Summer is here in full-swing, and who wants to be insulated from it with air conditioning, satellite radio, pollen filters and dual-pane windows? Nope, you want to be smelling the exhaust fumes, listening to the tires chirp and enjoying the sight of a classic car in motion. Here are five of our nominees for the “official” classic car of summer:
- 1955-57 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible: As the old ad copy goes, there’s baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. Few things are more quintessentially American than the aforementioned, and the “tri-five” Chevy Bel Airs built in 1955, 1956 and 1957 are their automotive equivalents. All are great years; the ’55 is clean and understated and the ’57 is finned and audacious, while the ’56 falls somewhere in between. All were available with Chevrolet’s brilliant new small-block V-8 in varying states of tune. A Bel Air convertible in Tropical Turquoise is the perfect summer day cruiser for you and four or five friends.
- 1963-67 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible: Just as iconic as the Bel Air but much sportier, the second generation or C2 Corvette served notice to the Europeans that the people who stormed the beaches at Normandy could damn well design a world-class sports car. Any year is spectacular; the 1963-64 cars sell for a bit of a discount because they have drum rather than disc brakes. The 1967 sells at a slight premium because it wasn’t supposed to have happened at all (the all new C3 got pushed to 1968) and many perceive it to be the best of the C2s. Those looking for bargain-priced Corvette convertibles would do well to check out a C4 from the late 1980s or early 1990s. Look hard and you might find one of those for less than 10 grand.
- 1976-86 Jeep CJ-7: Another classic American with roots in the original Willys Jeep from WWII, the CJ-7 is best remembered by baby boomers and Gen-Xers for the flamboyant special editions that American Motors would create to stoke already impressive demand for what was in reality a fairly crude old vehicle. Today, few things say summer like a CJ with the doors removed and a dog with a bandana in the passenger seat.
- 1965-66 Ford Mustang: The Mustang celebrates the big 5-0 next year, but in advance of that, we’d like to remind the classic car world that few cars are as satisfying to own as a first-generation Mustang. They seat four people comfortably, even the six-cylinder cars can keep up with modern traffic and they’re drop-dead beautiful. Our choice for the ultimate summer ‘Stang? A GT convertible with the 270 hp high performance V-8, styled steel wheels and a four-speed.
- 1962-80 MGB: Well it may not be American, but MG was the sports car America loved first according to the ads. The MGB was the last car sold in the U.S. under the famous MG brand, and in spite of various rumors and false starts, it looks like it will stay that way. Not the fastest or the best-handling sports cars of all time, the MGB was simple, far better built than most people realize and actually quite reliable (most of the problems with their infamous British electrical systems were caused by tinkerers trying to “improve” things). MGBs are still common, parts are in better supply than they were when the cars were new and few things offer more pleasure on a twisty road on a warm summer day.