Cars of 1962
Besides the lovely 1962 Chevrolet Impala I imagine myself driving across the country on Roadtrip-'62 ™, there were many other great cars built that year. Ford created an experimental version of their famous Mustang, which would hit the streets as a production nameplate in 1965. But the car’s official introduction was at the race course at Watkins Glen, New York in October 1962, during the United States Grand Prix. There were also many cars from that year you may never have heard about, but I’m here today to remedy that situation with some stories, photos, and videos of some of the more obscure cars of 1962.
First up is a General Motors product, the 1962 Chevrolet Corvair 95 Rampside Pickup. The entire Corvair line was GM’s attempt to compete with the Volkswagen, which had been growing in popularity ever since its post-war introduction to the United States. Ford, Chrysler, and Studebaker all also introduced compact cars in the late 1950s, but only the Corvair line copied some of the truly different features of the Volkswagen, including a 4-cylinder, air-cooled, rear engine. It was also produced in various configurations from small car through bus-shaped wagon, and even light trucks. All were slightly larger than their Volkswagen counterparts and had larger engines, to attract American buyers used to both. The Rampside was one of two pickups in the line and featured a truly unique side ramp in addition to the traditional pickup tailgate. Because the regular payload floor was raised to accommodate the engine underneath, it was more difficult to access than standard pickups. But the side ramp meant you could walk right up, or even roll equipment into the truck! The Rampside was a favorite of the Bell Telephone Company, because of the ease of loading and unloading cable drums. I think it would also be great for lawn care companies to load a couple of standard walk-behind mowers. Rubber trim on the edge kept the paint from being scratched when the ramp was lowered to the pavement. The Rampside sold well at the start, with production totaling 13,262, but in 1962 sales slumped to just 4,471. Sales of this unique vehicle continued downward until the pickup was discontinued in 1965. But while it lasted, it was popular enough that Structo, a maker of heavy steel outdoor toys, made a version so every kid could play with a Rampside in their sandbox!
Speaking of small cars, the World’s Smallest Car was introduced in 1962, in the United Kingdom. The Peel P50 was only 54″ long and 41″ wide and had only three wheels. It was strictly a one-passenger vehicle and was even advertised as capable of seating "one adult and a shopping bag". The P50 also had only one door, one headlight and no reverse gear. It weighed so little that you could pick it up by a handle at the rear and reposition it when you needed to turn around! It was invented by the Peel Engineering Company’s owner Cyril Cannell. His quest was to design an ultra-compact, capable of travelling at 40 mph while seating one adult and his briefcase. The engine was a DKW (Dampf-Kraft-Wagen) German engine, suitable for a moped. The Peel P50 ended production in 1964, but the company resurrected it in 2010, with some improvements. Today’s model includes a reverse gear, fully independent suspension, all wheel braking, and comes with either a 49cc, four-stroke gasoline engine or an all-electric model with gelled-electrolyte batteries. The top speed of either model is about 28 mph. It is street legal in the United Kingdom and European Union and classified as a motorcycle in the United States. And it’s still light enough that you can pick one end up and roll it like luggage…right into your office…to save on parking fees.
Test track video of Chrysler’s 1962 Gas Turbine Car.
Not all the unusual cars of 1962 were compacts, as Chrysler’s Gas Turbine Car shows. This was somewhat experimental, as only 55 examples were built between 1962 and 1964. Only nine remain intact today; all the rest were crushed after the experiment was over. A few are in museums and some in private collections: Jay Leno owns one. One that still runs was at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum, but that closed at the end of 2016. The vehicle collection is still owned by Fiat Chrysler America, but no longer on display. These turbine cars captured the spirit of the Space Age, with what sounded like a jet engine under the hood. The body was designed by Italian automobile builder Ghia, making it a rather handsome car for the period.
While unusual, it was not the first or only turbine engine car. General Motors had experimented with a Firebird III Gas Turbine Car in 1956. But probably the most famous turbine engine car is the Batmobile used on the TV series “Batman”. The show debuted in 1965, just after the end of Chrysler’s experiment with turbines. George Barris’ customizing firm created the Batmobile, using a 1955 Lincoln Futura one-of-a-kind concept car from the Ford Motor Company as his base. This car was constructed for Ford at the Ghia Body Works in Turin, Italy. It made its public debut in pearlescent Frost-Blue white paint in the 1955 Chicago Auto Show. And was next seen in 1959, sporting a fresh red paint job, in the movie “It Started with a Kiss”. In just three weeks in 1965, Barris’ team turned it into the iconic Batmobile, complete with the flaming rear exhaust.
1962 El Tiburon “Shark” Roadster, presented by its owner, Geoff Hacker.
More unusual than either the P50 or a gas turbine engine was the 1962 El Tiburon “Shark” Roadster. The name is based on the Spanish word for shark. Only about six are known to have been produced and remarkably; two remain and one is fully restored. There is a report that a third body has been found. The Shark is built on a 1959 Renaut chasis, with a rear-mounted Renault 4CV engine. The Tiburon was one of several cars built by Henry Covington, who set out to prove that fast cars did not need big engines. He went the other way and reduced the weight, allowing small engines to power his need for speed. The Tiburon was also small; it boasted only a 82 inch wheelbase. All the fiberglass bodies were hand built by Covington and friend Glen Gums, who went on to found a fiberglass molding business. The current owner of the restored Shark is Geoff Hacker of Forgotten Fiberglass, who bought it used 37 years ago, when he was only 18. Geoff specialises in fiberglass body cars and this was his first project. In an unusual twist of fate, the car’s creator Henry Covington died in 1962, and Geoff Hacker was born that year. Glenn almost lost possession of the car at one time, when he donated it to a museum, but the museum only kept it for 5 years and then gave it back. You may recall a more recent Tiburon automobile, because South Korean manufacturer Hyundai built a model with that name from 1996 to 2008, but the name is the only similarity.
And finally, what review of 1962 cars could be complete without mentioning a James Bond car? The 1962 Sunbeam Alpine Series II was used in the very first Bond film, “Dr. No”. The Sunbeams were one of Britain’s top pre-war nameplates, being multiple Grand Prix winners. But they never made much of a show in the United States, despite trying. The 1961 model was given fins specifically for the US market, designed by someone who had worked in Raymond Loewy's studios in the early 1950s. But this was just a fins were finished here. And the ride was almost large-car smooth, another design feature for the US market. Marketed as a sports car, the Alpine nonetheless had roll-up glass windows, luggage space, working heat and plenty of room. Motor Magazine noted that, “It belongs to a new breed of sports car which is weatherproof when required, but offers two people greater comfort than they would enjoy in many quite expensive touring cars." There were almost 20,000 Series II Alpines built by 1968 but they're not common today.
In “Dr. No”, James Bond drives a lake blue Alpine Series II Roadster as a rental car in Jamaica. The car’s most notable scene is where Bond drives it under a truck to escape from pursuing hit men. Of course, the pursuers are in a much taller vehicle, which hits the truck, resulting in a fiery crash! Though the car was reportedly borrowed from a local resident as the only suitable sports car available, in the Ian Fleming novel the movie is based on, a Sunbeam Alpine was the car used by Secret Service agent John Strangways.
There we are, but in case you haven’t had enough cool 1962 cars yet, here’s a bonus car that I previously wrote about on Roadtrip-'62 ™, the 1962 Studebaker Avanti. Keep coming back, and I’ll write about more cars in the future!
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2017 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.
All other content Copyright © 2017 - Milne Enterprises, Inc.