand for muscle cars rising, the automaker injected some much-needed power into its lineup, resulting in the 442. The 442 started life as the highest trim of the Cutlass but soon became a separate model line.
The 442 was a lot quicker than all other Oldsmobile cars since its introduction in the early ’60s. However, it wasn’t until 1970 that Oldsmobile equipped it with enough power to take on leading muscle cars like the Mustang and the Camaro. The 1970 442 had a fire-breathing 455cid V8 cranking out 370 hp, making it super fast.
4 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am SE
The ’70s will always be remembered as the worst era for muscle cars. Due to strict emission requirements, manufacturers were forced to dial back horsepower figures severely. However, Pontiac still managed to build iconic an muscle car during this challenging period in the form of the 1977 Firebird Trans Am SE.
Nicknamed the “Screaming Chicken,” the 1977 Firebird Trans Am SE instantly gained popularity thanks to its attractive design featuring a compelling black and gold paint job and a highly stylized flaming bird logo on its hood. The Firebird Trans Am SE was also featured in Smokey and the Bandit, making it one of the most iconic movie cars.
In the early ’60s, GM was getting destroyed in the luxury car market by the Thunderbird. To regain customers, GM gave Buick the green light to develop a new flagship luxury model based on the Silver Arrow Concept – the result was the Riviera.
Introduced in 1963, the Riviera was an instant hit, loved for its gorgeous design and upscale interior. It’s not just the looks that attracted gearheads. The Riviera also had the power to match coming from a Buick 425 Wildcat V8.
2 GMC Syclone
In the ’80s, GM and other American automakers were experimenting with turbochargers in an effort to produce powerful cars that didn’t go against new emission requirements. GM took an ordinary S10 pickup truck body and installed a 4.3-liter turbocharged V6, resulting in the GMC Syclone.
The Syclone was not your ordinary pickup truck. With 280 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, the Syclone could go from 0 to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, beating some European sports cars. Unfortunately, due to a high production cost, GM built only 3,000 examples.
1 Chevrolet Chevelle SS
To most gearheads, the Camaro is Chevrolet’s flagship muscle car. That may be true today, but back in the ’60s, that title belonged to the mighty Chevelle SS. Chevy introduced the Chevelle SS in 1964, but it didn’t have enough power to compete with the Hemi-powered Chryslers and Cobra Jet Mustangs of the day.
However, that changed in 1970 when GM allowed Chevrolet to use its biggest engine — the 7.4-liter LS6 V8 — in smaller bodies. With such a massive engine under the hood, the 1970 Chevelle SS generated 450 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque, making it one of the most feared cars on the drag strip.