by James Kraus
1963 saw the Jet Age in full swing as the first Learjet took to the skies and a number of automobiles were launched that would become icons of the 1960s; one of which is still with us today.
Porsche’s first-ever all-new road car debuted at the 1963 Frankfurt Auto Show; fifteen years after the 356 began series production. The new car retained a horizontally-opposed air-cooled rear-engine; this time a 2.0 litre six-cylinder unit with overhead camshafts, a dry-sump lubrication system and starvation-proof Solex floatless triple-throat carburettors with remote fuel reservoirs.
The suspension retained traditional Porsche torsion bar springing but utilized new and improved geometry with MacPherson struts in front and semi-trailing arms at the rear. The interior featured a five-dial instrument cluster with central tachometer. Though endlessly revised and upgraded, the 911 remained in production for 34 years. It’s name and overall design it established continues to live on in the current 991 series.
Mercedes launched their pièce de résistance, the Grand 600. Handsome and restrained in style, the engineers and accountants showed no restraint whatsoever when it came to the lavish technical aspects of this crown jewel: an all-new 6.3 litre aluminium OHC fuel-injected V8 engine, 4-speed DB automatic transmission, limited slip differential, self-levelling air suspension, adjustable damping, dual alternators and 4-wheel disc brakes with dual front calipers.
Windows, seats, doors, trunk lid and sunroof were activated by a silent high-pressure hydraulic system. Body styles consisted of a four-door sedan, a four or six-door Pullman limousine and a drophead Pullman Landau.
For royalty and high-ranking government officials, front flag mounts were an optional extra as was a planetary two-speed gearbox on the nose of the crankshaft that drove the cooling fan, water pump and air conditioning compressor at higher rpm for extended low-speed parade duty.
Not content with the release of the stellar 600, Mercedes also unveiled the new 230 SL. The 230 was tasked with replacing both the 190 SL and 300 SL models.
Based on the Heckflosse (Fintail) chassis, the 230 SL shared the suspension of the sedans, complete with the novel single-joint, low-pivot swing axles with central compensating spring at the rear. At the front was a new 2.3 litre fuel-injected version of the Mercedes-Benz M180 overhead-cam inline six.
The 230 SL was available only in convertible form with an optional removable hardtop. It featured an exceedingly comfortable and roomy cabin for a sporting car of the period with a supple ride, a flow-through ventilation system incorporating large adjustable outlets on the instrument panel with air exits in the removable hardtop; and available power steering.
Just a few months after launch, a 230 SL driven by the factory team of Eugen Boringer and Klaus Kaiser won the gruelling Spa-Sophia-Liège (Belgium to Bulgaria) Rally.
NSU launched the Prinz 1000 with a new air-cooled aluminium inline four-cylinder engine with chain-driven overhead camshaft. The 1000 would later form the basis for the legendary TT and TTS models that were renowned for capturing the Division One chequered flag at European Touring Car Challenge events.
Construction was completed on the Sheats residence in Los Angeles. The structure, furnishings and lighting were all designed by John Lautner. The deeply coffered poured concrete roof shown above incorporated 750 tiny circular skylights.
Alfa Romeo introduced the Giulia Sprint GT. Based on the mechanicals of the Giulia Berlina, the Sprint was clothed in a svelte coupé body designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro at Bertone. Of all 1960s Alfa Romeos, the stylish Sprint would be the longest lived, remaining in production through 1976.
The Sprint, particularly in high-performance GTA form, became the focus of Alfa Romeo production-based motorsport activities. It was a formidable competitor in rallying, European Touring Car and 2.0 litre Trans-Am competition.
Last of the great idiosyncratic pre-Fiat Lancia designs, the Fulvia range was introduced to motoring cognoscenti with the debut of the Berlina. The front-wheel drive Fulvia was powered by a narrow-angle 13-degree V4 with a single cylinder head incorporating twin chain-driven overhead camshafts. Four-wheel disc brakes and radial-ply tyres were standard fitment as were gas-filled dampers. All exterior brightwork including the bumpers was crafted of polished stainless steel.
Braun announced the complete Modular Audio 1 System, designed by Dieter Rams. The new TS45 control unit, TG60 tape recorder and L450 speakers, like the earlier turntable, were designed to interface with components of Rams’ Vistoe 606 shelving unit to allow for wall-mounting of the complete system.
Aston Martin unveiled the DB5, an updated version of the DB4 with a larger 4.0 litre engine, and third carburettor. Soon after production began, a five-speed gearbox was added. When James Bond took the wheel of a DB5 in Goldfinger the following year, it catapulted the car to instant stardom.
Rover announced the new 2000 with an overhead-cam 2-litre four-cylinder engine, four-wheel disc brakes and de Dion rear suspension.
A week following the release of the Rover 2000, Triumph announced their own new 2-litre saloon, the Triumph 2000. Rather than a large 2-litre four, the Triumph engineers used a more refined inline six-cylinder engine inherited from the Vanguard Six. To power the new 2000, the engine was given a boost in compression and fitted with twin sidedraught carburettors.
Hillman introduced the first and only postwar rear-engine British car, the Hillman Imp. The Imp featured an aluminium OHC inline-four slanted at a 45-degree angle to provide a low centre of gravity. To reduce the overall length of the powertrain, the radiator and water pump were located alongside the engine as in the Fiat 600.
A unique aspect of the Imp was the front suspension. Where most rear-engine cars utilized strong roll-stiffness up front to transfer cornering loads to the outboard front tyre, thus increasing cornering ability, the Imp had front swing axles which deliberately caused the outboard tyre to assume a strong negative camber angle in order to balance front and rear corning forces.
An opening rear window allowed easy access to a storage area behind the rear seat. The Imp lineup was eventually expanded with coupé, estate and van models sold under a variety of Rootes Group nameplates.
Comfort Italia introduced the Elda chair by Cesare “Joe” Colombo. The futuristic chair featured a fibreglass shell and leather upholstery in a pattern of convoluted tube-shaped pads. The base incorporated a 360-degree swivel.
Here is a period photo of Elda designer Joe Colombo and his ever-present pipe behind the wheel of his personal Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GT.
The first push-button Touch-Tone telephone, the Western Electric 1500 was introduced. It was initially offered to customers in two Pennsylvania communities, then rolled out throughout the U.S.
Asko introduced the Ball Chair by Eero Aarnio. Initially sold only with red interior upholstery; the chair became an icon of 1960s design, often fitted with speakers and/or a telephone. Like the Elda, the Ball had a fibreglass shell and swivel base. Both the Elda and Ball chairs remain in production today.
The world witnessed the first international pop music hit, Ue O Muite Aruko (Sukiyaki) by Kyu Sakamoto. The number one best-selling Japanese love song was released internationally in 1963 and soon reached number one in the U.S. and number six in the U.K. The Beatles released their first album, Please Please Me in March. It reached Number One on the U.K. charts where it remained for thirty weeks.
The Pontiac Motor Division of General Motors installed their Full-Size 389 cubic inch (6.4 litre) V8 into their Intermediate-Size Tempest, thereby creating the GTO. Initially expecting to sell no more than 5000, Pontiac dealers managed to exceed that target by the end of 1963, less than four months after introduction.
The GTO was immortalized in popular culture by Ronny and the Daytonas, whose Surf Rock tune G.T.O. rose to number four on the U.S. Pop charts in September of 1964.
The success of the GTO, a turnkey car that allowed non-DIY guys to garner respect from hot-rodders at the local drive-in and dragstrip, elicited competitive responses from nearly every U.S. manufacturer, giving rise to a new vehicle category that would be known as Muscle Cars.
Following nine years of intense development, Chrysler produced fifty limited-production Turbine Cars that were issued to over 200 members of the public across the U.S. to drive for periods of up to three months between October 1963 and January 1966. Together the cars accumulated over 1.1 million miles during the program.
General Motors, Renault, Fiat, Rover and other manufacturers were developing gas-turbine power plants during the decade, but the Chrysler Turbine Car was the only turbine-powered vehicle that made it to production (albeit rather limited) and into the hands of the public.
Ian Fleming released On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a novel he wrote during the filming of the first James Bond film adaptation; Dr. No. Another quintessential member of the sixties espionage canon also debuted; The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by literary spymaster John le Carré.
Cinema-goers had a feast in 1963 with the release of numerous theatrical gems. Federico Fellini’s avant-garde 8 1/2 wowed theatregoers, critics and even the Vatican. Decades later it was later described as the most important European film ever made.
Audiences flocked to the second James Bond film, From Russia with Love, cementing the series future as a blockbuster global franchise. Brigit Bardot graced the screen in John-Luc Godard’s Contempt. Other notables of the year included Charade and The Great Escape.
In October, the Honda Motor Company introduced its first production automobile, the S500. The sports car’s 500 cc aluminum inline four-cylinder engine boasted twin overhead camshafts, a roller-bearing crankshaft and four side-draft carburettors. Just ten months later, Honda would begin competing for the World Constructors’ Championship in Formula One.
Andy Warhol completed his Death and Disaster series of paintings.
Jim Clark won the Formula One Drivers’ Championship and Lotus the Constructors’ trophy. The European Rally Championship was won by Gunnar Andersson driving for Volvo. For the second year running, the Rallye Monte-Carlo was won by Erik Carlsson in a Saab 96. Jean Rolland triumphed at the Coupe des Alpes in an Alfa Romeo TZ1.
The first car to ever bear a Lamborghini badge, the 350 GTV, was displayed at the Salone dell’automobile di Torino. The first flights of the Boeing 727 and Learjet 23 took place, and finally, the fondant-filled chocolate Fry’s (later Cadbury) Creme Egg made its debut.
The 50th Anniversary of the 1960s: