Coincident with the rise of the Fab Four in the 1960s was the popularity of the fab fastback.
While a sleek sloping roofline was integral to the design of many overtly sporting machines including the Jaguar E-Type, Corvette Sting Ray, Porsches, countless Ferraris and others, there were few to be found on more spacious transport since the demise of the Bentley Continental S1 in 1959.
By the mid-sixties, there was an increasing desire among family men to have four-seat accommodations with some of the rakish fastback swagger of a sportscar. There were many slantbacks during the period like the Morris 1100, Autobianchi Primula Berlina, Renault 16 and VW 411, but to qualify as a fastback, the rear window line had to be a bit more rakish, and the car needed at least a modicum of élan in the overall styling department.
An early salvo in the genesis of the fastback was the Moretti Week-End of 1963. This special-bodied Fiat was available on the 1100 or 1500 platform, offered room for four and featured a handy opening rear hatch for luggage access.
Ford made a tentative move in the fastback direction in the spring of ’63. After the discontinuance of the sleek 1960-1961 Starliner, Ford two-door buyers were unfortunately stuck with Ford’s somewhat frumpy Thunderbird-esque Boxtop roof.
Ford thankfully rectified this by launching the sloping Sports Hardtop option for the Galaxie, and a similar roof design for their new Falcon Sprint which Ford claimed to evoke Scatback Style. The new rooflines were not solely about aesthetic appeal; the aerodynamic drag of the notchback roofline had been limiting the speed of Galaxies at Daytona and other high-speed NASCAR tracks.
The public loved the new roofline and the Sports Hardtop outsold its predecessor by a wide margin, even stealing market share from four-door models. When the ’64 Galaxies were rolled out, the Boxtop-style roofs were dead and gone.
The performance oriented marketing of the newly-roofed Galaxie 500s and V8 Falcon Sprints served to further the association of sleek rooflines with sport.
In April of 1964, as five Beatles tunes were climbing the Billboard singles chart and two weeks prior to the unveiling of the new Ford Mustang, the first genuine mass-produced 1960s fastback appeared: the Plymouth Barracuda.
Positioned to compete with Chevrolet’s Corvair Monza and Ford’s Falcon Futura, the Barracuda was based on the existing Plymouth Valiant with the added attraction of a new roofline reminiscent of the Fiat 2300S Ghia Coupé. In lieu of the three separate panes of glass making up the rear window of the Fiat however, the Barracuda featured a massive wrap-around one-piece backlight.
The Barracuda’s tinted rear screen was the largest piece of automotive glass yet fabricated. So much so that Pittsburg Plate Glass had trouble producing the window in accordance with the drawings. As a result, the centre sections of the first batch of production windows were slightly convex rather than flat. This anomaly was carefully airbrushed out of brochure photos.
Beneath that expansive rear glass was a fold-down rear seat and fully carpeted luggage area. A folding security panel allowed for storing valuables out-of-sight in the aft section of the compartment.
Five months later, As Goldfinger was being released in U.K. theatres, Ford introduced a third body style for their wildly successful Mustang; the Fastback 2+2.
The fastback had a unique roof panel, a shorter rear decklid and a folding rear seat. Unlike the Barracuda, the rear glass did not curve down to the sides; instead, vertically slatted, closable Silent-Flo cabin air outlets were fitted into the broad rear pillars. Just a year earlier, Ford was the first U.S. manufacturer to include such a feature, incorporating it into hardtop Thunderbirds.
In common with the Barracuda and most fastbacks to follow, the Mustang 2+2 was positioned as a premium model, priced nearly 10% higher than the Hardtop.
Curiously, Ford Motorsport failed to homologate the 2+2 and therefore the Mustangs that won the Touring Category in the Tour de France and Rallye du Nord and finished 1-2 in the Marathon de la Route in 1965 were the more pedestrian notchbacks.
In February of 1965 American Motors debuted a fastback version of the Rambler Classic. Following Plymouth’s lead, they chose to name it after a saltwater game fish, in this case the Marlin. The Marlin was mechanically similar to the Classic apart from the addition of power-assisted front disc brakes.
A year after launching the rear-engined 850 Berlina, Fiat introduced a sporting fastback coupé version at the Geneva Show in 1965. The fastback roofline was accompanied by a more lavish interior, engine modifications delivering 24% more power, front disc brakes and larger wheels. It was the first postwar Fiat coupé designed and produced in-house.
The handsome, sprightly Fiat was an immediate hit. After a thorough road test, eminent British motoring scribe and BBC commentator John Bolster procured one for his personal use.
In late 1965, Opel introduced a fastback option on the Kadett. By the end of the decade the Kadett would eventually be available in no less than four fastback variants, the sleek Kiemencoupe and LS and more subdued 2 and 4-door Fastbacks with slightly less slanted rear glass allowing increased rear seat headroom. Despite not being named after an aquatic creature, Keimencoupes nevertheless sported gills embossed into the sheet metal just aft of the rear quarter windows.
Volkswagen expanded their upscale line beyond the existing Sedan, Touring and Karmann Coupé models by adding the 1600 TL Fastback. Legendary Swedish rally driver Björn Waldegård; only 23-years-old at the time, contested four rounds of the 1966 European Rally Championship at the helm of a TL, finishing second in class at the Rally of the Thousand Lakes.
America’s first postwar front-wheel drive car, the Toronado by Oldsmobile, incorporated a particularly alluring fastback roofline, accentuated by C-pillars that flowed smoothly into the rear quarters with no shoulder-line interruption.
The second-generation ’66 Buick Riviera featured a rakish new fastback roof. The Riviera and Toronado shared the distinction of being the decade’s largest fastbacks at a prodigious 215 inches in overall length in their 1969 incarnations.
In October of 1965, Autobianchi displayed a new fastback Coupé version of the Primula by Carrozzeria Touring at the Paris Auto Salon.
In January of 1966 Dodge introduced the Charger, a fastback version of the Coronet. Dodge went beyond just adding a new roof. A significantly upgraded new interior was developed featuring four bucket seats, full-length center console and improved door trim.
The instrument panel was given a unique gauge cluster graced with a tachometer and generous compliment of subsidiary instruments. All were illuminated by electroluminescent backlighting, a feature heretofore available only on MoPar products bearing Chrysler or Imperial badging.
About a year after releasing the Kadett Kiemencoupe, Opel launched the larger fastback Rekord Coupé.
Both Chevrolet and Ford introduced fastback two-door hardtops to their full-size lineups for the 1967 model year. While Ford offered it as an only choice, Chevrolet produced two distinct rooflines for their two-door hardtop models: a fastback for the Impala, and a more upright formal style for the Caprice Custom Coupe.
For 1968, Ford followed Chevrolet’s lead by introducing a more upright roofline for their LTD 2-Door Hardtop, while retaining the fastback roof for XL sport models. Galaxie buyers had the luxury of choosing either roof design.
Unfortunately, the sporting look of the full-size Chevrolet and Ford family fastbacks only survived a two-year run, as enthusiasm in the U.S. for more formal roofs (preferably swathed in vinyl) mushroomed into a mania that would run for two decades.
While Ford was rolling out their new 1967 models in the U.S., their German division launched the TS Coupé. Based on the Taunus 20m platform, the TS had a body designed by Carrozzeria Ghia and assembled by OSI in Italy. The result was one of the most debonair Fords of the decade.
In March of 1967 Fiat introduced the enticing Ferrari V6-powered Dino Coupé. Despite trim dimensions and suave styling, the Fiat was deceptively roomy, more so than many more costly Italian 2+2s. Like the Mustang, rear cabin-air outlets were incorporated into the rear roof pillars, but rather than being emphasized as a styling feature, they were discreetly integrated into the rear quarter window trim so as to be all but unnoticeable.
In September of 1967 the new ’68 Ford Fairlanes and Torinos debuted. Echoing the Galaxie lineup, the choice of a standard or fastback roofline was offered for two-door models. The styling of the fastback version’s roof, from rear windscreen to tail panel, was similar to the 1967-68 Mustang Fastback.
A few weeks later, AMC discontinued their Marlin, one of the original fastbacks, replacing it with the Javelin.
October of ’67 saw the introduction of the fastback Sunbeam Rapier with a roofline similar to the original Barracuda, although it utilized a three-piece backlight rather than wrap-around glass.
Fastbacks had mixed fortunes in the 1970s. In the U.S. it became the sole body style for the newly restyled 1970 Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, and the Corvette regained a fastback profile for 1978 after a decade’s absence.
On the other hand, the full-size fastback Chevrolet and Ford disappeared as did the fastback Dodge Charger and Plymouth Barracuda. The Mustang lost its fastback roofline for 1979, going without until 2005. Generally only the increasingly popular hatchback body styles were granted fastback or fastback-like profiles.
General Motors gamely tried reviving the fastback look for 1978 with the Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon and Buick Century, but neither received widespread acceptance.
Fastback popularity continued to gain ground in Europe however, with the introduction of new entrants including the Audi 100 Coupé, Ford Taunus GT, Alfa Romeo Alfetta GT and the Citroën SM and CX.
Today the 4-place fastback lives on in the current Mustang (which is officially called a fastback) as well as the Audi A7, Aston Martin Rapide, BMW GTs, Porsche Panamera and a few others.
Current fastbacks are not quite as distinctive as the original batch owing to the fact that rear windows on most contemporary non-fastback vehicles enjoy such a high degree of slope. As an example, the original Mustang Fastback 2+2 rear window angle was 18° from horizontal, virtually identical to the slope of the rear glass on the current BMW 4-Series Coupé.