As the Sixties were swinging, automakers were experimenting, developing vehicles that blurred genres, broke the rules, and created brand new trends. Coming off the high energy of the Fifties, the 1960s was a decade dedicated to power and performance. Pony cars, muscle cars, and personal luxury cars all began to redefine how Americans used vehicles. No longer merely aesthetic or utilitarian, automobiles were turning into toys to be tweaked. Hot rodding had come into its own as a community and a way of life and racing was turning into everyone’s game. Here are the top 5 iconic American classic cars of the Sixties, a fierce-looking group:
1.1964 Ford Mustang
Coming off the massive success of the Thunderbird, Ford’s designers began to dream even bigger, imagining a sporty car that could seat more than two people and sell for a decent price. The 1964 Ford Mustang was just that car, establishing a new niche nearly overnight—the pony car. Ford introduced its pioneering pony car at the World’s Fair in New York in early 1964, earning it the nickname the “1964 1/2” because, later that year, Ford would unveil its updated 1965 model. Upon its debut, the Mustang received 22,000 orders—in one day! Drivers loved the Mustang because it was sporty, affordable, and big enough for a family of four. Power lovers especially took to the Mustang because of its enginge options. One could choose between a 170 cubic inch I-6 with 101 horsepower, a 260 cubic inch V-8 with 165 horsepower, or a 289 cubic inch V-8 with 210 horsepower, as well as between the three-speed and four-speed manual transmission or the Cruise-o-Matic three-speed autobox. The Mustang sold millions and generated lots of excitement in the automotive world as the Chevrolet Camaro, the AMC Javelin, and the Chrysler Barracuda all were born to try to snatch up some of Ford’s sales. But there was only—and is only—one Mustang, which remains the iconic car of the 1960s, as well as many decades to come.
2.1965 Chevy Impala
Chevrolet introduced the Impala, named for the graceful South African antelope, for the 1958 model year—it was, by far, the most well-appointed full-sized car in Chevy’s lineup and the most expensive. Yet, despite the car’s big price tag, it quickly broke record after record. Between 1958 and 1996, Chevrolet sold over 13 million Impalas—that is more than any other full-sized car—EVER! In 1965 alone, 1,074,925 purchased brand new Impalas and Chevrolet still holds the sales record to this day. It was quite a leap from the 153,000 sold just two years earlier. Most attribute the Impala’s massive success to its “jet smooth” styling, new as of 1963, as well as the laundry list of features—more than any other automaker offered at that time. But, had all gone according to plan, the Impala would have been nothing more than a nod to style at a GM’s famed Motorama shows—the car was a show car before it was a record-breaker. Bet that Chevrolet is glad it took a chance on its South African antelope.
3.1967 Pontiac Firebird
The Pontiac Firebird came into existence as the result of a battle between Pontiac and Chevrolet. John DeLorean wanted Pontiac to pit its own model against pony cars like the Mustang, but General Motors wasn’t so sure and didn’t want to distract the public’s attention from the Chevrolet Camaro. But DeLorean got his way, after all, and the Pontiac Firebird hit showrooms in 1967. At first, Pontiac only managed to borrow Camaro parts, leading many to compare the two. But the Firebird had its own power plants, including several GTO-inspired heavy duty V-8s, allowing it to differentiate itself from the Camaro and secure its own fan base. Later on down the production line, the Firebird introduced the Trans Am Performance and Appearance Package and all Chevy references died right then and there. (Indeed, nothing says performance quite like a Trans Am, the revved-up offspring of the surprisingly iconic 1967 Pontiac Firebird.)
4.1968 Dodge Charger
The Fifties and Sixties was a time of show cars becoming big stars. At least, such was the story of the Dodge Charger, which was a show car first and a big seller second. Making its first appearance in 1964, the Charger then briefly joined the Dart family in 1965 as the “Charger 273” and it claimed many Dart design cues before Dodge gave it a restyling all its own in 1968. This “dream car” as Dodge called it, was said to be a real “take-me-home-and-let’s-stir-things-up-a-bit” automobile and buyers agreed when they took it home and, well, stirred things up. The Charger’s “Coke bottle” styling set it apart from other performance cars, proving that style and superpower could co-exist. With a power producing capacity of 500 bhp and a 7.0 litre Hemi engine, “performance” wasn’t just a marketing term used to describe the Charger, it was a fact! By 1968, sales soared to 96,100, over 60,000 more than the year before, making up 16% of Dodge sales. Not bad for a humble show car!
5.1969 Plymouth Roadrunner
When the Warner Brothers first drew the clever road runner with his speedy tricks, it’s unlikely they ever imagined that their small-screen star would became a street star, as well. Then, Chrysler had a big idea to develop a muscle car based on the “Beep, beep”-ing cartoon and Warner Brothers was $50,000 richer. Aside from fun cartoony frills like a horn that beeped like the TV character, the Plymouth Road Runner was otherwise a “back-to-basics” muscle car in every way. Buyers looking for well-appointed interiors and tons of options didn’t look to the Road Runner. Instaed, the Road Runner drew the attention of the muscle car crowd and its array of V-8 engines eclipsed the lack of extras on its option list. Starting at 383 cubic inches, the Road Runner’s power plants were offered up to 440 cubic inches with 375 horsepower—and more if you modified it! Having earned its place in muscle car history, one has to wonder which Road Runner ended up being more popular—the cartoon or the car!
For more on the top iconic American classic cars of the last century, stay tuned for the upcoming post—the Seventies!