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Top American Concept Cars Of The 1960s

Vukasin HerbezJune 6, 2019

Even though most American automobile manufacturers presented wild concept cars in the ‘50s, the best decade for these creations was during the ‘60s. And that is because the ‘60s concept cars were far more realistic. In most cases, they were fully functional prototypes with working engines and real interiors. In fact, almost all the important U.S. concept cars from that era resulted in a production model in some shape or form.

And that is why most car fans and experts believe the ‘60s was the most influential concept car decade in American car history. So here is a list of the 15 most influential and famous concept cars from the decade. Although you may not recognize some cars on this list, nevertheless, they left their mark in automotive history.

Photo Credit: Car Styling

20. Cadillac La Salle XP-715 Concept

When you see this car, you might think it is a mistake and is instead, the Buick Riviera. However, this is not a Riviera, but a Cadillac 1961 concept they named the La Salle XP-715. Although Cadillac originally intended it to be a luxury coupe, they were almost finished with its development when GM decided to give the project to Buick.

Photo Credit: Car Styling

The main reason was that the Buick division was experiencing bad sales. They realized they needed an interesting model to draw people back to their showrooms. So the Cadillac La Salle XP-715 became the Buick Riviera and the rest is history.

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19. Ford Mustang I Concept

The Mustang I concept was a big deal when Ford introduced it in late 1962 as a fully-functional concept vehicle. Interestingly, this was the first time they used the Mustang name. And right from the start, it was clear that the public loved it. For Ford, creating a connection with the Wild West mythology was a great marketing gimmick.

Photo Credit: Vista Pointe

The Mustang I was a two-seater roadster with a rear-mounted V4 engine from Ford Europe. Also, it had a modern wedge-shaped body made out of aluminum. The original idea behind the concept was to develop a small sports car that could compete with European imports like the Triumph TR3 or the MG A. But despite the favorable reaction from car enthusiasts, Ford decided to go the other way.

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18. Chevrolet Astro II

Even though Chevrolet never called this concept the Corvette, everybody at the 1968 New York Auto Show knew it was a study of the next generation of America’s favorite sports car. In those days, Zora Arkus Duntov, a Chevrolet engineer, and Bill Mitchell, the head of GM design lobbied hard for the Corvette to go mid-engine. They knew it could achieve a better weight distribution and balance to improve its performance.

Photo Credit: Motor 1

The Astro II was one of the first in a long line of mid-engine Corvette concepts and for a while, it looked like Chevrolet would produce it. The concept was a fully functional prototype with a 390 HP big-block V8 engine they placed behind the passengers. It powered the rear wheels and gave the Astro II a convincing performance.

Photo Credit: Fly Mall

17. Cadillac XP 840 Eldorado

Although the Cadillac XP-840 Eldorado was extreme in its appearance, everybody knew they would never produce it. However, it paved the way for the legendary 1967 Eldorado as well as the future of Cadillac design.

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So if you look closely, you will see several design elements that Cadillac used in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

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16. Dodge Charger III

The success of the Charger-inspired the Chrysler designers to develop the idea of a Dodge performance model. The original Charger had power, performance, and countless racing wins. But it was still a big, heavy, and non-aerodynamic muscle machine. However, the 1968 Charger III concept was something quite different. The Charger III was no longer a muscle car, but a pure two-seater sports machine. It had compact dimensions, a low profile, a low weight, and several unusual features.

Photo Credit: Super Cars Net

For example, instead of conventional doors, the whole top of the car opened to allow access to the interior. Also, the steering column tilted along with the steering wheel to make entry more comfortable. On the back of the car, there were massive airbrakes. In fact, they were similar to the ones on airplanes that deploy under heavy braking. Unfortunately, since the whole car was extremely futuristic, it was doomed from real production.

Photo Credit: Motor Trend

15. Pontiac Banshee I

In the early ‘60s, people considered Pontiac to be a performance brand. And with the newly introduced GTO model, the muscle car and performance market was booming. However, the management of the company had bigger ambitions. So soon, they introduced a fully operational concept vehicle they named the Banshee.

Photo Credit: Auto Week

The Banshee I was first in the long line of Pontiac concept cars that influenced future production models. The first one to emerge in 1964 was extremely advanced with compact dimensions, a lightweight body, and a powerful engine. In fact, Pontiac conceived it as a “Mustang-killer.” But GM worried that a Pontiac sports coupe could affect Corvette sales, so they canceled the project.

Photo Credit: Net Car Show

14. Ford Mustang Mach I Concept

Ford presented this car at the 1966 Detroit car show. Immediately, it became one of the most interesting models even though it was just a prototype. The Mach I was the first sporty and muscle Mustang Ford released. Interestingly, it showcased a 1967 redesign with its sexy Fastback lines. However, Ford also chose a new name to use in 1969.

Photo Credit: Net Car Show

With a chopped roof, square headlights, Plexiglas side windows with racing-style cut-outs, cool wheels, and beautiful burgundy color, the Mach I was a muscle car Mustang at its finest. And soon, it captured the imagination of car enthusiasts all around the globe. Even today, the Mach I is one great-looking car.

Photo Credit: Motor Trend

13. Plymouth XNR

The 1960 XNR concept car was an interesting piece of machinery since it was the idea of the Plymouth Corvette fighter. Also, it was the pet project of the famous Chrysler designer, Virgil Exner. If you compare the name of the XNR with Exner’s last name, you will get the idea.

Photo Credit: Roanoke

Interestingly, the XNR was a rare car that utilized the idea of an asymmetric design with a heavy emphasis on the driver’s side of the vehicle. One most notable feature was the big fin behind the driver that Plymouth claimed improved the aerodynamics.

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12. Chevrolet Corvair Spyder Concept

Back in the early ‘60s, the Corvair was a hot car with its unique mechanical layout, turbocharged boxer engine, and cool looks. Despite the fact it didn’t have the performance that could threaten some sports cars, the Corvair still had potential. So, Chevrolet decided to introduce a Super Spider Concept to further explore the Corvair concept.

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The Super Spider had a shortened Corvair chassis, a different design, two seats, and a slightly upgraded engine. It also had racing wheels, a special paint job, and a race-style windshield. It looked amazing, attracting a lot of comments from motor show visitors. But unfortunately, Chevrolet never put it into serial production.

Photo Credit: Auto Week

11. Chevrolet Corvette Rondine

Back in 1963, Chevrolet Corvette Stingray stunned global automotive audiences with its fantastic design, sharp edges, split window feature, and brutal performance. It was the epitome of an American sports car at its finest. However, in Turin, Italy, the talented designers at Pininfarina thought they could do better. So, in cooperation with Chevrolet, they got the chance to prove themselves.

Photo Credit: Motor Authority

The result was the Corvette Rondine, a fully operational and usable concept car that debuted at the 1963 Paris Motor Show. Since the car was commissioned by Chevrolet, it graced the General Motors stand. They equipped it with the 327/360 V8 engine, a four-speed manual, and disc brakes. Despite the many pleas for production, this gorgeous car was a unique example of one of the most beautiful American cars with an Italian design.

Photo Credit: Mustang And Fords

10. Ford Mustang Mach II

The success of the Mustang production model gave the Ford designers a chance to explore the sports car concept in every direction. And as soon as the first redesign of the car appeared in 1967, Ford presented the Mach 2 concept. It was one of several cars with the Mach name that would later appear in regular production. However, the shape and layout were unique.

Photo Credit: Mustang And Fords

The Mach 2 was a two-seater sports car with a long hood and short rear end in a mid-engine configuration. The car resembled an affordable version of the GT40 race car and was stunning in red with Shelby-style alloy wheels. Unfortunately, Ford never produced the concept, so the Mach 2 only served as a car show item.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

9. Dodge Charger Concept

The Charger name first appeared at a 1964 car show. But, it was just a re-bodied Dodge Polara with a roadster look and powerful 426 Wedge engine. However, the name gained some attention. Due to the rising muscle car popularity and the Pontiac GTO grabbing all the headlines, Dodge knew they needed a new, exciting model to attract customers looking for exciting sporty models.

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As we all know, Dodge got the message, so in 1966, they presented the first Charger production model. Even though the production Charger and this 1964 concept didn’t have much in common in the design, the name survived, becoming legendary.

Photo Credit: Bang Shift

8. Chrysler Turbine

During the early ‘60s, Chrysler was heavily involved in turbine car testing. At the time, this kind of engine, similar to jet aircraft engines, made sense as the future of internal combustion engines. After extensive testing in laboratories and test tracks, there came a time when Chrysler needed valuable real-life data. So, they built 55 cars and sent them to the Ghia design house in Italy to get fancy hand-made bodies.

Photo Credit: Car And Driver

Then they gave the cars to random families they chose from all over America for them to use as regular cars for a time. The Chrysler Turbine was basically a concept car with an innovative power train. In fact, it was on the verge of becoming a fully-fledged production model. However, Chrysler decided to kill the project and destroyed almost all of these cars.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

7. Chevrolet Mako Shark

All over the world, people recognize the fantastic 1963 Corvette Stingray for its unique styling. But, where does it come from originally? Back in 1961, Chevrolet presented their Mako Shark Concept car. It was a roadster with all the important Corvette design cues and a special paint job that resembled a real shark.

Mako Shark - Chevrolet Corvette (C2)
Photo Credit: Super Car World

The legend says the designer, Harley Earl, got the idea when he was out on a shark fishing trip. Interestingly, he tortured the employees of the GM design department to match the color of the fish. However, the Mako Shark became one of the most sought-after concepts of the decade as well as a true design icon.

Photo Credit: Auto Classics

6. GM Runabout

The 1964 GM concept they named the Runabout may be forgotten but it was interesting for several reasons. First, it was quite different from the luxury, sports, and exotic cars that were common on the concept car circuit. In fact, it was the concept of an urban, affordable, small and modest runabout GM designed for shopping and short daily commutes.

Photo Credit: Car Styling

But most importantly, it came with several interesting solutions like a big rear hatch to accommodate a shopping cart. Nowadays, most car fans would love to see a modern version of this concept car make a return.

Photo Credit: Motor 1

5. AMC AMX/3

Everybody knows about the heroic Javelin and two-seater AMX muscle cars introduced in 1968. Encouraged by the success of Javelin and AMX, AMC management wanted to go further and attack the sports car market. They had the funds to do so but they didn`t have a starting point and very soon AMC hired renewed sports car creator and ex Ferrari engineer Giotto Bizzarrini and asked him to build them a modern sports car with a rear-engine, transaxle, and sleek body.

Photo Credit: Motor 1

Bizzarrini did what he was asked to and even more and the AMX/3 prototype was capable of 170 mph, had world-class handling, and sexy Italian styling. The power was provided by AMC`s 390 V8 engine with 340 HP. Despite the promising start, AMC realized that the finished product would cost somewhere around $12,000, significantly more than a similarly designed De Tomaso Pantera and almost double the price of the Corvette. Unfortunately but understandably, they decided to kill the fantastic AMX/3 after just 6 preproduction cars were built in 1969.

Photo Credit: Hemmings

4. Ford Cougar II Concept

In the early ’60s, Ford desperately wanted something to compete with Chevrolet’s Corvette and it looked like it found just the car for that task in 1963. With the help of the Italian Vignale design studio, Ford`s engineers produced a very interesting and elegant prototype called Cougar II. This car was built on Shelby Cobra chassis with a 260 V8 engine but featured a closed body, more luxury, better aerodynamics, and higher top speed.

Photo Credit: Car Styling

Unfortunately, Ford decided to kill the project and concentrate on Mustang and Shelby products. The downside of Cougar II was the fact that its production was more costly and it looked too much like the 1963 Corvette which Ford`s top brass wanted to avoid at all costs.

Photo Credit: Chrom Juwelen

3. 1962 Ford Avanti

Even though Ford didn’t call this car the Mustang, it was the first Mustang concept because it represented a small two-door coupe with a sporty design. In those days, Ford was developing the idea of such a vehicle, so their designers produced several sketches and full-size models. The marketing department didn’t come up with the name Mustang yet but the designers were sketching the future car in late 1961 and early 1962.

Photo Credit: Morsepal

The early design of the Avanti shows a cool-looking fastback with a rear-facing back seat that was a unique, rare design feature. Some of the early designs even featured a two-seat configuration. However, the initial idea was to produce a car that was a smaller, sportier version of the Thunderbird.

Photo Credit: Classic Auto Mall

2. 1964 Ford Mustang Sedan

For most of the concepts featured on this list, it’s a big shame they were absent from the big picture of the Mustang’s history, but not this one. Most car enthusiasts are glad they didn’t build this model. When Ford developed the Mustang in the early ’60s, they didn’t just make a new model, but also a new class on the market: pony cars. Since there were no pony cars before the Mustang, Ford development team went in several directions.

Photo Credit: Classic Auto Mall

And one of them was the Mustang in a four-door body style. The car looked good and retained all the classic Mustang lines and proportions. However, Ford realized it would cannibalize the sales of the Falcon since they based the Mustang on the same platform and with the same engines. The reason people are glad they didn’t build this Mustang is that the four-door model would have ruined the sporty appeal of the car. Also, it would have affected the success of the original model. A Mustang in a two-door coupe or convertible form was an exciting and youthful performance car. But a Mustang in four-door version would have become just another compact family sedan with no iconic appeal.

Photo Credit: Automobile Mag

1. 1968 Shelby EXP 500 Green Hornet

During the Mustang’s heyday, Ford and Shelby worked hard to explore the possibilities and limits of its platform and engineering. Although they produced several interesting prototypes, one of the most popular is the Green Hornet from 1968. Although it wasn’t the only car, the Green Hornet featured the most innovative features. It came with a 390 V8 with fuel injection, disc brakes on all four wheels, and an independent rear suspension. With this layout, the Green Hornet was a capable car that handled and stopped better than any other sports car on the market. Unfortunately, the cost of producing those features was too high, so Ford and Shelby decided to go with more conventional technology.

Photo Credit: Motor 1

However, the Green Hornet is one of the rare surviving cars from the era. Also, it is probably one of the most expensive Mustangs since Ford offered it at $1.8 million, which wasn’t enough. These cars were examples of mid-century futurism and the best American concept cars of the ’60s. While some concepts went on for use in future vehicle designs, others disappeared forever. So, which one would you like to see make a return for modern regular production?

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