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           Sixties Transport           

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  The importance of personal transport increased dramatically during the Sixties, particularly the car. The industry saw a lot of streamlining and many of the independent companies of the 50s and early 60s had been swallowed up by conglomerate groups by the end of the decade. Britain's biggest major manufacturers of the decade were B.M.C. ( Austin-Healey, Austin, Morris, Riley, MG, Wolseley, Vanden Plas ), Rootes Group ( Hillman, Humber, Singer, Sunbeam ), Jaguar, Standard-Triumph, Ford, Rover / Land Rover, Vauxhall, Rolls-Royce / Bentley, Daimler and Aston Martin.

Smaller independents like Lotus and Jensen managed to survive as did most ( but not all ) of the producers of 'specialist' cars such as TVR, Reliant, Marcos, Ginetta, Gilbern, Morgan and Bond.
Heinkel bubble cars were being built under licence by the Trojan company.

'Classic' bubble cars included
the Isetta, the Heinkel
(built under licence by the Trojan company)
and the Messerschmitt (above).

  The most famous car of the Sixties was, without doubt, the Mini. Designed by Alec Issigonis, it was first seen on 26th August 1959 and was originally named the Austin Seven or the Morris Mini Minor depending on whether it was built at Longbridge or Cowley. Alec Issigonis became chief engineer and technical director at BMC in 1961, was awarded the CBE in 1964 and knighted in 1969. continued below...

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His brief was to produce a metal box with four wheels, no more than 10 feet long, to carry four adults in comfort along with their luggage. The factory foreman, Albert Green, assembled the first Mini - registration number 621 AOK - in just seven hours, in early 1959, at the Longbridge factory in Birmingham!
20,000 cars were produced in the first year and well over a million by the end of 1963. In all, more than 5.3 million of the 'original' have been built and it has been crowned the greatest European car of the 20th century by 132 motoring journalists from 32 countries, according to voting results announced on 19th December 1999, coming second only to the Model 'T' Ford in the global awards.

The other 'cult' car among the youth of the Sixties was the most popular car ever manufactured - the Volkswagen 'Beetle'. It was originally designed in the early Thirties by Ferdinand Porsche for the German motorcycle manufacturers NSU and Zundapp. The first prototypes were produced by Mercedes Benz in 1937. Because of the fuel shortage caused by the 1956 Suez crisis, the tendency had been towards smaller, more economical vehicles rather than the mighty gas-guzzlers of the Forties and Fifties. The slowing in sales of the large car market was one of the factors which resulted in Jaguar cars taking over the Daimler Motor Company on 19th June 1960. An even smaller means of transport, the Bubble Car, was popular for a time from the late Fifties onwards and is now seen as a cult icon of the early Sixties.

The Mini really took over from where these, mainly German, vehicles left off. Made by B.M.C. they cost around £500 and were very cheap to run, bringing the possibility of four-wheeled vehicle ownership to many for whom it had previously been financially beyond. The Mini re-wrote the rules about car design, being a front wheel drive car with a transverse-mounted engine, the four 10" wheels having independent suspension. Capable of 50 mpg it had a top speed of around 70mph.
It was extremely basic but its selling factor was price. Other manufacturers provided look-alikes such as the Wolseley Hornet, the Riley Elf and, of course, the Rootes manufactured Hillman Imp, but the Mini remained the most popular. Its price stayed remarkably stable throughout the Sixties, starting at £495 19s 0d in 1960 and still costing only £595 10s 0d in 1969. Not including the small, specialist companies, there were 38 'major' British car manufacturers in 1961!

British manufacturers enjoyed considerable sporting success in the Sixties, both in rallying and sports car racing. Mini Coopers finished 1-2-3 in the 1963 Monte Carlo Rally but were all disqualified for having illegal light-dipping systems - so much for cutting edge technology! Lord Nuffield, the creator of Morris cars, died on the 22nd August 1963 aged 84. The ultimate early Sixties four-wheeled success symbol was probably the sleek, sexy, elongated E-type Jaguar whose shape epitomised the modern streamlined designs of the new decade. The prototype, 9600 HP, had reached a maximum average speed of 150.4 m.p.h. over two runs during tests by driver Peter Riviere on a stretch of Belgian motorway between Antwerp and Herental.

This particular hand-built car had no wing mirrors, badge plates or bumper overriders and was fitted with perspex windows in the rear and tailgate to reduce weight. It also had a larger than standard roll bar to prevent it leaning too much when cornering at high speed. The test was carried out in Belgium because even though no speed limit had yet been introduced on Britain's only stretch of motorway between Rugby and London it was thought that there would be too much traffic around for safety.
It was first seen by the public at the Geneva Motor Show on 16th March 1961 and came in hard-top or open-top versions at a price of around £2100, with a 3.8 litre six cylinder 'S' type engine which developed 265 bhp allowing it to go from 0 to 100 in about 16 seconds. The last coloured E-type was a sable brown 1975 V12 5.3 litre convertible commissioned by Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons. Only 50 more were made after that, all of them in black.  

Of course, if you owned a car, you had to drive it somewhere........   Trafalgar Square - mid-60s     A20 traffic jam - late 60s

Some other 'classic' cars of the Sixties included, but were by no means limited to:

1960 -
Aston Martin DB4 GT

- Original-style Ford Capri and Consul Classic, Morris Oxford series 6, Austin A60 Cambridge, Hillman Super Minx,           Austin Westminster A110, Wolseley 6/110, MG Midget

1962 - Aston Martin DB4 Vantage, Ford Zodiac III, Consul Cortina, MGB 1967MCC, Triumph Spitfire, Morris 1100, Ford           Zephyr Mark III, Lotus Elan

1963 - Ford Anglia, Hillman Imp, Porsche 911, Vauxhall Viva, AC Cobra 289, TVR Griffith

1964 - Ford Mustang, Austin 1800, Mini Moke

1965 - Reliant Scimitar coupe, Vauxhall FC Victor, Ford Zephyr Executive, Hino 1300, Aston Martin DB6

1966 - MGCGT, Mark II Mini, Jensen FF and Interceptor, Ford Cortina Mark II, Lotus Europa,
Lamborghini Miura and Ferrari Dino 308 (both designed by Giuseppe 'Nuccio' Bertone), Hillman Hunter

1967 - DeTomaso Mangusta, NSU Ro80,
Sunbeam Rapier

1968 - Jaguar XJ6, Ford Escort and Corsair, Reliant Scimitar GTE, Morgan Plus 8, Colliday Chariot

1969 - Austin Maxi, New style Ford Capri, Aston Martin DBS, Datsun 240Z

During the Sixties, car production in the U.K. saw rapid growth, but was completely outstripped by the growth of the European industry as demonstrated by the following production figures:

United Kingdom 1.19 million 1.72 million (+45%)
France 1.13 million 2.17 million (+92%)
Germany 1.50 million 3.31 million (+121%)
Italy 0.471 million 1.48 million (+214%)
Sweden 0.096 million 0.243 million (+153%)

 From a vehicle ownership base of about 9.5 million in 1960, the British market had increased to about 15 million cars by the end of the Sixties. Manufacturing cost problems, not helped by the multitude of strike actions during the decade, caused many of the manufacturers to merge, or disappear. For instance: in September 1966 7,000 workers were laid off by B.M.C. who announced plans for 11,000 redundancies. The resulting strike closed all B.M.C. factories until November 11th when the redundancies became effective. This was just one of the actions taken by the busy trade unions during the decade - the full list is almost unbelievable. In fact, during the period September to November 1966 100,000 car workers were either idle or on short time working! The main movements between manufacturers culminated in a merger between the Leyland Motor Corporation and British Motor Holdings to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation on 17th January 1968. Click for car merger graphic


On two wheels, the Sixties saw the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers coming to the forefront, particularly Honda and Yamaha, with brand new machines and technology, where just a few years previously they had been copying British designs very closely. Although the British motorcycle industry had been in decline since the late fifties due to a combination of government incompetence and bad management, British machines still ruled the superbike end of the market for much of the decade but were being overtaken by Japanese technology and designs by the end of the Sixties.


Motorcycle production of the leading nations in 1969 was:

Germany: 52,568

England: 71,010

Italy: 580,000

Japan: 2,576,873

The major British manufacturers of the decade were Triumph, BSA and Norton who produced many classic machines such as:

Bonneville and Trident
and a smaller brother - the Triumph Tiger Cub

1959: The first T120 was developed from the T110 with a separate gearbox and twin carbs

1960/61: New duplex frame introduced

1963: New gearbox and unit construction engine. Frame produced with a single downtube

1964: Competition TT special built for the U.S. market only, with bigger carbs, 11:1 compression and a Lucas ignition system

1966: Smaller fuel tank, 12 volt electrics and fairing lugs fitted for police use

1968: 30mm Amal concentric carbs, new front frame and swinging arm, tls front brake and compression increased to 9:1

1969: Triumph Trident introduced, a 3-cylinder machine.

In 1962 the Joe Dudek streamliner with a 670cc T120 engine tuned by Johnson motors set an FIM approved world speed record of 224.57 mph. This was increased to 245.50 mph in 1966 by Bob Leppans Gyronaut X-1 streamliner running two pre-unit 650 engines. Triumph retained the speed record throughout the rest of the decade. Malcolm Uphill set the first 100 mph lap in the 1969 Isle of Man TT 750 production race on a 650 Bonneville, averaging 99.99 mph for the three lap course. He also did the Manx GP double in 1965 and won the 1969 Thruxton 500 mile endurance race on a Bonneville.

Lightning, Thunderbolt and Rocket


1962: The names Lightning and Thunderbolt first appear in BSA's American production catalogue

1963: Twin carb A65 Rocket launched in the U.K., called Thunderbolt Rocket in the U.S.A.

1964: Twin carb A65L Lightning introduced as competition to the Triumph Bonneville. A limited edition 'clubman' racing version was made between September 1964 and October 1965 with a close ratio gearbox, dropped handlebars and rearsets.

1965: The Thunderbolt, a single carb version of the Lightning, was introduced as a replacement for the A65 Star tourer.

The 1968 BSA Range Page 1  Page 2


Atlas and Commando


1962: Norton Atlas launched in the U.S.A.

1964: Norton Atlas launched in the U.K. in February

1967: Pre-production Commandos had sloping Atlas engines with an isolastic mounting

1968: First production Commandos appear in April, sporting a diaphragm clutch system

1969: The 'S' model is introduced, with high, left-side mounted exhaust pipes.
         The original model is renamed the 'Fastback'

The motorised Mod alternative to the motorcycle was the Italian-produced scooter which had much smaller wheels and, generally, engines, although race-tuned machines were surprisingly fast. The most popular and famous makes were Lambretta and Vespa, the Italian 'wasp' earning the nickname of 'hair dryer' due to the shape of its distinctive side panels which covered the engine.

The machines were a dream to customise, many sporting superbly artistic paint jobs and invariably adorned with an excess of mirrors, lights or other paraphernalia and were as much a fashion accessory or art form as a mode of transport.

For those in London with no motorised transport there was always the ubiquitous red bus. The most famous of these, the double-decker Routemaster, was designed for London Transport in 1959 by Douglas Scott ( who also designed telephone booths in 1963 ) and was destined to become one of the icons of Sixties London.

For paying passengers there were also the 'black cab' taxis and the London trolleybuses, the last of which ran on May 8th 1962. The first minicabs were launched in the capital by a company called Carline in Wimbledon on 6th March 1961.
Sixties City - 60s transport

The London Underground system has, of course, been there forever but in 1962 London's first new tube line since before the War was authorised.
It took five years to build the Victoria Line (between Walthamstow and Victoria).

If you wanted to travel free you could get yourself a space-age folding bicycle - the Moulton. It was originally designed in 1958 by Alex Moulton
but Raleigh, the major cycle manufacturer of the period, were not interested. Moulton continued to produce the machine and it became almost a fashion accessory in the built-up city areas by the mid-sixties until Raleigh realised their error and took the company over in 1967.
Raleigh also produced a moped - the Raleigh 'Wisp' - a bicycle with an engine of sorts.
Building the Victoria Line


All Original Material
SixtiesCity 2008