In the 1960's the average new car costs about $2,752, and a gallon of gas was around 31
The 1960's automobiles belonged to a distinct decade of automobile history with the
advent of economy, muscle and pony cars.
The 1960's saw the American automobile industry consolidating into the Big Three:
(General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) and American Motors. These firms not only dominated the domestic market with
the sales of the 1960s cars, but the global market as well. In 1960 American companies built 93 percent of the
autos sold in the United States and 48 percent of world sales.
In the mid 1950s, however, led by Volkswagen and soon followed by Fiat, Renault,
Datsun (Nissan), and Hillman, imports began to nibble their way into the rich American market. The growing presence
of imports disturbed Detroit, and the Big Three responded with their own small 1960s cars. GM produced the Corvair,
Ford the Falcon, and Chrysler the Valiant.
GM introduced three new smaller cars in the U.S. as 1961 models: the Buick Special,
Oldsmobile F-85 and Pontiac Tempest. Oldsmobile F-85 was a compact sedan, coupe and station wagon powered
which had a V8 engine from 1961 to 1963. In 1964 the F-85 was upgraded to an intermediate sized car. The Cutlass
was initially the top model of the F-85 line but became a separate model by 1964 with the F-85 nameplate continued
only on the lowest priced models through the 1972 model year. Subsequently, all Oldsmobile intermediate 1960s cars
Chevrolet introduced the radical Corvair which featured an aluminum 6 cylinder rear
engine layout. The 1960 Chevrolet Corvair 500 Deluxe came with a Basic Corvair Engine , one-barrel carburetor, and
three-speed manual transmission Chevy may not have 'copied' the VW 1960s cars but many of the basics of the air
cooled rear engine, compact transaxle and suspension were similar with the main difference that the Corvair was
larger, inside and outside and was an 'American size compact'. The Corvair would represent several production
firsts for Chevy including: their first (only) rear air cooled engine, first unitized body, first production car
turbo, and fully independent suspension for each wheel-front and rear.
Early in the year of 1960 a 'sporty' Monza model was offered with bucket seats, full
wheel covers and full vinyl interior. This sporty 1960 model was to really 'drive' Corvair sales and attract
the interest of enthusiasts in the coming years. Even during this early period the Corvair was developing a
following and was considered one of the 'sportier' compacts, sometimes being referred to as a 'poor man's
As part of the 1962 model year, Chevrolet introduced a new line, the Chevy II. The
initial Corvair had been positioned as an economy car, but it was much more successful with the plusher trim and
sportier image of the Monza model which sold well in 1961.
Ford responded with the Falcon, that was its entrance into the compact car race. The
Falcon was an uncomplicated little car that was available in two-door or four-door sedans, and station wagons. The
styling gave hints that they were Ford products, but was remarkably simple and attractive. Ford said it was “the
world’s most successful new car.” Its sales took off for the stratosphere from the first day. Ford’s little Falcon
was a true success story in the annals of automotive corporate history .
Chrysler had its Valiant. It was conventional in layout, but actually was
extraordinary in its new features. The Valiant was sold as separate brand in the first year, but subsequently
displayed Plymouth logos. The first generation was launched in 1960 and lasted until 1962. It consisted of a
unibody car. It was restyled in 1963 then totally redesigned in a style reminescent of European cars of the time.
From 1963 on, Dodge used the Valiant as a base for it's Dart models.
The only survivor of the Detroit compacts, the Valiant lived up to 1976 when it
was replaced by the Volare and its Dodge clone the Aspen. From it's creation the Valiant and it's various
imitations had found a market, but although profitable, that market did not suffice to stop Plymouth from
In fact, the paradox is that the success of the Valiant led Plymouth to make
another costly mistake. Assuming the mood for smaller 1960's cars, it downsized it's whole fleet. Unfortunately,
the majority of customers still wanted larger cars, and Plymouth lost more market share.
The Mercury Comet was the "everything" car for Mercury. Introduced in 1960 on a
stretched Falcon frame, the Comet had to be Mercury's compact, intermediate, and pony car entry at the same
time. The Comet was developed as a compact car for the Edsel line. But with the Edsel brand eliminated before
the 1960 model year, Ford released the Comet as a separate model, that was sold by Lincoln-Mercury dealers. The
planned 1961 Edsel Comet compact car was relabeled the Mercury Comet and sold more cars in its first year than all
models of Edsel ever produced.
Fewer than 6,000 Edsels survive and today they are considered collectors’ items,
with convertibles sometimes selling for over US$20,000 if in good condition.
Rambler - An interesting But Sad Story
Cheap and easy to repair, the new Rambler was a hit in the recession-racked year of 1958, when
American Motors was the only domestic car manufacturer to show a profit. In 1960, Rambler produced over 450,000
cars, and became number three in sales among domestic brands.
Ramblers were the first cars to use Unibody construction throughout their model lineup. The primary
advantage of this technology was a stronger structure without the need for a separate chassis. With less squeaks
and rattles, the overwhelming majority of contemporary automobiles, with the exception of trucks and some SUV’s,
owe their design to some form of this 1960s car's original unitized body construction innovation. In another
safety milestone, Rambler was the first to offer seat belts as an option in 1950, and the first to provide them as
standard equipment by the end of the decade.
By 1962, the introduction of compact cars by the big three automakers had decreased Rambler’s
market share. Yet Rambler introduced some of the most attractive designs of any manufacturer during the mid
1960's. AMC Rambler Limited Edition Extra puts added emphasis on this period with tests of the again redesigned
Classic and Ambassador series for 1966, and the introduction of the Classic-based Marlin for 1965.
The unsophisticated Marlin was an attempt to capture a piece of the “personal car” market dominated
by the Ford Thunderbird and Buick Riviera. Unfortunately, Rambler’s attempt to compete with the “Big Three” met
with limited success. Their 1960s cars were not selling well and the Rambler name was falling out of favor in a
market dominated by flashiness and horsepower. A new image was in the works, and by 1968 the Rambler name, for
years a symbol of economy, was shown the door - ending a saga of 1960s cars known for gas saving.