Where Were You In ’62?

by James Kraus

Pau Grand Prix, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, France, 1962

Auto Universum continues its decade-long 50th Anniversary of the Sixties series with a look back at 1962.

If you missed seeing Maurice Trintignant claim the chequered flag at the Grand Prix de Pau on Easter Sunday fifty years ago, you still had the chance to witness plenty of exciting automobile introductions, architectural presentations, product unveilings and cultural events that took place throughout the year.

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BMW 1500

BMW introduced the Neue Klasse 1500, a model that helped bring the company roaring back from near-bankrupcy and became the blueprint for all future BMW sedans. It received universally praise for its taut, sporting suspension and turbine-smooth, free-revving engine. The 1500’s new semi-trailing arm rear suspension layout was adopted by Porsche for their upcoming 911, and later in the decade by Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and others.

The new inline OHC four-cylinder M10 engine, designed by racer and engineer Baron Alex von Falkenhausen would provide motive power to a variety of BMW’s for nearly three decades; powered the third turbocharged automobile ever to be sold to the public, and in a final blaze of glory, secured the 1983 Formula One World Championship for Nelson Piquet by powering his decisive win at the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami.

Marina City, Bertrand Goldberg, 1962

On the architectural front, Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center opened at Idlelwild Airport in New York, and the new Marina City Towers in Chicago rose to their full height.

Garcia Residence, John Lautner, 1962

In Los Angeles, construction was completed on John Lautner’s Garcia House.

Mercedes-Benz 220 SE Coupé in Dark Maroon over Cream

Mercedes-Benz released arguably the most elegant and handsome coupé and cabriolet of the postwar period. Together with the soon-to-be announced 600, they were to be the last true hand-finished, coachbuilt models from the storied firm.

Riva Aquarama

Riva presented the original Aquarama. The mahogany-hulled twin-engine runabout became an instant classic. Dubbed by enthusiasts the Ferrari of the Sea, the Stradivarius of Boating and Queen of the Côte d’Azur, it ruled the waves as both a speedboat and yacht tender for the jet set haut monde of the 1960s.

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MG MGB Roadster

BMC announced the MGB, a modernized replacement for the MGA. It was quite a departure; the squat, squarish body being a marked change from the graceful flowing lines of the earlier car. It was nonetheless significantly more advanced with monocoque construction, front disc brakes and roll-up windows. In addition, the engine displacement was increased to 1.8 litres.

Austin 1100 Saloon

Not resting on their laurels, BMC also brought forth the ADO16 1100 Series. This Issigonis design was a front-wheel drive transverse-engine layout like the smaller Mini, with a roomier 4-door cabin and riding on Alex Moulton’s revolutionary new Hydrolastic suspension system.

Toio floor lamp, Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglione, 1962. The light source is a high voltage version of a standard automotive sealed-beam headlamp.

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Taccia Lamp, Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglione, 1962

Flos presented three new lamps that became classics of 20th Century design, all conceived by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglione and all still in production; the Arco, the Toio and the Taccia.

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Ford Consul Cortina

Ford introduced the Consul Cortina, a new car and a new nameplate that quickly became quite popular, and would eventually become the biggest seller in Britain.

The space age was in full swing as the newly launched Telstar communications satellite transmitted the first live transatlantic phone calls and television signals.

Telstar, The Tornados

The satellite inspired an instrumental of the same name by a British musical group, The Tornados. The song, featuring the Space Age sound of the new Univox Clavioline keyboard, became a number one hit in both the U.K. and the U.S.

On 12 July, an unheralded musical group appeared at London’s Marquee Club in their first public performance. The band, featuring Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, was billed as The Rollin’ Stones. Shortly thereafter, they slightly altered the name to The Rolling Stones.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey, first edition, 1962

Back on earth, The Spy Who Loved Me was published along with The IPCRESS File, A Clockwork Orange, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and the first issue of Diabolik.

The IPCRESS File was the first in Len Deighton’s “Unnamed Hero” series. The lead character was a workaday secret agent that resembled James Bond minus the glamour and large expense account. The agent would soon be brought to life on film by Michael Caine and become known to cinemagoers as Harry Palmer.

Also released was Silent Spring, a work that led to the establishment of the environmental movement, and one of the milestones that would ultimately cleave 1960s culture into two distinct halves; the early years embracing technology and looking toward the future, the later years questioning the pace of technological change and looking toward the past. This shift in attitude would affect both automotive design and architecture.

Lotus Elan

Lotus began producing the Elan roadster, both in complete and in kit form. Constructed of a steel backbone chassis with a lightweight fibreglass body, its power was supplied by a Ford Kent engine block topped with a Lotus-designed aluminium twin-cam cylinder head.

Lotus previously set a high standard for luxurious sports car interiors with the Elite; they raised the ante with the new Elan, incorporating power-operated windows.

Dr. No, Terence Young, 1962. Dr. No was released on 5 October, the same date as The Beatles released their first single, Love Me Do.

Dr. No, the first cinematic adaptation of Ian Fleming’s James Bond series made its theatrical debut. All the classic Bond film elements were forged in this premier outing; the gun barrel opening sequence, the Bond Theme, stylish title opening, exotic locales and unusually expressive and detailed set design. The movie successfully conveyed the essence of Bond. As Raymond Chandler declared; 007 is what every man would like to be, and every woman would like to have between her sheets.

A plethora of other memorable films were released including: Jules et Jim, The Manchurian Candidate, The Longest Day, Mafioso, Days of Wine and Roses, Lolita, Lawrence of Arabia and Divorce, Italian Style.

Divorce Italian Style, Pietro Germi, 1961. Wide release, 1962

On television, it was the first season for The Saint and The Jetsons. The Jetsons, broadcast for only a single season of 24 episodes, may well have been the TV show that best captured the unstinting faith in technological progress and optimism for the future that characterized the mood of early sixties.

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Vox Continental

Vox introduced what would become the quintessential portable electronic organ, the Continental. In addition to its unique and still sought-after ‘transistor’ sound, the Continental remains an iconic example of sixties style with its distinctive tangerine top, reverse-coloured keys and chromed metal stand.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Berlina

Alfa Romeo launched the Giulia Berlina, the first model in what would be a wide range of sporting vehicles in the manner established so successfully with the Giulietta. Despite the seemingly boxy countenance of the Giulia, it was one of the most aerodynamic designs of the decade with a coefficient of drag of 0.33.

The first manufacturer to utilize a truncated Kamm-effect low-drag tail after World War II on the Giulietta Zagato SZ Coda Tronca, Alfa Romeo now became the first to apply the design to a mass-production model with the debut of the new Giulia.

West Side Story Film Soundtrack

The soundtrack from the film West Side Story, released in late 1961, soared to Number One in the U.S. and U.K and went on to become not only the largest-selling musical album of 1962, but the best-selling album of the entire decade.

Charles Mingus composed Epitaph, The Oscar Peterson Trio released Night Train and The Beatles recorded Love Me Do and Please Please Me at Abbey Road Studios.

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Buick Riviera

Buick premiered GM’s first real competitor to the four-place Thunderbird, the Riviera.

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Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray

Chevrolet introduced the new Corvette Sting Ray. The previous Corvette, though continuously revised and updated, was still rooted solidly in the fifties. The new model expressed a decidedly sixties aesthetic from its disappearing headlamps to its tapered fastback roofline with distinctive split rear window.

The chassis was new and incorporated independent rear suspension. Mounted above was a stylish new fibreglass body incorporating design cues from the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante and GM’s own Corvair. Many automobiles expressed the sophistication and glamour of the Jet Age better than the new Sting Ray, but no production car better captured the excitement of the Space Age.

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Campbell’s Soup Cans, Tomato, Andy Warhol, 1962. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas

Andy Warhol had his first solo gallery show, a display of his original 32 Campbell’s Soup Can paintings in Los Angeles and created his first Marilyn and Elvis paintings.

Gold Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol, 1962. Silkscreen ink on synthetic polymer paint and oil on canvas

Yves Saint Laurent, the doyen of sixties fashion, established his couture studio in Paris.

In August the world’s first nuclear-powered merchant ship, the NS Savannah, embarked on her maiden voyage. October witnessed a clash of the Cold War superpowers during the Cuban Missile Crisis and an assassination attempt was made on the life of French President Charles De Gaulle, an event later fictionalized in the splendid book (and equally worthy film) The Day of the Jackal.

Studebaker Avanti

Studebaker launched the short-lived Avanti, a uniquely styled Raymond Lowey-designed fibreglass-bodied Coupé based on the underpinnings of the Lark.

Renault R8

Renault introduced the R8 with a contemporary rectilinear body sporting a distinctive concave vee-shaped bonnet that echoed the rear decklid of the 1959 Chevrolet Impala. Based on Dauphine mechanicals, the R8 was upgraded with a larger engine and 4-wheel disc brakes.

The Oldsmobile Jetfire debuted in April as the first-ever turbocharged production car, followed a few weeks later by the second, the Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder. Opel resurrected the Kadett nameplate, Triumph introduced the Spitfire, the AC Cobra went on sale and the most coveted of Ferrari 250’s was introduced, the GTO.

BRM won their first (and only) Formula One Constructer’s Championship, and Graham Hill garnered the first of his two World Championships. Fans witnessed the first (and only) Formula One victory for Porsche at the French Grand Prix.

The Abate/Davis Scuderia SSS Ferrari 250 GT SWB Drago in the pits at Le Mans, 1962

Ferrari made it three in a row by taking the World Sportscar Championship once again. The European Rally Championship was won by Eugen Böhringer in a works Mercedes-Benz 220 SE, and the Hillclimb Championship by Ludovico Scarfiotti in a Ferrari Dino 196 SP.

In other motorsport news, the Daytona International Speedway hosted its first FIA-sanctioned Sports Car Championship event, the Daytona Continental.

Finely, as a hint of the frolicking future of what would become known as the Swinging Sixties, two foreshadowing events occurred. Helen Gurley Brown published Sex and the Single Girl, advising women how to enjoy the pleasures of single living and engaging in les affaires du Coeur. With the ink barely dry, two million copies were sold within the first weeks of publication.

Commencing with the December issue, Playboy editor and publisher Hugh M. Hefner began enumerating The Playboy Philosophy, an ongoing exploration of the concept and ideals of the Playboy Lifestyle, an endeavour that would continue through May of 1965.

The 50th Anniversary of the 1960s:

1960   1961   1962   1963   1964   1965   1966   1967   1968   1969

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6 thoughts on “Where Were You In ’62?

  1. My mother had that West Side Story soundtrack. She must have played it a thousand times that summer on our big Telefunken console hi-fi.

  2. Also in 1962, Belgian comic-book editor Jean Dupuis published a one-off album featuring a comic-strip hero, “Starter” who introduced the weekly automotive column of Spirou magazine. Titled ‘StarterAuto 1963’, the album was quite an event in itself, and has become a much sought-after book by aficionados. It was pitched in a somewhat circumvoluted manner as a round-up of 1962’s cars that would matter the following year (1963).

    Featured models included, amongst others, the VW 1500, the BMW 1500, the Fiat 2300 Coupé, Scarab racing cars, the NSU Prinz-4, the Opel Kadett and Ford Cortina of that year, and a surpising article about a steam-powered Williams Formula 1, intended as an April’s Fool. The column had begun in 1950 written by a Belgian automotive journalist, Jacques Wauters under the pseudonym Starter, who also did all the test driving. It acquired its near final-form in 1951, when the Belgian comic-strip author, André Franquin added comic-book style illustrations of cars. In 1956 finally, a character named Starter was introduced playing the narrator’s role.

    But because of Franquin’s workload, drawings were taken over the following year by another talented author, Jidéhem, who illustrated the column until 1978. Despite being published in a children’s magazine, this column was extremely well-written and acquired cult-status among followers. It is not uncommon today to find second-hand copies of ‘StarterAuto 1963’ at online bookstores, or at auctions rooms for well over $200.

    One of my friends has a copy and we were always quite excited about it. I remember writing in the 1980s to the editors of the magazine, suggesting that they re-publish the Starter chronicles, which would, I said, garner quite a strong following. I remember receiving a reply, to my great surprise, which was a polite refusal, unfortunately, on technical grounds, also because many of the original drawings would be difficult to track down and also because the editor felt that it would not sell well.

    Lack of vision maybe, because then another editor, La Sirène published three books in French in the 1990s featuring 60 Cars from the 1960s, Another 60 Cars from the 1960s and 60 Sports Cars from the 1960s reproducing the Starter chronicles.

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