It seems like only yesterday that automobiles had distinct personalities traceable to their lands of origin. Call it national character. You see wisps of it still, but cars once had it in spades. Today—owing to the homogenizing effects of mergers, regulation, fewer and larger component suppliers for grand-scale outsourcing, and the industry’s ever mounting aversion to risk—stocks of national character are limited, and dwindle with each model year.

Once, American cars were known for road-hugging weight (come to think of it, they still are) and weight-hugging chrome. Lumbering down the interstate with big, under-stressed engines for effortless power, and woozy chassis seemingly suspended by marshmallow, they were wonderful in their profligate ways. They helped define American style and notions of automotive luxury—aesthetically, dynamically, and in engineering terms.