The calendar still said 1960s but by 1968, it seemed like a different decade. The world was a very dissimilar place than it was in say, 1966. Changes and undercurrents that had been brewing since mid-decade exploded. The U.S. suffered through a second year of mass racial unrest, two political figures were assassinated, rioting broke out at the Democratic National Convention, and college campuses sustained over forty arson attacks and bombing incidents. France suffered through the Mai 68 civil unrest with general strikes that brought the country to a virtual standstill, the Prague Spring came to a bitter end and Germany saw the first attack by what was to become known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang.
Events in France were such that the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the press launch of the Peugeot 504 had to be rescheduled from June to September.
Despite all the unrest, the world somehow managed to pull through. Here are some of the highlights.
The first new Audi released under VW ownership inherited the layout of the earlier Audi F103; front wheel-drive with a longitudinal inline 4-cylinder engine forward of the front axle canted to the right, with the radiator and cooling fan placed at the left to conserve space. The 1.8-litre 100 was the largest postwar Audi to date.
While some observers thought the new Opel GT looked like a smaller version of the recently introduced Corvette C3, it’s styling was actually based on an Opel concept car from 1965. Constructed on the Kadett platform, it was available in 1.1 and 1.9 litre versions. A unique feature was hidden headlamps that rotated around a longitudinal axis, cable-operated via a pull-lever on the centre console.
Volkswagen released what would be their last rear engined, air cooled passenger car. Larger than the Beetle and Type III range, the 411 was the first VW with a wheelbase other than 2400mm (94.5”) and the first with four doors. An all-new 1.7-litre engine incorporated an alternator and full-flow oil filter, two more firsts for VW. The new engine would go on to power the VW-Porsche 914 and VW Transporter.
Finnish designer Matti Suuronen’s Futuro entered production. Constructed of fibreglas reinforced polyester resin, the prefabricated Futuro could be assembled on-site or delivered in complete form by helicopter. Quadruped pylons allowed it to securely rest on four concrete piers, enabling easy placement in rough or heavily graded terrain..
The Ještěd Television Tower in the Czech Republic was completed. Designed by architect Karel Hubáček, the lower portion incorporates a hotel and restaurant.
John Lautner’s Elrod House in Palm Springs, CA was approved for occupancy. The cast concrete structure was built around existing boulders, many of which remain in place inside the house. Millions around the world saw the Elrod house in 1971 when it was featured as Willard Whyte’s home in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever.
1968 presented a whole new world for the luxury car buyer with a trio of new models from BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz.
BMW moved upmarket with the release of their new 2500/2800 series powered by a brand new M30 inline six-cylinder engine. The new powerplant, BMWs first postwar six, would go on to win a coveted position on Ward’s Best Engines of the 20th Century list. The new sedans were the first of the firm’s cars to sport twin headlamps, a styling feature that would become a BMW trademark.
The last truly beautiful Jaguar, and not unsurprisingly the last designed under the auspices of the talented Sir William “Mr. Jaguar” Lyons.
Daimler-Benz introduced a new mid-range model series that would be the last Mercedes to be designed under the direction of Paul Bracq. It was the first Mercedes-Benz to have a centre console and the first with available fully integrated air conditioning.
The advent of wider, flatter tyre designs were probing the limitations of the low-pivot Mercedes-Benz swing axle system, leading Daimler to adopt a semi-trailing arm rear suspension design for the new series, similar to that previously used on the BMW 1500 and Porsche 911.
Italian architect Gaetano Pasce designed his Up range of seating, the most well-known being the Up5 Donna chair. After manufacture, Up series furniture was compressed to a tenth of normal size and vacuum-packed in PVC bags. When delivered and unsealed, the furniture would expand to full scale. The Up5 is still available from B&B Italia.
The first beanbag chair, the Sacco was released. Designed by Italians Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini and Franco Teodoro for Zanotta, the chair spawned many imitators and became a staple of college dorms and first apartments.
Ferrari introduced a new model range under the Dino banner, the named taken from the Ferrari V6 Formula Two engine co-designed by Enzo Ferrari’s son Dino. It was the first mid-engine road car from Ferrari and the third production car powered by the 2.0 four-cam all-aluminium Dino V6, the first two produced under the Fiat banner.
At the October Paris Auto Salon Ferrari showed off another new model. The 4.4-litre V12-powered 365 GTB/4 proved to be the last front-engine V12 Ferrari 2-seater for over twenty years. While the driveline was traditional Ferrari, the low beltline, taught, lean surfaces and glass front drawn by Leonardo Fioravanti at Pininfarina, bestowed a dramatic new look.
While not quite up to 1967 standards, 1968 still saw some worthy films released including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Bullitt, The Detective, Danger: Diabolik, Madigan, Once Upon A Time In The West, The Swimmer and Where Eagles Dare.
Peugeot introduced their new 504 flagship at the Salon de l’Automobile in Paris.
Keracolor of Britain released a line of spherical swivel television sets designed by Arthur Bracegirdle. While most were on pedestal bases, some were designed to hang from the ceiling, and other models featured built-in 8-track tape players.
Ford introduced the Escort at the Brussels Motor Show in January. It would quickly prove not only a popular seller but a formidable contender in competition. 1.6-litre Lotus twin-cam powered Escort TCs claimed victory in the 1968 British Saloon Car Championship and no less than six major rallies that year, including the 1000 Lakes, the Acropolis and the Tulip.
The musical Hair opened on Broadway in April, the groundbreaking counterculture extravaganza encapsulating takes on nearly every changing social norm of late sixties society. Three months earlier, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In debuted on NBC television and quickly became the definitive late-sixties comedy show.
An instantly iconic image was shot of earth by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders during lunar orbit on Christmas Eve.
It was a blockbuster year for pop instrumentals. Paul Mauriat’s Love is Blue, a strings and harpsichord rendition of the 1967 Eurovision entry, L’Amour et Bleu, climbed the pop charts in UK and US, reaching number One in the US for five weeks, while Classical Gasby Mason Williams climbed to number two on US charts and went on to win three Grammys.
Meanwhile, Hugh Masekela’s Grazing in the Grass rose to number one in U.S. and Hugo Montenegro’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly reached number one in the UK weekly charts and number two in the U.S. The film’s score by Ennio Morricone became hailed as one of the greatest soundtracks ever.
On the vocal front, MacArthur Park by Richard Harris charted at Number One in Europe and Australia and Number Two in the U.S.
Graham Hill clinched the F1 Championship and Lotus-Ford won the Constructor’s crown; unfortunately both accomplishments overshadowed by the tragic deaths of Jim Clark and three other GP drivers during the season. Meanwhile Ford secured the World Sports Car Manufacturers’ Championship. Vic Alfred and David Stone won the Rallye Monte-Carlo in what would be the first of several victories for the Porsche 911 in the storied winter event. Jean Vinatier and Jean-Françoise Jacob won the Coupe des Alpes in an Alpine-Renault A110 1400. The rotary-powered NSU Ro 80 took home Car Of The Year honors.
After being test-marketed at a single McDonald’s location in Pennsylvania, the Big Mac is introduced throughout the U.S., priced at $0.49.
Finally, Andy Warhol declared that in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.
The 50th Anniversary of the 1960s: