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Best Cars from 1966

Best Cars from 1966 Published: 21st Sep 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Best Cars from 1966
Best Cars from 1966
Best Cars from 1966
Best Cars from 1966
Best Cars from 1966
Best Cars from 1966
Best Cars from 1966
Best Cars from 1966
Best Cars from 1966
Best Cars from 1966
Best Cars from 1966
Best Cars from 1966
Best Cars from 1966
Best Cars from 1966
Best Cars from 1966
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Half a century ago, a number of significant cars were launched, many which helped shape future designs and trends, says Andrew Roberts. With his help, we select our top World Cup Winners

Triumph GT6

Inspired by the success of the Le Mans racing Spitfires, Triumph decided to use the sleek fastback body to create not a road racer, but a stylish, smooth and swift six-cylinder GT that became the poor man’s E-type.

Called GT6 rather than Spitfire GT, the 2000 saloon’s standard engine gave this sleek little Spitfire more power than it could handle, as hasty revise two years later to largely contain its waggly tail testified. Never a big seller, the GT6 was nicely sorted by the time it was dropped in ’74 but always overshadowed by MG’s BGT launched in’65.

Fiat 124

What a game changer this boxy-looking saloon turned out to be. Adding flair to family motoring, it also spawned a delectable Coupé and a Spider, the latter being looked upon as Latin MGB but with more style and sophistication. When Fiat was finished with it, Russian Lada took it over deleting all the good bits in favour of orthodox solidarity and durability but the car (called Riva) survived well into 1990s in the UK and as late as 2010 in Russia! Although it lacked the sparkle that made this Fiat so great, nevertheless the car enjoyed the third longest production run after the VW Beetle and Ford’s Model T.

Datsun sunny B10

Nineteen sixty-six was the year in which the Japanese motor industry overtook that of the UK, thanks to such cars as the Sunny. Power was from an easily revving 998cc engine, the styling of the two-door body was well proportioned and if the front transverse leaf suspension was archaic even five decades ago the Sunny (the name was chosen after a national campaign) proved ultra-reliable.

When Datsuns made their appearance at the 1968 London Motor Show not a few Escort drivers were tempted by the ‘High performance car for people who enjoy driving’, as the English language brochure (slightly optimistically) claimed.

Jensen FF

The FF is, in my highly biased view, one of the finest Grand Tourers in motoring history. Double vents in the front wings and extra bonnet length were its main distinguishing features over the no less magnificent Interceptor, together with a price premium of £1499 (that’s more than the cost of a new Triumph TR4) but this was the first non-utility vehicle to be fitted with four-wheel drive. The Ferguson system employed a limited-slip differential allocated torque to the front and rear wheels and if 4WD was not sufficient to tempt international men of mystery away from their DB6s there was also a Dunlop-Maxaret anti-lock braking system. With the performance of a Ferrari and the craftsmanship of a Rolls-Royce, exactly ten years later Jensen folded…

Volvo 144

Can it really be five decades since the 140 series made its début? Power was initially from the 1778cc B18 engine as fitted to the Amazon but in place of Detroit inspired design tropes was crisp Euro-executive styling that incorporated a roll bar in the roof. The Volvo also boasted head restraints, a collapsible steering column, dual circuit brakes and anti-burst door locks. British imports began in early 1967 and the 140 soon found a niche for itself as a faintly exotic (as most ‘foreign cars’ were still regarded in the late 1960s) but safe and very comfortable alternative to the Rover 2000. The 140 Series signalled the start of Volvo’s reputation for security and reliability and – for many owners – a snug feeling of self righteousness.

Hillman minx & hunter

When the Minx and Hunter Arrow range replaced the old Super Minx not a few motorists noted its remarkable similarity to the Cortina Mk2 (or vice versa, depending upon your point of view). The Rootes Group offering was slightly more sophisticated than its Dagenham rival boasting its rack and pinion steering and a lively 1725cc engine. With a quality name and build also on its side, in their heyday these Hillmans were regarded as a very agreeable family transport. It was the first in an elaborate range of ‘Arrow series’ saloons, coupés (Alpine and Rapier) and estate cars – with some prestigious names such as Sunbeam, Singer and Humber, too – but they were all made by a company with neither the interest nor resources to progressively update them. As late as 1979, a Chrysler badged model was competing against the Cortina Mk4 – which was being readied for a facelift into the Mk5…

Lotus europa

Still an object of wonder to many, especially those of us who owned the Dinky die-case model. The Europa S1 was powered by a Renault 16 engine, had a top speed of 115mph and virtually nothing in the way of luxuries; even the seats and side windows were fixed. But potential customers with £1666 to spend were more interested in the incredibly light weight of 1350lbs, the GRP coachwork with a drag co-efficient was 0.29, which made the Europa the most aerodynamic production car in the world, and the fact that it was the first mid-engineered sports car made for road use – when it wasn’t falling to pieces by the road, that is.

Toyota corolla E10

The fiercest potential rival to the Sunny, the original Corolla was an innocuous looking RWD small saloon. Eight years later and two facelifts later, it would be the best-selling car in the entire world but in 1966 visitors to Pride & Clark in south London (Toyota’s first dealer in the UK) would have probably been more interested in the simple mechanics and the high level of standard equipment at a comparatively low price. They might also have been concerned by the potential reaction of the neighbours to their owning a Japanese car – Britain of 50 years ago really was another land…

Mazda 1500/1800 luce SU/SV

On first sighting of a Luce you would have been forgiven for thinking that its styling was a deliberate clone of the Neue Klasse BMW. In fact, the coachwork was by Giorgetto Giugiaro as Mazda wanted the Luce to have a strong appeal to overseas motorists. European exports commenced in 1967 and although today a 1500 saloon is as unusual as a decent programme on ITV2; they were not uncommon sights in the UK for several years, appealing to motorists who wanted ‘throbbing force’ under the bonnet and ‘a whole new world of power, luxury and safety’, all for the price of a Cortina GT?

Ford cortina MK2

Launched as ‘The active car for the young at heart!’, the Cortina Mk2 featured many elements that would have been instantly recognisable to a Mk1 Cortina owner. The suspensions were the same, there was still a steering box, and the engine choice consisted of the familiar Kent (1.3 and 1.5-litre) power plants. But what concerned fleet buyer and private motorist alike was that smart new body that was designed by Roy Haynes, that made the latest Cortina seem faintly trans- Atlantic but not overly so and with a boot large enough for any number of samples cases; it was as balanced and co-ordinated as the Mk4 Zephyr/Zodiac – launched just months before – was ill proportioned. And who could resist a Ford so hip that Michael Caine drove a GT in Billion Dollar Brain?

Jaguar 420

With the XJ6 taking longer to develop than anticipated, Jaguar head Sir William Lyons needed something new to keep interest in what was becoming an ageing brand that was further blighted with a general round of cost cutting and deleting of what was rightly standard kit. Enter the 420, a revamped S-type featuring a MkX-like nose and its 4.2-litre engine to make it the best of the ‘Mk2’ family although – half a century on – you’ll rarely hear a Mk2 owner utter such a compliment Until they actually drive one?

Vauxhall viva HB

‘Here is a balanced design with a touch of genius’ claimed Luton with a charming lack of modesty but then the HB series Viva really was a handsome car. The original HA was never going to win any awards for stylistic flair – it looked as flamboyant as a pair of army boots – and so the appearance of its successor (‘jet smooth…whisper quiet’) was a genuine revelation. Vauxhall’s engineering was ultra-conventional but the new Coke Bottle coachwork – a first for a British car – made the Anglia 105E and the Herald seem as dated as a Craig Douglas single. As Autocar remarked, the HB (which it regarded as the most improved car of 1966), was so far removed from the HA, that a new name was probably justified. Really, Viva was the Ford Focus of its day.

Vauxhall viscount

Vauxhall could hardly have Ford market a Zodiac Executive and not respond – enter the Viscount that summer. A dolled up Cresta, but the Viscount’s appointments (power windows, power steering, automatic transmission) easily surpassed that of the
Jaguar 420 and the Rover 3 Litre and wasn’t short on the mandatory wood and leather either. It was Sunday Times’ Business Car of the Year although did Viscount owners secretly yearn for a posher even if less regal badge?

Alfa romeo spider

Initially known as the Duetto, before the name fell foul of a confectionery maker, the Spider was decades ahead of its time and it took years before rivals could ape the Italian’s technical spec (twin cam engine, five speed transmission, all wheel disc brakes etc). Indeed, while outclassed by newer rivals, the Alfa survived well into the 1990s. Its claim to fame, of course, came early on in the car’s life in the 1967 film The Graduate in which a young Dustin Hoffman swanned around in pulling dolly birds as well as a much more mature Mrs Robinson.

Ford zephyr/ zodiac MKIV

The MkIV was the last of the Yank-style big Dagenhams offering saloons with brutalist lines that resembled a contemporary Lincoln.

There was a choice of V4 and V6 power plants and it was the first British Ford to wear an independent rear suspension. Alas, for all of the luxuries of the posher Zodiac and the Executive, the road manners were the subject of adverse criticism due to budget based rear suspension design that American bosses insisted upon. Still, Ford’s PR film Mark of Distinction promised a world of general grooviness even if Motor magazine grumbled that ‘It is possible even on a dry corner to lift the inner wheel right off the ground’.

Thank God for the Granada range that replaced it.

Remember when… 1966

When all was right with the world (we won the World Cup that July), ’66 still ranks as one of the best years

Most folk on a normal weekly wage of around £20 could barely afford a 1963 Cortina or Victor FB at £450 or a 1964 BMC 1100 at £495. A decent 1959 XK150 for less than £400 sounded tempting and some other now coveted classics could be had for half this. Where’s that Tardis?

The opening of Parliament was televised for the first time. Soaking up the feel-good factor of winning the World Cup, PM Harold Wilson calls a snap general election but dark days were ahead and the £ was devalued in ’67.


In sport, Everton beat Sheffield Wednesday in one of the best ever FA Cup finals, coming from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2. Australian racing driver Jack Brabham wins his third F1 crown and also becomes the only person ever to win the title in his own built car and Graham Hill wins the Indy 500 but it was Jackie Stewart’s race really.

The space race was arguably at its peak between the US and USSR. America’s Gemini two-man spacecraft carries out successive year long attempts to master docking procedures and endurance space walks while Russia sends Luna 10 around the moon that April, two months after two US astronauts are killed in a training accident in preparation for their flight set for late May.

That summer, Tony Benn puts through a bogus bill which effectively outlaws the innovative pirate radio stations in 12 months’ time. The Beatles release their Revolver album and the Beach Boys its equally brilliant Pet Sounds. Other hits of 1966 include Summer in The City (Lovin’ Spoonful), Wild Thing (Troggs), I’m A Believer (The Monkees), Heaven Must Have Sent You (Elgins), This Old Heart Of Mine (Isley Brothers).

 



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