Auto Erotica: Commonly good

Quick: Name the 10 greatest cars of all time.

The Ferrari GTB/GTS series of the 1970s and '80s? The 1974-88 Lamborghini Countach?

No, no — too unattainable. I'm talking about cars real people could own.

The 1964-and-a-half Mustang? The 1968 Camaro?

No — too easy. I mean the unsung heroes of the automotive world: vehicles never thought of as dream cars, never garaged or babied, and maybe not all that well engineered for their time, but that, like so many of us (well, so many of you), toiled in quiet obscurity but got the job done, nonetheless.

10. The 1950-1957 Mercury Monterey. It seems everyone considers the '57 Chevy (the Bel-Air) as the American car of the 1950s, and maybe it was. But it was still a Chevy, which everyone understood was merely General Motors' entry-level division. The Pontiacs meant sporty and the Oldsmobile meant upper-class, but Ford's Mercury division meant both, and you could get it in a four-door hard top, two-door convertible or a wagon. My parents reluctantly gave theirs up in the late 1960s after my brother smashed it head-on into a truck and managed only to remove the Merc's grill.

9. 1969-1977 Ford Maverick. Yes, that Maverick — the big, Pinto-looking thing. Say what you will, but I knew of one that lasted more than 20 years in the negative-30-degree winters of Fairbanks, Alaska.

The 1993 Chevrolet Cavalier

8. 1981-2005 GM J-cars. Stop your snickering and admit you owned at least one variation of the only platform adopted by every GM division: Chevy Cavalier, Pontiac J2000/Sunbird, Buick Skyhawk, Oldsmobile Firenza (are there any left on the planet?) and, of course, the infamous Cimmaron, the “$20,000 Cavalier” that almost managed to single-handedly destroy Cadillac in the mid 1980s.

7. 1988-1996 Toyota Camry. This actually represents two generations of Camry: the boxy one that surprised so many people with its quality and the more-rounded version that followed and can still be found providing perfectly reliable transportation all over the nation. They're being handed down to grandkids right about now.

6. 1982-1994 BMW 3-Series. Ah, the classic BMW for so many Americans. This Beamer represented attainable quality and sex appeal we could aspire to as youngsters and the first well-engineered vehicle owned by so many of us. Or, as one college professor said to me and my fellow Gen Xers in 1986: “I know all about your generation! All you dream of is buying German automobiles and driving them while waiting for the bomb to drop!” How, true, professor. How true.

5. 1981-1995 Chrysler K car. No one seriously expected Chrysler to survive after its first bailout (the past is truly prologue) and the introduction of the plain-Jane K car did nothing to dispel that assumption. And yet it was the little car that could: affordable, reasonably dependable and actually somewhat pleasant to drive. That, combined with the fact that Chrysler used it as the platform for just about every vehicle they produced for the next decade, made it a winner and the company's salvation.

4. 1984-2007 Chrysler minivans. Chrysler's other salvation. As president of Ford, Lee Iacocca tried to launch the minivan concept in 1975, but Henry Ford II said it would never fly. At Chrysler, it soared. Seldom given credit for leading in anything but bad ideas, Chrysler managed to remain the company you went to for the ultimate people/family mover until only recently, and the possibility exists that it will be back atop the people-mover scene soon enough.

3. 1979-1989 Subaru GL/L series. Subaru's introduction to the United States. If you can't recall the look, just remember the Brat, Japan's answer to the Chevy El Camino, spawned of an unholy combination of car and pickup. In Alaska, where I grew up, this generation of Subaru washed over us like a wave due to their then-rare offering of four-wheel-drive in something other than a pickup. They made the station wagon sexy and lasted long after their poor bodies had rusted away to nearly nothing.

2. 1974-1984 Volkswagen Rabbit. Everyone waited patiently to see how Volkswagen would follow up on the smashing success of the Beetle. After some very forgettable missteps came the Rabbit, one of the most-influential designs of the 1970s and ‘80s.

The 2001 Ford Crown Victoria

1. 1983-2011 Ford Crown Victoria/Mercury Grand Marquis. You know 'em, you probably don't love 'em, but step out to the curb right now anywhere in the U.S. and tell me you can't see five of them, including, of course, the cab and cop versions. They steer like a whale, seemingly float over any road surface, but like them or not, they are the final example of purely American automotive design. If the U.S. were the only nation on earth, all our cars would look just like this. And don't forget: A Lincoln Town Car is simply this car in drag.

What future affordable, unsung heroes are hitting the streets only now? Do any exist in an automotive scene bereft of stripped-down, no-carpeting entry-level models and populated only by decked-out dream-car wannabes whose average cost keeps inching up into the mid- and upper-20s?

Maybe, like so much of our culture, we should have cherished practicality just a little more and flash and dazzle just a little less.

Contact Hugh Curran at kanga573@aol.com.