If you lived in Southern California in 1966 and you loved automobiles, you were in the right place at the right time. With so many fantastic new muscle machines to choose from, the cruising scene became a sort of rolling automobile commercial. Baby boomers were entering the job market in droves [unemployment figures were the lowest in 13 years), allowing the purchase of the vehicles they'd dreamed about since puberty. Others were off to college or the war in Vietnam, putting car dreams on hold, some forever. President Johnson announced in January that bombing would resume in North Vietnam, and by March we had 220,000 of our servicemen there. The October draft call numbered 46,200, the highest since 1953. Only we weren't calling it war. The government was also turning its attention toward the automobile, in the interest of safety and the environment. Ralph Nader's attack on the Corvair prompted CM to "investigate" his private life. They offered a public apology in February.
There was an abundance of cruising locales all across America, but none quite as famous as Van Nuys Boulevard in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, Colorado Boulevard in nearby Pasadena and Woodward Avenue in Detroit. La La Land offered the big advantage in terms of weather—you could cruise year-round with little danger of rainfall. Life was not always a bowl of cherries in Los Angeles or Detroit. Race riots clouded life in both cities, and the trend spread nationwide over the next few years. But it was truly cruising's heyday. Kids weren't into drugs as a daily ritual, the young American's rite of passage was geared toward the automobile, and there were more young people with money to spend than ever before.
And what a car year it was! Up and down the Boulevard, this was truly a time of change. The success of the GTO in 1964 more or less assured that copies would follow, and follow they did! Chevrolet dealers were displaying the new mid-size Chevelle, which grew a bit and could be had as an SS 396 with a single quad and twin Supercharger as an option, rated at 325 hp - or as a 360-hp version with more toys under the hood. The smaller brother Chevy II was a junior supercar, with the optional L79, 350-horse 327 small-block. This rocket was complete with big valve fuel heads, 11:1 compression and forged pistons. Combined with a special hi-riser manifold, 585 cfm Holley carb, hydraulic cam and the sweet Muncie 4-speed, 0-to-60 times were in the 7s, while the quarter came up in the 14s when driven right. It could also be argued that it was one of the best-looking Bowtie bombers ever. This is the package that Bill Jenkins used to tangle with the Street Hemi power-plants in A/Stock competition. "Grumpy's Toy" was a crowd favorite then.
While the Corvette was a sports car and wasn't considered a musclecar in the pure sense, the new 427 solid-lifter "porcupine" engine rated at 42 5 hp made the two-seater the hottest thing on the street that year. In fact, I owned a new 425-horse coupe hack then and recorded a 12.66 ET at 108 mph at Lions Drag Strip in Southern California, on stock 6-inch tires with the hubcaps yanked off, bone stock. The '67 Tri-Power job couldn't stay with the '66 425-hp model (originally rated at 450 hp), though the '67 owners hated to admit it. With the exception of a 427 Cobra, the'66 425-horse 427 Vette was king. Even the Hemis stayed clear. That nasty 427 was also available in Chevy's full-size models, and a Bis-cayne coupe optioned with this engine could be a real sleeper. They wreaked havoc in NHRA B/Stock racing that year.
Beach Boys music was still going strong. The album Summer Days went gold. English groups ruled, as the Yardbirds arrived for their first American tour. One Beatle or another was always in the news. Maybe it was because it was the last year the band did a live concert. John Lennon managed to annoy more than a few folks with a comment about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus. Anti-Beatles backlash was felt throughout the world. Public burning of Beatles records took place here and there (bet they're sorry now!), and the group was actually pelted with debris during a concert. Lennon made a public apology, but not before he denounced the American draft.
While the U.S. was making news in the race to the moon, Chrysler announced a rocket of its own. In the Dodge/Plymouth camp, Street Hemis were the big deal. They came about as a result of NASCAR rules that required all basic "stock" race engines to be available to the public in assembly line street models, with production of at least 500 units a year. Chrysler's marine engine plant built the units, with a total of 4000 such cars produced between '66 and '71. Early Street Hemi engines used the regular race heads, but with s ofter valve springs and 10.5:1 compression. Dual Carter 4-barrels, forged pistons, a beefed-up bottom end and solid-lifter cam made it as close as you could come to a full race engine for the street. Rated at 425 hp, true dyno output was closer to 480 hp at 6000 rpm.
Like many of the era's musclecars, street performance depended heavily on tires and gearing. Awell-tuned Street Hemi on cheater slicks with 4.11 or 4.56 gears could run 0-to-60 in the 5-second bracket and quarters in the mid-13s at 105 mph. They weren't the greatest when it came to driving in stop and go traffic, but for a little over $4000 you had a true street killer, a real pedal throbber. The 440-cubic-inch Wedge engine grew out of the 426, as did a new model, the Charger. TV commercials of the day proclaimed, "We bought a Charger, 'cause it's larger!" The odd-looking Dodge featured a fold-down rear seat, hidden headlamps and fast-back roofline. And it could be had with the Hemi.
Flint, Michigan's honor was being weakly defended by the Buick GS, still hampered by the old Nail Valve V8, and a year away from a "modern" design. They're quite collectible today. Oldsmobile's 4-4-2 package had a name for itself in '66. The 400-cubic-inch 4-barrel version had a 350-hp rating. With the new three-deuce arrangement, it was up to 360 hp at 5000 rpm. These cars ran in the low 14s when driven well. This tri-carb system is noteworthy because it used a progressive mechanical throttle linkage, rather than the erratic vacuum system used on the GTO. This gave more consistent starts and shifts with the 4-speed. Also there was a neat, less-known feature: A little bolt-on plug on the left side of the intake manifold could be removed and turned over to block off exhaust heat from the carburetors in warm weather. This could add as much as 10 to 15 hp.
Olds offered dealer-installed "Force Air" kits for the tri-carb engines. Known as the W-30 option, the carbs were fed by 4-inch flexible rubber tubes from behind the grille, plus a wild 308-de-gree camshaft and special valve springs were used. Anybody serious about the Olds used these kits. 1966 was the first year in which protestors in large numbers were speaking out against the war in Vietnam. In March, 25,000 of them gathered in New York City to proclaim their opposition. Nightly reports on the news only added fuel to the fire. As support for the war waned, so did support for LBJ. It would eventually prove to be his undoing.
Inflation had been on the sleepy side, but a report in August warned that costs would be rising faster than in any year since 1957. Yet a young married couple could buy plenty of groceries for $18 a week (cohabitation was not yet a popular or accepted practice). A dollar bill would get you 20 packs of chewing gum, a nickel bought a Her-shey bar, and the average new home was priced in the $20,000 range. Today, that won't buy you a high-line automobile. Car hops and tray service were a very big part of the driving environment in the mid-'60s. The San Fernando Valley had two Bob's Big Boy restaurants where you could eat in your car. The typical Wednesday night cruise would start out in the West Valley at the new Canoga Park Bob's on Sherman Way. After a vanilla Coke and fries, you'd head east down Sherman Way and maybe do a few second gear roll ons with someone, then duck into the parking lot at the Bob's on the corner of Roscoe and Sherman Way.
A more perfect ribbon of blacktop for serious, endless pass-bys couldn't be found. Van Nuys was a long, multi-lane street with a center median offering lots of handy turn arounds, another drive-in Bob's, a load of car dealers and some speed shops. The overpass of the Ventura Freeway was great to really wing your motor under, especially if you had loud pipes. If you arranged a race, the parties involved would usually head back out to the West Valley onto Nordhoff Street in Northridge, a wide avenue that was lightly traveled at night. Most guys would run for $10 or $20-$50 tops. A lot of fuel was burned on Wednesday nights, but at 25 to 35 cents a gallon, who cared?
The Woodward Avenue scene in Detroit was pretty much the same. There were drive-in Big Boys at 10 Mile and 13 Mile, the latter favored by the serious street racers. The usual run entailed a spin down to 8 Mile, with a run back up to Big Beaver, which was 16 Mile Road. Some of the folks would make a pass over to Gratiot Avenue, but only when they were bored.
Ford's news on the street was the Fairlane and Mercury Cyclone GTs (the Cyclone was selected as the Pace Car for the Indy 500 race). This was an all-new design that looked like a sales winner on paper but fell way behind the competition. The GT's motivating force was the 390-cubic-inch version of the popular FE engine, but with a special high-lift cam, Holley carb and dual exhaust. This GT was underrated at 335 hp at 5200 rpm (common practice in the '60s, to get the cars into a lower drag strip class—in this case, C Stock). Unfortunately, the 390 GT engine wasn't all that strong. It would run with the milder cars, like the Buick GS and SS 396 Chevelle, but was no competition for the likes of a Ram Air GTO or a 409 Chevy.
Those who wished for more power could opt for the 427 motor. There was even a lightweight race package' that had a production run of approximately 5 7 units. Included in the package was a full-tilt medium-riser 427, complete with Holleys and a totally revised induction system. Other notable features of the package included a pin-on fiberglass hood, modified shock towers and total absence of undercoating and sound deadeners.
Shelby's GT 350 was pure small-block muscle and could be had with a Paxton Supercharger as an option in '66, though this was a real rarity. In fact, with just 2375 GT 350s produced, it wasn't often that you would find yourself alongside one at a light. These hi-po 289s could run with some of the hotter street machines, no problem. Pontiac came close to selling 100,000 GTOs as the sales year was tallied in December, the month that Walt Disney died. The Ram Air option was still dealer-installed, but a new cam and valve springs improved performance over the '65 models. These were low 14-second cars when everything was right. More news came from Pontiac in the way of its new Sprint Six. Wanting to do something for the low end of the "fun car" market, the company came up with an overhead cam version of the 230-cubic-inch inline six. A special cylinder head bolted to the standard block, with an enclosed tooth belt system to drive the cam, operated inclined valves through short rocker arms.
The high performance version of this mill had 1'0.5:1 compression, 4-barrel carburetion on a ram-type manifold, hot camshaft, low-restriction air cleaner and split exhaust manifolds feeding into one large tailpipe and muffler. It was rated at 207 hp with redline at 6500 rpm. With a 4-speed, it was one of the really fun cars of the mid-'60s. More and more of us were climbing aboard Boeing 707s and flying to places we'd never been, but an airline strike in July shut down 60 percent of domestic service. Crime was up 465 percent from levels in 1961, according to J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI. The world also heard about the third heart transplant operation, which took place in Houston.
Lap belts were standard equipment in the front seats of automobiles, but with actual use down around 3 percent and weak drunk driving laws, 48,500 people managed to die in traffic accidents. One of the biggest tragedies of 1966 took place as a lone sniper shot 44 people from the top of a 27-story tower at the University of Texas. Fourteen people died, along with the gunman, Charles Joseph Whitman. We were listening to the Young Rascals, The Association, The Lovin' Spoonful, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs and lots of others. But the sounds of big-inch motors were the tunes we enjoyed on the boulevards in 1966.
Formula One Championship:
Jack Brabham (Australia) / Brabham-Repco
Billie Jean King d. M. Bueno (6-3 3-6 6-1)
Manuel Santana d. D. Ralston (6-4 11-9 6-4)
- My Fair Lady
- The Greatest Story Ever Told
- The Great Race
- Zorba the Greek
- A Man for All Seasons
- Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
- A Man and a Woman
- Best Picture - A Man for All Seasons
- Best Actor - Paul Scofield (A Man for All Seasons)
- Best Actress - Elizabeth Taylor (Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?)
- "The Ballad of the Green Berets," - S. Sgt. Barry Sadler
- "Winchester Cathedral," - New Vaudeville Band
- "96 Tears," - Question Mark and the Mysterians
- "Last Train to Clarksville," - The Monkees
- "(You're My) Soul and Inspiration," - The Righteous Brothers
- "Devil With the Blue Dress On" and "Good Golly Miss Molly," - Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels
- "Cherish," - The Association
- "Reach Out I'll Be There," - The Four Tops
- "Born Free," - Roger Williams
- "Good Vibrations," - The Beach Boys
- "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'," - Nancy Sinatra
- "California Dreamin'," - The Mamas and the Papas
- "We Can Work It Out," - The Beatles
- "Poor Side of Town," - Johnny Rivers
- "You Can't Hurry Love," - The Supremes
- Montgomery Clift (Actor)
- Walt Disney (founder of the Disney empire)
- Evelyn Waugh (British Novelist)