by That Car Guy
Let's face it, there are landmark years in cars. Fellow Car Lust Contributor Anthony Cagle embellished us with 1962, and may have started a series of posts on some very good (and probably some bad) calendar and model years for our beloved vehicles. One of my most-remembered years, both then and now, is 1969. Right on!
Personally, I don't care if a car was a '69 model or made any time during that calendar year, anything that has a "69" on it is good enough for me. Differences between most 1967 and 1968 models were minimal - look for the addition of side marker lights, new grilles, and taillights, and that's usually about it. But most '69 models had all-new sheet metal and bumpers, creating a pleasant, rounded look that may never be seen again.
Why 1969? Well, to me, vehicular-wise anyway, it all seemed to come together that year - we had it all! Big cars, mid-sized cars, little cars, fast cars, economy cars, sports cars, convertibles, station wagons (For The Brady Bunch), motorcycles, and pickup trucks that were manly and rough as they should be, gol-blame it! Big cars were BIG, and little cars were common and accepted like a VW Beetle. We had vans, box vans, step vans, at least one minivan, and some vans had raiseable roofs to become campers, perfect for a Love-In, and were quite the scene at Woodstock. "Flower Power"-painted hippies' rides were hip, taking you to the Peace Rally in style. Car/vehicle/cult movies of '69 included "Easy Rider", "The Italian Job", and "On Her Majesty's Secret Service".
On top of that, we saw the cancellation of "Star Trek", inaugurated Richard Nixon, and, oh yeah, we landed on the moon. "Ground control to Major Tom!"
Three big changes hit nearly all cars in 1969, and they exist to this day. In no particular order, steering columns locked on all cars for the first time - that was the law of the land. Moved from the dash to the column and awkward at first tries, keys had to be inserted sideways into the column and turned clockwise to start. Took some getting used to, but most of us still do that today. GM and others have done an excellent job of moving some of the keyholes back onto the dash in recent years. Keyless ignitions are coming on strong, but steering wheel locking systems started here.
Second, either adjustable headrests or high-back front seats appeared on all cars for '69. Again a Federal mandate, this was in response to "whiplash" spinal column injury medical claims from rear-end accidents, although I also think that they are comfortable, great on long trips, and help prevent fatigue. If I were to rebuild a '66 Mustang, and I hope someday to do so, I would fit high-back buckets from a later year. I've seen pictures of early 'Stangs with high seats, and they look right at home!
Third, most cars lost their vent windows on the doors - VW and MOPAR held out a little longer on some. Maybe the greatest example is this 1968 Cadillac Fleetwood that had power vents in both front and back doors. For 1969, the side window count went from eight to four, as the vents disappeared altogether. Personally, I like the cleaner no-vent look, but Gramps sure was bummed out when he had to lower the big window to flick his Marlboro butt. Wind noises went down as well without the vents, as their latching mechanisms usually became loose over time.
I'm not sure how on-track this comment is, but I have to say the nicest car interior I have ever sat in, including a Rolls-Royce, was a 1969 Buick Riviera. What made it so posh was that everything was soft and deeply padded - even the A-pillar trim next to the windshield was cushioned! As kids, we would push the padding on the doors and under the rear side windows and marvel at how deep it was. The car had power everything, and the seats, headrests, and sun visors were First Class as well.
Power to the people! 1969 was Muscle Car Heaven! Taking fairly plain mid-size cars and giving them large engines and aggressive styling wasn't new, but that seemed to reach its peak this year. Wide-Tracking Pontiac rolled out "The Judge" (And Judge #2) to a hungry audience. MOPAR's Dodge Charger Daytona made its debut, the Plymouth Superbird followed in 1969 for the 1970 model year. The Mustang Mach 1 was born. For real, does it get any better than this? Holy Moly, if there is a year for Muscle Cars, 1969 is IT!
The '69 Camaro (Shown here) and Firebird were hot with Z-28 and Trans Am versions, respectively. These cars (Firebirds) also got "Endura" front bumpers, similar to today's soft, body-colored bumpers - a first for '69. I remember a far out TV ad where a guy was whacking them with a crowbar. The C-3 Corvette had been redesigned the year before, and there was the Barracuda and Challenger. American Motor Corporation's "The Machine" was introduced, and the AMX had been out for about a year. Sweet rides, every one! There were plenty more, and darn it, I don't have room for all of them here.
1969 was the last year for the Lincoln Continental's suicide doors. It was also the only year that the Continental had a groovy upright rather than horizontal grille. The 4-door Thunderbird, also with "center-opening doors", continued until the 1972 model.
I can't leave out one motorcycle. 1969 saw Honda unveil the mighty CB750, a 4-cylinder masterpiece that remains on a pedestal to this day. This happening bike put Honda over the top as a builder of large, quality bikes, whose reputation stands today.
The Discovery Channel called the CB750 the Third Greatest Motorcycle of all time. Number One was the cool Honda Super Cub, which has sold over 60 million copies, the most mass-produced vehicle in history. For the life of me, I can't find Number Two.
With the CB750's electric starter, screw-on oil filter, overhead cam, the industry-first front disc brake, and a low price of $1,495, the term Superbike was coined to describe this machine. Honda made the 750 for 10 years, eventually cranking out 400,000 of them. The inline design eventually spawned 4-cylinder 650-, 550-, 500-, 400-, and 350-cc bikes from Honda.
Trucks and vans were pretty much carry-overs in 1969. Back then, they were designed, then pretty much left alone for years. This is not to say that trucks weren't fashionable in '69, they just didn't change much. New grilles were about it.
And, finally, 1969 saw amazing aircraft advancements. Boeing's 747 made its maiden test flight on February 9, and the Super Sonic Transport (SST) Concorde first test-flew on March 2, then first broke the sound barrier on October 1st.
So no matter how we travel in 2009, we have to thank that year, now 40 years ago. 1969... It was a VERY good year. Peace!
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
Thanks again to Wikipedia for some great photos. The CB750 image is from "How Things Work". The steering column is in my SuperCrew.