Anniversary Waltz 1960 – Here Come the Big Jets

Faster is not always better. 

Convair 880 at take off. Image:

There remains some debate as to when the Jet Age truly began, but to put it in aviation parlance, 1960 is generally held as being the point of v-max, this being the speed above which take-off must be attempted. The kerosene-fuelled era of widespread commercial air travel was unsurprisingly synonymous with the United States, even if Britain’s De Havilland largely pioneered the commercial jet airliner with its elegant if doomed 1952 Comet. All-comers however would be overwhelmed by the irresistible rise of the Boeing 707 and McDonald Douglas DC8, soon to dominate the long-haul sector.

Therefore when rival General Dynamics’ Convair subsidiary introduced the 880 as a slightly smaller and faster alternative to the leading pair of US-made airliners that year, they were already at something of a commercial disadvantage. The resultant aircraft was not a success, with only 65 made; General Dynamics losing hundreds of millions on the programme.

Whether the birth of auto journalistic enfant terrible, Jeremy Clarkson could be described as a highlight is perhaps up for debate, even if that of three-time F1 world champion, Ayrton Senna’s probably isn’t. Departures too: 1960 also marking the violent exit of philosopher, writer, and reluctant passenger, Albert Camus from the surly bonds of mortality, amid the wreckage of his publisher’s Facel Vega.

But while the aviation sector was soaring ahead, both in technological and design terms, back on ground level, the automotive industry was still in transition, both technically and stylistically. 1960 was therefore not a vintage year for new car releases, although a few highlights did bubble to the surface.

Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato – Jim Clark in drift mode. Image: Silodrome

Aston Martin – that quintessentially British marque – quintessential in its ability to make a small fortune from a somewhat larger one for its backers. The David Brown era proved no exception, even if in product terms 1958’s DB4 marked a clear evolutionary definition. This handsome design, employing Touring’s superleggera tubular chassis construction was produced in a number of variants, the standard saloon, Vantage, Volante convertible, the low volume lightweight GT and in 1960, the first of the ultra-low volume Zagato-bodied GT editions.

Clad in aluminium panelwork to Ercole Spada’s design, it was an even more focused, stripped out, more aerodynamic car aimed at those who wished to race at weekends or simply travel as quickly as the 3670 cc twin-spark 6-cylinder engine could propel it. Oddly, given the carrozzeria’s propensity towards the outer reaches of design aesthetics, the Zagato was not only rather pretty, but more akin to a Fifties design than one of the following decade. All of which is of course immaterial, (or is it?) since they were not only witheringly expensive then, but now command a tech-billionaire’s ransom. Newport Pagnell’s GTO? Discuss.

1960 Opel Rekord P2. Image: avengers in time

GM subsidiary, Opel announced its new generation Rekord P2, a blend of American and European styling cues, it appeared as a more square-rigged version of its predecessor, taking inspiration from contemporary work from Pininfarina, in overall silhouette and especially in the nose treatment, which closely aped that of the 1958 Cadillac Starlight concept.

Technically similar to the outgoing car, albeit longer and wider, the 1960 Rekord offered few surprises, although it’s unlikely that Opel’s customers wanted any. Built in two or four-door saloon, three-door CarAVan estate or 2-door Coupé form (which looked faster in reverse), the P2 was short lived, phased out in 1963 in favour of the all new and thoroughly up to date Rekord A.

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Company’s European operations were still operating very much as separate entities, its Köln-Merkenich satellite producing the mid-sized Taunus model since the 1950s. The immediate predecessor to 1960’s P3 was a rather overwrought looking device, which elicited a certain amount of derision in its homeland at the time. The advent of the P3 model therefore marked a departure from a slavish homage to Americana, even if the Uwe Bahnsen penned shape was still on more than speaking terms with the land of the free.

However the P3’s style, instead of following, would to some extent herald the more restrained appearance that would characterise Dearborn’s subsequent offerings, as previewed the previous Autumn with Ford’s calm looking US-market Falcon compact. The Taunus’ style however was quieter still in its relatively unadorned flanks and lack of ornamentation, and is believed to be the first European series production car with oval-shaped headlamps.

Although entirely contemporary in appearance, Opel’s more conservative style simply underlined just how in advance Ford’s Merkenich studios were, a matter which was unlikely to have been well received at Rüsselsheim’s board room.

1960 Mazda R360. Image: automobile

In 1960, the Japanese motor industry was still getting into its stride, and with car ownership comparatively rare amongst the Japanese populace, the keijidosha or Kei class proved the entry point for many. Mazda had made its name in commercial vehicles, so the advent of the R360 marked something of a toe in the water exercise for the Hiroshima-based manufacturer.

Technically advanced for its time, with torsion bar suspension acting on rubber springs, and rack and pinion steering, the diminutive and lightweight R360 was rear-engined, powered by a diecast aluminium, and magnesium-alloy four-stroke V-twin engine, developing a heady 16bhp at 5300rpm – good for a terminal velocity of 56mph through a four-speed gearbox. Built until 1966, over 65,000 of the delightful 9ft 9in (2972mm – take that Mr. Issigonis) microcars were made – by then Mazda’s sights being set further upmarket.

1960 Mitsubishi 500. Image: motoryviajes

In Minato, Mitsubishi Motors, a small subsidiary of the giant industrial and banking conglomerate could lay claim to having been the first to build a series production motor car in Japan (1917). In 1960 Mitsubishi introduced the 500, its first purpose designed post-war car, also notable for being the first Japanese model to have been tested in a wind tunnel. Small though it was, the 500 was not a Kei car, but a compact saloon (3,140 mm in length). Powered by a rear-mounted air-cooled 493 cc engine developing 21 hp at a frenetic 5000 rpm, it received a larger capacity 25 hp 594 cc unit the following year. Built until 1962, over 13,000 were sold before it was replaced by the technically similar Colt 600 model.

Toyota FJ40 Landcruiser. Image: Toyota Factory UK

Much like Britain’s Landrover, or America’s Jeep, the Toyota Landcruiser has been built over innumerable generations and in multiple derivations, but for most aficionados, it was the J40 version, introduced in 1960 which came to define the nameplate. An evolution of its 1955 J20 predecessor, the major improvement that would cement the J40’s usefulness was the fitment of a low/high-range transfer case making life so much easier when the going got particularly tricky.

The J40 was initially fitted with an improved 3.9 litre Type F inline six cylinder petrol engine to that of its predecessor delivering 125 hp. Also offered was the four cylinder 3.0 litre Type B diesel engine; this engine producing 80 hp at 3,600 rpm and 141 lb/ft torque at 2,200 rpm. Produced in this form until 1984, this version of the Landcruiser would prove as durable in the hearts and minds of offroad enthusiasts as the vehicles themselves proved in service.

Illustrating perhaps that if the product is compelling enough, being later to market is not the disaster it might otherwise be. General Dynamics failed not simply because the airlines were not particularly looking for a faster aircraft, but also because the Convair 880’s four General Electric CJ 805 turbojets’ (better known in supersonic military applications) were rather dipsomaniac in nature – fatal for cost-conscious airlines. Furthermore, the aircraft’s inflexible cabin layout combined to make it less attractive from a operational standpoint. The final nail in its coffin however, was the advent that same year of Boeing’s similarly sized, but cheaper to run 720 model.

There’s no arguing against sheer commercial might either. Ask Toyota.

The Lancia Flavia and Saab 96 will be reviewed separately.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

17 thoughts on “Anniversary Waltz 1960 – Here Come the Big Jets”

  1. Good morning Eóin. Your description of the Rekord P2 Coupé piqued my interest and, you’re right, it did look faster in reverse!

    The Taunus P3 was commendably smooth:

    Ford UK clearly liked it enough to reprise the design:

    1. I’ve never made the connection between the Corsair and Taunus, before, but there is a similarity. Equally, I see elements of the Ford Falcon in the Taunus.

      Wasn’t the DC8 the first passenger airliner to go supersonic?

    2. Hi Charles. Yes, that’s correct about the DC8, albeit gravity assisted: the crew took a DC8 up to 52,000 ft, put it into a steep dive and achieved Mach 1.01 for about 16 seconds on the way down. Pretty scary for those on board, apparently! 52,000 ft was (is?) also an altitude record for a commercial airliner.

    3. Extraordinary. They must have had a lot of faith in the engineering.

    4. The Rekord P2 coupe can really only be defined with the word “pointless”.

      The volume of the boot is enough for 4-5 people, but they would never have had room inside.
      It was ultimately only a 2 (+2) seater. But a couple at no time would have so much luggage to fill this giant boot.

      This would have been exactly, and I mean exactly, the right vehicle for me these days – apart from the road holding.

    5. Hi Fred, your comment about the Rekord P2 Coupé’s boot being “enough for 4-5 people” and therefore being “exactly, and I mean exactly, the right vehicle for me these days” is a bit unnerving!

    6. I beg your pardon. I meant “enough for all the luggage of 4-5 people”.
      But sometimes remain silence is better than to comment. I would have done better to keep quiet.

    7. I’m just kidding, Fred! We are currently watching an interesting serial on Netflix called ‘Mindhunter’ about the FBI’s efforts to develop psychological profiling of serial killers, so my mind is running away with me.

    8. I used to think that both the Taunus and Corsair were inspired by the third-generation Thunderbird, but in the case of the Taunus it’s the other way round; apparently Elwood Engel had studied P3 prototypes on his business trips to Cologne, and used the influence quite blatantly on the Thunderbird and more subtly on the 1961 Lincoln Continental (most tellingly in the oval headlight housings). The Corsair still seems to owe more to the Thunderbird than the Taunus (the most obvious references being the edge of the front wings and the chrome strip that neatly integrates the door handles), although I guess the latter must have given the UK designers the idea that they could incorporate such styling in their similarly-sized car.

    9. Daniel, Concorde beat that record. It could fly at 60,000 feet.

  2. Really nicely conceived article, parallel running developments in commercial aviation with those across a spectrum of car manufacturers. I love the fact that one of the DB4’s body styles was described as a ‘saloon’. I take it was a 2 door (not an expert here), but still sporting by anyone else’s definition? Of course, over the last couple of decades, a manufacturer like BMW would have called an actual 2 door saloon a ‘coupé’ with barely a blush.

  3. An excellent article which I found really interesting. Love the Mazda R360 and actually prefer the Taunus to the Corsair which had far too much chrome for me. All that extra cost and potential for rust at every fixing point as well.

  4. My parents and two of their friends went on a holiday in an Opel Rekord P2 to Italy and France somewhere back in the 60’s. My dad told me the road holding of the Rekord was abysmal. They got a warning from a French people when they crossed the centerline of the road at some point. Not sure if the Rekord’s road manners had anything to do with that.

    I can still remember the mobile fish shop coming to the small village I lived in when I was in my early teens. It was towed by a green FJ40. Had a soft spot for it since.

    The Mazda R360 is cute. Would love to see it in the flesh. The Mitsubishi 500 reminds me of a Goggomobil, even though these were quite a bit smaller than the already tiny 500.

  5. An excellent article with beautiful pictures to enhance such. The Mitsubishi and Mazda appear like toys. The Taunus and Rekord resemble the view from a broken mirror. What better headline picture than a plane heavily polluting the atmosphere? But the sight of Jim Clark effortlessly drifting the Aston…sends shivers down the spine.

  6. thank you Eóin, it’s a rich concoction you’ve cooked up.
    the Zagato DB4 is pretty spiffy, I stood on a Melbourne
    street, open-mouthed in wonder no doubt, as one rumbled
    by a few feet away in 1964. but for me the original DB4 is
    the best of all Astons, a wonderful combination of restraint
    and beauty, its integrity emphasized by those round headlights.

  7. When Aston Martin shocked us all by debuting the DB4 GT Zagato at the Earls Court Motor Show, the two Autocar scribes who did the annual tongue-in-cheek revue suggested it looked as if it was made of plastic – and somebody had driven it before the plastic had ‘set’ – and applied the brakes very hard. I went to the show, gazed at it in awe, and had to agree with them. I’ve come to accept the shape ( Zagato bodies are seldom beautiful ) but would never call it pretty.

  8. Having long-since given up on my childhood aspirations of designing cars for a living, I was not expecting to see my employer’s products mentioned on this blog not once, but twice (LRV and 707/720) as I work my way through unread articles from December! What a lovely surprise.

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