Throughout the 20th century, the automotive world was in constant turmoil — new manufacturers were hard at work devising the “next big platform” to overtake the industry’s biggest names, innovative mechanical technologies were being developed at a breakneck pace, and legendary individuals were focused on carving their names deeper into the tablature of four-wheeled history. It was well-regulated chaos, bringing with it a number of the industry’s greatest failures, and also, giving birth to some of the most iconic vehicles to ever grace the blacktop.
Amidst all of the most relevant eras for vehicle manufacturing, the 1960s stand apart as a clear deviation from the practices of old. The introduction of the muscle car, the fabled pony variant, smaller displacement platforms that successfully combined efficient performance and power, and the conceptualization of innovative body (and engine) styles that are still used today — all products of the rivalrous atmosphere that defined the entirety of the decade. Below, we’ve curated a list of our favorite vehicles from that Golden Era, from Ferrari’s dominant Le Mans racer and Alfa Romeo’s iconic twin-cam sports car, all the way to Ford and Pontiac’s industry-defining muscle cars. So strap in, put your foot on the gas, and let’s shift into gear.
Alfa Romeo Giulia
The 1960s were full of influential platforms that paved the way for the vehicles of today, but Alfa Romeo’s extensive catalog of models is arguably the most prominent. Standing atop the manufacturer’s legendary list of offerings is the Giulia, a sporty, four-door variant that was built as an “executive car” that would take its place in Italy’s racing circuit. The first iteration of the Giulia, which was brought to market in 1962, was dubbed the “TI” — a nomenclature that would represent its purpose-built integration within the country’s “Turismo Internazionale” saloon racing league. It was powered by a 1.3-liter Alfa Romeo Twin Cam engine, which was capable of 91 horsepower, and featured a distinguished drum brake system, a standard column-mounted shifter, split bench front seat, and a handsome mottled cloth/vinyl interior. Over the remainder of the decade, the Guilia TI would receive various changes to its architecture, including a right-side-drive variant, interior upgrades, and an exterior overhaul that was most notable for its L-shaped chrome strips around the vehicle’s tail lights. In ‘67, the iconic Alfa Romeo would be usurped by its successor, the Giulia 1600 S.
Aston Martin DB5
When it comes to storied English pedigree, Aston Martin is arguably one of the most definitive automotive manufacturers to ever grace the market. After rising to popularity as one of the industry’s most influential suppliers, the contemporary DB5 platform served to solidify Martin’s well-known reputation. The vehicle was, perhaps, the premier British luxury grand tourer (GT) of its era, standing apart from its various competitors in many ways — but, the biggest contributor to the overbearing success of the car was its one-of-a-kind coach, which was brought to the table in 1963 by the famed Italian builder, Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera. The DB5 was introduced as the successor to the brand’s sought after DB4, bringing with it a notable 4.0-liter DOHC straight-six that was capable of 282 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. It garnered a newly improvised ZF five-speed transmission, three SU carburetors, and various quality-of-life upgrades like electric windows, wool pile carpets, full leather trim, reclining seats, and chrome wire wheels. To house it all, Superleggera’s patented magnesium-alloy body would be utilized, alongside the vehicle’s timeless 2+2 configuration. In 1964, the original DB5 would be replaced by the more powerful DB5 Vantage.
There isn’t a 1960s-oriented automotive list out there that’s ever truly complete without the inclusion of the Datsun 240Z — the iconic Japanese 3-door coupé that changed the western market’s impression of the East’s small, fuel-efficient vehicles. Coming in at the tail end of the decade, 1969’s valued S30 sports car spoke to a segment of buyers who were looking to escape from the large, burgeoning chassis and stagnant body lines of the West’s most prominent vehicles, including the British MGB-GT and its European brethren. Thanks to its sleek body style, great performance, and affordable price, the 240Z amassed a torrential following after its announcement, marking it as the “halo” car that would broaden the expectations set forth for American manufacturers, moving forward. Regarding handling, the slimline coupé utilized an independent suspension outfitted with MacPherson struts in the front, and Chapman struts in the rear, while disc brakes, twin SU-style Hitachi one-barrel side-draft carburetors, and Bosch-designed L-Jetronic electronic fuel injection was added to compensate for diminished performance in later models.
Ferrari 250 GTO
Ferrari’s 250 GTO took the 1960s by storm — it was a hit among the era’s more prolific consumers, a handsome admittance to the manufacturer’s legendary lineup, and a monstrous circuit-strafer that would carve its name into the annals of racing history. It was unveiled in 1962 as a preliminary model focused on FIA’s Group 3 Grand Touring Car category, but would quickly win the adoration of the motoring world due to its beautifully crafted curves, 2-door Berlinetta body style, and royal automotive lineage. The car’s 3.0-liter Tipo 168/62 Comp. V12 offered a powerful 298 horsepower which, even by today’s standards, lends itself to a dominant presence on any roadway, alongside a hand-welded oval tube frame, a stiffened, lowered and lightened chassis, and engine and chassis components that were requisitioned from some of the manufacturer’s winningest race platforms. Needless to say, the 250 GTO was ahead of its time — illustrated today by its monolithic popularity, record-holding resale value, and inclusion on every “best classic car” listing imaginable.
Ford hasn’t always been known for its exemplary catalog of off-road wonders — before it was the gargantuan truck manufacturer that it is today, the company spent a large portion of its time slaying the 1960-era circuit. The vehicle was developed in 1964 as a direct challenger to Ferrari’s dominant Le Mans platforms, garnering attention from the automotive community for its beautiful design, adversarial track presence, and starstruck purpose. To challenge Europe’s most powerful vehicles, the GT40 was outfitted with a 4.2-liter, alloy V8 engine — however, following preliminary trials, it was decided that the company would move forward with the implementation of a larger 4.7-liter engine for production — a variant pulled straight from the manufacturer’s popular consumer vehicle, the Mustang. Sadly, it would find little success at Le Mans in its original state (Mk 1) — but after being relinquished to Carrol Shelby in 1964, the platform would eventually grasp victory at both Le Mans (1968) and Sebring (1969), bringing an end to the era of defeat at the hands of Europe’s best drivers.
The Ford Mustang was the must-have vehicle of the ’60s, providing drivers with a great looking platform that was both powerful and affordable. After 18 months of preparation behind closed doors, the “T-5” project was released to the general public, birthing a revolutionary pony car that would overtake the American market in 1964. It utilized a staggering number of parts from the manufacturer’s alternative offerings, allowing it to meet its advertised price of only $2,368 (at the time), and would house a mediocre German Ford Taunus V4 engine before upgrading to a six-cylinder variant capable of 120 horsepower, and later, the iconic V8 that would carry the vehicle to a powerful output of 210 horsepower. In 1967, the Mustang was redesigned under the purview of Lee Iacocca, giving it a larger, more intimidating look, but without much in the way of performance upgrades. To remedy this, the manufacturer decided to offer a newly adapted big block engine for the first time, giving the legendary pony car even more gumption before its inevitable redesign in 1974.
Jaguar’s E-Type is a serious contender on any classic vehicle list, and for good reason — it was even dubbed by Italy’s very own Enzo Ferrari as “the most beautiful car” he’d ever seen — a remarkable compliment from one of the most renowned vehicle connoisseurs to ever grace the industry. Ferrari’s statement certainly wasn’t misinformed; after the E-Type’s reveal in 1961, the British sports car was revered by critics and consumers alike for its exemplary performance, excessive beauty, and affordable price (which was only a fraction of the cost associated with other exotics, at the time). It quickly became an icon within the automotive industry — a rear-wheel drive grand tourer that would stifle expectations and spur a revolution around the world, convincing alternative manufacturers that it was possible to bring a race-oriented platform to the masses with significant success. The vehicle was nothing less than a wonder, sporting a simplistic monocoque construction, independent suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, and disc brakes that would spurn builders from around the industry to question their contemporary construction principles, while also providing an exciting 150 MPH top speed and sub-7-second 0-60, which was unheard of from an affordable production consumer vehicle during the era.
The Lamborghini Miura is, without a doubt, one of the most handsome vehicles to ever grace the blacktop. Following its production release in 1966, it garnered immense praise from the masses for its innovative design, blistering top speeds, and legendary heritage. It was one of, if not the first, vehicle to boast a rear mid-engined two-seat layout — and years later, the platform has become widely accepted as the progenitor to today’s modern high-performance sports and supercars. As the Italian manufacturer’s flagship offering, the 3.9-liter V12 Miura has been solidified into the annals of automotive history thanks to its excessive 345 horsepower output, single-cast engine/gearbox, and lightweight steel construction, making it the fastest road-faring car at the date of production. In 1974, Lamborghini’s successor to the Miura, the Countach, would steal the show — but not before the transversely mounted mid-engine monster would lay a handily-built foundation for the famed manufacturer’s future offerings.
The Pontiac GTO was introduced to the American automotive market in 1964, jumpstarting the reign of the ’60s muscle car, and later, becoming attributed as the vehicle that was believed to have started the domestic “battle” between North American manufacturers over the dominant style. In 1968, the GTO was labeled as Motor Trend’s “Car Of The Year,” following four years of immense popularity and multiple revisions to the original platform. Originally, the decorated GTO was offered as an optional package to accompany the manufacturer’s mid-sized Pontiac Tempest — however, in 1966, due to increased sales and a larger-than-expected consumer base, the vehicle was given its own model. It featured a 6.4-liter V8 that was capable of 325 horsepower, a single Carter AFB four-barrel carburetor, and a floor-shifted three-speed manual transmission that would catapult it into the limelight for drivers who were looking for great looks, affordable style, and intimidating power from a production vehicle.
The Porsche 911 is one of the most iconic vehicles around, and the fact that it’s defined the German manufacturer’s flagship lineup for the past 50+ years is something of a notable feat. Its proof-of-concept, twin-fan Type 745 flat-six engine was debuted at 1963’s Frankfurt Motor Show, garnering attention as one of the premier air-cooled engines of the era. Little did the manufacturer know, its rear-mounted 130 horsepower Type 901/01 flat-six engine would become a mainstay in the company’s history, offering the trademark “boxer” configuration that Porsche fans have come to know and love. A four-seat 2+2 layout and five-speed “Type 901” manual transmission were offered with the original platform — but in 1966, Porsche would move forward with the production of its more powerful, 160-horsepower 911S, relegating the original 911 to an honored seat in the company’s historical catalog.
Shelby’s all-original Cobra was built to compete, and as such, it was outfitted with Ford’s 7.0-liter FE engine and single 4-barrel 780 CFM Holley carburetor in 1965. This monstrous little vehicle set out to dominate the blacktop via brute force, adopting a 425 horsepower (and 480 lb-ft of torque) powerplant to provide it with a top speed of 164 miles per hour. These competition models, dubbed the CSX and CSB 3001–3100, were among the first of the manufacturer’s most prominent vehicles, sporting a unique body style, smooth, sleek linework, and a powerful presence that was as intimidating on the race track as it was on the public road. It was easily recognizable thanks to its iconic wide fenders, large radiator opening, and legendary racing stripe, all of which quickly became the calling card for Shelby’s greatest contribution to the American automotive market. Today, the vehicle is undeniably legendary — so legendary, in fact, that Shelby has approved countless restorations and iterations of the vehicle by companies looking to capitalize on the car’s fame.
Toyota’s 2000GT might be one of the most “obscure” vehicles on the list, but it’s earned its place through intriguing beginnings, undeniable success, and amazing attention to detail. The platform began its life as a show car in 1965, and by 1967, the front mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive vehicle was released to the consumer market, mostly due to immense success on the circuit. It boasted a 2.0-liter inline-six that produced around 150 horsepower, which wasn’t far removed from its competitors at the time. But what made the 2000GT so iconic was its originality. It was one of the first Japanese collectible vehicles inspired by none other than Jaguar’s legendary E-Type, soliciting the same fluid body style and aluminum silhouette that are complemented by pop-up headlights, an attractive 2-door fastback layout, and a five-speed manual transmission that lent itself to fun, performance-oriented driving. It also featured a limited slip differential and all-around, power-assisted disc brakes, which were completely original for Japanese vehicles during the era. After only 351 production platforms were built, they were eventually phased out of Toyota’s evolving lineup — but not before making their mark as one of the most sought-after consumer/race platforms of the 1960s.
The 10 Best American Race Cars In History
Now that you’re aware of the most influential vehicles of the 1960s, see which ones made our list for the best American race cars in history.