Blog : 1967 and all that…

Fab and groovy man! 1967 will forever be remembered for the summer of love, for hippies and love-ins, the Torrey Canyon Disaster, Jimi Hendrix, Sergeant Pepper, pirate radio, Radio 1 and the Six Day War.

In Britain both homosexuality and abortion were de-criminalised – although, in the case of homosexuality, decades of criminalisation meant it took a long time for long held negative public attitudes to dissipate.

Calls for the legalisation of drugs

In those hedonistic times, the London-based liberal intelligentsia thought that cannabis was the next item on the agenda to be legalised. In July 1967, 64 public figures put their names to a two-page advertisement in The Times newspaper calling for cannabis to be made legal. It wasn’t and all the exercise seemed to do was to give the Police drug squad a list of probable users to work their way through…

If you believe the myth, everybody was on dope, LSD and pot while indulging in free love. Everybody seemed to want to go to San Francisco which was extolled as some sort of paradise.

British pop stars from London and Northern cities began wearing loud clothes and adopting ludicrous, laid-back American slang to keep up with the times.

And Britain led the way…

The Swinging Sixties were well and truly underway… in London. For all the talk of the dawn of a brave new world, the hippy movements cry of ‘turn on, tune in and drop out,’ the hippy lifestyle seemed to consist of not working, subsisting at the taxpayers’ cost and consuming illegal drugs.

The reality was that, away from a small area in the capital, it was business as usual in the provinces where Flower Power hardly permeated the daily grind. People had to earn a living to pay their way in the world, and they could not do this if they were incapacitated by illicit narcotics.

Pirate radio was outlawed, ostensibly because the pirates interfered with the signals of the emergency services, but perhaps because the ruling Labour Party resented unregulated radio in private hands. The creation of BBC Radio 1 acted as an establishment filter that purified the playlists of anything that might corrupt Britain’s youth in the years to come.

The cars that shaped a big year

For the British motor industry it was a year of recovery from the traumas of 1966 but, near the year’s end, the pound was devalued. Jaguar, with the resources of British Motor Holdings at its disposal, ploughed ahead with developing the XJ4 saloon while Rover, now part of the Leyland Motor Corporation, unveiled the now iconic GM-designed V8 in the P5B saloon.

In April 1967, British Motor Holdings announced a disastrous £7.5 million half-year loss and the Mk2 version of the Ford Cortina usurped the BMC ADO16 1100 as Britain’s best selling car. This sent the analysts scurrying to their typewriters to pronounce on what, in their view, was wrong with BMH and how they would rectify matters. By October, the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, was prodding BMH and Leyland to get together, with the Sir Donald Stokes-led truck makers as the favoured party.

We also saw the introduction of the FD-generation Vauxhall Victor. It was offered with engines up to 2.0 litres and boasted Americanised styling (long before the Ford Cortina MkIII) – that upped the game for family cars, setting the template for the 1970s repmobiles. Remember, this was one of the first cars with a cambelt instead of a chain for smoother running.

British Motor Holdings – on the mend?

One man who knew what was wrong with British Motor Holdings, and was actually doing something about it, was its Managing Director, Joe Edwards, and he spent 1967 reorganising the company and hiring skilled new people to revitalise the firm.

Probably the most important new car of the year was the 1300 version of the BMC ADO16. Other cars may have been newer and more exiting, but the larger-engined version of an established favourite was what the market wanted.

The year could be seen as a public relations battle between BMH and Leyland, with each firm competing to show investors, the Government and the City how they were getting their respective acts together. BMH suffered from strikes and financial problems while Leyland was profitable and the hawkish Lewis Whyte seemed to galvanise his colleagues on the Leyland board into thinking above their station and pushing hard for a merger that would favour their company.

So that was 1967, was it really 50 years ago?

Ian Nicholls
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  1. 1967 saw Vauxhall introduce the FD Victor, with engines up to 2 litres and Americanised styling, that upped the game for family cars. While not well remembered today, this was one of the first cars with a cam belt instead of a chain for smoother running, OHC engines and by 1969, a choice of engines and trim level from a very basic 1600 Super to the more luxurious Ventora with a powerful and refined 3.3 litre six. Quite an advanced and good looking car for the time with a spacious interior and being good to drive, the Victor sadly was let down by rust, which meant most had vanished by the end of the seventies, and persisting with an antiquated column gear change on basic models.

    • My friend’s dad had an FD Victor, precisely because of the column change. Before the days of people carriers, the family consisted of two parents and four children. One of the children sat in the middle of the bench front seat. Previously he had a Ford Zephyr, but Ford had decided the bench front seat had had its day.

  2. Meanwhile in Germany NSU unveiled the RO80 probably the most advanced car of the year if not the most reliable. Did really that much change outside London in 1967 or was it as John Lennon one said “A lot of people got dressed up” real change would come later.

    • Like the punk scene 10 years later, the hippy scene only appealed to a small minority and probably made no impact outside the big cities. However, some aspects of hippy culture like long hair and rock music became very popular by the end of the sixties and would persist until the late seventies.

    • Yes, and BMC unveiled the Austin 3 litre, which kind of encapsulates how far behind the curve they were getting by that point, particularly because it was then unobtainable by the public for about 12 months. Also, my October 1967 copy of Car magazine (which previews the 1967 Earls Court motorshow) tells me that other developments were Triumph’s first car with petrol injection was launched (the TR5) and Rover put the ex-Buick V8 into the P5 (but not yet the P6).

  3. I’ve still got good memories of 1967 (was 12 then). The Victor FD was indeed very modern at the time compared to BMC products and provided a model for various budgets (1.6, 2.0 & 3.3). It was featured in popular TV shows such as Randall & Hopkirk / Dept S, thus creating a promo slot.

    I felt more interested & excited about new car launches back then, than I do now… must be an age thing.

    • The Vauxhall Victor FD was one of those cars that looked good at the time, still looks good now, but only car anoraks and former owners seem to remember. Yet compared with a frumpy BMC Farina, overproportioned ADO 17, dull looking Hillman Hunter, what would you really want to look at on your drive? I think in styling terms for family cars, only the Mark 2 Cortina comes close in the late sixties, and that seemed to unsettle BMC at the time, becoming the best selling new car in 1967.
      Sad thing with the Victor due to poor rust protection and being virtually scrap value by the end of the seventies, they seemed to end up being destroyed in episodes of The Professionals regularly.

      • Ah, the FD Victor. I remember being driven to scout camp in one of those by a friend’s dad. It had overdrive ! and he was very adept at using it to help make some (in my young eyes) spectacular overtakes on the way to the Brecon Beacons.

        I can also remember my feelings of disappointment when Vauxhall replaced it far too soon with the very conservatively styled FE.

    • THe Victor FD modern? No way! The Victor was a simple and contemporary RWD saloon, nothing new in those, whereas BMC products were FWD by Issigonis and Alex Moulton interlinked suspension,

  4. Another significant car to be launched in 1967 was the Simca 1100.

    While never a big seller in the UK it was a big influence on European car design, I’m not sure if Simca was still sharing much with Fiat but the 128 shows a lot of similar thinking.

    VW used it as a starting point on the original Golf.

  5. The FD Victor was, to my eyes, one of the best looking family cars of the period. There’s a tenuous BMC connection too as Gerald Palmer had a hand in its engineering.

    Pedant Mode: the picture in the article shows the sporty FD VX4/90 model which wasn’t available in 1967 – introduced with the 1970 model year.

    • The VX 4/90 was the sporting Victor, being capable of over 100 mph, featuring a better equipped interior and overdrive on fourth. Quite a nice car, but the Chevrolet lookalike FE VX 4/90 was even better and went very quickly for the time. Also the ultimate Q Car in the FD range, the Ventora, looked very much like a Victor, but had the six cylinder engine from the Cresta that gave it effortless performance( to quote Vauxhall). Far more exciting than a stodgy 1800 cc Landcrab, even if this car was generally better rustproofed and better made.

      • Glenn is right. Also, That photo of the FD VX4/90 in this article is taken from a 1970 brochure titled “Return of the VX4/90” (I’ve still got a copy). In its brochures Vauxhall described the FD Ventora as “The lazy fireball” Obviously it wouldn’t be classed as a fireball these days!

        Great times…

      • In eighties traffic, my Ventora could overtake six cars at once – that’s what I call effortless – especially after a zMorris Minor, with an engine precisely one third the size!

  6. Not forgetting the Sunbeam Rapier Fastback launched in October 1967. In it’s day a very desirable sports coupe, few have survived.

  7. I have to admit that most of my favorite car designs were from around this time. I remember (aged 11) seeing a metallic green Sunbeam Rapier for the first time in the Summer of ’68 and thinking it gorgeous. Of course, I didn’t really appreciate that it was just a Hunter under the skin then, but to be honest the Hunter was a pretty effective car of the period anyway.
    Both the HB Viva and FD Victor were ahead of the curve in British styling terms; a pity we never got the FD Coupe though (VX4/90C ?). Incidentally, another little technical feature of the FD was bonded windscreens front and rear (no doubt, it being a new technique, there were some leaky ones).

  8. Mr Nicholls, sir your picture of 1300s in the field is of the later series of 1972 almost beyond its sell by date by then if I may be so pernickity! The celebration, for a celebration it is, of of The 1300 should be photographed with an example the mild facefift that the series received in 1967 with the slightly altered grilles and shorter “paired back” rear wing. It was a very successful upgrade sold well and continued to challenge Ford. They had sorted out most of the problems by then! Nowadays a leather seated 1974 Vanden Plas 1300 is a much prized classic if it hasn’t got rusty sub frames! Can the same be said of a Ford Fiesta?
    You also ignite an age old debate about just how much did the sixties change the world beyond the big cities. You can easily get into a divisive class discussion on rich hippy kids at college who didn’t need to earn a living but I think on a deeper level that the exposure of an out dated and out moded unchanged political and business ‘establishment’ was welcomed by all- city, town, suburb and country where a nagging dissatisfaction was felt and the picture of The Rover is a very well selected emotive one for it represented the establishment in question. And in The Rover is Harold Wilson, far too close with business for the likes of the working person!
    I think the film “Made in Dagenham” comes into its own here for change is in the air as the women demonstrate not just for equal pay not yet achieved interestingly, but as the wife of the Ford Executive Rosamind Pike almost screams out for a more equal life in not just pay and economics but in the social and cultural life as well. So something fairer like equal pay for women was trying to break through and so called lazy hippys were only a very small part of the exploding the media of a certain persuation to distract us!

    • 1969 saw the launch of a sitcom that was to become one of the most popular of the seventies and featured two women living independently of men and doing their own thing in a flat in Liverpool. While not as well remembered or repeated as much as other classic BBC sitcoms, The Liver Birds two female leads were effectively liberated women who lived their lives on their own terms, chopped and changed boyfriends and were very much of their time as women were starting to become more independent by the end of the sixties. Obviously Mary Whitehouse wasn’t amused, but Carla Lane’s sitcom mirrored the changes that were happening in young women’s lives.

    • Maybe there wasn’t a photo available of a 1967 ADO 16, but for the rest of the car’s life, the body remained almost unchanged, so a 1972 model is almost identical to a 1967 car. Also there’s something homely and friendly looking about these cars, unlike the Mark 1 Escort, which seemed to look nasty and cheap, and I always preferred these to Ford’s rival.

    • A well looked after ( dinitrol or equivalent, particularly in the crazy double firewall and the subframes) VdP 1300 is a true classic, the AP automatic in hot shift mode is great fun as well, just change the oil and filter frequently . That AP box is an engineering marvel.
      Also drive them properly, light on the right foot.

  9. 1967 was the beginning of the moral collapse of western civilisation.
    Drug use, divorce and the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure no matter what the cost to loved ones can be traced back to 1967.
    Nowadays we treat our partners like cars, to be used,
    exploited and then discarded when something better comes along.

  10. Surprised no one has mentioned the Cortina 1600 E, launched on the back of the enormous success of the Mark 2 which became the country’s best selling car in 1967. This was an attempt by Ford to produce a luxury saloon that was cheaper than a Rover and had similar performance, its 1600 cc giving the Cortina a very respectable top speed of almost 100 mph. Also the Cortina’s metallic paint, sports wheels, vinyl roof, wood and leather interior, six dial instrumentation and fitted radio made the car excellent value for money and created a market niche as no one else, except Humber with its 1725cc Sceptre, made a car like it.

    • Well spotted Glenn. I think the Corsair 2000E was launched at the same time? Although the Corsair was always the poor relation to the Cortina. Perhaps 1967 was the year of the Executive car, thought up by the clever marketing guys at Ford.
      From my recollection 1967 heralded the arrival of the must have vinyl roof. I wonder if they will ever make a comeback?

      • The Corsair was meant to slot in between the Cortina and the Zephyr, but since the Cortina 1600 E did most of what the Corsair could do and cost less, the Corsair became a bit pointless, even if it was quite a nice car. In 1970, when 2 litre engines were introduced on the Cortina, the Corsair was cancelled.
        Another notable event in 1967, Rootes was taken over completely by Chrysler and Humber was slimmed down to producing an upmarket version of the Hillman Hunter. However, the Sunbeam range was totally updated and its two seater sports cars replaced by the far more practical Rapier range of coupes.

        • Yes, the Corsair was deleted as the new MKIII Cortina’s were launched. I still have a Dinky model of a Corsair 2000E in silver with vinyl roof (surprisingly with 2 door body). Its successor would have been a Cortina 2000GXL

  11. As significant as the new cars introduced in 1967 many great (and some less great)British cars made their departure, many not being directly replaced, indicating a new era was dawning.Those include the Alvis 3-Litre, Austin A/110, Austin Healey 3000, Humber Hawk & Imperial, Rootes, Minx, Gazelle Sceptre & Rapier (all replaced by Arrow based models) and Vanden Plas Princess R.

    Rover only narrowly escaped the cull of large saloons by substituting the Buick V8 into the P5- whilst Ford’s introduction of the smaller Corsair & Cortina Executive models showed they know exactly what route the market was taking. And what about BMC? They introduced the Austin 3-Litre and MGC- which were about as 1967 as a crew-cut.

  12. Also in 1967, the 70 mph speed limit, introduced as a temporary measure in 1965, became permanent, although until 1974 this applied to single carriageways as well. On the subject of road safety, the first of the Clunk Click campaigns began to persuade people to wear seatbelts, which had recently become a compulsory fitting in new cars( it took another 16 years for seatbelt wearing to become compulsory and many motorists saw them as restrictive and unneccessary until they were involved in an accident where the belt would have helped them).

  13. As one who who was a young man starting out on a career into the motor trade, and living at least 90 miles from the great metropolis, my memories are somewhat different to Ian’s and some other comentators. Of course, London was the epicentre of the 60’s thing – the hair, clothes, free love, rebellious attitudes, mini- skirts etc but to dismiss the rest of the country from a significant influence and following of these fashions is in accurate, in my view. Away from London, lots of significant changes were going on and I’m not too sure the reference to all hippies sponging off the government is a little over-zealous as well. Away from London, the young we’re dressing just as differently, we had ’boutiques’, we had trendy bars with scantily clad girls dancing at lunchtimes, we had ‘beetle’ haircuts (the really long stuff came a little later) but more importantly than any of this, we were challenging our parents, the government – indeed, the establishment. However, it wasn’t new – the ‘Teddy Boys’ had done it all before – in the 50’s.
    By the time the 70’s came, the sexual revolution had certainly reached towns and cities across the country. Individuality was respected – the bland and mundane was outlawed. My dear father was a final inspector on the Triumph 2000 and was a British Leyland man through and through. I read Car magazine and extolled the virtues of the Renault 16, the Fiat 124 and the Simca’s. But this significant difference of opinion over cars was more to do with the ‘revolution’ than the cars. My dad was the establishment – an Austin Farina Cambridge if you will. To agree with him on this issue would be to let the establishment win.
    I was at Luton for the launch of the FD Victor – the response from the assembly when this beautiful shape was unveiled was amazing. We all thought we were being shown a ‘styling exercise’ and no one could say anything for a moment or two – then we all realised that this really was a new production model. Fantastic – I can remember the ‘buzz’ as if it was yesterday!
    I delivered them (and HB Viva’s, Crestas, Jags and Rovers) all over the UK for a year or so. I drove everywhere with the driver’s window fully down, my camel ‘car coat’ and my long hair and Sherlock pipe. Great days!
    For those who weren’t around as adults in the 60’s – never run away with the idea it was just about London. The revolution was bigger than that! Trust me, I was there!

    • For all only a small percentage of young people were full on hippies, the influence lasted well into the seventies with long hair, flared pants, brightly coloured shirts and skirts being popular for 10 years. OTOH there was a reaction against this among some working class youths who became skinheads, who aggressively despised anything to do with free love, hippies and rock music that they saw as middle class and weird.
      With regard to cars emerging in the late sixties, the standard of technology in something like a Mark 2 Cortina was light years ahead of the Prefect of the early part of the decade. Column mounted three speed gearboxes had given way to four on the floor with syncromesh on all gears, 100 mph was possible in sporting Cortinas( a Prefect would give up at 80), heaters were now standard and refinement and driving pleasure was vastly better.

  14. The Aston Martin DBS was also launched in ’67, as was the Chevy Camaro, a few million of which have been sold since.

  15. I know the Mini is taking centre stage on the BMC 1959-60 pages, but it was never seriously a car for a family, or someone who wanted to travel long distances in comfort, and for all I have massive respect for the car’s achievements, I think the British cars that appeared in the late sixties appeal to me far more. These really were cars that upped the game for a market that was demanding more from their cars and was becoming better off, surely a Cortina 1600 E with its 100 mph performance and Rover like interior would be more a far better drive than an 848 cc Mini on long journeys. Don’t also forget how much the Buick V8 made Rovers into Jaguar beaters, and Jaguar itself responded with the legendary XJ6, or the Vauxhall FD was light years ahead of its predecessor.

    • That’s right Glenn, British cars became progressively better in the late 60’s. I agree the FD series Vauxhalls improved in looks & performance. My Dad had an FC VX4/90 (lovely car) and I expected him to replace it with an FD Victor or VX4/90. But he bought a Mazda RX4 Coupe instead… also a nice car. The 1970s were a time of in-roads by Japanese Manufacturers.

      • In the late sixties, Japanese cars sold in penny numbers and some like the Honda N600 were dreadful, Which referring to it as the worst car they had ever tested and made it a don’t buy. Also memories of the war made many buyers hostile to Japanese cars. Yet the few who did make the trip to their local Datsun or Toyota dealer found they could buy an ADO16 sized car for a fair bit less, the car came with equipment like radios and lighters as standard, and if they did decide to buy, the car turned out to be totally reliable. Word gtadually got out these cars were reliable and in a village in Cumbria, where the only dealer was a Datsun man, who took on the franchise in 1969, the village became known as Datsun City as there were so many of them. by 1972

      • The RX4 was quite a leftfield choice! It seems strange looking back how many Rotary engined cars they offered,

        • At one time it looked like rotaries were going to be must more common, until the realities of high oil prices made them uneconomic for anything but high performance engines, as well as the problems with tip wear which bankrupted NSU.

          I guess Mazda were hoping to get ahead of the market by having most of their range fitted with both rotary & conventional engines in the same bodyshells.

          Mercedes, Citroen & GM all experimented with rotaries but never got to full production, with Citroen recalling back the few Wankel equipped GS’s that were sold.

  16. Yes the first imported Honda Accords were much better than Honda’s first offering. My brother owned two and my Dad had a 1985 version. All well built cars. Their previous cars were Datsuns. My first Datsun was a ’79 Cherry N10… well equipped for its time and an easier way to buy my first brand new car.

    • Honda gradually became known as a more upmarket alternative to a Nissan Datsun, as the finish was better, the interiors more upmarket and the cars better looking, while offering the same reliability and value for money. Also Mitsubishi in the early eighties became known for making cars that were loaded with equipment( aircon and cruise control being available on the Galant), were good to drive and being almost unbreakable. It did seem the Japanese, like everyone else, had developed a heirarchy with their cars.

  17. @maestrowoff… Yes the RX4 saloon and coupe were rare and so was the 929 4 cylinder engines. The dealer that sold my Dad’s Mazda coupe had 3 in stock – red, lemon and white. He opted for the white one. He never had any trouble with the rotary engine, though admittedly it was heavy on fuel. He wasn’t a high mileage driver though.

    I still have photos of that car

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