It's said that as you get older, the years fly by even faster. Turning a significant age shortly this Christmas, I can certainly attest to this. As with 2022 now rapidly a disappearing memory, for most of this year I have been meaning to follow up on a piece on the 60th anniversary celebrations of a number of important British cars first launched in 1962. Forgive me that it’s taken so long, but with time-a-ticking until we move into 2023, I realised that if I don’t get this done now, it will never happen, so here goes with a very swift canter through half-a-dozen of the best of the foreign fair that debuted 60 years ago.
More cars that turned 60 in 2022 | Axon's Automotive Anorak
1. Ferrari 250 GTO
Arguably the most desirable – and certainly the most valuable – of any of the many new cars launched in 1962, the Ferrari 250 GTO was introduced as the ultimate competition-focused expression of Maranello’s 250 GT programme. As is now very well-known, the remarkable GTO acquired its ‘O’ suffix (in Italian the O standing for ‘Omologato’, denoting this version be specifically built and homologated for GT racing), with a more powerful engine (boosted to 304PS 224kW) and a five-speed gearbox, married to the ‘standard’ 250 GT’s production chassis and suspension. The GTO’s crowning glory though, has to be its striking coachwork, as created by Scaglietti to Ferrari’s own design, from its low nose and dynamic dart-like profile, through to its celebrated abrupt kamm-tail with trademark kick-up rear spoiler. These, allied to the GTO’s lightweight alloy coachwork, racing success and rarity, have helped to create the model’s legendary status that few cars, if any, can equal today.
2. Alfa Romeo Giulia
The first of Alfa Romeo’s important 105-series models, the long-lived Giulia range (1962-78) initially appeared in surprisingly aerodynamic Belina saloon form, with it’s chiseled flowing front wings, distinctive cut-off cam tail and wrap-around rear window. Familiar to most British enthusiasts as the hard-pressed local police cars in hot pursuit of the trio of Mini Coopers in the cult 1969 Italian Job film, the sporty Giulia Berlina spawned a wide family of now very collectable derivatives. These included the cult Giugairo-designed Bertone GT coupe, the stylish Spider and (my personal favourite) the stunning Junior Zagato. A car to give Britain’s Lotus Cortina a run for its money (which Goodwood will be celebrating in 2023 with a dedicated race when that derivate turns 60), the five-speed Giulia set the benchmark in precise handling and driving pleasure for the keen family motorist in the ear 1960s, especially in its early 1600 Ti form.
3. BMW 1500 ‘Neue-Klasse’
The model that saved BMW from bankruptcy and put it on a healthier footing to longer-term stability and success. This neat Michelotti-designed four-door 1500 established the previously-frail Bavarian car maker as a new force to be taken seriously. The Neuer-Klasse unitary-construction range soon expanded beyond the early 1500 to include the livelier Fraser-Nash BMW-badged 1800 TI and capable TISA derivatives – the latter being perennial favourite in the St. Mary’s Trophy period saloon car race at the Goodwood Revival. In 1966 BMW added servo-assisted brakes, distinctive large rectangular headlights and wider wrap-around rear lamps to help identify the updated 2000 derivative, this version of the model bowing out a decade after the Neuer Klasse’s launch to make way for the original and popular 5 Series range of 1972. The Neuer Klasse saloon also acted as the basis for BMW’s first modern-era coupe, the pillarless 2000 CS of 1966, which led on to the giant-killing 3.0 CSL in competition, plus the later 1976 6 Series.
4. Maserati Sebring 3500 GT
I’ll admit to a personal bit of bias here as I briefly owned one of these elegant Vignale-bodied beauties in my impoverished student days, when Maserati Sebrings were still unknown and unwanted. Definitely one of the cars that I now most regret selling, the expensive but stunning hand-built Sebring defined everything that Maserati used to do so well; with a gem of a six-cylinder engine and five-speed ‘box, offering shattering performance potential. Yet it was all wrapped up in an understated coupe, made with care for a discerning few ‘in the know’ enthusiasts. By the time I owned ‘my’ Series 1 Sebring, the car was inexpensive but well-past its prime, and rather than have frequent nightmares worrying about the ‘what if’ hair-raising costs of possible engine problems and repairs, I sold the car and bought a far-more troublesome Lancia Gamma Coupe; just lovely to look at but considerably less rewarding to own.
5. Studebaker Avanti
As one of the USA's oldest vehicle manufacturers (building its first horse-drawn carriage in 1852), Studebaker was also one America’s most known and trusted vehicle producers. After catching all of its ‘Big Three’ Detroit-based rivals napping immediately post-war with a state-of-the-art all-new range of Raymond Loewy-designed passenger cars, Studebaker rested on its laurels for too long and was soon struggling to retain its early post-war competitive advantage by late 1950s. Despite its acquisition of the once-mighty Packard, its sales continued to decline, and by the arrival of the early 1960s, this admired South Bend maker was struggling for survival. Its solution to attract new business to its showrooms was a bold but risky and (ultimately) foolhardy one: a brand new personal coupe, a stylish 2+2 for a niche market that would win much acclaim and many admiring glances, but was unlikely to reverse the Company’s declining fortunes.
It was designed and turned around in record time by Studebaker’s preferred stylist, renowned industrial designer and author of the famous Coca Cola glass bottle and Greyhound bus, Raymond Lowey. The new Avanti wowed everyone with its 1962 debut, but its complex-to-make fibreglass coachwork and powerful new supercharged engines caused long production delays, with the first customer-ready examples not being delivered until 1963, despite demand out-stripping supply. This hurt Studebaker’s finances, and with on-going production issues, by 1964 the advanced and promising Avanti was history. Studebaker struggled on for a further two years before the old established firm closed down its historic South Bend plant, relocated to Canada, and then sadly closed its doors for good in 1966. The Avanti happily lived on in a another form though as the revised Avanti II, with one of Studebaker’s largest ex-dealers acquiring the rights to produce and sell this niche product (in the famous old South Bend factory). This smart coupe defied the odds and lived into the 1990s, being built in small numbers, ironically making the Avanti the longest-unbroken-chain lived of all the 1962 debutants featured here.
6. AC/Shelby American Cobra
As American as it is English (hence its inclusion here as an overseas 1962 introduction), the AC/Shelby America Cobra hybrid today enjoys almost mythical status, despite the car’s being difficult to sell when new. The brainchild of ex-Texan chicken farmer, driver and 1959 Le Mans winner Carroll Shelby, the model was initially available with a 4.7-litre 'Windsor' V8 and first designated as the Cobra 289. The motor was shoehorned tightly into an evolution of the sweet six-cylinder engine AC Ace, to give colossal but crude performance potential. The Ace bodyshell underwent substantial upgrades to transform into the Cobra, including the addition of a reworked and strengthened chassis, revised steering, tougher suspension, cowing vents to improve under-bonnet air circulation and cooling and a repositioned fuel tank. The narrow-bodied Cobra 289 morphed into the more familiar 427 model in 1965 with more potent flared wheel arches and a throbbing 7.0-litre engine. In this form production continued at Thames Ditton until 1969. The car refused to die, however, with strong demand seeing accurate replicas popping up as early as the 1970s.
Whether it’s a copycat Cobra, a 250 GTO or any other car you dream of driving over the Festive break, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you in 2023!
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