Best 1960's Cars

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A list of the best cars of the 1960s is likely to create quite a discussion, but we decided to offer our choice for the best cars of the decade.

The best cars of the 1960s are:

  • 1963 Corvette Stingray
  • 1965 Ford Mustang
  • 1961 Jaguar XK-E
  • 1962 Chevy Impala
  • 1964 Pontiac GTO
  • 1968 VW Beetle
  • 1960 Mini 850

While the sixties will be remembered for British rock and roll, war protests, and a man on the moon, it was also a decade of immense progress on the automotive front. Americans were pushing the limits regarding speed and performance, and automakers were more than happy to oblige by offering immense big-block power with larger engines. A growing segment of young buyers were entering the market, more than willing to spend serious money on transportation. The muscle car, fast British sports cars, and even some of the most iconic cars on the planet were all a part of the era. What are the best cars of the 1960s? Let’s take a moment to examine these offerings.

Table of Contents


What Are The Best 1960s Cars?

There are many choices to make the list of the best cars of the sixties, and we know that any bonafide list will likely make some folks angry. We wanted to pick cars that were influential in some way to the automotive industry.

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
1963 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Even though the Corvette had been around since the 50s, the C2 presented a radical redesign. The sports car was a feast for the eyes, with its stylish, sleek lines and fast speed. The sports car was lightened with fiberglass for improved acceleration, and while the same engines were used, better weight distribution helped improve both handling and takeoff.

With a new suspension, better shocks, air conditioning, and leather optional, the Stingray was dubbed the American version of “grace and elegance,” perfect for a Sunday drive or darting in and out of traffic.

The standard engine for the 21,513 units built that year was the 327 cid V8 which produced 250 hp (although some variants produced as much as 360 hp). While the top speed averaged around 140 mph, the car has a 0-60 mph time of close to six seconds. Combined with the four-speed manual gearbox, the sportscar began to turn heads.

Part of the appeal of the C2 Stingray was its affordability. At an MSRP of just over $4,037 for the convertible and $42,57 for the hardtop coupe, Americans could afford the luxury of a rear-wheel drive lightweight sports car. Demand was so great the first year that the St. Louis factory could not keep up, despite increasing production by over 50% from the previous year.

Today, the C2 Corvette is one of the most sought-after collectibles on the market. According to Hagerty, the base Corvette with a 327 cid V8 in good condition goes for close to $100,000. Recently, an excellent Stingray sold for $265,000 at auction. Either way, it’s not a bad return on investment.

  • The 1963 C2 Corvette Stingray was one of the first affordable sports cars made in America.
  • The rear-wheel drive car had blistering fast speed, beautiful lines, and improved handling over previous Corvettes.
  • The Stingray is considered one of the most beautiful cars ever made.

1965 Ford Mustang

1965 Ford Mustang
1965 Ford Mustang

When Ford debuted the Mustang in 1964, little did they know they would be beginning what would amount to the longest-running nameplate in their history. The Mustang has been around for ages, gone through various generations, and is now electrified. Still, it all began with a sleek, two-door “pony car” that would allow young Americans to enjoy the freedoms of the road as never before.

The original Mustangs shared many components of current Ford production models, like the Fairlane and Falcon, and Ford did this to help keep production costs down. While the early Mustangs had a standard 3.3L inline six that produced 120 hp, as well as three Challenger V8 engine options were available for the 1965 model year. Owners could designate their preference for the GT performance group, which added a heavy-duty suspension, red band or whitewall tires, fog lamps in the grille, and dual exhaust with chrome tips emerging from the back.

The lower production costs allowed Ford to help keep the price of the car down so that more Americans could afford it. The hardtop’s base price was around $2,467, and a couple hundred more if you chose the Fastback or the convertible. Initial Ford estimates thought about 100k of the pony car would be sold, but the sales eclipsed that mark within three months.

Iconic Mustangs like the one in Bullitt (1968) or the two early James Bond films, Goldfinger and Thunderball, with first-generation Mustang convertibles driven by Bond girls, would add to the appeal. Later versions were known for their unapologetic speed, such as when the ‘66 Carroll Shelby Cobra, which would reach 165 mph and set new speed records.

Today, an early Mustang is worth about $20k in good condition. However, many collectors love these cars not for the investment but for what the first Mustangs represented to American young people, namely, freedom for the open road. Even today, the Mustang name lives on, still charging down the American roadway with power and grace.

  • The new Mustang offered an affordable alternative to expensive sports cars of the day.
  • The Mustang would become an automotive legend, the longest-running nameplate in Ford history.
  • The Ford Mustang outsold its initial estimate in the first three months of production.

1961 Jaguar XKE-Type

1961 Jaguar XKE-Type
1961 Jaguar XKE-Type

Let’s jump over the Atlantic momentarily to take a gander at Jaguar E-type (XKE for the North American market). The Jaguar was a new concept for the sportscar market, designed by aerodynamics expert Malcolm Slayer. The lower front, long-nosed hood carried the engine, and the stout rear end provided such a low drag coefficient that the car became blazingly fast. It is rumored that on the first day of its production, Enzo Ferrari called it the “most beautiful car ever made,” even though that might be automotive folklore, it is evident that this British motor corporation was making an impact.

Initially, The XK-E was powered by a 3.8L XK inline six that produced 265 hp and powered the car to a 150 mph top speed. (The engine was upgraded in 1964 to a 4.6L inline six, which produced more torque). The car was fashioned with four-wheel disc brakes, rack and pinion steering, and independent suspension, all features that caused competitors to scramble to catch up. The interior was well-trimmed with leather seats, stylish round instrument gauges, and a racing-type, wood-trimmed steering wheel, creating a luxury that appealed to drivers. This car set the standard for many other sports cars in the 60s, including influencing the design C2 Corvette.

Today, a 1961 Jaguar Xk-E in good condition will sell for close to $200k, according to Hagerty.

While the value is only destined to grow, many Series 1 Jags are priceless treasures now collecting dust in classic car lovers’ garages.

  • The Jaguar XK-E was designed for the North American market
  • The top speed of the Jaguar was 150 mph with a 0-60 mph time of less than six seconds.
  • Jaguar developed many components that would become a part of other competitors' sports cars.

1962 Chevy Impala

1962 Chevy Impala
1962 Chevy Impala

No list of best cars in the sixties would be complete without the best-seller of the decade, the Chevy Impala. The Impala sold over 490k units in 1960 alone, and by the time the middle of the decade rolled around, over a million cars annually were rolling off the factory line. (Just to make sure people noticed, it also achieved the million mark the next year as well).

Our favorite Impala is the 1962 SS model. Many engine choices were available for the standard Impala, from the pedestrian 235 I6 to the hefty 409 Turbo-fire V8 that found their way into the SS models. (Yes, the 409 is the same one the Beach Boys sang about). The SS (Super Sport) model has specially designed aluminum side moldings giving the car a distinct appearance and helping to streamline the car to make it quicker down the track. The 409 was nothing to sneeze at, with a 5.8 second 0-60 time, and while its top speed was only 112 mph, many owners found ways to make their cars go much faster.

Part of the appeal of these cars is their posh interiors. Regular Impalas come with extra long armrests, finger-tip door releases, luxurious, rich nylon blend seating surfaces with ashtrays in the rear, and an electrical clock. The SS models featured bucket seats with vinyl trim, a horizontal speedometer nestled into an aluminum accented dash, and a two-spoke, oversized steering wheel. The Impala was available as a hardtop, convertible, or station wagon for families needing extra space.

The base price for a 1962 Impala was around $3,000, and today, Hagerty values the 1962 Impala SS 2-door Sport Coupe with a 409 engine at $43,800.

  • Many early 60s Impalas are part of the low-rider movement
  • 1962 Impala SS with a 409 cid V8 was fast enough to go 0-60 in 5.8 seconds
  • The 1962 Impala SS fostered the muscle car movement

1964 Pontiac GTO

1964 Pontiac GTO
1964 Pontiac GTO

The Pontiac GTO is a beast, end of discussion. The first GTO was an option package that Pontiac offered as part of the Tempest LeMans, but it soon morphed into its nameplate (1966). The GTO (labeled as G.O.A.T by car lovers everywhere) wasn’t the first time an automaker tried to stick an oversized engine into a mid-sized car, but it is probably the most successful. The GTO came with a 6.4L V8 that produced 325 hp and sped down the track 0-60 at 6.6 seconds.

While arguments could be made that the later sixties GTOs are better-built machines with more muscle, the ‘64 Pontiac started it all. At the time, it was the fastest production car ever built, forcing competitors to begin to place higher-powered engines into their cars. The GTO did what no other car had done before. It provided brute force in a mid-size car. The Pontiac GTO put the notion of sacrificing space for speed on its head by providing modern families the best of both worlds. For once, owners could have their cake and eat it, too.

The MSRP for the ‘64 GTO was a paltry $2,459 for the coupe and a few hundred dollars more for the hardtop or convertible. Sales figures exceeded expectations, with over 32,540 units being sold in the first year (initial estimates had only been around 5,000). Today, a good quality Pontiac Lemans GTO will fetch around $42k.

1968 VW Beetle

1968 VW Beetle
1968 VW Beetle

Many Americans discovered the VW beetle during the sixties and found the economical rear-engined Bug practical, fuel-efficient, and fun to drive. The popularity of the VW grew during the early and mid-sixties, and when 1968 rolled around, Volkswagen was prepared with significant safety improvements to comply with US regulations.

Most American-bought ‘68 VWs had a 1500 cc engine as standard, which produced only 53 horsepower. While that might not seem like much compared to the muscle cars of the day, the little Bug had more than enough oomph to motor its lightweight 1,700 lbs down the road with ease. (Disney would capitalize on America’s love affair with the bug when it introduced audiences to Herbie the Love Bug the same year. Watching a Volkswagen compete on the racing circuit gave many customers a thrill because they could relate to the peppy little car).

A semi-automatic transmission was available (you simply let off the gas pedal to shift. It was so easy that even Americans who couldn’t drive a clutch stick shift could drive this car). The engine was air-cooled, located in the rear, and looked like a little sewing machine when you opened the back lid. The trunk was located in the front of the car, and although it was barely big enough for a full-sized suitcase, it provided a large buffer zone that would crumple and protect the center cabin.

The interior of the 68 Bug included high-back bucket seats to meet headrest requirements from the government. The oversized steering wheel and cramped back seat made for decent storage space but were not built to accommodate adults at any time. The heater drew heat from the engine, but it rarely worked. The biggest plus of the Beetle was its excellent gas mileage (23 miles per gallon) and attractive price of around $1,700.

Today, a VW Bug is worth around $16,200 based on estimates from Hagerty. By 1968, more than 428k units were being sold in the US market alone, and for years it continued to be the number one import in America.

  • The VW Beetle symbolized the American counter-culture and the peace movement.
  • The VW Beetle had a 1500 cc motor that produced only 53 hp.
  • Many owners swapped the engine out and made dragsters and hotrods out of their VWs.

1960 Austin Mini

1960 Austin Mini
1960 Austin Mini

All right, we know everyone needs a Mini. But as much fun as they are, and while the Mini began its grand march toward automotive immortality in 1959, it was marketed in the US as the Austin 850 or Morris 850. When the unibody car that was barely 10 feet long appeared, the engineers put an 848 cc inline four-cylinder in the engine compartment sideways. In addition, they gave it 10-inch wheels and a boxy, ugly shape that made it look like a rolling breadbox. However, they didn’t minimize interior space, with owners pleasantly surprised by the room.

When the Mini started kicking butts on the racetrack, sales took off. (Many celebrities of the day were buying the car). During the early and mid-sixties, the public was treated to the power of the Mini as its small frame and lightweight propelled it down the track. By 1964, the Mini had won the Monte Carlo rally in ‘64, ‘65, and ‘67 (it should have won in ‘66, but the top three finishers, all Minis, were disqualified for the wrong-sized headlights).

Over the years, the Mini Cooper has continued to intrigue the hearts of Americans who wonder how so little a car can provide such significant returns. And while the square shape might not have the majestic flowing lines of many other cars, the Mini deserves its place in automotive lore. (Of course, the original $1,345 MSRP didn’t hurt, either).

Today, the 1960 Mini goes for around $14k. While the price might seem lower than it should be,  just know that a lot of them are floating around, which can affect the price of every individual model.