The ten greatest American race cars

It's a common misconception that the only race cars Americans know how to make either don't turn right or don't turn at all. Jalopnik readers chose the ten cars that showed the world that the US can build them better, faster, and greater than the rest.

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Photo Credit: Joe Szilvagyi

The ten greatest American race cars

10.) Eagle F1

Suggested By: McMike

Why it's red white and awesome: In the golden years of F1, it wasn't easy to break past the dominance of the established teams and take a win, but that's exactly what Dan Gurney did with his Eagle T1G car. The Duesenberg 183 won the French Grand Prix at Le Mans in 1921, but teams were trading wins there left and right, and the same could be said for the North Carolina-based Penske PC3's win at the Austrian Grand Prix in 1976. These are the three American Formula One winners, and the Eagle stands out as the most iconic, the most gorgeous, and certainly the greatest as well.

Photo Credit: Jim Culp

The ten greatest American race cars

9.) Granatelli STP-Paxton Turbocar

Suggested By: ClayW

Why it's red white and awesome: The failure of a $6 transmission bearing kept the STP-Paxton Turbocar from etching itself forever into the collective automotive unconscious. How a turbine-powered four wheel drive car came so close to winning the Indy 500 I do not know, but I understand completely the greatness that this car exudes, defying convention and perhaps soaring too close to the sun on its Icarus turbine blades.

Photo Credit: bcmacsac1

The ten greatest American race cars

8.) Corvette C5-R

Suggested By: Addidas

Why it's red white and awesome: American manufacturers came back to international GT and prototype racing in the late 1990s and 2000s, with the Viper GTS-R, the Panoz Esperante, GTR-1 and LMP-1 taking on the world in Europe and in the American Le Mans Series. None, however, came back to the race track like GM and the Corvette C5-R. It wasn't just that the new C5-R picked up 31 class victories in the ALMS, 3 class victories at Le Mans, and one overall victory at Daytona, or that in 2004 it won every race and pole it entered, it was that the great weight of GM finally backed a racing program, testing and honing a car that would, with its C6-R successor, dominate international GT racing for over a decade. If that doesn't speak to greatness, then you can slap me with a hippie and call me a communist sympathizer.

Photo Credit: bkdc

The ten greatest American race cars

7.) The Hudson Hornet

Suggested By: Furyofdarkness

Why it's red white and awesome: Back in the early days of stock car racing, when ‘stock cars' actually meant something, step-down Hudsons dominated like little else before or since. Starting out as a private venture in 1951, Marshall Teague brought the small-time independent Hudson to NASCAR and AAA competition in 1952. Hudsons won 40 of the 48 events that year. That's insane. They won big again in '53 and stayed competitive in the mid-1950s, but bigger and bigger Detroit V8s were putting even the fast-cornering straight-six Hornets out to pasture. They had a great run.

Photo Credit: D.Miller

The ten greatest American race cars

6.) Swamp Rat 14

Suggested By: Big Dipper

Why it's red white and awesome: Don "Big Daddy" Garlits was a dominant personality in drag racing from the late 1950s on, and when he lost a chunk of his right foot in a transmission explosion in his "Swamp Rat 13" at Lion's Drag Strip in 1970. Laid up in the hospital, Garlits designed himself a new car, this time with the engine behind the driver, so that the next time it exploded, it won't take any of him with it. He wasn't the first person to build a rear-engine dragster, but it was his Swamp Rat 14 that got everyone else to start doing it, making drag racing a whole lot safer.

Photo Credit: bangshift.com

The ten greatest American race cars

5.) Offenhauser Indy Roadsters

Suggested By: stayingclassy

Why it's red white and awesome: Offenhauser engines powered some twenty seven race cars to victory at the Indy 500, from its birth in the early 1930s on through the mid-1970s. Offy-powered roadsters won at Indy a staggering eighteen years in a row, from 1947 to 1964. These three liter four cylinder engines were powerful, reliable, and the simplest way to guarantee a result at Indianapolis. The Offenhauser engine and the string of "specials" that raced with it absolutely ruled open-wheel racing.

Photo Credit: clarke thomas

The ten greatest American race cars

4.) Kurtis Kraft Midget

Suggested By: RandomRalphWiley

Why it's red white and awesome: While expensive Offy-powered roadsters were dominating top-flight competition, low-cost midget racing saw itself dominated by the cars of Kurtis Kraft. For decades, these little racers were the ticket to victory in local races across America. Though they never racked up wins at the big races that get endlessly repeated on car forums and in the media (Le Mans, Indy, etc.), it was at midget races where Americans hit the track, and these Kurtis Krafts were as dominant there as Offenhauser-roadsters were at the Brickyard.

Photo Credit: Rex Gray

The ten greatest American race cars

3.) Chaparral 2J

Suggested By: ShantJ

Why it's red white and awesome: The Chaparral 2J does not have an impressive competition history. It doesn't have a single race win to its credit (it kept breaking down) and it only raced for the 1970 season in the open-formula Can-Am championship. The all-American Chaparral "sucker car" achieved its greatness through its extreme daring and its lasting influence on motorsport. While Chaparral's competitors were catching on to the idea of downforce using wings and spoilers, the 2J leaped ahead, forgoing wings for ground-effect suction. It turned out that using a snowmobile engine to power two massive fans on the back of a brick-shaped car is neither the simplest, nor most effective way to get a race car around a track, but it brought the idea of pulling a car to the ground using underbody airflow to automobile racing, changing the face of motorsport as we know it. It looked like it was built in a body shop for the blind, but it was such a threat to the competition, they protested to get it banned forever. That's how nuts the 2J was.

Photo Credit: sportscars.tv

The ten greatest American race cars

2.) Ford GT40 Mark IV

Suggested By: unhcampus

Why it's red white and awesome: While many will bandy about over the Britishness or Americanness of the GT40, there is nothing to question about its competition record at the highest level of motorsport, the 24 Hour demolition derby known as Le Mans. Moreover, there is little to challenge this particular car, as it was American-built, with an American engine, driven by American drivers. If that isn't a Harley-ridin', apple pie eatin' bald eagle Amerigasm, then I don't know what is. Winning at Le Mans in the 1960s meant facing one of the most competitive fields the race has ever known in an all-out endurance challenge that left nothing on the table, and this Ford took it in stride. So pop open the bubbly and let freedom ring!

Photo Credit: The Henry Ford

The ten greatest American race cars

1.) Chaparral 2E

Suggested By: Martin Grossinger

Why it's red white and awesome: Jim Hall and his Chaparrals completely revolutionized car racing. The loud fast cars from Texas didn't just take on the world in endurance racing, but they brought the technical study of vehicle dynamics to motorsport, he brought a newfound respect for tires to motorsport, and he brought downforce to motorsports. Jim Hall and his adjustable-wing 2E Can-Am car turned car racing from an art to a science. In 1966, Eric Broadley, the founder of Lola Cars, scoffed that "If Hall had the suspension right he wouldn't need that wing." They may have doubted them then, but in today's high-downforce, computer-driven racing world, there's one clear point of origin: a Texan tire tester and the cars he built.

Photo Credit: imca-slotracing.com