The Swinging Sixties were a pivotal decade for Britain. Fashion, music and art transformed the landscape, while bands like The Beatles, The Who and The Rolling Stones triggered a youth-driven cultural revolution that shaped the next generation.
But what about cars? Did the decade treat petrolheads well? Or were people too busy riding around on Vespas to pay any attention to the motors rolling off the production line?
Well, as any motoring fan will tell you, the 60s were fruitful for cars, with some of the world’s most iconic models launched over the course of the decade – from the Mini Cooper S to the Ford GT40. But what other cars made the sixties so special? Find out as we take a look at the very best cars of the 1960s.
The legendary Lotus Elan was one of Britain’s first affordable, two-seater sportscars. Available as a coupe or convertible, this was the car that kick-started the nation’s love of performance motoring; it was an accessible, not overly expensive car that was fun to drive and built with British roads in mind.
The original 1960s Elan is a favourite among many motoring fans, while the 1980s version was also a beloved revamp. Of course, every petrolhead knows the only colour you can buy an Elan in is yellow. Today’s manufacturers owe a lot to brands like Lotus and MG. Without models like the Elan and the MG Midget, we wouldn’t have the Mazda MX5 or hot hatchbacks like the VW Golf GTI.
We’re guessing either you or someone you know had a Ford Cortina in the 1960s. This was Britain’s best-selling car throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, with thousands of models sold up and down the country. The original 1962 Ford Cortina was the go-to family car, combining space and practicality with day-to-day reliability.
Several variations of the Mark I and Mark II Cortina were developed and launched in the mid-sixties, including the four-door saloon, the Cortina Estate and the 1600E. All variants of the car sold well, knocking Austin/Morris from the top spot as Britain’s biggest and best car maker.
Mini Cooper S
Few cars are more synonymous with the sixties than the original Mini, and the Cooper S was the most iconic version of this celebrated British motor. Developed by John Cooper, owner of the Cooper Car Company, the Cooper S was the performance edition of the original Austin Mini Motor, and featured a race-tuned engine, disc brakes and twin SU carburettors.
Several editions of the Cooper S were released in a 10-year period from 1961 to 1971, ranging in engine size from 848CC to 1,275CC. As well as capturing the spirit of the Swinging Sixties, the Cooper S was hugely successful in motor racing, achieving back-to-back victories on racetracks and rally stages throughout the decade.
Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow
While the Ford Cortina was designed for the everyman in the 1960s, Rolls-Royce had its sights set on royalty and aristocracy with the Silver Shadow, its definitive car of the decade. Often regarded as the manufacturer’s best-ever car, the Silver Shadow set the benchmark in luxury and refinement and was the go-to motor for Britain’s upper sets.
Its price tag of around £6,557 made it one of the most expensive cars on the market. What made the Silver Shadow so successful despite the cost was its space-age hydropneumatic suspension system, which uses a pressurised chassis to effectively self-level the car through corners. This sophisticated approach to suspension gave the Silver Shadow unparalleled ride comfort, making it the ideal chauffeured car for those who like to travel in total style and comfort.
Ferrari 250 GTO
Over the decades, Ferrari has brought us many iconic models, from the LaFerrari and Daytona to the Testarossa, but few can match the 250 GTO in terms of performance and styling. Ferrari’s best ever grand tourer was originally launched in 1962 for the FIA’s Group 3 Grand Touring Car category and at the time this was one of the most expensive Ferraris ever built, fetching a price of up to $18,000 on the American market.
It was also incredibly exclusive – with a total of just 36 built between ’62 and ’64 Enzo Ferrari himself personally selected those lucky enough to own a 250 GTO, a format which the brand has used since with models like the LaFerrari and Enzo. Given its rarity, the 250 GTO is considered one of the world’s most expensive collectable cars, with valuations in excess of $70 million.
Aston Martin DB5
Our favourite car of the 1960s has to be the Aston Martin DB5. Launched in 1963 and designed by Italian coachbuilder Carrozzeria, the DB5 was the perfect blend of ‘60s cool and touring car performance. Even without its associations with James Bond – the car first appeared in 1964’s Goldfinger – the DB5 would still be a British classic, its elegant styling and punchy four-litre engine making it one of the most successful luxury tourers of the decade.
Several variations of the DB5 were launched in the 1960s, including the powerful DB5 Vantage, the French Riviera-ready DB5 Convertible and the slightly whacky DB5 Shooting-Brake, and all of them sold out almost immediately on release.
Granted it’s not the classiest name, but the Hillman Imp was a huge success story in the 1960s. This small, cheap car was a direct rival to the Austin Mini and was the first mass produced with an aluminium engine – a material that’s still used today for its weight and affordability.
Uniquely, the Hillman Imp had a rear-mounted engine, saving space for passengers while allowing for a roomy luggage compartment under the bonnet. These space-saving innovations, coupled with the car’s affordable price, made it a big hit on British roads throughout the 60s and 70s, with over 500,000 cars sold in a 13-year period.
Ford GT40 remains one of the most iconic cars of the 1960s – so much so that its creation is celebrated in the feature length film Ford v Ferrari.
Designed by Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, the GT40 was intended to rival the dominant Ferrari racing team at 24 Hours of Le Mans. And rival it did, with back-to-back wins at the event from 1966 to 1969. The GT40 is one of the most celebrated supercars in the history of Ford, and several updated versions of the original car have since been launched.
Regarded by the likes of Enzo Ferrari as one of the most beautiful cars ever built, the Jaguar E-Type is arguably the most iconic car in the history of motoring. Launched in 1961, the E-Type was the fastest, best-performing car of its class at the time, capable of 0-60mph in under seven seconds.
The car’s monocoque construction, disc brakes and rack-and-pinion steering made it extremely agile, and its performance model claimed several race wins throughout the 1960s. Several variations of the E-Type were developed between 1961 and 1975, but the original remains the best-loved of all. Considered one of the most desirable classic cars in the world, an E-Type in mint condition costs in excess of one million pounds.
What is your favourite car from the 1960s? Have we missed any of the decade’s classic cars off our list? Let us know what you think over at the Redex Club Facebook page. Looking for more from Redex? Click here to visit the homepage.