Fifty years is a long time in motoring, but 1966 saw a flurry of new cars entering the market that promised to herald the future. Some lasted the test of time, becoming fully-blown and desirable classics. Others performed less well, and have somewhat slipped into obscurity. Here’s Hagerty’s pick of the class of 1966.
Vauxhall Viva HB
The original HA series was utilitarian family transport but it was the HB that allowed the words ‘Viva’ and ‘stylish’ to appear in the same sentence without undue controversy. The 2nd generation version was larger than its predecessor, and gained a more sophisticated suspension set-up - front double wishbone and coil springs with telescopic dampers and rear coil springs – but the main showroom appeal of the new Viva lay in its appearance. This was the first Vauxhall with ‘coke-bottle’ styling - and arguably one of the most attractive small cars of its generation. And any car approved of by Bob Ferris (from The Likely Lads) has to be worth owning.
Because the Fiat 124’s body proved the basis of a true world car - with versions built in Bulgaria, India, South Korea, Spain, Turkey and, most famously, the former USSR – the impact of the original Fiat version is frequently overlooked. The challenge of superseding the 1300 Berlina was a considerable one but the Fiat 124 was Car of the Year 1967 and boasted a rather sophisticated technical specification - all-wheel disc brakes were very unusual on a family car of fifty years ago. It was also announced by one of the grooviest ever advertising campaigns.
Ford Cortina Mk II
The Ford Cortina Mk II is a textbook example of how to successfully update a very popular model. First, ensure that the new coachwork is sharp, modern but not so overly American as to frighten suburbia. Next, ensure that the mechanics are very familiar – the same gearbox, rear suspension and, initially, engines – but that there are tangible improvements such as lighter steering and extra width. Thirdly, ensure that there is a version for all pockets - from the 1600E to the 1100 Export with its less-than-potent engine and steering column gear change. Finally, have a Cortina Mk.2 co-star twice with Michael Caine in Billion Dollar Brain and Get Carter…
In 1966 the Hillman Hunter was regarded as both a worthy replacement for the Hillman Super Minx and a slightly more sophisticated alternative to the Ford Cortina Mk.2 with its smooth five bearing engines. The problem facing dealers was that Rootes, and subsequently Chrysler UK, could not afford to update the Hunter in the same fashion as its Dagenham rival. By the time European production ended in 1979 it looked about as contemporary as Freddie & The Dreamers but the Hillman’s real legacy is with the Paykan, the model assembled and subsequently manufactured in Iran. Indeed, production is apparently to recommence in Sudan.
It had long been the goal of Colin Chapman to build a compact mid-engine sports car and the Lotus Europa was the first ever Lotus with this engine configuration. The ‘bread van’ styling was certainly distinctive and the GRP body was a single mould that was resin-bonded to a steel- chassis. Power was from a tuned 1,470cc unit sourced from the Renault 16, one that was rotated by 180 degrees. The first generation Europa was not the most luxurious of cars – the equipment list included fixed front seats and non-opening side windows – but a weight of just 1,350lbs meant that the top speed was 116 mph. Alas, the Series 1 models were destined for ‘export only.
To consider just how advanced £6,017 10s 10d worth of Jensen FF was in terms of cars per se, let alone grand tourers, remember that it was fitted with a Ferguson 4WD to make the first ever standard car with drive to both axles, resulting – to quote Autocar – in a vehicle with ‘almost unlimited traction’. Furthermore, the FF was also equipped with Dunlop’s Maxaret anti-lock braking system and was capable of a top speed of 130 mph. And then bear in mind that in 1966 there were many households with neither a fridge nor TV and that steam trains were still in regular use…
Audi 80 F103
The original Audi 80 had a complicated gestation – the body was that of the 1963-1966 two-stroke DKW F102 but fitted with a four-stroke, 4-cylnder engine and developed under the auspices of the parent company Daimler-Benz before the Auto Union was sold to VW in 1964. This may sound like the plot of an early Le Carre novel and just to make matters even more interesting, for many years Audi was used as a marque name- ‘Auto Union Audi’. However, the 80 was one of the cars that established the template for the brand’s future success as well as interesting VW in the potential of front-wheel drive.
Alfa Romeo ‘Duetto’ Spider
The Alfa Romeo ‘Duetto’ Spider was the last project in which Battista Pininfarina himself was involved and will forever be associated with the 1967 film The Graduate. The design had overtones of the 1955 'Super Flow Disco Volante and was very similar to the 1961 Spider Speciale 2 Posti Aerodinamico’ that Alfa Romeo could not afford to put into production. The engine was a 1,570 cc twin cam unit and import duties raised the UK to E-Type levels but not a few Alfa drivers believed that the Spider was worth it. As for Benjamin Braddock, he is probably now a retired director of a plastics manufacturer.
Toyota Corolla E10
In October of 1966, who would have guessed that the Corolla nameplate would eventually adorn over 40 million cars? The latest small Toyota certainly looked smart and was certainly well-appointed – the De Luxe had a radio with electric ariel, reclining seats and a cigarette lighter as standard - but it was not nearly as technically ambitious as the BMC 1100. But it was because it was simple to maintain, easy to drive and fully equipped that the Corolla succeeded globally with motorists to whom dependability was more important than innovation. Indeed, as early as 1967 Motor magazine was calling it a ‘Japanese winner’.
Nissan Sunny B10
The Corolla’s fiercest rival predates it by two months and was devised to fill an important marketing need. As the Bluebird progressively grew, Nissan required of a new small car for its all-important export markets, and the Sunny was the ideal solution. The body looked contemporary although if some of its engineering was positively antique -transverse leaf spring front suspension was dated even in 1966 – and the 998cc engine was smooth revving and came with an alloy head. N.B. The ‘Sunny’ name was chosen from a poll of the general public as Nissan believed that it reflected the car’s ‘bright, lively and youthful’ image.
What’s your favourite car launched in 1966? Tell us below!