From the Jan/Feb 2017 issue of Vintage Motorsport.
The recent turmoil and angst over the U.S. elections caught me thinking back 50 years to 1967, certainly a year full of strife with race riots and protests over the Vietnam war. My generation was rebelling at full rpm, thrusting a middle finger at authority and trusting no one over 30. The motto was “Make Love, Not War.” But at least we could speak our minds on campuses when they were a safe haven for free speech.
Today’s Uber-hailing millennials don’t seem to have anywhere near the passion we had for the automobile, and they have little idea of the magic that existed when greasy hands and noisy aftershave mixed with a rough-idling V8 and a Hurst Shifter. Back then learning to change gears manually was a rite of passage and my time of youth welcomed the opportunity to bang a gear with the best of ‘em. By 1967, the muscle car period was entering its golden years, before high insurance rates and government-imposed 1972 emission standards put a damper on the party.
But what a party it was in ’67, Chrysler offering up 440cid Plymouth GTX and Dodge R/Ts for the front lines of the horsepower wars in addition to the 426 Street Hemi (Richard Petty was NASCAR’s champion in Plymouths). Ford’s engine roster was also suitably impressive with its “Total Performance” campaign in full swing (Mario Andretti winning the Daytona 500 in a Holman-Moody Fairlane) while GM had every division in the performance mix sans Cadillac, plus adding the Camaro and Firebird to the ponycar equation. And there was always the Corvette with up to 435hp with its triple-carb 427 V8.
Even lowly AMC put a toe in the water with a 280hp 343cid V8 available in the Rambler American and by sponsoring a Rambler Rebel SST Funny Car. And a two- seat AMX was not far in AMC’s future.
Super Stock drag racing coined the “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” expression and Dick Landy, Ronnie Sox and Dave Strickler were just a few of the drivers made famous by heading their “stockers” down the quarter-mile.
Cruising that muscle car on certain streets across America was a weekly must in places like Detroit’s Woodward Ave. or SoCal’s Van Nuys Blvd. On summer evenings the cruising haunts would be lined with vehicles running in both directions, AM radios blasting out the songs of the day like the Doors’ “Light My Fire,” the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer,” or Motown’s Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “I Second That Emotion.” Hamburger drive-ins with carhops were part of the scene as were drive-in theaters, where “The Graduate,” “Cool Hand Luke” or “Bonnie and Clyde,” might have been showing in 1967.
For the home microwave ovens were first introduced or if you were among a select few NY Bell Telephone customers, been able to direct dial Paris or London for the first time, no operator needed. Wow!
In endurance racing Ford repeated its 1966 success first at the 12 Hours of Sebring with Mario Andretti and Bruce McLaren (who also won the Can-Am championship) and then at the Le Mans 24 Hours with the GT40 MkIV, this time with Americans Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt at the wheel, a victory that saw Gurney spray champagne on the podium, beginning a racing tradition to this day. And remember that just weeks before, Foyt had won his third Indy 500.
Formula 1 action saw Denny Hulme outpoint Jack Brabham for the World Driving Championship, a year in which Hulme won his first Grand Prix, it being Monaco.
Imported cars were making their mark too, especially Volkswagen, and the Brits were building sports cars that both captivated and frustrated their owners. Isn’t that why we still love ‘em today?
Yes, 1967 was a most excellent year for performance and gearheads, and like The Turtles would sing that year, “Happy Together.”