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Cars we loved in the 1960s


Britain, the 1960s and cars are usually characterized by the Jaguar E-type at one end of the scale, and the Mini at the other. The affordable dream car and the economy runabout bringing new meaning to driving enjoyment on a budget, not to mention ingenious design. But what about some motoring innovations of the 1960s that rarely receive a nostalgic namecheck?

How about the ground-breaking Esso marketing campaign in 1964 that urged you to ‘Put a tiger in your tank’. For one shilling and sixpence you could buy a woolly tiger's tail to tie around your fuel cap of your car to prove you had, and millions did just that.

Then there was the national obsession, inspired by the USA, for drive-in and automated everythings. In 1961, for instance, Britain’s first drive-in bank, a branch of Drummonds, opened in Trafalgar Square, and Southwark, south London saw the country’s first automated multi-storey car park. Two years later, you could drive under Hyde Park into a massive new car park after the Queen gave her permission to have it built. In 1967 came the first convenience store at a petrol station, opened by Shell in Liverpool. And then in 1969 came your first chance to drive into a hovercraft, as the first scheduled service between Dover and Boulogne began on 1 August.

Of course, in addition to the dynamic duo mentioned at the start, there were some terrific new cars on offer in 1961 if you suddenly came into some money, such as the Lagonda Rapide – a sort of four-door Aston Martin – and the sleek Jaguar Mk X. If you wanted to enjoy what little sunshine there was in Britain then an exhilarating new sports car like the MG Midget/Austin-Healey Sprite MkII and Triumph TR4 of the same year was for you, while in 1962 the fabulous Lotus Elan, MGB, Triumph Spitfire and AC Cobra were all unleashed. 

The country’s best-seller list was dominated by the neat, front-wheel drive Austin/Morrs 1100 and conventional but perfectly-packaged Ford Cortina. Foreign cars hardly got a look in, thanks to high import duties; the first Japanese car to go on sale in 1865, the Daihatsu Campagno, failed to take off, and the family hatchback concept pioneered by the Renault 16 that year didn’t get going until Austin copied it for the Maxi in 1969. This relatively protected British market allowed Vauxhall and Hillman to create small cars in the shape of the Viva and Imp, which were built in brand new factories in Merseyside and Glasgow.

In 1963 both the Ford Lotus-Cortina and the Mini Cooper S were announced. Jim Clark was soon three-wheeling the former around Europe’s race tracks but the Cooper S’s muddy exploits were truly awe-inspiring, scooping a hat-trick of epic wins on the Monter Carlo Rally in 1963, ’64 and ’66.

Thrilling stuff … unlike life on British roads. A speed limit of 70mph on motorways and major A-roads was introduced in November 1965 as a four-week experiment, and on 22 December it became permanent.

The growth of the company car proved unstoppable. At first it was for thrusting young executives who, in 1963, could choose from two swish new British executive cars, the Rover 2000 and Triumph 2000.

Then, in 1966, the lower management echelons were targeted when the neat new Ford Cortina MkII locked horns with the Hillman Hunter from the Rootes Group (now controlled by America’s Chrysler). Tycoons, of course, had never been short of choice but, even so, the 1965 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow – the first from Crewe without a separate chassis – and the Jensen Interceptor – whose FF derivative featured a world-first combo of Ferguson four-wheel drive and Dunlop anti-lock braking - made the bosses’ car park glitter with glamour.

The end of the 1960s was an era of consolidation for Britain’s car industry, the end result being the formation 1968 of British Leyland. The new company made a staggering 46 different types of car, of which the most impressive was the amazing new Jaguar XJ6 … but the corporation soon turned into a monster whose creation we’d regret.  

By Giles Chapman

Earl’s Court Motor Show 1962

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