The 1960s Euro Carmakers
1960s Italian, German & French Brands
In the 1960s BMW realized that by focusing on sports sedans and compact touring cars, it could compete better with Mercedes-Benz in the luxury-car markets of Europe and the United States. Hence, at the Frankfurt, Germany, auto show in September 1961, BMW introduced a prototype of a car it called the “New Class” sedan. The New Class was so good, a great 1960s import car, that it would become the blueprint for virtually every car that BMW produced until the 1990’s.
Announced in 1961, the BMW 1500 was the first of the New Class generation. The 1500 was the first modern BMW with a four-cylinder engine. It came out in 1963 with a top speed of 148 km/h. These 1960 foreign cars also featured front disc brakes and 4-wheel independent suspension. The BMW 1500 was only available as a four-door sedan. The car was well-received and BMW couldn’t keep up with the demand. With demand for high performance, the 1500 evolved into the Classic BMW 2002, which was Car magazines and the public were enthusiastic in their praise for the modern engineering in the 1500 and were eager to buy them.
The Isetta was one of the 1960s car imports but which one hardly sees on American roads nowadays, unlike other American classic cars.
BMW manufacturing plants couldn’t keep up with the demand of these 1960s foreign cars, and only 23,807 vehicles were made between 1962 and 1964. The 1500 was a middle-class family sedan, but the German market demanded a car with higher performance. They did not have to wait long, for BMW’s engineers subjected the 1500 to further development, evolving into the classic BMW 2002, when these 1960s foreign cars were first released in early 1968. In-between models were the 1800 which had a 90 hp engine. The 1600 model was released in February 1967 and consumers were buying them. Car and Driver called it “the best small sedan we ever drove” as well as “the best economy car ever offered to an undeserving American public.” It was cheap ($2,500), fast (102 mph and 11.4 seconds to 60 mph), economical (up to 30 mpg on the highway) and reliable.
The BMW Isetta Bubble Car was popular as a second car with a 300CC motorbike engine giving 80MPG and a top speed of 55 MPH.
With Volvo, 1965 saw a new model of the Amazon, the Favorit released, but the difference between this model and the standard two-door version was not particularly striking. In 1966 Volvo 144 was released. This new car model had been keeping Volvo’s design engineers occupied for so long was, in terms of safety, extremely advanced. It had disc brakes all round, had a split steering column and it came with a new lock on the three-point safety belts. The body had energy-absorbing crumple zones at the front and rear. Even the door locks had a safety design. The 144 came a triangle-split dual-circuit brake system. The car had two brake circuits and, if one of them failed, 80% of braking effect was still available making these 1960s foreign cars among the safest to ride on.
Two years later, the Volvo 144 was also a success abroad, including the US where these 1960s foreign cars complied with the new safety regulations.
In 1968, more models based on the 144 were produced, including the Volvo 164, the 140 series, the Volvo 144 Taxi. In Great Britain, Volvo’s sales rose by 70% during the year. The following year, a number of minor improvements to the new 140 Series models were presented. They included head restraints on the front seats, safety belts for three passengers in the rear seat and an electrically-heated rear window. These 1960s foreign cars cars will see more safety improvements during the subsequent decades, cementing its reputation as a builder of strong and safety-conscious cars.
Volkswagen cars were first exhibited and sold in the United States in 1949. From only two units sold in America that first year, Volkswagen Type 1 vehicles'(as they were first called) sales increased dramatically over the years, the total of these 1960s foreign cars reaching one million in 1955.
There were numerous buyers for these 1960s foreign cars and sales were being increased dramatically mainly due to ingenuous advertising campaigns. Volkswagen ads became as popular as the car with the use of crisp layouts and witty copy to lure the younger, sophisticated consumers with whom the car became associated. Officially referred to as the Type 1, the first reference to the name Beetle occurred in U.S. advertising in 1968.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, although the car was becoming outdated, innovative advertising and a growing reputation for reliability helped Volkswagen’s production figures to surpass the levels of the previous record holder, the Ford Model T. By 1973, total production of these 1960s foreign cars was over 16 million.
The first reference to the “Beetle” occurred in the USA. These 1960s car imports were among the most popular and could still be seen on American roads today.
Volkswagen expanded their product line in 1961 to be able to compete with other 1960s foreign cars with the introduction of several Type 3 models, which were nothing but body style variations. The Fastback, Notchback and Squareback models were based on Type 1 mechanical underpinnings. In 1969 the relatively unpopular Type 4 (also known as the 411 and 412) models were introduced. They differed substantially from previous models with the notable introduction of a fully automatic transmission, electronic fuel injection, a unibody construction, and a sturdier powerplant.
In May, 1960 the Peugeot 404 was introduced by Peugeot. Designed in Italy, it marked an important stylistic turning-point for the image and future of the automaker. Stylistically, the body of the Pininfarina-designed 404 could be described as a blend of classic modernism and good taste, signifying a total revamp of the Peugeot image. The following year, Peugeot’s annual output reaches 260,000 vehicles. Also, the direct injection engine was offered as standard on the 404.
Despite previously specialising in traditional saloon cars, in 1965, Peugeot embraces front-wheel drive on the 204. It has a light alloy engine with overhead camshaft, four independent wheels and disc brakes on the front wheels. On 14 June, a special single-seater diesel 404 coupé beats 40 world records on the Montlhéry ring. Two million of these 1960s foreign cars were produced between 1960 and 1972. Described as a blend of classic modernism and good taste, the 404 sold well.
In 1967, the famous Dustin Hoffman film “The Graduate” gave worldwide unforgettable celebrity to the Spider, also known by its Italian nickname Duetto and its unique shape. These 1960s foreign cars were designed by Battista Pininfarina – his last collaboration with Alfa Romeo, and which was the result of several years of design studies dating to the late ’50’s. Alfa Romeo (now owned by Fiat ), is an Italian automobile manufacturer founded in 1910. Alfa Romeo has been a part of the Fiat Group since 1986. Before being bought by , Alfa Romeo always had a bold commercial policy, constantly experimenting with new solutions and using them in its series production, even at the risk of losing market share. These 1960s foreign cars often used controversial and unorthodox styling too, which often challenged assumptions about styling.
In the 1960s Alfa Romeo became famous for its small cars and models specifically designed for the Italian police – “Panthers” and Carabinieri; among them the glorious “Giulia Super” or the 2600 Sprint GT, which acquired the expressive nickname of “Inseguimento”.
These 1960s foreign cars sold well as attested by the February 1961 production of the 100,001st Giulietta.
1966 is an important date for the Alfa spiders which came with its very own unique Italian styling. Alfa Romeo launches a competition to find a name for the 1600 Spider. A certain Mr. Giudobaldo Trionfi of Brescia wins, with his suggestion of the name “Duetto”. The “Duetto” Spider’s success even stretched globally.
The Alfa Romeo Spider is a roadster widely regarded as a design classic. These 1960s foreign cars remained in production for almost three decades with only minor aesthetic and mechanical changes. Coming with a monocoque construction (designed with the relatively new principles of crumple zones incorporated into the front and rear), the engine was a 1570 cc variant of the Alfa Romeo twin cam four cylinder engine, and produced 109 hp. Sparsely fitted inside, it came with independent front suspension, five speed transmission and disc brakes.
The original Duetto was in production from 1966-1967. It was replaced in 1969 by the 1750 Spider Veloce, powered by a 118 hp 1779 cc engine. In Europe this was fitted with two twin carburettors, whereas models for the North American market had SPICA mechanical fuel injection. Modifications were also made to the suspension, brakes, electrics and wheels and tires though the car looked essentially the same. Visible differences were limited to the rear-view mirror repositioned to the door, and different badging on the tail. The car’s official title was 1750 Spider Veloce, the name Duetto being dropped from this point on.
During the 1960s, Alfa Romeo concentrated on competition using production-based cars, including the GTA (standing for Gran Turismo Allegerita), an aluminium-bodied version of the Bertone-designed coupe with a powerful twin-plug engine. These fast 1960s foreign cars won the inaugural Sports Car Club of America’s Trans-Am championship in 1966.
Renault is a French vehicle manufacturer producing cars, vans, buses, tractors, and trucks. Producing cars since late 1898, the Renault corporation was founded in 1899. The company is well known for numerous revolutionary designs, security technologies and motor racing. Its cars were exported to the United States during the 1950s and 1960s.
The rear engine 4CV model, which was launched in 1946, proved itself a capable rival for 1960s foreign cars such as the Morris Minor and Volkswagen Beetle, its success (more than half a million sold) making sure it remained in production until 1961. There was also a large mechanically conventional 2-litre 4-cylinder car, the Renault Fregate, from 1951 to 1960.
The 4CV’s replacement, the Dauphine, sold extremely well as the company expanded production and sales further abroad, including Africa and North America. However, 1960s foreign cars did not sell well in North America and it was outdated by the start of the 1960s.
In an attempt to rebound from those failures, Renault launched two cars which were to become phenomenally successful – the Renault 4 and Renault 8 in 1961 and 1962 respectively. R4 was world’s first car with hermetically sealed cooling-system. The R4 in particular was to continue in production until 1992. R8 was the first-ever mass produced car with disc brakes all round.
R8 made its entry to the US in 1962.These 1960s foreign cars continued Renault’s motor racing traditions with great success in rallying, a tradition which was further upheld by collaborations with the Alpine company (which most famously produced the Renault-powered Alpine A110).
The company achieved success with the more upmarket Renault 16 launched in 1966, which continued Renault’s reputation for innovation by being the world’s first hatchback larger than subcompact size. R16 was also the first Renault-model to gain the title “The car of the year”.
In 1969, over 1 million Renault vehicles were built and more than 500,000 were exported proving once and for all the drawing power of these 1960s foreign cars.
Porsche, is a German sports car manufacturer, founded in 1931 by then Austrian Ferdinand Porsche, the engineer who also created the first Volkswagen.
In racing, Porsche’s main rival has traditionally been Ferrari. In the daily-driver marketplace, Porsche’s traditional rivals are its fellow German automakers Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW , as well as Lotus, Jaguar, and Maserati. Ferrari, on the other hand, competes more directly with firms such as Lamborghini, Bugatti, TVR and Aston Martin.
In 1963, after some success in motor-racing, namely with the Porsche 550 Spyder, the company launched the Porsche 911, another air-cooled, rear-engined sports car, this time with a 6-cylinder “boxer” engine. The 911 has become Porsche’s most well-known model, successful on the race-track, in rallies, and in terms of sales these 1960s foreign cars did well. Far more than any other model, the Porsche brand is defined by the 911.
It remains in production; however, after several generations of revision, current-model 911s share only the basic mechanical concept of a rear-engined, six-cylinder coupe, and basic styling cues with the original car. A cost-reduced model with the same body, but 356-derived running gear (including its four-cylinder engine), was sold as the 912.