For many Americans, the Camaro is like an old friend. It has been around since 1966, and helped create the "Pony Car" phenomenon. But since there wasn't a Camaro for the first decade of the new millennium, perhaps younger enthusiasts, and those in other parts of the world, will be more familiar with the name "Bumblebee" instead. That's the regular "character" played by a yellow-and-black Camaro in the Transformers movie franchise. It's one of the good guys, of course. With styling inspired by the original, the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro is available as a coupe or convertible, with engines ranging from a 312-hp 3.6-liter V6 to a 6.2-liter V8 with 426 hp. Prices start at a very reasonable $22, 805 for an LS coupe, going up to $39, 775 for the SS-trim soft-top.
Without the Mustang, there wouldn't be any pony cars, that niche of popular, compact, rear-drive vehicles with a long hood and short back. This is the source of the equine connection and, boy, does the Mustang have legs. There has been a Mustang in new-car showrooms ever since 1964. One of its finest moments was the epic car chase in the movie Bullitt - driven by the ever-cool Steve McQueen. Not every generation has been quite as golden, but the current, retro-styled 'Stang is worthy of the name and heritage, even the lowly , 145 V6 coupe base model. Get into one of the esoteric versions, though, like a 2012 Boss 302 Laguna Seca (, 990) or a Shelby GT500 (around , 000) and it's a whole other fire-breathing ball game.
No, this isn't a joke. Yes, Toyota is a Japanese company, but its Georgetown, Kentucky and Lafayette, Indiana plants are responsible for one of the best-selling cars in the United States, with 80 percent of its components made in America, and providing employment for thousands of workers. Whenever people mention the midsize sedan segment, the Camry springs to mind. You could actually call it the "Camry Class" and everyone would still know what you meant. This car is woven into the fabric of the American automotive world. A base 2011 Toyota Camry with a six-speed automatic transmission starts at , 254 and returns 22 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway. It's comfortable, refined and simply works.
The Cobra is a muscle car at its most raw and visceral. It first scared the heck out of drivers all the way back in 1966, when it was a regular contender on racetracks. Under the hood is a Ford 427 cubic-inch V8. The company, set up by legendary racer Carroll Shelby, still makes these models today, with aluminum or fiberglass bodies. Basically, it's a powerful engine (about 400 hp), with wheels, steering, brakes, a couple of seats and not much else. What more does a racer really need?
The first generation turned heads, had presence and appeared in Hollywood films, sometimes driven by an honorable family man (like Harrison Ford's character in Firewall), or the wheels favored by a sinister crime boss (Ed Harris in A History of Violence). So the car's inclusion here is partly due to the hope that the new 300 will continue to have the same effect as its predecessor. It should, at least in 300C guise (from $38, 170), with that gutsy, 363-hp, 5.7-liter V8 and a newfound refinement that makes it the most the upscale Chrysler has ever ventured.
If there's one vehicle that's quintessentially American, it's the pickup truck. Another Chevrolet could have claimed this spot, but considering the F-150 is a perennial best-seller and the F series is one of the oldest nameplates belonging to the Blue Oval (it's been around since 1948), this son of the soil deserves the attention. Especially since it has been gaining plaudits with a new, turbocharged, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. It develops a V8-like 365 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, but returns a much more bearable 16 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway (rear-drive). Granted, a V6 doesn't rumble "USA" quite like a V8, but the times they are a-changing and the F-150 is changing with them. Like a plaid shirt or Timberland boots we might wear for work or play, this full-size pickup has carried the same double-duty appeal through an amazing 12 generations. Prices for the 2011 F-150 start at $22, 790.