Faster is not always better.
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 – 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.