Waxing Nostalgic About America's Car Culture

By: CBS News, Posted by Chelsey Moran
By: CBS News, Posted by Chelsey Moran

(CBS News) America's car culture is the stuff of legend around the world. We all have our favorites. But what came first, the cars, or the culture they came to represent? We put Lee Cowan in the driver's seat, for our Sunday Morning Cover Story:

Americans love waxing nostalgic about our cars, though some look better in the rear view mirror.

From our first and the fastest, to our biggest and clunkiest, they're like pets with wheels.

But what if we took a look at ourselves - through our car's eyes instead? Not the creepy kind of Steven King-our-car-comes-alive idea, but illuminating history with a headlight?

That's just what Paul Ingrassia decided to do. "These are cars that had a definitive impact on how we live and think as people even today," he said.

In his book, "Engines of Change," Ingrassia lists what he says are America's 15 most influential cars - most of which have a home at The Henry Ford, a museum in Dearborn, Mich.
What he's compiled isn't a list of the nation's BEST cars - just the ones that changed our lives.

Some are obvious: The Ford Model T tops the list. It's credited for creating everything from the assembly line to the drive-through window. It put America on wheels - and the color black had no greater champion.

At the other end of the list is the Toyota Prius, another obvious choice given the impression - or LACK of impression - it left on the environment.

"It was a confluence of environmental consciousness plus pure economics," Ingrassia said.

If the Prius was about raising consciousness, the Pontiac GTO was about raising hell.

At a convention of GTO owners we found Ron Muck, who is happy his gas guzzler made the list.

"The GTO sometimes stands for Gas, Tires, and Oil!" he laughed.

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