That Was The Year That Was: 1965

 James Kraus


Monaco Grand Prix poster, Michael Turner, 1965

The first year of the latter half of the 1960s was a halcyon time. Most financial markets were still hitting new highs and automotive sales were setting records. Nevertheless, signs were appearing hinting that the good times might be on the wane.

People were beginning to look more to the nostalgia of the past rather than the promise of the future. In the U.S., traditional-look vinyl roof coverings were becoming increasingly popular and mass-market manufacturers around the world began embracing retro wood-look interior trim.

The general acceptance that new and good were synonymous began a long decline, paralleling the fall in the optimistic embrace of the future that had infused the early half of the decade.

Renault 16

Renault 16 GL

In spite of this, there were nevertheless a number of noteworthy developments and happenings in ’65. Renault introduced the 16; a revolutionary middle-size, middle class front-wheel-drive sedan incorporating a rear hatch, multi-folding rear seat and lift-up rear package shelf that ultimately became the template for today’s family car.

Front disc brakes and rack and pinion steering were fitted, and the chassis layout used Renault’s traditional front mid-engine design that placed the power unit behind the front axle for superior weight distribution. Stirling Moss called the Renault 16 the most intelligently engineered automobile I have ever encountered.

Peugeot 204

Peugeot 204

Peugeot launched the 204, their first venture into front-wheel drive. The 204 introduced other technologies also new to Peugeot including an aluminium engine, overhead camshaft and front disc brakes. The transverse engine had a belt-driven radiator fan powered by a V-belt twisted 90-degrees à la Corvair. By the end of the decade, it became the best-selling car in France.

Gateway Arch

Gateway Arch

Construction was completed on the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. The tallest arch in the world, it was a modernist interpretation of one of the oldest and most basic building forms. The stainless steel skinned, triangular-section monument was originally conceived by architect Eero Saarinen in 1947, just a few years before he began work on the General Motors Technical Center.


Condominium One,  MLTW Partnership, 1965

Condominium 1 at Sea Ranch, designed by Charles W. Moore, Donlyn Lyndon, William Turnbull, Jr. and Richard Whitaker opened on the Pacific coast in Sonoma County, California. The raw redwood planked structure combined modernist principles with an informed respect for local design heritage and material.


Fiat 850 Spider

Fiat introduced two of the most stylish small cars of the decade, the 850 Spider and Coupé. The Spider was a Bertone design that instantly made most other small sports cars look a bit blasé. The handsome Coupé was styled in-house. Based on the chassis of the rear-engine 850 Berlina, the Spider and Coupé were given more powerful higher-compression powerplants and front disc brakes.


Fiat 850 Coupé

Both were appreciatively received by doyens of the automotive press: John Bolster, esteemed road-tester for Autosport, bought a Coupé for himself, and Road & Track’s Jonathon Thompson purchased a Spider.


RR126 Stereo System

Brionvega presented their Radiofonografo RR126 stereo system designed by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglione. Incorporating a turntable, AM/FM tuner, amplifier and stereo speakers, it sat on a cast aluminium base with four casters allowing easy portability.


Mercedes-Benz 300 SE

Since the demise of the Type 300 Adenauer Series in 1962, a Mercedes S-Class meant little more than a mid-size Merc with a longer nose, larger engine and more luxurious interior. That changed in 1965, when Mercedes-Benz introduced the new W108/W109 S-Klasse. Once again the senior Mercedes had a specific body shell, entirely distinct from lesser models.

The new 250 S and 300 S eschewed the baroque styling of the outgoing Heckflosse (Fintail) design in favour of the restrained, classically Teutonic elegance of the 230 SL and 600, sharing their straightforward surfacing, minimal ostentation and large glass areas.

The new range was based on an updated Heckflosse platform, inheriting the 4-wheel disc brakes and unique M-B single low-pivot swing axle at the rear. Top-range 300 SE and 300 SEL models retained their self-levelling pneumatic suspension.

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Sea and Ski Boy Watchers. Bert Stern photo

Sea and Ski introduced their futuristic flying saucer-like Boy Watcher (for women) and Girl Watcher (for men) one piece single-lens sunglasses.

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Oldsmobile Toronado

Oldsmobile brought forth the long-rumoured front wheel drive Toronado, the first American front-drive car since the 1937 Cord. The Toronado drivetrain was unique: the engine and automatic gearbox were side-by-side, longitudinal and parallel to one another. Drive from the torque convertor, mounted on the rear of the centrally-located V8 engine, was delivered to the Turbo-Hydramatic transmission input shaft via a hardened steel silent-link chain. The right-hand side drive axle passed beneath the centre crankshaft main bearing. This layout was later shared with the Cadillac Eldorado, Buick Riviera and GMC Motorhome.

Triumph 1300

Triumph 1300

On the opposite side of the Atlantic another new front-drive model debuted; the Triumph 1300. Generously equipped with front disc brakes, four-wheel independent suspension and tilt and telescoping steering column, the drivetrain layout of the 1300 was similar to the Mini with a gearbox below the engine, although this case the engine and transmission were mounted longitudinally and retained separate oil sumps.


Unsafe At Any Speed, Ralph Nader, first edition, 1965

Two events occurred in America that would forever reshape the automobile. The first was the publication of Unsafe At Any Speed by heretofore unknown attorney Ralph Nader. The book was despised by both the automotive industry and enthusiast press, but Ralph raised many valid points and his timing was impeccable.

The public was increasingly dismayed by ever-increasing highway fatalities; and following the book’s release, pressured a beleaguered congress into action. A great many of the issues raised in Unsafe At Any Speed were addressed almost immediately by the newly formed Department Of Transportation.

Despite strong opposition by the industry; the first release of wide-ranging safety standards was implemented with 1968-model automobiles, less than three years following the book’s publication. These initial regulations included mandatory seat belts, front shoulder harnesses, padded interior surfaces and collapsing steering columns as well as successful passage of a 30 mph (50 kph) frontal test impact into a fixed barrier.

1966 California-Spec Pontiac GTO with belt-driven air pump. The majority of cars used pumps like this one to channel oxygen into the exhaust ports, oxidizing unspent fuel to help meet the state’s new emission regulations.

1966 California-Spec Pontiac GTO with belt-driven air pump. The majority of cars used pumps like this one to channel oxygen into the exhaust ports, oxidizing unspent fuel to help meet the state’s new emission regulations.

The second major milestone was the first governmental regulation of tailpipe emissions. Beginning in the autumn of 1965, all new vehicles sold in California had to meet standards limiting the emission of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide.

In addition, the Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act was passed in the United States requiring similar limits on vehicles sold throughout the country to be enforced beginning with 1968 models; concurrent with the aforementioned new safety regulations.


Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow

Rolls-Royce introduced the Silver Shadow, a dramatic departure from the Silver Cloud III, featuring unitary construction, independent, self-leveling suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and fully-intergrated air-conditioning.


Rubber Soul, The Beatles

The Beatles released their highly acclaimed Rubber Soul album, and Barry McGuire recorded his immortal single Eve of Destruction. Andy Williams’ Merry Christmas album of exclusively Christmas music of the 20th Century was released just in time for the ’65 season. The defining holiday collection of the 1960s, it reached Number One on the Christmas Album chart in 1966 and again in 1969.


BMW 1800 Ti SA

It was a memorable year for BMW enthusiasts. A limited-production high-performance version of the 1800 Ti was launched: the Ti SA with a specially-tuned engine, Getrag five-speed gearbox, available 4-wheel disc brakes and a host of other performance embellishments. The Ti SA is the spiritual godfather of today’s M-cars.

1965 was also the year Alpina opened for business, offering twin carburettors, stroker crankshafts and other performance enhancements for BMW automobiles.

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Thunderball, Terence Young, 1965

Notable films of the year included The 10th Victim, The Ipcress File, The Knack… and How to Get It, Marriage on the Rocks, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Thunderball and What’s New Pussycat?

I Spy

I Spy

Two classic 1960s espionage TV shows debuted; I Spy, featuring location filming in cities around the globe, and the genre-spoofing Get Smart.

The opening credit cars of secret agent Maxwell Smart: Sunbeam Tiger (1965-1967), Volkswagen Karmann Ghia (1967-1969) and Opel GT (1969-1970)

The Opening Credit cars of secret agent Maxwell Smart: Sunbeam Tiger (1965-1967), Volkswagen Karmann Ghia (1967-1969) and Opel GT (1969-1970)

It was the first season for I Dream of Jeannie, and two titles released were destined to become perennial U.S. television holiday favourites, The Sound of Music and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Jim Clark won his second Formula One Championship while Ferrari took home the laurels in both the F1 Manufacturer’s Cup and the Sports Car Prototype Championship.

Lancia Flavia Zagato

Lancia Flavia Zagato piloted by René Trautmann

Timo Mäkinen and Paul Easter won the Rallye Monte-Carlo in a Mini Cooper S, René Trautmann and Claudine Bouchet drove a Lancia Flavia Zagato to victory in the Coupe des Alpes, and Nino Vaccarella and Lorenzo Bandini won the Targa Florio in a Ferrari 275 P2. The European Car Of The Year was the Austin 1800.


Tuesday Weld driving Porsche 356 Cabriolet, Gelatin Silver Print, Dennis Hopper, 1965

With the advent of simple, easy to use professional-calibre Single-Lens-Reflex cameras in the late 50’s and early 1960s; particularly the Nikon F Series, interest in photography as a popular art form increased dramatically in the latter half of the decade.

Following in the footsteps of Dr. No, The Beatles played Shea Stadium wearing Nehru Jackets. The style became quite popular for a few years (Sammy Davis was said to own 200 of them) before virtually disappearing by the end of the decade.

Lastly, on 15 February the red Maple Leaf flag was inaugurated as the national flag of Canada.

The 50th Anniversary of the 1960s:

1960   1961   1962   1963   1964   1965   1966   1967   1968   1969


3 thoughts on “That Was The Year That Was: 1965

  1. Beautifully researched, illustrated and written.
    PS. Speaking of 1965, I am watching Mad Men again and enjoying it even more the second time around!

  2. 1965: not a bad year… I joined HMS DREADNOUGHT – Back end of the submarine was a Skipjack Class U.S. SSN with a Westinghouse S5W reactor. Every parameter was in Fahrenheit or PSI – America hadn’t caught up with the Metric System!

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