Before those big SUVs, luxury trucks, minivans and muscle cars, the symbol of the American car industry were full-size sedans. For decades four-door sedans or hardtops were the most popular cars in America. In fact, every car manufacturer produced models in this category. Even today, four-doors are popular on the market despite the SUV invasion.
Here, Motor Junkie picked up the lineup of 20 best American sedans and hard tops from the 1960s. This decade was one of the most interesting in the American car industry since it marked the evolution of the car as an object. There was a significant change in the design, style and introduction of powerful engines and new technologies. Of course, the most important new class that appeared in the ’60s were muscle cars, but car manufacturers excelled in producing four-door sedans.
1. 1960 Chrysler
Chrysler had a great year in 1957 with successful designs and powerful engines. But, after that, the sales were declining mostly because of reports of poor quality and questionable styling. So, for 1960, the Chrysler engineers and designers tried to offer one of the best, most elegant sedans on the market. They offered it in three trim levels, the Saratoga, the Windsor and the New Yorker. The 1960 Chrysler featured a new engineering achievement they called unibody construction.
Back in the day, most new cars featured a classic body on frame construction. It was rugged but heavy and had a limited development potential. Chrysler was one of the first companies to introduce innovative solutions that became the industry standard. The prices started just above $3,000 and topped at $4,500 for the top of the line New Yorker models. Customers could get V8 engines with the power between 305 and 350 HP.
2. 1961 Lincoln Continental
Back in the late ’50s, Ford’s luxury division Lincoln was way behind Cadillac in sales numbers, popularity and style. Despite building big luxury cruisers with powerful engines, those late ’50s Lincolns just weren’t as nice looking as the Cadillac. Ford decided that had to change, so the 1961 Lincoln Continental was born. When Lincoln showed the new model, the automotive public was stunned.
The beautiful styling elegance, the conservative use of chrome, straight lines and futuristic design transformed the four-door luxury model into a work of modern art. All of a sudden, sales doubled and the new Continental became the official car of the White House because of its stately appearance and restrained elegance.
The best exterior feature was the suicide doors with the rear doors opening towards the traffic. This wasn’t the best solution, but it only added to the charm of the Continental. Interestingly, Lincoln offered a cool-looking four-door convertible model which proved to be popular and unique on the market.
3. 1961 Pontiac Tempest
In the early ’60s, all major U.S. car makes introduced compact models. Chevrolet had the Corvair, Ford had the Falcon, Plymouth had the Valiant and Pontiac presented the Tempest. In most cases, those compact models were just smaller versions of bigger cars, sharing design cues and mechanicals. But Pontiac went a different route and presented one of the most advanced, most interesting American cars of the era.
The new Tempest had an independent suspension all around in a time when all cars used a live rear axle. It also featured an economical four-cylinder engine that was a cut down V8 when all competitors had six cylinders. The most interesting thing is the Tempest used a rear mounted gearbox in the transaxle design, which is something unheard of at the time.
Also, the Tempest didn’t have a conventional driveshaft that connected the engine in the front with the transmission in the back. Instead, it used a torque tube with the cable inside. This layout gave the little Tempest the ideal weight distribution and handling. It also had enough room for six passengers since there wasn’t any transmission tunnel in the cabin. Compared to the rest of the compact car field, the 1961 Pontiac Tempest was from another planet.
During its lifespan, Pontiac sold over 200,000 Tempests, making this model a solid success. But in 1964, the company introduced a bigger, more conventional Tempest. Despite its revolutionary mechanics, perfect driving dynamics and some motorsport success, the first-generation Tempest is only remembered by diehard Pontiac fans today. Car fans rarely see it in car shows and the parts are scarce.
4. 1962 to 64 Chevrolet Impala
Chevrolet has always battled Ford in the full-size sedan market. So, in 1962 they took a gamble by introducing an elegant generation of the Impala, parting from the design standards of the day. Like the 1961 Lincoln Continental, the 1962 to 64 Impala had a restrained, elegant styling with straight lines. It also had its signature six tail lights in the back and four headlights in the front.
Chevrolet wanted to dominate the extremely lucrative full-size sedan market, so they equipped the Impala with everything they had. The new model featured five body styles and six engines, including six and eight-cylinder motors. Customers had three transmission choices and a long list of optional equipment. There was also one influential and innovative version: the Impala SS, although available only in two-door and convertible form.
Chevy first introduced it in 1961 and the Impala SS returned in 1962 in a new body style. It also had the same engine: the mighty 409 V8 with up to 409 HP. The car and the engine itself proved to be so iconic, the Beach Boys even had a hit single with the song, 409.
Today, the 1962 to 64 Impala is a popular car since Chevy produced them in large quantities. Car fans consider it to be one of the best generations of the Impala ever. During its three-year span, the design endured subtle changes without affecting the elegance and classic proportions of this timeless model.
5. 1963 Mercury Monterey Breezeway
Although Mercury is now gone, for decades it was Ford’s affordable luxury division. They placed Mercury between their inexpensive Ford products and high-class Lincolns. During the 60’s, this brand offered class and style for reasonable prices, making it a formidable opponent to Oldsmobile, Buick and Chrysler. Learning from the Continental, Mercury decided to offer something new to customers, hoping to raise the sales numbers.
So, in 1963, they introduced the innovative, interesting Breezeway option as their top model. Mercury used a reverse C pillar design for the concave profile of the car and a retractable tilted rear glass window. It was an innovative solution resulting in more space in the interior and a cool design.
However, it proved to be somewhat of an impractical feature since the passengers could smell the exhaust fumes at low speeds. Mercury kept the Breezeway option for selected models up to the 1968 model year when they retired it. Despite being not so popular or influential, the Breezeway still is one of the coolest U.S. sedans of the 60’s.