One’s understanding of this depends very much on how one defines or understands Romance. Looked at one way, the US has produced some highly Romantic vehicles.
It gets rather complicated or at least ambiguous when you look closer. One can explain the expressive, expansive and generous adornment of American cars (of the old school) by referring to what might have been a bias towards emotion over reason. That is why the tailfins of the Cadillacs emerged for a short but memorable spell. People were excited by the drama of jet fighters and the imagery associated with them. The car sublimated that excitement.
The rest of the 60s and mid-70s saw remarkably expressive forms made manifest. Those long, long bonnets and stately (to some) grilles sought to capture aristocratic grandeur as some interpreted it. I am being careful here with my choice of words. To others these baroque confections such as the ’73 Olds Toronado we showed a few weeks back merely appear grotesque. And I think even the most die-hard relativist would say that the attempt to apply the trappings of 6 metre cars onto 4.9 metre cars was almost an unalloyed disaster.
What I would like you to consider is that for the people of the time, those huge and chrome-encrusted vehicles were the epitome of the Romantic ideal of American motoring. I am not expecting you to see it in the same way but to see that it could be viewed thus.
As a thought experiment, consider that the images of women in paintings of the 1700s represent the ideal of the feminine at that time. Similarly, the images of men also represent notions of ideal masculinity. The women seem improbably rounded and over-inflated (did anyone ever really look like that?) and the men weirdly, steroidally muscled and with laughable haircuts. However, we can still see the paintings in which these figures appear as being masterpieces (though I tend to prefer the work of Rembrandt whose depictions still seem realistic and believable today).
The American land-yacht or even the Pony cars can be seen in this light as cars designed to conform to the ideas of romance that were prevalent at the time. Of course, they are
also at the same time reflections of cynicism: there was nearly no limit to what the designers would do to lure customers and to create dissatisfaction. Just making a car longer by 5 centimetres was enough to make existing cars seem quantifiably inferior. Let’s leave that interpretation aside true as it is and consider that such manipulations worked because the great driving American public was inclined to believe in the car as freedom-giver and emblem of the good life.
I asked readers to look at Romance one way up there in the opening paragraph. Now I have to explain what that one way is. To understand the American car as romantic it is necessary to conceive of romance as an emotional approach to the practical. Human relations at their extreme can be reduced to bodily functions. Driving is just about moving that distance that lies between ‘a’ and ‘b’. Romance in design drives us at speed away from that dull truth, at least until the carburettor fouls.