Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that. Even so - the 1960s have to be the high water mark for automotive styling. No other decade comes close when you factor in the sheer number of stunning cars introduced within ten short years. Everyone was throwing their hat in to the ring - the Americans, Italians, Germans, Brits, even Aussies with the beautiful HK Monaro.
With all that in mind - here’s ten to whet the appetite…
Jaguar E-type (XKE in the US)
When Enzo Ferrari called the E-type/XKE ‘the most beautiful car ever made’ - nothing more need be said...except that it was a blast to drive, could top 150mph, sounded great, and had a proven race heritage - inspired as it was by the legendary Le Mans-winning D-type. In the case of the E-Type - racing really did improve the breed.
Independent suspension, race-bred inboard mounted rear disc brakes and that twin cam allow six under the loooong bonnet meant the E-type was as stunning under the surface as it was on the outside.
1965 Mustang fastback & convertible
The work of Ford stylists John Najjar and Philip T Clark, the 1964 ½ Mustang was revolutionary. We should also mention Lee Iacocca - who’s long proclaimed himself the genius behind the car. It’s true the new Mustang uncovered a market no-one knew existed - an enormous market as it turned out.
The most successful car debut in history with over 400,000 sold in the first year alone. Why? Styling - folks just had to own a car that looked that good. It had to be the styling, they sure as hell weren’t anything special to drive. And when Ford’s rivals thought things couldn’t get any worse, Ford released the fastback version - and it was even prettier than the notchback and convertible. The Pony Car was born - leaving GM and Chrysler floundering to catch up.
1966 Lamborghini Muira
Forget all the latest gee-whizz rich boy’s toys with their mosquito-on-steroids engine note - the ultimate supercar of all time is the first - the Muira. Stunningly beautiful, yet brutal and purposeful styling by the Italian master Marcello Gandini, with an interior that still looks ultra-cool 50 years later.
The bodywork was sublime yet simple: clamshells front and rear, two doors and a roof plus undercarriage. And it all came together around a mid engined chassis to produce the ultimate high speed road car. So what if the front wheels of the SV model tended to lift off the road at 185mph - what other car could even get close to that speed, and look so beautiful?
1967 Maserati Ghibli
Designed by the master himself - Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Ghibli was named after a famous wind - in keeping with recent Maserati tradition. And like all Maserati’s - the Ghibli went like the wind with it’s 450S race car heritage, 4.7 litre quad cam alloy V8 under that long, curvaceous bonnet. With a top speed of 174mph - it had performance to match the looks.
The Ghibli was as beautiful inside as out, with one of the truly great automotive interiors. Luxury, comfort, ergonomics and style - the perfect synthesis of form & function.
And although it’s got nothing to do with looks - the race-bred V8 has about the best note of any engine ever made.
1965 Buick Riviera
Harley Earl’s successor as head of GM design, Bill Mitchell has to be one of the all time great automotive artistes. And arguably his greatest achievement was the timeless 1963 Buick Rivera. It still looks modern, elegant, and graceful. The interior carries through the theme of good taste.
Take a look inside some beautiful cars and you can’t help but be disappointed. Not so with the Riviera - perhaps only second to the mid 60s Thunderbirds in terms of having the finest interior of any US car ever made.
For mine - the 1965 Riviera is even nice than the original - who can resist those headlights hidden behind shiny, revolving clamshell grilles?
1968 Corvette Stingray
Has there ever been a mass produced car built that has more dramatic styling? Straight off the showroom floor, the ‘68 Corvette looked like some outrageously customised one-off show car. And the years haven’t diminished the drama of its design. It still looks better than any modern Italian supercar. We’re talking about the 68-72 chrome bumper models, not the later plastic fantastics.
Hats off to Larry Shinoda and his team for having the talent, the vision, and the cajones to convert the Mako Shark II from show car to production car with few if any compromises to practicality.
1968 Dodge Charger
Muscle cars are all about power, right? They’re meant to look mean, powerful and fast. On that criteria, the ‘68 Dodge Charger has to be king of the muscle cars - because none look as fast, as mean, or as powerful.
The car looked like it was doing 105 through the traps when it was parked. Ok, so the interior was a bit of a letdown - but the sensational exterior more than made up. And if equipped with a 440 or 426 Hemi - these big muthas were as fast as they looked. The Charger has to be number one for styling when it comes to the muscle cars. The rest can fight it out for second place
1967 Chevrolet Camaro/Pontiac Firebird twins
Bill Mitchell makes another appearance here - with these gorgeous twins. Ok, so the Pontiac version was just a madeover Camaro - but they did such a great job with that elongated nose that people came to love the Firebird as much as the Camaro.
Walk around either one of the twins at a car show and you’re witnessing styling perfection - you just can’t find anything you think needs improving. Beautiful and muscular - mission accomplished Mr Mitchell.
1967 Ferrari 206/246 GT ‘Dino’
Surely the most beautiful mid-engined car ever made. And the later Spyder version - with removable roof section and no rear side glass - is even prettier. The ‘Dino’ may not have been especially quick, but they were a blast to drive, and ushered in the era of the mid engined Ferrari. Few rear engined cars made since have come close to matching the Pinin Farina styled Dino for beauty.
1963 Studebaker Avanti
Ok - so the looks are not to everyone’s taste, but no-one can say this car isn’t a true original. Not a straight line anywhere, classic aircraft-inspired instruments, sweet small block V8 power, four seats and fibreglass body - there was nothing else like the Avanti. You could even order one with a supercharger making it a match for the new Stingrays. With its muscular looks and coke bottle hips, the Avanti was a precursor to the Mustang.
When Studebaker ceased operations in the mid 60s, two Studie dealers bought the tooling and continued to produce the Avanti - with Chevy small block power. There was no shortage of willing buyers - the Avanti remaining in production for well over 40 years.
!963 C2 Corvette
1967 Cadillac Eldorado
1966 Pontiac GTO
1963 Porsche 911
1968 HK Monaro
1965 Chevrolet Impala
1963 Alfa 105/115 coupe
1967 Ford Mustang fastback