Memorable Cars of 1962
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Memorable Cars of 1962

By DavidBurrell - 05 July 2022

1962 was a memorable year in the automotive industry.

In previous editions of Retroautos I showcased the 60th anniversary of the R&S Valiant, the Austin Freeway/Wolseley 24-80, EJ Holden, XL Falcon and Zephyr MkIII. All were vying for the attention of the Australian family car buyer. The most recent edition put the spotlight on the 60th anniversary of Carroll Shelby’s legendary AC Cobra.

This time I take a wide look across the world and select some memorable models that made their first appearance 60 years ago. Most are “All-New”. Oh yes, 1962 was a very busy and big year!

Chrysler’s “S” cars: Downsize disaster

One of the industry’s biggest ever mistakes happened in 1962 when Chrysler shrank its large cars based on the snippet of an overheard conversation that Chevrolet was downsizing for 1962. Trouble was, the conversation was about the Chevy II/Nova. Just why Chrysler’s senior executives never asked the obvious question “hold on a minute, can we check if this rumour is true before we make a decision?” has never been answered.

Dodge’s advertisement makes it absolutely clear that the two-year-old Valiant’s styling is the inspiration for the more expensive 1962 Dart. The Plymouth’s styling was less convoluted than the Dodge’s but still did not appeal to buyers.

Buyer reaction to smaller cars was brutal. Plymouth sales dropped 20% and Dodge’s plummeted 33% compared to 1960. Another problem was that the ‘62s looked like the two-year-old smaller Valiant, some of which were already in used car lots.

You can read my in-depth analysis of this debacle in a previous Retroautos, along with exclusive images of the “S” cars Chrysler was planning for 1962. There is a link at the end of this story.

To placate angry Dodge dealers and give them a big car to sell, a 1962 Chrysler Newport was given a 1961 Dodge Dart front end and called the Dodge Custom 880. It took 12 panic-filled weeks to create. Plymouth dealers’ were left with the “smaller” cars until 1965.

Morris Major Elite: Ahead of its time?

One of the most overlooked cars in Australia is the Elite. By combining the all-Australian Morris Major and Austin Lancer into one model and giving it a 1.6 litre engine, BMC Australia created a powerful mid-sized car that was immediately popular. In 1964 the Elite had to make way for the Morris 1100. In 1968 Datsun would mirror the Elite’s dimensions and engine size with its worldwide success, the Datsun 1600.

You have to wonder what might have happened if BMC had continued to develop the popular Elite rather than switch to the Morris 1100 in 1964. A six-cylinder version, perhaps?

Morris 1100: Floating on fluid

The 1100 was coded as ADO16 within BMC. It was badge engineered into an Austin, MG, Wolseley, Riley and Vanden Plas. 

Much has been written about the Pininfarina styled 1100. What I never understood was why it was not a hatchback from day one. Even so, BMC sold 2.3 million of them.

BMC advertised that the 1100 “floats on fluid”. Is that why there’s a river in the background?

R8: COTY winning Renault

In 1962 Renault was still pursuing a rear engine arrangement with its new R8 sedan, despite having released the front drive R4 hatchback a year earlier. The R8 boasted four-wheel disc brakes and a one litre engine. It was awarded the first Wheels Car of the Year. R8s were assembled locally at the Continental and General Distributors factory in West Heidelberg, Victoria.

I suggest you read Joe Kenwright’s wonderful evaluation of the R8 in Shannons Classic Garage. A link is provided at the end of this story.

MGB and MG 1100: What a contrast!

Shod with white wall tyres for the American market, the MGB epitomised sports car in the 1960s. 

The MGB became the ubiquitous 1960s open top affordable sports car whose story has been told and retold countless times. Meanwhile, the MG 1100 was a Morris 1100 with an MG grille and an extra carburettor. The MG Owners Club website provides an astute summary of the car.

“…there was a problem identifying which market MG were aiming at with literature and promotional films showing it as an ideal shopping car and at the other extreme, a car suitable for club racing, either way the car sold slowly with nearly 28,000 being sold over a period of 5 years.”

BMC proudly proclaimed that the MG 1100 was more advanced than the MGB. 

Triumph Spitfire: Underrated

Built on a shortened Herald chassis, the Spitfire was a response to the BMC’s Austin Healy Sprite/MG Midget twins. With styling by Michelotti, the car’s main market was the USA. I’ve heard the convertible roof described as a tent you had to build yourself.

During its 18-year production run the Spitfire sold at an average of 17,462 per year. By comparison, the annual average for the Austin Healey Sprite and MG Midget was 16,947. 

Lotus Elan: Expensive

Colin Chapman’s road car, the Elan, had a steel backbone chassis, fibreglass body, Ford-based engine, four-wheel disc brakes, four speed gearbox, rack and pinion steering and independent suspension. Dr John Wright’s excellent Super Models story about the Elan is a must read. There’s a link at the end of this story. It was twice the price in 1962 of an MGB.

The Elan was priced at more than twice that of an MG Midget, restricting its sales.

Mitsubishi Colt and Mazda Carol: Tiny cars, big aspirations

Would the Mini have been as successful if Mitsubishi and Mazda exported these cars in significant numbers in 1962?

This year saw the first use of the Colt name on a Mitsubishi car. The engine was rear mounted, air cooled and 36 cubic inch/594cc in size. The doors were hinged on the centre pillar.

The Carol 360 was Mazda’s first four-passenger car. The tiny water cooled 358cc/22 cubic inch engine was located in the rear. It was one of the smallest motors ever used in a passenger car. The 360’s 117.7 inch/2990mm overall length was shorter than the wheelbase of the 1962 Ford Galaxie.

These cars established a foundation for both companies. During the next five years, they developed appealing cars which spearheaded export drives into the Australian and US markets.

Mazda sold the Carol 360 in two and four door formats. I sometimes speculate why Rootes did not simply re-badge a Colt or Carol and call it an Imp. It might have saved them money and reputation.

Galaxie: Forgotten Ford

The 1962 Galaxie is a rare car in Australia. My research indicates any that arrived were imports.

Here’s a completely forgotten big Ford. With an all-new body, the fourth major restyling in six years, Ford said farewell to the Fairlane nameplate for its full-sized cars. From now on the big Fords would be Galaxies. A mid-year addition to the options list was a 406 cubic inch 6.7 litres V8. With three dual barrel Hollies you got 405bhp/302kw and 0 to 60 mph in about 6.6 seconds. Wow!! Ford shifted 575,000 1962 Galaxies, making it the company’s third best big car seller of the 1960s and 1970s. Only 1963 and 1964 saw higher sales.

A mid-year enticement was the Galaxie 500/XL, featuring bucket seats split by a Thunderbird-style centre console interior. 

Chevy II/Nova: Late to the party

It took GM just eight weeks after the release of the Coravir to realise it had no chance against the simpler, more economical and much more popular Falcon. GM now had to play catch up. In just 20 months the Chevy II/Nova went from design to driveway. It is the car GM ought to have built instead of the Corvair.

The Chevy II/Nova went to 327,000 buyers in its first year, but Ford was already far ahead, having sold 1.4 million Falcons during 1960-1962.

Ford Fairlane: Intermediate pioneer

The Fairlane’s dimensions closely matched those of the 1949 Ford. The Australian advertisement comprised the background and people artwork from a 1960 Ford Galaxie advertisement with a 1962 American Fairlane. 

The 1962 Fairlane established the intermediate segment of the US market and made GM play catch up, again. Debuting with the new thin wall 221 cubic inch /3.6 litre V8, its storied name and sensible dimensions were appreciated by 297,000 buyers. A midyear addition was the 260 cubic inch/4.3 litre V8.

Ford in Australia released the “compact” Fairlane not long after its American debut. It attracted 1,623 buyers in 1962.

In the USA the Fairlane had a Mercury twin, the Meteor. It was a sales failure, as I explained in last month’s Retroautos feature about the Mercury Comet. See the link at the end of this story.

The Fairlane and Meteor were photographed outside of the Ford Rotunda. This image was taken a few weeks before the Rotunda burnt to the ground on 9th November, 1962.

Pontiac Grand Prix: T-Bird fighter

The GM cars of 1962 were facelifts of the ’61 models. The Grand Prix stood out because of the restrained use of chrome.

Fed up with GM’s slow response to Ford’s Thunderbird, and missing out on winning the “competition” to develop what would become the 1963 Buick Riviera, Pontiac’s boss Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen fast tracked a program to create the division’s own personal luxury car, the Grand Prix.

Pontiac’s design chief, Jack Humbert, deleted almost all of the chrome trim from the Catalina hardtop coupe body to give the GP an understated elegance. The product planners loaded the car with the top-of-the-line Bonneville interior, bucket seats and a full-length centre consul with a tacho. Although the GP only went to 30,195 buyers in 1962 it established the model as a T-Bird competitor. The next year saw sales hit 70,000, 10% more than the T-Bird.

This image was taken on the shore of a large artificial lake at GM’s Technical Centre in Warren, Michigan. 

Gloria, Cedric and Crown: What’s in a name?

The quality and value of the 1962 Crown established Toyota in overseas markets, such as Australia. 

Prince, Datsun and Toyota all released re-styled big cars in 1962. The Prince Gloria and Toyota Crown were the most changed from previous models. Datsun’s Cedric was given a makeover by Pininfarina at the front end, with the four headlights transitioning from stacked to horizontal. The Crown was built by AMI in Australia from CKD kits. The significance of these cars is that they spearheaded their maker’s international aspirations, with styling, size and six cylinder engines that appealed to buyers in overseas markets, even if the names didn’t.

These images of the Gloria and Cedric are from the Nissan Heritage Centre. Nissan merged with Prince in 1966, giving Nissan access to the Gloria and Skyline names.

Ford P4 Taunus and Cortina MkI: Opposites

As late as mid-1960 the P4 Taunus was destined to be sold in the USA, slotting below the Falcon in size and price. 

The P4 Taunus was launched two months before the Cortina, with front wheel drive and a V4 engine. It was originally to have been sold in the USA and Germany. But, US Ford boss, Lee Iaccoca, did not believe it had much potential and, in any case, he wanted the P4’s allocated production line capacity to be made available for his preferred project, the Mustang. So, the P4, or “Cardinal” as it was coded, was restricted to Germany. It sold an average of 150,000 units per year during its four-year model run.

Codenamed “Archbishop”, the Cortina MkI was built to a carefully managed cost regime and offered simple, reliable and spacious transport, which is why it was so popular right from the start. Like the 1962 Fairlane, Ford Australia ensured the Cortina was on sale not long after its home market release. Along with the XL Falcon and MkIII Zephyr, Ford had four “all-new” cars in the local market in 1962.

The Cortina’s designer was Roy Brown, who had also shaped the Edsel. 

Mustang I: A legend begins

Had you been lucky enough to be at Watkins Glen Raceway in upstate New York, on Saturday 6th October, 1962 you might have seen Dan Gurney strap himself into a small open cockpit two-seater mid-engine sports car. Galloping horse badges were fixed discreetly on the car. Between the two seats was the word MUSTANG. You know the rest of the story.

The Mustang I used the V4 from the P4 Taunus. The word Mustang appears only once on the car.

Vauxhall PB Velox/Cresta: Victor look-a-like

The PB Velox/Cresta arrived in the UK in October 1962. In the same way that Chrysler used the design themes of the 1960 Valiant for its more expensive 1962 large cars, Vauxhall based the PB on the smaller and cheaper 1960 FB Victor. They even shared some door panels. Go figure.

During its three-year run the PB attracted 87,047 buyers. That’s only 55% of the EJ Holden’s 13-month output. 

Alfa Romeo Giulia: Carabinieri favourite

The Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan’s all-new styling enclosed a 1.6 litre twin OHC engine, standard radial tyres, a column gear shift and split bench seats. The styling was criticised on its release for reasons I’ve never understood. It may look boxy but the rounded edges and abrupt rear end allowed it to slide through the air with a low drag coefficient of 0.34. Dr John Wright covers the Giulia’s history in his Classic Garage story, which I’ve linked.

If you think the Giulia and Renault R8 look somewhat similar, then you’d be right. Both drew styling themes from Alfa’s 1960 Tipo 103 concept car.

Opel Kadett A: Viva’s older sibling

Vauxhall was very coy about admitting its 1963 Viva had the Opel Kadett A inner structure under its British sheet metal.

Everyone remembers the 1963 Vauxhall HB Viva, and yet the Opel Kadett A, on which the Viva was based, is another forgotten car of 1962. The Kadett A was Opel’s belated return to the small car segment. Thanks to a master class in research by vauxpedia website owner, David Booker, we now know the long history of the Kadett A’s development. Some of its heritage relates to a front wheel drive small car program at GM in 1959, coded XP 714. Whilst the front drive was replaced by rear drive, the basic inner structure of XP 714 influenced the Kadett. Vauxhall then used the Kadett structure for the Viva. I’ve added a link to David’s in-depth XP 714/Kadett/Viva development story at the end of this story.

The Opel Kadett A on parade at Opel’s factory in Russelsheim, Germany. For me, the Opel’s styling is more appealing than the harder edged Viva.

Glas 1004: Coulda been an Imp?

Hans Glas GmbH was building “bubble” cars in Dingolfing, Germany, when the Glas family decided that they’d be better off making a car that carried their name. Enter the rear-wheel-drive Glas 1004 coupe. The one litre engine had a rubber timing belt driving its overhead camshaft, which was a Glas innovation. Here’s a car company Rootes ought to have teamed with. The Glas 1004 as an Imp? Makes sense. It would have saved Rootes loads of angst. BMW bought Glas in 1966.

It is reported that BMW bought Glas to gain access to the patents for the timing belt, its factory and the company’s many talented engineers.

Avanti and Hawk Grand Turismo: Studebaker’s South Bend style

Sherwood Egbert, Studebaker’s boss, called on two of the world’s most famous industrial designers to help him save Studebaker from financial doom.

To Brooks Stevens, he gave the task of reimagining the Bob Bourke styled 1953 Studebaker Starlight coupe. Stevens squared up the roofline and body sides for that “Thunderbird” look.

Brooks Stevens developed two roof line proposals for the GT.

Egbert also wanted a small sports coupe to attract showroom traffic for his increasingly worried dealers. He contracted with Raymond Loewy to deliver that project, which became the Avanti.

In late 1963 Studebaker’s financial situation was so dire that its South Bend, Indiana, factory was closed. Goodbye GT and Avanti. You can read more in previous Retroautos. Links at the end of this story.

The Avanti was designed by Raymond Loewy and his team in eight weeks in a rented house in Palm Springs. 1962 Indy 500 winner Roger Ward was scored a new Avanti in addition to his prizemoney.

A big year

No doubt about it, 1962 was a big year in automotive history. My personal top five, in no order, are the Pontiac Grand Prix, Alfa Giulia, Opel Kadett A, Renault R8 and Toyota Crown. I’m sure you have favourite cars.

Retroautos is written and published by David Burrell with passion and with pride. Retroautos’ stories and images are copyrighted. Reproducing them in any format is prohibited.

Links to additional content

Vauxpedia, Chrysler S cars, Avanti, GT Hawk, Shelby AC Cobra,1962 EJ Holden, 1962 Valiant, 1962 Freeway, 1962 Falcon/MkIII Zephyr, Mercury CometMorris 1100, Renault R8, Alfa Giulia, Lotus Elan.