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Thomas Bey
The American Sports Car

The old tagline, "Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet," could easily include Ford, Dodge, Pontiac, or virtually any domestic auto maker. Cars are an integral part of American culture, and domestic sports cars are even closer to our hearts.

Compiling our favorites was no easy task, so we set some ground rules. To make our list, a sports car must have had final assembly in North America, could not be single model-year special editions, must have a street-legal version (whether or not a racing version was made), and, of course, had to be a hit with critics and enthusiasts -- then and now.

1- Chevrolet Corvette

Top model years: 1955-1975, 1997-present

It isn't by accident the Corvette is known as "America's Sports Car." What began as an underpowered underdog over 50 years ago soon gained power, sales and iconic status. Through six generations, the Corvette has evolved with the times. We've driven today's car, also known as the C6, and can confirm that it's the best 'Vette yet. Few sports cars from any country offer this degree of thrust (400 horsepower), handling and -- at last -- build quality for the price.

What's more: For the wealthier and power-hungrier, the even hotter Z06 offers 505 horses to further risk loss of driving privileges.

2- Chevrolet Camaro/Pontiac Firebird

Top model years: 1967-2002

To divert would-be Mustang buyers in the late '60s, GM gave birth to a pair of twins christened the Camaro and Firebird -- and who doesn't dig twins? That fueled a tire-smoking rivalry with Ford that would continue for more than three decades. Throughout their lifespan, the Camaro and Firebird stood for performance on a budget. This probably contributed to their reputation as preferred rides of mullet men, though it's not completely fair. Slow sales led to their mercy killing in 2002, but not before they had left their marks -- in history and on pavement.

What's more: Given Ford's neo-retro Mustang success, rumbles hint at a Camaro revival in the coming years. We think it would look great on the Pontiac GTO platform.

3- Ford Mustang

Top model years: 1964-1973, 1997-present

The inclusion of Ford's Mustang among heralded cars is as obligatory as the inclusion of Bruce Willis among action-flick heroes. Like Bruno, the Mustang has made a few miscues in its career (namely, the Mustang II of the '70s). But that's done little to tarnish a legacy that's mostly positive with such a wide audience. Competitors have come and gone, yet the original pony sports car is stronger than ever -- especially with the 2005 redesign.

What's more: The addition of the separate Pony and Cobra packages broaden the Mustang's appeal.

4- Ford Thunderbird

Top model years: 1955-1957, 1983-1997 SC model, 2002-present

To qualify for our list, we had to exclude a lot of Thunderbird model years -- in fact, most model years. But the T-Birds remaining are what we consider to be gentleman's sports cars. It was an instant hit when it hit the street in 1955, and for the first three years was one of the hottest domestics you could buy. Years of frumpy cars later, the Super Coupe variant of the 1983 redesign made a strong statement. Then, after a few years off, the Thunderbird returned in neo-retro form in 2002. For its targeted demographic, it remains an American icon.

What's more: The newest Thunderbird had a cameo in 2002's Die Another Day, driven by Halle Berry -- although I completely understand if your eyes were on her more than the sports car.

5- Pontiac GTO

Top model years: 1964-1973, 2004-present

Many consider the Goat to be the first real muscle car, even if the name was borrowed from Ferrari. When Pontiac dropped a potent V8 into a mild-mannered coupe, the American GTO became as notorious as its Italian namesake. Pontiac wisely discontinued labeling their cars as such when horsepower nosedived in the '70s, and just as wisely revived the legend in 2004. Some criticize the new car's understated design, but we think it's a far cry better than Batmobile-esque Pontiacs of just a few years ago. And remember, the original GTO entered life with plain-Jane looks, too. If history continues to repeat itself, the car will become even more potent and distinctive in the coming years.

What's more: Some suggest a hotter "Judge" edition is on the way.

Thomas Bey

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