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Golden Age of Sports Cars

Throughout the 1960s, American manufacturers created some of historyís most memorable sports cars. Sports cars are certainly a global phenomenon, but during the 1960s, the United States truly made its mark on the industry. From the small traditional sports cars of the early 60s to the muscle cars from late in the decade, the 1960s were certainly the Golden Age for American Sports cars.

Many examples of superior sports cars can be found when looking over the output of Detroit automakers during the 1960s. Three, however, still stand out as true sports car classics and awesome exemplars of one of the most productive sports car production eras in history:

1961 Ford Thunderbird

Ford Motor Company launched its Thunderbird line in 1955. The small sports car, often available as a convertible, gained instant recognition and solid following among sports car enthusiasts.

After several years, Ford opted to update and redesign its popular sports car entry. In 1961 the Thunderbird boasted an all-new body design featuring a more pointed front end and the addition of small fins about above its trademark round taillights. Four headlights were the norm and in non-convertible models the top was modified slightly.

The outside of the Thunderbird wasnít the only part of the vehicle to be changed. Inside, a curving dash was installed as well as a new innovation, the swing-away steering column.

In addition to the design changes, there were real mechanical improvements, as well. A 390 c.i. V8 engine completed the Thunderbird package. The new power plant was capable of producing nearly 350 hp.

The 1961 Thunderbird helped usher in the 1960s sports car movement in America. These cars were the precursors to what would later be called muscle cars. They remained true to their traditional sports car routes while beginning to grow and to offer amenities not historically available in roadsters and other small vehicles.

1963 Corvette Stingray

The Corvette was Chevroletís entry into the sports car market. Originally a tiny, under performing two-seater, the Corvette morphed into a real competitor for the Thunderbird with the addition of a V8 engine and three speed manual transmission early in its run.

In 1963, Chevrolet again found itself having to take on a superior Thunderbird. The T-Birdís 1961 redesign left the Corvette slightly outdated and Chevy design teams felt a need to come up with something special. They did just that.

The 1963 Corvette Stingray featured a sleek new demand that pushed sales to record levels. In addition to the body changes, there were a series of mechanical upgrades, as well.

Automobile critics lauded the Corvette as an engineering wonder. For the first time, even the most European-biased sports car enthusiasts were compelled to admit the United States was producing truly world-class sports cars. The Stingray boasted a level of international credibility never-before bestowed on an American car.

1965 Impala SS

Chevrolet was not, however, content with maintaining only its Corvette line. The introduction of the Pontiac GTO and other high-performance larger sports cars led to the construction of the prototypical muscle car: the 1965 Impala SS.

Originally introduced as a premium car with mass appeal in the late 50s, by 1965, the Impala had been transformed into a performance marvel.

Nearly a quarter of a million 1965 Impalas were sold, in large measure due to the high-speed performance of the Chevrolet 396 c.i. big block engine.

The success of the 1965 Impala SS heralded the beginning of the muscle car era and is a prime example of fine American sports car developments in the 1960s.

These three cars are perfect examples of the products produced by U.S. automakers during the sports car crazed 1960s. All combined function and high-end performance into seamless packages and were well received both domestically and internationally.

The 1960s may very well represent the peak of U.S. creativity and design quality for sports cars. These three vehicles provide a wonderful overview of this great era in American sports car design.

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