Swinging cars of the sixties

By Phil Hanson

Car buffs remember fondly the clever and classy cars of the Mod Squad years

The Aston Martin DB5 was launched in 1963.
The Aston Martin DB5 was launched in 1963.

The 60s were starting to swing by 1963 and it was showing in the cars introduced 50 years ago.

Aspirational luxury grand tourers were taking off, the American muscle car was starting to rumble and one of the inspirations for the Range Rover went into production.

Japanese cars were tiptoeing into world markets. We also got the Vauxhall Viva, the trendy but flawed Hillman Imp and the Triumph 2000, a car that gave the slightly well-off masses a taste of what motoring was like for the rich and privileged.

The supercars

Read that as both supercars and super cars. In 1963, we got the Alvis TE21, the Aston Martin DB5 just in time for James Bond's Goldfinger the following year, the tweedy Bristol 408, Glas 1700 and GT (soon to be taken over by BMW), the Gordon-Keeble, Iso Grifo, Maserati Mistral and Quattroporte I, and the Mercedes 600 and W113 series of two-seater convertibles.

Many are now mere footnotes in motoring history. The handsome but heavy Chevy V8-powered Gordon-Keeble didn't survive the 1960s; the gawky Alvis, ditto. Iso's stunning and mostly Chevy V8-powered Grifo managed an 11-year run to 1974, when it became a victim of the oil crisis. The Mistral was built in relatively small numbers, but its memory lives on as one of the best-looking Maseratis ever, and maybe one of the best looking cars ever. The Quattroporte name survives, but the 1963 model made it only to 1969.

Mercedes's W113s sports cars sold better than any in the group, nearly 49,000, becoming more powerful, more refined ... and more expensive. A good one now is prized.

More choice for the family

Hillman introduced its Imp, Lancia's Fulvia broke cover, Opel presented the Rekord Series A, Triumph its 2000 and Vauxhall, the Viva.

The Imp was a direct competitor for the now well-established Mini, but was very different in configuration, its engine in the back, driving the rear wheels.

Although rear-engine cars were common in the 1960s, the Imp was a flawed concept for an all-new design. The engine location made hatchback and wagon versions impractical, although Hillman did try. The Imp wagon was also extremely ugly.

Despite later gaining a reputation as "British rubbish", the Viva was something of a breath of fresh air.

Its styling, ride, handling, performance and roominess were ahead of its key rivals, the Ford Anglia and Morris Minor.

Driving enthusiasts liked its crisp gear change and light steering. They were features, among others, that led it to be advertised as ideal for women.

But the Triumph was a triumph, bringing affordable luxury and good levels of performance and handling to a wide range of buyers.

America muscles up

The land of cheap gas and wide roads gave us the Buick Riviera, Dodge 440 and Mercury Marauder.

The name Riviera had been used since 1949 on high-line Buicks, but it became a model in its own right in 1963, to widespread critical acclaim.

It looked mean, though refined, but weighing in at nearly two tonnes, neither of the two V8s offered made it a true muscle car.

However, 0-100km/h times in the eight-second range were good for the era.

Not to worry, though. The mighty GTO, from GM stablemate Pontiac, was just a year away.

Hillman Imp Buick Riviera Isuzu Bellett Jeep Wagoneer Gorgeous affordable Italians

This year was the starting point for the fabulous Alfa Romeo 105/115 series of coupes (think GTV) and the Lancia Fulvia, a car that was a couple of years later to morph into the drop-dead gorgeous HF Coupe.

Japan sends its stuff

Within a few years Japan would be changing the way the world thought about cars. The largely forgotten 1963 Isuzu Bellett was one of those early export models that showed what value for money and reliability were all about. Too bad the Japanese car industry had not learned about rust-resistance.

Some special mentions

Jaguar's S-Type and the Rover P6 were two quite different approaches to luxury motoring. The Jaguar is today a sought-after classic; the Rover not so much.

The Jaguar was developed from the also-gorgeous Mark 2. Although the S was meant to replace the Mark 2, the older car stayed in production until the XJ6 replaced both in 1968.

The Rover, built as the 2000, 2200 and the V8-powered 3500, was also an eye-opener, a new design with many clever features.

Performance was only average, however its ride and handling were excellent. But it was relatively complex and suffered reliability issues. It was replaced in 1977.

The Wagoneer

True, the big Jeep was large, even by American standards, and it wallowed and ate gas, but it hung on until 1991 and had a loyal following, later influencing the Range Rover.


Other things that happened in 1963

*President Kennedy assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

*Martin Luther King delivered his ''I Have a Dream'' speech.

*Profumo Affair scandal in British Parliament.

*Great train robbery in Britain yielded 2.5 million for thieves.

*Valium became available.

*Pope John XXIII died.

*John Le Carr's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold published.

*Jack Nicklaus won his first Masters golf tournament.

*Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space.

*Dr Michael DeBakey pioneered use of artificial heart for use during heart surgery.

*Queen Elizabeth II visited.

*TV shows included 77 Sunset Strip, McHale's Navy, The Fugitive, Petticoat Junction.

*Audio cassettes introduced.

*Aunt Daisy, one of New Zealand's first radio personalities, died.

- NZ Herald

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