Top 10 American concept cars of 1960s

Top 10 American concept cars of 1960s

We've presented Larry's picks for the best American concept cars of the 1950s, so here are his favorites from the '60s

(Editor’s note: We publish only those photographs to which we own or have obtained rights to publish from the copyright owners. However, we are including links to online images of the other the other vehicles mentioned in this article.)

This is another part in our series on my favorite concept cars. Today I share my favorite American concept vehicles from the 1960s.

1962 GM Runabout | GM photo

10. 1964 GM Runabout

Shown at the 1964 General Motors Futurama show, the Runabout was a compact, three-wheeled car designed for shopping and short-distance commuting. Among the cars features were a sliding roof to ease egress and a shopping cart that rolled right into a wide slot in the rear section of the vehicle.

9. Ford Gyron

The Gyron was so wacky you have to love it. The Gyron not only had just two seats, it had only two wheels and would depend on some sort of gyroscopic devise to maintain balance. Should such a system work, the car could bank itself like a motorcycle through turns. The design included small and retractable auxiliary wheels so the car could be parked.

8. 1962 Ford Seattle-ite XXI


Oh, those wacky folks from Ford. The Seattle-ite XXI was built for the Seattle World’s Fair and was a six-wheeler, with double axles up front, which someone thought would help with steering, traction and braking by having four wheels do the usual work of two. The vehicle’s other unusual feature was its plug-and-play power units, ranging from regular gasoline engines to gas turbines or even a nuclear generator.

7. 1969 Chrysler Concept 70X


This large sedan was noteworthy because of its doors. On the passenger side was one large door that slid open much like the doors coming later on modern minivans. On the driver’s side, there were two doors that opened on special parallelogram hinges and thus opened parallel to the side of the vehicle. Safety was the design theme, and the rear-view mirror included a traffic proximity warning system.

6. 1961-62 Chrysler Turbine


1963 Chrysler Turbine | FCA photo

Chrysler actually built 50 of these vehicles and put them into private hands on public roads. The cars were powered by aircraft-style gas turbine engines. The idea was to show the practicality of an alternative to the internal-combustion piston-driven engine. The 50 cars were driven more than a million miles and the surviving cars have become prized by collectors.

5. 1966 Corvair Monza

Take your basic albeit souped-up Chevrolet Corvair but give it a very European exotic-car body and you have the Monza, which appeared in two forms, SS and GT. The GT had a canopy-style roof that hinged forward to provide access to the passenger compartment. The entire rear section of the car was hinged at the rear to provide access to the engine. The SS was an open roadster with a very short windshield only on the drivers side.

4. 1967 and 1969 Astro

GM Astro III | GM photo

General Motors did a series of Astro concepts from 1967-69. Each was a low-slung sports car. Astro I and II were unveiled in 1967. Astro I was less than a yard tall, had no doors — the rear-hinged rear deck extended over the passenger compartment — and the driver had a rear-view mirror mounted in the roof to see what was behind. Astro II was slightly more conventional in its design, though it had a V8 engine instead of an air-cooled six. Astro III followed in 1969 and was very unusual in its architecture with three wheels, one in front to steer and two in the rear set into side pod fenders hanging on either side of an aircraft fuselage that housed an aircraft-style gas turbine engine.

3. 1962 Ford Mustang


1962 Ford Mustang | Ford photo

Though not as stylish as the subsequent 1962 Cougar 406, 1963 Cougar II or 1965 XP Bordinat Cobra, the 1962 Mustang concept was more significant: It made its public debut at the 1962 U.S. Grand Prix race with Dan Gurney driving it around the Watkins Glen racetrack. The two-seat, rear-engine roadster was designed to be the road-going version of the Ford GT40 racecar. While the car didn’t make it into production, its name was used for a 1964½ model that enjoyed some measure of success.

2. 1960 Plymouth XNR

Plymouth XNR | Larry Edsall photo

How delightful that this car’s name, XNR, was made up of the consonants from the last name of Chrysler’s brilliant design director, Virgil Exner! XNR the car was a sleek sports machine and would have been Chrysler’s answer to the Corvette had it gone into production. The car’s most notable design feature was a tall tailfin that emerged from behind the driver and also served as a rollover bar. Perhaps less noticeable at first glance was the fact that while the car could seat two people, it was designed primarily for solo driving, with a wraparound windshield that protected only the driver’s side of the vehicle. Another nice feature was a leather case-style glove compartment that could be removed and used as a shoulder bag.

1. 1965 Chevrolet Mako Shark

1961 Chevrolet Mako Shark

Chevrolet did two Mako Shark concepts in the mid-1960s. Each was basically a restyled Corvette. The ’65 Shark II gets my vote as No. 1 for the decade not because it was actually the most interesting concept car of the period, but because I was a senior in high school when I saw it at the Chicago Auto Show and fell in love with the shark-like shape and especially its shark-style paint job that was almost white along the rocker panels but then turned very dark gray and almost pure black by the time you got to the roof.

Postscript

I’ve heard this story more than once, including from people who were on the design staff at the time, and hope it is true, because it is delightful:

When the design staff at GM was working on the Mako Shark, their boss, Bill Mitchell, insisted that the car be painted in the same shading as the shark he’d caught in Florida and that was hanging on the wall of his office. Try as they did, Mitchell kept telling them that car’s colors weren’t quite right and to paint the car yet again.

Finally, they found a solution: One night they snuck into his office and repainted the shark so it matched the car.

The next time Mitchell inspected the car and compared it to his shark, he saw how they matched and congratulated the staff on finally getting it right.

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2 Comments

  • John Spoli
    November 9, 2017, 12:28 PM

    Great article. Are these concept cars for sale? How would you find one?
    One mistake. Title 1. 1965 Chevrolet Mako Shark – Picture 1961 Chevrolet Mako Shark

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  • Larry Edsall
    November 9, 2017, 1:25 PM

    The cars are not for sale, at least not as far as I know. Those that survive likely are part of an automaker’s museum or may be in a private collection, although concept cars do go to auction from time to time. Just recently, a Ford concept for a contemporary Shelby Cobra as sold at a GAA sale.

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