Car History Year 1960
Date: Monday, September 27 @ 00:24:11 UTC
The Fifties had been a great time for the
American auto industry - a period of design excess, during which automobiles grew ever larger fins and literally dripped with chrome. But as the new decade of the Sixties dawned, things were changing, the emphasis would switch from overstated iooks to more efficient performance, whether it be from smaller cars or bigger engines.
Changes in the auto industry were not the only news for 1960. In July, John F. Kennedy received the Democratic nomination for the Presidency, running against Republican Richard Nixon. Kennedy made it to The White House after a close race, but was tragically not to serve his full term. Meanwhile, relations with the Soviet Union received a major setback when a U2 spy plane was shot down over Soviet territory and its pilot, Gary Powers, captured. On a lighter note, Elvis Presley was discharged from his much-publicized spell in the US Army, while a young boxer by the name of Cassius Clay won a gold medal in the Rome Olympics. He would become one of the most famous boxers of all time, who would ultimately be known to millions around the world as Muhammad Ali.
Lovers of speed had plenty to talk about, too. At the Daytona 500, Fireball Roberts, driving a '60 Pontiac, had set the pace during qualifying at 1 51.556m ph, while the race proper was won by Junior Johnson in a 1959 Chevy. Pontiac products also featured prominently at the Bonneville Salt Flats in September, when hot rodder Mickey Thompson drove his Challenger Streamliner to a speed of 406.60mph. The sleek projectile was powered by no less than four Pontiac V8s, but a broken driveshaft prevented him from making a return run that would have put him in the record books.
Back in Detroit, however, high-performance automobiles were not the latest innovation from the major manufacturers - they would come later in the decade. For 1960, the auto industry was looking in a completely different direction. Since the 1930s, American automobiles had grown steadily larger, particularly in the post-war years. But during that time, small imported cars had begun to make inroads on the market, particularly sporty models. They were fun to drive and cheap to run. Concerned by the impact these foreign cars were making, the major auto makers began to take a serious look at building more compact cars themselves. By the late Fifties, two smaller manufacturers were already in this sector of the market - Studebaker with the Lark, and Rambler with the American. In 1960, they would be joined by compacts from the big three - Ford, GM and Chrysler - who launched the Falcon, the Chevrolet Corvair and the Valiant respectively.
Of the three, the Falcon and the Corvair were the main contenders and were pitted against each other from the outset. They were two very different cars, the Ford simply being a scaled-down conventional car, while the Chevy was very definitely a radical departure in terms of both design and powerplant. Both had their beginnings in the mid Fifties and, more by accident than design, they both arrived on the market at the same time.
One aspect that was common to the Falcon and Corvair was unibody construction, a relatively uncommon arrangement for American automobiles at the time which, in the main, relied on a separate chassis to support the various mechanical components and body panels. In a unibody design, the bodyshell itself is strengthened to accept the loads of the engine and suspension, making for a lighter structure overall. However, that is where the similarities ended.
As mentioned, the Falcon was of a conventional design. It was powered by a liquid-cooled, straight-six ohv engine, with a cast iron block and head, that displaced 144.3 cu.in. and developed 90 horsepower at 4200rpm. This drove through either a three-speed manual transmission or two-speed automatic to a live rear axle suspended on leaf springs. The Corvair was also powered by a six-cylinder engine, but it was a horizontally-opposed, aluminum, air-cooled unit mounted at the rear of the car and driving the rear wheels through a three-speed manual, or two-speed automatic, transaxle with coil-sprung, swing-axle suspension. The engine produced 80 horsepower at 4400rpm. Both cars had similar front suspension arrangements, making use of unequal-length wishbones and coil springing.
The cars were of similar sizes, although the Falcon was slightly larger and taller, and both were intended as full six-seaters, being equipped with bench seats front and rear, However, the Falcon's transmission tunnel made it uncomfortable for anyone riding in the middle of the front seat, while the Corvair, with its virtually flat floorpan, was more comfortable, even though the manual transmission models had a floor-mounted shifter. This was curved to allow the center passenger leg room. Shifting was not a problem in the Falcon, since both manual and automatic transmissions had column shifters.
When first launched, the Corvair was offered in a 4-door body style only, while the Falcon came in a choice of 2- or 4-door models. The latter was conventional in appearance, while the Corvair, with its lack of radiator grille and somewhat tub-like styling, was less so. Both lacked the fins and chrome that had characterized cars of the Fifties. They were intended as economy cars and they looked the part.
In terms of performance, the makers quoted very similar top speeds - 87mph for the Falcon; 88mph for the Corvair. But the Falcon could out-accelerate the Corvair; Road & Track magazine found that the former could reach 60mph in 17.7 seconds, while the Corvair was nearly a full two seconds behind at 19.5 seconds.
When the Corvair was launched, it was slow to gain acceptance; the unconventional rear-engine layout may have been okay in a foreign car, but it was downright unAmerican; the Falcon was a much more familiar concept, and it showed in the sales figures. Corvair sales were not helped by rumors that it tended to throw fan belts and that its handling was quirky. Indeed, if the tire pressures were not kept exactly as specified by the manufacturer and the car was pushed hard through a corner, it could switch from slight understeer to strong oversteer, kicking the rear end out with potentially disastrous consequences. Later in its life, a number of law suits were brought against GM for just this reason, although eventually the car was exonerated and would carry on in production until the end of the decade.
Later in 1960, in an attempt to boost flagging sales, Chevrolet introduced a 2-door variant, the Monza. This was a much sportier-looking car, a look that was enhanced by fitting front bucket seats, full carpeting and better trim. Where the Corvair had failed as an economy car, it succeeded as a sporty model and sales took off at last. Eventually, it was to receive ever more powerful engines and became an excellent all-round performer. Not to be outdone, Ford uprated later models of the Falcon too, eventually fitting a new 260 cu.in. small-block V8 that was to have a significant effect on the company's efforts in the sporty compact field.
CHEVROLET CORVAIR MONZA
6 Cylinders horizontally opposed
140 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
No. of seats
PLYMOUTH FURY PP2-H
V8 - cast iron block
318 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
3.91 x3.31 ins.
No. of seats
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