Although the 1960s is not as significant to the automobile industry as the 50s and the 40s, the era is still regarded as one of the most important in the history of cars in terms of innovation and revolutionary design. The domination of the United States’ Big Three (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) continued in the 1960s, right after the subsequent fallout of independent manufacturers in the 1950s.
The popularity of mass-produced cars increased when the $33 billion Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 was approved. The said law would eventually lead to the creation of regional and interstate road networks that further improved transportation in the United States. By the 60s, most people opted to live in the suburbs rather than urban areas, which led them to buy their personal vehicles in order to go from the suburbs to the city. The increase of homeowners in the suburbs also led to the increase in sales for the Big Three, as they were able to produce affordable yet durable vehicles for almost everyone.
However, by the mid-60s, the Big Three saw fierce competition in international brands, who have found a way to produce their own affordable cars that they can import to the United States. But, by 1966, the Big Three was still able to dominate the market in the US, as they were able to have a market share of 89.6%. To know more about the other aspects of the automobile industry during that period, here is the ultimate guide to cars of the 1960s.
Automobile Innovations in the 60s
There were a few innovations that were implemented in automobiles during the 1960s, and most of these are still being utilized today because of their great features and their reliability. Here are the best automobile innovations in the 60s.
In the automobile industry, aluminum alloy was utilized more frequently compared to steel and iron in order to reduce the weight of production models. The vehicles that were made of aluminum alloy have space frames that provide sufficient structural integrity for the automobiles’ bodies. In addition, aluminum is corrosion resistant, so it lasts much longer than iron and steel. The utilization of aluminum for vehicles would eventually become revolutionary in the industry, as it is effective in making modern vehicles lightweight and durable.
An alternator is an electric generator that is primarily used to charge the battery of modern automobiles. Also, the alternator is also responsible for powering up the electrical system of the vehicle, which enables it to activate the headlights, radio, and other pieces of equipment within the car that requires electricity. Although the alternator is common in the 21st century, it was actually absent in cars produced before the 60s.
The modern version of alternators for cars was first installed on specialist vehicles that were used during World War II. The purpose of these alternators is to power up radio equipment that soldiers utilize to communicate with each other. After the war, alternators then found their way to ambulances, where they were used for powering up medical equipment. The first production car that has an alternator installed is the Plymouth Valiant that was produced by Chrysler in 1960. Eventually, alternators would then be found in most vehicles manufactured by the Big Three.
Seat Belt Regulation
Seat belts were becoming quite common during the late 1950s, but many drivers opt not to wear seat belts since they were not comfortable in them while driving. However, because of the effectiveness of seat belts to reduce casualties in road accidents, many states in the US mandated the use of seat belts in 1962.
The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, which is backed up by the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, requires car manufacturers to install shoulder belts for front passengers starting in 1968. Furthermore, it is required that vehicles should have padded interiors, energy-absorbing steering columns, front head restraints, anti-theft transmission locks, and side marker lights.
Through the Clean Air Act of 1963 and the Vehicle Air Pollution and Control Act of 1965 in the United States, car manufacturers were forced to find ways to control the emission of their production models in order to decrease air pollution. While emission controls were still being developed in the 60s, it was only in the 70s that manufacturers found solutions to make the air less polluted. The first solution was the utilization of leaded gasoline in the early years of the 1970s, but it would soon be replaced with catalytic converters in the mid-1970s. Catalytic converters transform toxic gases into less toxic pollutants.
Most Popular Cars of the 1960s
The 1960s was the era where pony cars and muscle cars were quite popular, so in the many lists of popular cars of the 60s that you will see online, most of them would include at least one muscle car that perfectly defines the design trends of the said era. Here is our list of the most popular cars of the 1960s.
If there is one particular model that should serve as the quintessential 60s car, it is the Ford Mustang. This Ford-designed car was first manufactured in 1964 and has been in continuous production up to the present time (as of 2021). The Ford Mustang is widely credited for creating the “pony car” automobile segment, which is supposed to include vehicles that have performance-focused features at a relatively affordable price tag. Most of the pony cars that were created during the 60s have a long hood and a short deck. Read our special article, “The History of the Ford Mustang,” to gain more knowledge about the development and production of this iconic car.
Ford initially predicted that the Ford Mustang would only sell 100,000 units per year, but it eventually became the most successful production model for the company since its release of the Ford Model A in 1927. In its introduction year (1964), the Ford Mustang sold more than 400,000 units. According to news reports, there were a total of 10 million Mustangs made from its introduction year up to 2018.
The Volkswagen Beetle served as a gateway for many international manufacturers to sell more units of their production models in the United States, mainly because the Beetle was greatly received in the country during the 60s and opened the eyes of many American drivers to the beauty and reliability of international cars.
Even though the Volkswagen Beetle has been produced since 1938, it only gained traction in the US during the 60s, when some car enthusiasts wanted to buy a vehicle that is not offered by the manufacturers in the country. The Beetle was originally designed by Ferdinand Porsche for the Porsche car company, but the vehicle would eventually become the first model under the Volkswagen brand. Read our “History of The Volkswagen Beetle” article to know more about this interesting vehicle.
The Jaguar E-Type, also known as the Jaguar XK-E, was Jaguar’s flagship model from 1961 to 1975. This car is particularly known for having great performance while also sporting a unique yet attractive design.
The Jaguar E-Type is supposed to be the “road car” version of the Jaguar D-Type, a sports racing car that was specifically designed to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. The D-Type did not win just one but three races in three consecutive years from 1955 to 1957. Wanting to transfer the features that make the D-Type great to a road car, the design team at Jaguar worked extensively in developing and producing the E-Type. When the E-Type was finally unveiled on March 15, 1961, the owner of rival company Ferrari, Enzo Ferrari, called the Jaguar XK-E “the most beautiful car ever made.”
Considered a revolutionary vehicle during the mid-60s, the Lamborghini Miura features a rear mid-engine two-seat layout, which would eventually become the standard for many luxury sports cars in the 70s and beyond. When the Miura was officially unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 1966, it was regarded as the fastest production car of the 60s.
The Lamborghini Miura is designed by Marcello Gandini, who was working for the automotive design house Gruppo Bertone during the time of the Miura’s development. You can click here to know more about the history of the Lamborghini Miura. The Miura’s critical and commercial success would boost Gandini’s career, as he would later be assigned to work on many popular models for Lamborghini, like the Countach and the Diablo, as well as for other car manufacturers.
The Pontiac GTO is credited by many car enthusiasts and collectors as the vehicle that started the “muscle car” trend in the automobile industry, even though it was not really the first muscle car ever produced. However, solely because of its sheer popularity compared to previous muscle cars, the Pontiac GTO became the spearhead for the trend that would last until the 70s.
This Pontiac-produced vehicle was manufactured from 1963 to 1974, but it was revived by General Motors’ subsidiary company Holden from 2003 to 2006. From 1964 to 1965, the Pontiac GTO was only an optional package that can be bought with the Pontiac LeMans. But, it became a separate model from 1966 to 1971, before returning as an optional package again for the LeMans from 1972 to 1973.
The Austin Mini, also known as the 850 or simply the “Mini,” is a compact car that was manufactured from 1959 to 2000. The Mini of the 1960s is regarded as one of the most popular cars in Britain, and it would soon find its way to the US and Canada in the same period.
Despite being a relatively small car, the Austin Mini is quite fast. In fact, it has won in multiple races and rallies in the 60s, namely the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, 1965, and 1967. While it is widely known as an Austin vehicle, it has also been credited with the Morris brand name in 1959. Under the Austin brand, it was first called the Austin Seven in 1959 but was later renamed the Austin Mini in 1962. But in 1988, it was renamed as just “Mini.”
The Shelby Cobra, known outside the US as the AC Cobra, is a uniquely shaped sports car that was manufactured by British automobile company AC Cars from 1962 to 1967. The Cobra is famous for using the trusty Ford V8 engine and also for being the vehicle that was requested by retired race car driver turned car designer Carroll Shelby.
There were three types of Shelby Cobras that were produced in the 60s. The Mark I was manufactured from 1962 to 1963, while the Mark II was produced from 1963 to 1965. The last iteration of the Cobra, the Mark III, was in production from 1965 to 1967.
Ferrari 250 GTO
Ferrari’s most popular vehicle in the 60s is the 250 GTO, which was produced from 1962 to 1964. Despite being quite well-known in the automobile industry, there were only 36 250 GTOs that were made. The reason why there were few units made for the 250 GTO was that buyers’ orders could only be approved personally by Enzo Ferrari. You can read our “History of the Ferrari 250 GTO” article to know more about the production process of this sports car.
Because of the scarcity of the units made, the 250 GTO became the most highly sought-after vehicle during the 60s, and resale prices for the car were already quite high in the years of its productions. As of 2021, the current world record for the most expensive car was a 1963 250 GTO, which sold in June 2018 for $70 million.
Another limited edition model that was released in the 60s was the Toyota 2000GT, a Japanese-made sports car that was designed by Toyota in partnership with Yamaha. The Toyota 2000GT was produced from 1967 to 1970 and was first introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1965.
There were only 351 units of the 2000GT that were made, and because of its rarity, the vehicle is considered as one of the most expensive Japanese sports cars today. A single unit of the 2000GT could go for as much as $1.2 million in auctions around the world.
Classified by Chevrolet as both a pony car and a muscle car, the Camaro combines the best features of the two trends to get great performance and looks that truly stood the test of time. The Chevrolet Camaro was first manufactured in 1966 and continued to be produced until 2002. But, Chevrolet decided to revive the model in 2009, and as of 2021, it is still in production.
The Camaro was unveiled during a press review in Detroit on September 12, 1966. It was later introduced once again in Los Angeles during another press review on September 19, 1966. Ten days after the LA press review, the Camaro was officially on sale. You can read more about the Camaro in our “History of the Chevrolet Camaro” article.
The 1960s may not have brought as much innovation as the 50s, but it has sparked a new era of muscle cars and pony cars for the automobile industry. It is interesting to note that some of the greatest cars ever made in the 60s are highly valuable in the 21st century, which is a testament to how the 60 should serve as an important period in the history of automobiles.
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