Information on Cars from the 60'sby Heather Mckinney
The 1960s were a time when American made cars ruled the industry. Detroit dominated the automobile market in America and held its own overseas. The 60s became a time for increased speed and performance. Safety features such as seatbelts, power steering and brakes made their way into manufacturing, too. Things were to change for the American automobile dynasty as the world entered the 1970s and foreign manufacturers became fierce competition.
American Car Manufacturers
The 1960s heralded the rise of the “Big Three” in American car manufacturing: General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. American Motors Corporation was also a major competitor during this era. According to Anything About Cars’ website, in 1960, 93 percent of the cars sold in America were American-made and 48 percent of all cars sold in the world were from US manufacturers.
In the 50s, several foreign manufacturers such as Volkswagen and Fiat produced smaller, more compact cars. By the 1960s, the Big Three and AMC began to produce American “compact” cars that saved gas and were economical. GM came out with the Corvair, which featured a six-cylinder rear engine. Ford developed the Falcon; and Chrysler, the Valiant. The Rambler, AMC’s economy car, came out in the 50s, ahead of the Big Three. It was the first car to offer seatbelts as an option. By 1962, the Big Three’s economy models took a large share of AMC’s customer base, eventually leading to the demise of the Rambler in 1968.
The 1960s became a time when American consumers wanted faster cars. Out of this demand, the muscle car evolved. Muscle cars are typically mid-sized cars with large, powerful V-8 engines. Pontiac’s GTO became the first to set off the muscle car craze in 1964. After that, a number of manufacturers began turning out their own versions of muscle cars. Ford introduced the Mustang; GM, the Camaro; and Dodge, the Charger, just to name a few. These cars offered speed and performance at a modest price. Rising gas prices and sterner emissions regulation led to the eventual decline of the Muscle Car Era by the late 70s.
Foreign manufacturers such as Volkswagon, Fiat, Datsun and Toyota made their way into the American market in the mid-50s. These cars were smaller and cheaper than American cars and forced American manufacturers to take notice and build cars to compete. BMW and Mercedes represented foreign luxury brands that began to take root in America during the 1960s. BMW began developing smaller, sportier vehicles to compete against Mercedes-Benz in the American market. They introduced their “New Class” sedan in 1961, which became so popular BMW could not produce them fast enough. This “New Class” design became the model for most of BMW’s cars until the 1990s.
Heather Mckinney has been writing for over 23 years. She has a published piece in the University Archives detailing the history of an independently owned student newspaper. Mckinney holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from University of Texas at San Antonio.