Suddenly, It’s 1960!

by James Kraus

Heading for the biergarten in a new Ford Taunus 17M

Fifty years ago, the decade that epitomized Jet Age glamour and Space Age sophistication officially began. Automotive engineers and designers were adamant not to be left behind. They toiled over their drafting boards and clay models to create products that would appeal to motorists craving designs that projected a clear expression of the exciting possibilities of the new fast-paced decade of jet travel, satellite communications and space exploration.

New Years Eve 1960, London

Auto Universum will look at the significant new automobiles that debuted each year and review the simultaneous developments and milestones in architecture, design, art, music and other 1960’s happenings, year-by-year starting with this first year of the illustrious decade.

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Ford Taunus 17M P3

Ford of Germany’s newly released P3 was the first redesign of the senior Taunus, and the new body gave it an unquestionably Now It’s The Sixties look, complete with distinctive newly-developed oval Hella headlamps.

Mercedes-Benz began the post-war non-round headlamp era with the 300 SL Roadster in 1957; the Taunus P3 was the second, followed several months later by the Citroën Ami 6 with its rectangular Cibié lamps. By the end of the decade, rectangular or ovoid headlamps would spread to Alfa Romeo, Audi, BMW, Lancia, Maserati, Lamborghini, Opel, Peugeot, Renault, Saab, Volkswagen and others.

Lincoln Continental

Lincoln Continental

Rarely in the post-war history of motoring had there been such a stylistic turnaround in design as occurred at Lincoln in the fall of 1960. The baroque, oversized slant-eyed Mark V was put out to pasture and a svelte new Continental took its place as the crown jewel of the Ford Motor Company.

The new Lincoln was 38 cm (15”) shorter than the outgoing model, and with its unadorned sides, simple lines and distinctive rear suicide doors, represented a complete break from its predecessor. The new design was a resounding success, garnering a bronze medal from the Industrial Design Institute and increasing Lincoln’s U.S. market share by 60%. Except for minor detail alterations, the new body design remained basically unchanged until a slight refresh for the 1966 models.

Ford Thunderbird

Ford Thunderbird

The Ford Thunderbird also came in for a complete redesign, the new model earning the popular bullet bird moniker. Its low grill, pointed nose and tapering sides gave it a unique and distinctive profile. Its flanks were simple and nearly unadorned to the extent of having the door handle incorporated into the side trim moulding; only the pushbutton and lock cylinder were visible.

Two men were involved with all three of the aforementioned cars; Elwood Engle and Wes Dahlberg of Ford Styling. Elwood was responsible for the Lincoln and had considerable influence over the Thunderbird. Wes had seen early development models of the Lincoln and Thunderbird before his transfer to Ford Cologne where his work on the 17M P3 was observed closely by Elwood.

You can clearly see the planer, knife-edge sides that protrude beyond the front (and rear on the Taunus and Lincoln) that they share in common, as well as the oval headlamp nacelles featured on the trio.

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Chemosphere House, John Lautner, 1960. Joshua White photo/

Few things could be more Space Age Sixties than John Lautner’s Chemosphere house in Los Angeles.

Pirelli Tower, Giò Ponti, 1960

In Milan, Giò Ponti’s Pirelli Tower was completed on the site of the original 19th Century Pirelli tire factory.

Guest Room, Royal SAS Hotel, Arne Jacobsen, 1960

The Royal SAS hotel in Copenhagen opened in 1960. The entire hotel was the work of Arne Jacobsen. He designed the building as well as the furniture, silverware and candleholders. While some of the furniture he had designed previously, most pieces were designed specifically for the hotel. Nearly all remain in production to this day. Room 606 has been preserved in the original décor.

Vitsoe 606 Shelving System by Dieter Rams

Vitsoe+Zapf introduced the 606 Shelving System by Dieter Rams. One of the first modular storage systems, its has far outlasted its earlier rivals in the marketplace.

Eames Executive Chair by Herman Miller

Herman Miller presented the Eames Executive Chair. Originally designed for the Time-Life Building in New York, the chair later gained notoriety when Bobby Fischer specifically requested one for his match against reigning World Chess Champion Boris Spaasky in 1972. When Boris caught a glimpse of the chair, he demanded one for himself. Both the 606 Shelving System and the Eames Executive Chair are still available.

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Frigidaire Custom Imperial Flair

The Frigidaire appliance division of General Motors introduced the futuristic Flair series of electric cooking stoves. Expanding on the design themes of the earlier Tappan Fabulous 400, the Flair featured burner units hiding in a covered pullout drawer, and high-level ovens lined in polished stainless steel.

Improvements over the Tappan included staggered burners and oven doors suspended on parallelogram hinges that swung the doors up and out of the way. The Flair could be built-in or attached to an optional storage base. The series was produced in a rainbow of colours for over a decade.

Bulova Accutron

The world’s first transistorized electronic watch movement hit the market, the tuning-fork regulated Bulova Accutron 214. The transparent demonstration model shown above proved so popular with potential buyers that it was quickly released as a production model; the Accutron Spaceview.

Pontiac Tempest

General Motors released their senior compacts; the Pontiac Tempest, Oldsmobile F-85 and Buick Special. All were based on the Corvair Y-Body platform introduced the previous year. To reduce costs, all three shared the same inner structure and even outer door stampings.

The Pontiac was the most innovative of the three, boasting independent rear suspension, a rear transaxle and a unique flexible driveshaft that rotated inside a curved arc-shaped torque tube allowing for a nearly flat interior floor. Two support bearings near the centre of the tube maintained the curvature of the inner shaft. The Buick and Oldsmobile models had a conventional drive train, but offered an optional new 3.5 litre aluminium V8 that would soon be discontinued, but go on to lead a long life as a Rover powerplant.

For Your Eyes Only, Ian Fleming, first edition, 1960

Ian Fleming published For Your Eyes Only.

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La Dolce Vita, Federico Fellini, 1960

It was a good year in cinema with La Dolce Vita, Breathless, It Started in Naples, Rocco and His Brothers, L’Avventura, and the original Oceans 11 released.

Ocean’s 11, Lewis Milestone, 1960

1960 saw the first season of Danger Man on television, the first of what would be many spy-themed sixties television programmes. It was also the first year of Route 66, the existentialist road series focusing on two men aimlessly driving across America.

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Time Out, Dave Brubeck Quartet

Released in December of 1959, Dave Brubeck’s innovative album Time Out continued to climb the charts, not reaching peak popularity until 1961. I am including it for 1960, splitting the difference. The album contains Take Five, the first million-selling instrumental jazz single. It remains one of the most popular jazz albums in history. Theme From a Summer Place was the biggest pop hit of 1960, reaching Number One in the U.S. (for an unprecedented nine weeks,) Number One in Italy, and Number Two in the U.K.

Saab 96

Saab introduced the iconic 96, the definitive Saab. People today at times wax nostalgic for Saab’s idiosyncrasy of having the ignition switch on the floor. That relatively trivial and late development did not actually begin until 1968 with the Saab 99.

What made Saab uniquely special in the 1960’s was threefold: First, it featured front-wheel drive. In 1960 only a handful of other manufacturers offered this configuration: Auto Union, BMC, Citroën, Goliath, and Panhard. Second, the distinctive Saab three-cylinder two-stroke Shrike engine. The only other Western auto manufacturer building a similar engine was Auto Union. Finally, the Saab had an unusually aerodynamic body that visually differentiated it in the marketplace. Only the Citroën DS was similarly avant-garde. Interestingly, despite advances in aerodynamic research, the later Saab 99 had a much higher coefficient of drag than the 96.

1960 Winter Oympics

For the first time in the Olympic Games, a biathlon event was included; the Men’s 20 km Individual. The biathlon competition of skiing and target shooting was later highlighted in the James bond film, For Your Eyes Only in 1981. The Downhill Gold in Men’s Alpine Skiing went to Frenchman Jean Vuarnet who won the medal wearing Skilynx Acier sunglasses. From that point forward, they were marketed exclusively as Vuarnets.

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Lee Miller à l’Arlesienne, Pablo Picasso, 1937

A massive Picasso exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London was the event of the summer in Britain. Over 500,000 attendees stood in long queues to gain admittance. It was dubbed the Exhibition of the Century. Meanwhile, Abstract Expressionism, Action Painting and Surrealism were still going strong.

Probst I, Franz Kline, 1960

The world’s first laser was created at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California using a synthetic ruby crystal. Just a few years later it would be put to use as an instrument of torture and mayhem by international precious metals smuggler and SMERSH treasurer Auric Goldfinger.

Peugeot premiered their new 404, a top range model to supplant the 403. Like the new Lincoln Continental and the previous year’s Fiat 1800, the new Peugeot featured rectilinear, razor-edge styling that would become a hallmark of many forthcoming 1960s designs. The 404 retained the characteristic and unique Peugeot worm-gear rear axle and electro-magnetically clutched cooling fan.

The Peugeot became legendary for its rugged durability, winning the grueling East African Safari Rally four times before the decade came to a close.

OPEC Headquarters, Geneva

Five oil-producing nations from the Middle East and South America formed the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC.)

Compulsory national military service ended in Britain.

Jack Brabham became the first Formula One World Champion of the new decade in a mid-engined Cooper Climax, repeating his 1959 feat and effectively rendering traditional front-engine Grand Prix cars obsolete; the following season they were gone. Front engines still ruled at Le Mans however, as Paul Frère and Olivier Gendebien won the event in their Scuderia Ferrari 250 TR59/60. Walter Schock won the European Rally Championship at the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz 220 SE, and the Hillclimb Champion was Heini Walter in a Porsche RS 60.

Playboy Club in Chicago with a Key Holder alighting from a Citroën DS 19

The first Playboy Club opened in Chicago featuring the soon-to-be famous Playboy Bunnies, a buffet, dining room, billiards and live entertainment with leading acts including Sammy Davis Jr. and Ella Fitzgerald.

Playboy Cocktail Bunny

Hefner’s accomplices and assorted VIP’s would spend an evening at the club and later segue over to the original Playboy Mansion for a full night of hedonistic pleasure.

Less than four months after the Playboy Club opened its doors, the U.S. Food and Drug administration released its first approval for the sale of oral contraceptives.

1960 Sumer Olympics

At the Summer Olympics in Rome, a young man named Cassius Clay won a gold medal in boxing. Later, he would be acclaimed for floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.

A harbinger of things to come, California required all new forthcoming 1961 model cars sold in the state to be equipped with a system to route crankcase vapors into the engine intake, reducing the output of unburned hydrocarbons: the world’s first automotive emission control legislation.

On the third of May, all American radio and television broadcasting was halted, and citizens ordered to report to nuclear fallout shelters as part of Operation Alert 1960. Finally, 1960 marked the first appearance of Teflon non-stick cookware and the Etch-a-Sketch.

The 50th Anniversary of the 1960s:

1960   1961   1962   1963   1964   1965   1966   1967   1968   1969

5 thoughts on “Suddenly, It’s 1960!

  1. I have always loved that Lincoln, particularly the four-door convertible.

  2. I think that the most significant thing about 1960 cars is how badly (with significant exceptions) the compare with today’s cars. Even the exceptions like the Porsche 911 were rust traps with dysfunctional instrumentation. Virtually all make us thankful we (and the Motor Industry) have moved on!

    That is not to say that even the real travesties are not worth reviewing! They can even be enjoyed as they give a certain pleasure albeit in some cases analogous to that you get when you stop banging your head against a wall…

  3. I am glad to see you included the oft-overlooked Vitsoe Shelving. Dieter Rams (who did most of his work for Braun) was one of the foremost designers of the twentieth century.

  4. In its homeland, the Peugeot 404 remained in production until… 1975! (1979 for the pick-up version). The 404, like its successor the 504, was a familiar sight on African tracks. The pick-up was produced until 1989 in Mombasa, Kenya. A mundane family car, the 404 nevertheless won the East African Safari 4 times between 1963 and 1968, the Uganda rally and the Tanganika’s 1000 Miles twice and twice also the Rally of Argentina, where it was produced between 1962 and 1980.

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