By now the Christmas tree and tinsel have been packed away back into the loft, and the TV ads have changed from expensive smellies to endless sales and holiday promotions, so we are already well into 2016.
As any regular attendees to our motoring events may have spotted, here at Goodwood we love to celebrate a significant automotive anniversary, be it for motor racing or road cars.
Over the coming weeks and months you will be hearing plenty about the exciting motor racing anniversaries and activities we have planned for the 2016 Goodwood motoring events, the 74th Members Meeting (19-20 March), Festival of Speed (23-26 June) and Goodwood Revival (9-11 September), so I will concentrate on the road cars for the moment.
With two major world wars in the 20th Century, important motoring anniversaries for 100 and 75 years ago are understandably few and far between. The main exceptions to these are BMW being founded in 1916 as a producer of aero engines initially – with motorcycles and passenger cars not following until the 1920s – plus the first go-anywhere 4×4 Jeeps appearing 75 years ago in 1941.
Look back 50 and 25 years ago, and it is a very different picture, with a wealth of important and interesting cars being launched. Just 25 years back, for example, 1991 saw the introduction of a huge variety of new road machines, as diverse as the Suzuki Cappuccino, Peugeot 106, the third generation VW Golf and Vauxhall Astra, the Volvo 850, TVR Griffith, Honda NSX and Bentley Continental R.
Go back further still to 1966, and 50 years ago some truly exceptional and significant cars broke cover for the first time, although Britain was so distracted by England’s famous (to the English, at least) 1966 World Cup victory, few possibly noticed or realised at the time!
The 1966 debutants included a raft of new, crisply styled family saloons, which on the surface may not sound very exciting, yet many went on to great things, both on the road, and in competition in a few cases.
Take the Rootes Group’s sharp new ‘Arrow’ range, for example. Better known to most as the Hillman Hunter, with design input from William Towns, later of Aston Martin Lagonda fame, the square-cut Rootes Arrows took badge engineering to whole new and bewildering level, with Singer, Sunbeam, Chrysler and Humber derivatives, plus the Paykan, which became the national car of Iran, and still exists today in pick-up form. A Hillman Hunter famously snatched a surprise late victory in the 1968 London-Sydney rally, and became the mainstay of insurance reps pounding the highways the length and breadth of Britain in the 1970s.
Another new boxy British saloon in 1966 was the Ford Cortina Mk 2, with the sporting Lotus two-door derivate, plus the four-door 1600E, aimed at up and coming young executives. The ‘coke-bottle’ styling of the new Vauxhall Viva HB may have inspired the swoopier styling of the later 1970 Cortina Mk 3, but it did little help the Viva’s sales, which always lagged behind the Cortina’s, despite an exciting Brabham sporting derivative, endorsed by the 1966 Formula 1 World Champion, Sir Jack Brabham.
By comparison, Triumph’s new 1300 front-wheel-drive saloon was technically more interesting than the mainstream Ford, Hillman and Vauxhall offerings, but just four years on the Triumph was re-engineered to a more conventional rear-drive layout to create the Toledo, and ultimately, the long-lived Dolomite models.
These British family saloons may have proved popular in the UK, but in pure production and sales terms, they could not hold a candle to the new 1966 Fiat 124 Berlina. Astonishingly, this competent but unassuming box-shaped saloon spawned a large number of licenced derivatives the world over, the most famous being the VAZ Lada (1200, 1500, etc.), which only ceased production recently, helping to make the Fiat 124 and its spin-offs the second best-selling car in history, after the VW Beetle, but ahead of the Golf, Ford Model T, Renault 4, and so on.
In addition to its hugely successful 124 Berlina, 1966 also saw Fiat introduce the lovely Pininfarina-styled 124 Spider (with a new Mazda MX-5 based Fiat 124 Spider set for launch 50 years on this summer) plus the glorious Ferrari V6-powered Fiat Dino Spider.
Other Italian sporting models help to make 1966 an exceptional year too, with the introduction of the 105-Series Alfa Romeo Spider – as famously driven by Justin Hoffman’s character Benjamin Braddock in the cult Hollywood movie The Graduate – plus debuts for the Ferrari 365 California, the original Maserati Ghibli, the roarty De Tomaso Mangusta, and arguably the most significant of them all, the stunning Lamborghini Miura, commonly regarded as the grand daddy of the modern, mid-engined supercar. The Italians didn’t have it all their own way with new luxury and sports cars in 1966 though…
Us Brits introduced the Triumph GT6, the Jaguar 420, the final Alvis – the dignified TF – plus the mid-engined Lotus Europa, initially offered for export only, badged as the Europe and powered by a Renault 16 engine. The first road-legal Ford GT40s also entered production in Slough, some time after the Anglo-American model had proven itself in competition.
In deepest West Bromwich, the small specialist luxury sports car maker Jensen revealed the striking Vignale-styled Interceptor, and more importantly, one of the most technically daring and influential cars of the late 20th Century, the FF. Long before the Audi Quattro and others, the Jensen FF pioneered the use of four-wheel-drive in a high-performance car, mating this to the world’s first production anti-lock-braking system. We all take ABS for granted these days, but Jensen was there first in 1966, along with other innovations that we have all now grown accustomed to, such as an interior light delay system, which the FF also pioneered.
Licking their wounds after their 1966 World Cup defeat, Germany saw the release of the first Audi 80 model range, as well as the popular Opel Rekord C and Mercedes-Benz S W108, with the awkwardly-named BMW 1600-02 also debuting. From a slow start, the BMW became the mighty 02 series, now so beloved of historic racers and collectors. Further north in Sweden, Volvo unveiled its modern 140 saloon, the model that morphed into the successful 200-Series, with production continuing on into the early vf1990s!
America enjoyed the rise of the ‘pony car’ and muscle car coupe sectors in 1966, with introduction of the first Dodge Charger, plus later in the year, the ‘Model Year 67’ Chevrolet Camaro, Mercury Cougar, front-drive Cadillac Eldorado and jaw-dropping Oldsmobile Toronado, not to mention the first Ford Bronco off-roader.
The growth of the Japanese motor industry continued too with a number of important model introductions, including the diminutive Honda S800 – the marque’s first passenger car to be sold in the UK – plus the Nissan Sunny and Toyota Corolla (two nameplates that went on to sell in their millions) and Mazda’s first rotary, the Cosmo 110 S, along with Subaru’s first front-wheel-drive saloon, the 1000, and the divine Giugario-styled Isuzu 117 Coupe, to this day one of the best-looking cars ever to be built in Japan.
As you can see, 1966 was an exceptional time for the new car introductions globally, with many of these models 50 now regarded as sought-after classics 50 years on. You will be able to see an number of these ‘Class of 66’ cars at this year’s Goodwood events, so be sure not to miss them. And here’s to as fine a crop of new model introductions in 2016 too. Happy New Year.