This year’s look back at 1969 brings to a close Auto Universum’s ten year celebration of the 50thanniversary of the 1960s; the final year of an exciting, glamorous, stylish and ultimately tumultuous decade. An era that epitomized technological advancement, elegance and savoir-faire; tragically ending with the violence and mayhem of the Manson murders and the Altamont Free Concert.
It was thus a bittersweet year that closed the curtain on the decade celebrated here in the hallowed rosewood-paneled halls of the Auto Universum World Headquarters Tower. Let’s review some of the year’s highlights.
Fiat introduced a pair of small cars that would figure prominently in the following decade.
The most significant was the 128. Described by noted automotive journalist LKJ Setright as modest in size and brilliant in detail, the first front-wheel drive car to carry the firm’s name was an amazingly space efficient design and one of the best-handling FWD cars to date. A brand-new 1.1-litre OHC engine was located transversely in the nose with the spare wheel lying atop the transaxle.
While entertaining to drive in the manner expected of a small Fiat; the real motoring enthusiast’s delight was the 128’s slightly smaller twin, the simultaneously-developed Autobianchi A112 hatchback. The A112 was based on a shortened 128 chassis powered by an earlier Fiat 900cc OHV unit borrowed from the 850 series.
A highly-tuned 1.0-litre Abarth version of the Autobianchi quickly became a motorsport favourite, still popular in vintage racing today.
At the opposite end of the spectrum Fiat launched the 130, their final attempt at a true executive-class series. The 130 had a new 60-degree OHC V6 powerplant, unrelated to the earlier Dino V6, a three-speed automatic gearbox, fully-independent suspension, power-assisted steering with a tilt-and-telescope column, limited-slip differential and four-wheel disc brakes with ventilated front rotors.
The 130, 128 and A112 were the last clean-sheet designs created under the tutelage of Fiat’s renowned designer and engineer Dante Giacosa.
The Brenton House was completed. Designed by architect Charles Haertling, it was built of pods constructed of steel-reinforced polyurethane foam. In 1973 it was used as a location in Woody Allen’s futuristic comedy Sleeper.
Ford launched their Capri, a “European Mustang” coupé based on the Cortina platform. An unusually large range of powerplants were offered, from a base 1.3-litre four to a 3-litre V6.
The chassis specification was more sophisticated than the original Mustang with rack and pinion steering up front and dual rear track rods at the rear insuring that a wheel-spinning Capri would never suffer the embarrassing wheel hop of Steve McQueen’s Mustang in Bullitt. The car was an immediate success, selling a half-million units in its first five years of production.
Volkswagen and Porsche simultaneously debuted the VW-Porsche 914, a mid-engine roadster that replaced both the VW Type III Karmann-Ghia and the Porsche 912.
VW dealers offered the base 914, powered by a fuel-injected 1.7-litre air-cooled flat-four, while Porsche concessionaires sold the 914-6, powered by a carburetted 2.0-litre air-cooled flat-six. Both models featured a five-speed gearbox, four-wheel independent suspension, rack and pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes.
In the U.S., both 914s were sold through the newly-established Porsche-Audi division of Volkswagen of America.
Verner Panton created several stylish interior spaces emphasizing geometry, color, murals, glass and lighting effects for Spiegel Publishing headquarters in Hamburg Germany, some of which remain original and unaltered.
Joe Columbo displayed Visiona I, a futuristic living concept for Bayer textiles at the Cologne Furniture Fair.
British Leyland introduced the Austin Maxi, the last of a series of cars designed by the eminent Alec Issigonis.
The midsize five-door hatchback was powered by an OHC 1.5-litre inline four, and featured a five-speed gearbox and Hydrolastic suspension.
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.
Herman-Miller announced the Eames Soft Pad Collection, a luxuriously upholstered line of aluminum-framed chairs based on the earlier Aluminum Group seating with the addition of leather-covered, French-seamed pads filled with urethane foam. Soft Pad chairs are still available from Herman-Miller and Vitra International.
Rosenthal of Germany introduced the Sunball adjustable-shade outdoor lounge chair by Ris and Selldorf.
The new Renault 12 completed the firm’s switch to front wheel drive, gradually replacing the rear-engine 8 and 10 models.
Brionvega unveiled the ST201 Black Cube portable TV designed by Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper.
Chrysler launched a new E-body platform underpinning the third-generation Barracuda and the new Dodge Challenger.
Notable cinema releases included Army of Shadows, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Downhill Racer, Easy Rider, Italian Job, Midnight Cowboy, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Topaz and Z.
Over 400,000 people attended the three-day Woodstock music festival.
On the twentieth of July, the Lunar Module of Apollo 11 touched down on the surface of the Moon, achieving a goal set by President John F. Kennedy just eight years earlier.
The following day astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon, their actions followed on earth by over half-billion television viewers.
Immediately following the successful mission, Volkswagen of America ran a full-page tongue-in-cheek tribute in all major U.S. newspapers.
Capitalizing on sixties flower power symbolism, Chrysler began offering Mod Top floral roof coverings on selected Dodge and Plymouth models.
G. B. Putnam’s released Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. The thrilling tale of the Corleone family quickly rose to the top of the New York Times Best Seller list where it remained for 67 weeks.
Claes Oldenburg created a reduced-scale three-dimensional profile of a Chrysler Airflow formed from green-tinted translucent polyurethane plastic. It was produced by Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles in an edition of 75.
The Sud Aviation/BAC Concorde supersonic passenger airliner, powered by four turbojet engines with reheat afterburners, took its maiden voyage from Toulouse in March and underwent its first supersonic flight in October.
Jackie Steward won his first F1 World Championship crown in a Matra-Ford, simultaneously bringing Matra the Constructor’s award, and Porsche took home the International Sports Car Manufacturers’ Championship. Björn Waldegård and Lars Helme won the Rallye Monte-Carlo in a Porsche 911S. Jean Vinatier and Jean-Françoise Jacob repeated their victory at the Coupe des Alpes, this time in an Alpine-Renault A110 1600S.
Gérard Larrousse and Maurice Gélin took the laurels at the Tour de France Automobile in a Porsche 911R. The Peugeot 504 took Car Of The Year honours.
On the eighth of August at approximately 11:30 AM photographer Ian Macmillan took a photo of The Beatles crossing Abbey Road.
On the twenty-ninth of October the first message was sent over a TCP/IP based packet-switching data network known as ARPANET; the forerunner of the internet.
The 50th Anniversary of the 1960s: