The 1960s was a decade of change. Americans were divided, as is today.
Though I was born in the 1960s, I could recall some of the decade’s biggest flashpoints.
How could a three-year-old understand such things as Civil Rights, Vietnam and the "Summer of Love?" That all came true during the next decade when it was all recorded for historical reasons. I was a bright kid when it came to trivial crap.
The 1960s was a decade of change. Americans were divided, as is today. Yet, we had to go through the final phase of racial integration into our country's society while arguing over the merits of a war against Communism in Southeast Asia.
If I lived as an adult – perhaps a legal adult – in the 1960s, I would still remain in the closet. There were some small openings of freedom that were occurring during the decade, but it was not socially acceptable to "swing." Even during the "Summer of Love," sexual liberation may have included homosexuality despite not everyone agreeing on its merits.
That all came out – so to speak – in the summer of 1969 at Sheridan Square in Manhattan. Judy Garland just died and gay folks were clearly upset. All they needed were the cops to come by the Stonewall Inn and demanded a bribe for protection.
The rest was history.
What would I have driven in the 1960s? Plenty. So, here's are My Favorites of the decade of my birth – and a whole lot more!
1967 CHEVROLET (FULL SIZE): My favorite car owned by my family of the decade was a 1967 Impala Sport Coupe. A big full-sized Chevrolet with a 5.4-liter V8, Turbo Hydramatic gearbox, a fastback coupe design, plenty of room inside and the biggest instrumentation cluster ever seen in my life! The bets attribute about the big Chevy was the way it rode – they called it "Jet Smooth." No, the Impala was soother and handled the wind just fine. The fastback Impala is on this list because of what it accomplished in the care of my family from 1967 to 1972 – it put smiles on our faces.
1967-69 FORD MUSTANG: Argue as you may, but the 1960s would not be what it is without it. So, why the second round of Mustangs? Why not the originals? I had the opportunity to drive a 1968 hardtop coupe with a 289 V8 on occasion sometime during my time in the Bay Area. The front end might be a bit light, but you forgave for what it did when you opened up the throttle. It had serious thrust and a want to tackle anything in its wake. No wonder why Steve McQueen drove one in "Bullitt."
1965 PLYMOUTH SATELLITE: My father had one. This is not the reason why it appears here. It was part of a movement that we ultimately call "Mopar." We often think of the Pontiac GTO as the genesis of muscle car movement, but Chrysler knew the formula of how to pull it off better than anyone. If you considered all of the GTXs, Road Runners, Super Bees and Chargers of the decade, then you may be forgiven to have forgotten about the 1965 Satellite. It came about as the Fury began to be built on the larger full-sized platform and the Belvidere remained on the old Plymouth standard chassis – hence considered a mid-sized in the end. With plenty of HEMI V8 and other performance options, the Satellite opened the door for an entire phylum of Mopar street classics. Yes, there was some great rods based on some of the earlier Dodges and Plymouths – but you have to admit that the Satellite formed the formula of things to come.
1961-64 LINCOLN CONTINENTAL: American luxury changed with one car – this one. Until the arrival of the Continental, American luxury was denoted by size. They were long and sleek with high tail fins and an insane amount of chrome plating. Ford’s approach to the new Lincoln was to complete reshape the flagship for a new era. The body became boxy, but sculptured with toned down fin structures. Inside exuded a new form of luxury aswashed with chrome and metal finishes, but modernized as was the exterior. Under the hood sat a huge modern V8 that propelled this svelte symbol of American luxury across the highway with ease. The influence of the Continental was seen elsewhere – not just at Ford. The same designer jumped ship in the middle of the model's run to design one of its competitors – the 1964 Imperial. For being an influential automobile, the Continental changed luxury for good.
1968-69 VOLKSWAGEN "BEETLE": Why the "Bug?" If you did not like what your country was doing in terms of Civil Rights and Vietnam, you bought a Volkswagen. You were automatically a member of the counter-culture. The original VW was seen as today's Toyota Prius – a symbol of difference. It was fuel economy over horsepower. It was size over status. These years were chosen for another interesting twist on an American invention – the Autostick. Volkswagen took a three-speed gearbox, added and electric clutch and a torque converter for two-pedal driving. Think of it as a forerunner of the Tiptronic, the DSG and the PDK – if you get the idea here. Also, keep in mind it was never officially called the "Beetle." That was our nickname for it. It stuck since in two later Golf-derived versions decades later. Yet, the 1960s would not be complete without mentioning the success of the original Volkswagen worldwide – especially right here in North America.
1965-1969 TOYOTA CORONA – In order to get to where this Japanese brand is at today – the best-selling manufacturer in the USA for the first time ever – it had to get a solid footing here. This was the Camry of its time – a car that proved its reliability and laid down the foundation for Toyota’s legendary reputation for reliability and quality. Sure, it was small for American tastes, but the 1.6-liter engine was a solid driver. If you got one with Toyoglide, the shifter was on the steering column – perfect for American drivers of the time! If I recall, my brother was actually looking at one when he was getting his license. He should’ve gotten it.
1963-1969 MERCEDES-BENZ SL: The “Pagoda Top” models elevated the roadster from Stuttgart to another level. It took the styling cues from the previous SL and modernized it for the new decade. The W113 also expanded the (West) German brand’s burgeoning growth in this country with its looks and practicality. If you ordered one with the actual “Pagoda” hardtop, you did get more headroom than you expected. Otherwise, a simple throw of the cloth top opened up the possibilities of fine motoring.
All photos by Randy Stern