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 1964 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.
6. 1965 Ford Galaxie
Like the Chevrolet Impala, the Ford Galaxie was the Blue Oval’s most important series. It featured high production numbers, lots of versions and a wide appeal. However, Ford seemed to be on the back of the design trend. They still offered heavily-chromed models with late 50’s styling cues in 1964.
So, for the 1965 model year, they introduced the all-new Galaxie with stacked headlights, fresh sheet metal, and more versions and options than ever. The most popular Galaxies were the base trim models like the Custom, but Ford also offered the Galaxie 500 LTD.
It was a luxury version featuring a vinyl roof and a selection of upscale details and creature comforts. For 1966 and 1967, Ford went one step further, transforming the Galaxie two-door into a muscle car with the high-powered 7-Litre model.
7. 1966 Pontiac Bonneville
The success of the GTO affected the whole Pontiac range. Suddenly, Pontiacs became sportier and more powerful and aggressive. Even the four-door sedans became performance machines. The biggest, most luxurious Bonneville is the best example. Pontiac restyled the Bonneville for 1965, but in 1966 the design matured.
The Bonneville evolved into an elegant, low, sleek form, which was perfect for this performance sedan. Bonneville came as a hardtop with Pontiac’s signature wide-track design, split grille and nine bolt wheels. Customers could get lots of optional equipment and powerful engines, too. The 389 V8 with 325 HP was standard, but you could also get a mighty 421 V8 with the famed Tri-Power option delivering 360 HP.
8. 1967 Ford Thunderbird
You’re probably wondering why the Ford Thunderbird is on this list of the best ’60s sedans. The T-Bird is a two-door coupe, but for a few years starting in 1967, Ford offered it as a four-door sedan. It came with Lincoln-style suicide rear doors. The success of the Mustang forced the Thunderbird to move upscale as a luxury car rather than a sporty coupe.
This change meant Ford had to attract a whole new sector of buyers looking for comfort. So, to do that, Ford had to offer a four-door alternative. They gave the Thunderbird the interesting four-door coupe variant.
Under the hood, the standard engine was 390 V8 but the buyers could opt for the mighty 428 V8. This 428 was a standard engine and not to be confused with 428 Cobra Jet which was reserved for Mustang and other muscle cars.
9. 1968 Imperial
Chrysler’s luxury division Imperial always offered a quality alternative to the Cadillac and Lincoln models. With powerful engines, plush interiors and upscale styling, Imperials were a good choice if you were looking for an exclusive sedan or a two-door coupe. However, by the late 60’s, it looked like the Imperial was losing the race against its competitors.
So, 1968 was the last year this brand featured a significantly different design than the rest of Chrysler’s lineup with its unique interior styling and appointments. In 1967, Imperial switched to the unibody construction in a cost-cutting measure from Chrysler. This didn’t affect the comfort, but it saved some money during production.
So for 1968, they made some slight changes to the Imperial, but no major changes to its mechanics. The 440 V8 was standard and delivered 350 HP. After 1968, Imperial continued to be the top of Chrysler’s model lineup, but it lost its exclusivity and uniqueness.
10. 1968 Cadillac DeVille
Back in the late ’60s, Cadillac was on top of its game. Their sales figures were high and their model lineup was full of interesting, luxurious cars. They had the new front wheel drive Eldorado, and their reputation was second to none. However, Cadillac was always improving its products.
So, in 1968 they introduced one of their best engines as the standard for all of their models. The new 472 V8 was the final piece of the puzzle. The Cadillac DeVille was the best luxury sedan of the late ’60s.
It had 375 HP under the hood and unmatched style and presence. Cadillac also improved the design they first introduced in 1965, adding stacked headlights and a big grille. Along with the new 472 V8, the 1967 Cadillac DeVille was the perfect luxury car.
11. 1968 Oldsmobile 98
Most car fans tend to forget how good and respected the Oldsmobile models were back in the day. This company, which is now unfortunately long gone, was one of General Motors most valuable brands in the ’60s. Oldsmobile models were always conservative in luxury but came at a reasonable price with high quality and powerful engines.
So, it is natural Oldsmobile had many good sedans, and the 98 was the top of the range. The Oldsmobile 98 was always the most popular Olds available. They had the power, style and luxury to rival even the Cadillacs.
But the 1968 Oldsmobile 98 was the best year since it featured a new design, numerous creature comforts and a big 455 Rocket engine. The power output of this big block was 365 HP, which guaranteed an impressive performance.
12. 1969 AMC Ambassador
AMC was an economy car manufacturer that produced inexpensive yet dull models. They also constantly flirted with bankruptcy. In the late ’60s, AMC was in one of their better periods with solid sales and a relatively big market share in the economy class. They offered some interesting, exciting cars like the Javelin and AMX.
So they decided to enter the full-size sedan market with a new for Ambassador for 1969. The new AMC Ambassador was one of AMCs better attempts to attract car consumer’s attention in 1969. It had new, improved styling, comfort and space.
It also had an air condition system as standard, which was a new, impressive feature by the standards of the day. The engine lineup started with the modest 283 straight six unit, but it went all the way up to the powerful 401 V8.
13. 1969 Dodge Polara
The full-size Chrysler models got a fantastic new styling for 1969 that affected all brands, from Dodge to Imperial. Dodge called the new design the “Fuselage Design.” It featured rounded sides, a longer, wider body and a more modern look. So, they redesigned the Dodge Polara for 1969, making it better than ever.
Under the hood, the engine lineup started with the venerable 225 slant six unit and it ended up with the well-known 440 V8 engine. Since they introduced the new Polara in the height of the muscle car popularity, the 440 V8 with 375 HP was a common choice.
Interestingly, a variety of law enforcement agencies bought the 440-powered Polaras for their ruggedness and power. In fact, there are still some retired officers who claim the 1969 Polara with the 440 engine was the best patrol car Detroit ever built.
14. 1969 Buick Wildcat
The Buick Wildcat is one of the most interesting yet almost forgotten models popular back in the day. Buick introduced the Wildcat back in 1963. The Wildcat was something between a personal luxury model and a muscle car. It featured restrained and elegant styling like the rest of Buick’s lineup.
But it also had powerful engines, a sporty trim and an impressive performance. In 1967, Buick offered the Wildcat as a four-door, boosting its appeal and improving sales numbers. For 1969, the Wildcat got a new look and a powerful new 455 V8 with 370 HP. This helped transform the Wildcat into a hidden performance car with room for six adults.
15. 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham
Even though most enthusiasts recognize the 1957 to 58 Eldorado Broughams, Cadillac made some exclusive 1959 to 60 models car fans consider the finest Cadillacs they ever built. The production wasn’t performed by Cadillac at all, but by Italy’s famous Pininfarina coachbuilder.
But the price was three times the price of a standard Cadillac. So in its two-year production run, they only built 200 cars. The 1959 to 60 Eldorado Brougham featured updated equipment, an air suspension and a 389 V8 engine. It had styling similar to the regular Cadillacs, but with some different details.
16. 1965 Chevrolet Caprice
When Chevrolet introduced the Caprice model in late 1965 and early 1966, nobody expected it would be so successful. In fact, it spanned five generations and millions of cars. They designed the Caprice as a luxury version of the Impala with more powerful engines, luxury and a few distinctive external differences.
For example, in the 1966 model, the base engine was a V8, and not the standard straight six. Also, all models had a vinyl roof as standard. For performance lovers, Chevrolet offered their 396 and 400 V8 models in the Caprice four-door hardtop.
17. 1965 Dodge Coronet
They presented the fifth generation of the Dodge Coronet intermediate model in 1965. It immediately became one of the best mid-size sedans on the U.S. market. The Coronet was available in six body styles and several trim levels.
Interestingly, Dodge offered its mighty 440 V8 engine with 375 HP as an option on all Coronets. And they built several Coronet sedans with the 426 Hemi engine. This made them the fastest American sedans of the ’60s and ’70s.
18. 1969 Chrysler New Yorker
Chrysler ended the ’60s on a high note with the brand new and influential “Fuselage” styling. The rounded sides and lower, sleeker profile looked modern in comparison to other models. In fact, they used “Fuselage” styling throughout the Chrysler range. So all new full-size Mopars, including Dodge, Plymouth and Imperial had this look.
The mechanics on the 1969 to 71 New Yorker weren’t exactly new. But they improved the suspension, chassis and drivetrain. The biggest engine you could get was the 440 V8, which moved this big sedan down the road with authority.
19. 1967 Mercury Park Lane Brougham
As a luxury division of Ford Motor Company, Mercury offered upscale features, elegant designs and powerful engines. But the Park Lane Brougham was the most luxurious Mercury. In fact, it was close to Lincoln in terms of prestige and elegance.
They introduced it in 1967 and sold it through 1968. The Park Lane Brougham had a plush interior and vinyl roof. It also came with leather seats along with a special list of optional extras.
20. Checker Marathon
One of the most characteristic American sedans of the ’60s is the legendary Checker Marathon, famously known as the New York Taxi. They introduced the Marathon in 1960 and sold it through 1982. It was available with a straight six or V8 engine from Chevrolet. They designed and built the Marathon to be a dependable, tough machine.
And that is why it was the definitive taxi vehicle for decades in New York and in many other cities, as well. The Marathon was available as a sedan and wagon. But it also came in the form of the interesting, rare 12-seater Aerowagon.
These are the 20 best classic American sedans from the 1960s. They stood out due to their innovative designs and powerful engines. Most car fans appreciate their contributions to automotive history.
(This original article was published on MotorJunkie.com)