The decade was coming to a close. And what a time it had been, like nothing else before or since. Between the massive crumbling of age-old barriers and the sudden loss of innocence that came about in a few horrible moments beneath the Texas School Book Depository with the death of President Kennedy, we looked at the world in a whole new way. For the Class of '69, it meant dealing with a world that people over 30 found hard to comprehend. Literally nothing was how it had been for decades and decades. And on the automotive front, it was much the same. The '60s had heralded a revolution in performance that has only recently been equalled, thanks in part to the computer chip.
In 1969, the computer chip was not yet a possibility, though performance was anything but compromised. They just went about it differently. It was called cubic inches. In fact, '69 might be considered the pinnacle of the musclecar rollercoaster that we rode so wildly between 1960 and 1972. Brute horsepower ruled, and the backlash created by burgeoning insurance rates and increased federal emissions and safety regulations hadn't yet begun to make its mark in the engineering divisions. The front office people certainly saw the handwriting on the wall, but horsepower junkies had a few years of reprieve before it was time for the party to end.
Rock music was entering a rather bizarre phase that culminated in a summer event known around the world as Woodstock. Woodstock residents had vociferously opposed the gathering, which forced the pair of 24-year-old promoters to move the event—to Max Yasgur's 600-acre dairy farm in the Catskill town of Bethel on White Lake, approximately 70 miles northwest of the Big Apple. The promoters had hoped to sell 50,000 $7 tickets to the concert and worried whether the kids would find it in the rural countryside. They found it all right. The 400,000 who turned out briefly made Bethel the third largest city in the state. But it was impossible to collect the fees from everyone who arrived, so the pair was forced to kiss off a couple of million dollars in revenue.
The throng generated a grid-lock situation on every surrounding highway, road and cow path, while a couple of huge thunderstorms created a quagmire wherever you looked. But instead of disastrous chaos, order prevailed. And the Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin Joan Baez, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Family Stone, The Who, Richie Havens, Country Joe and The Fish, Santana, Ten Years After and, yes, even Sha Na Na filled a very long and unforgettable weekend with the sounds of the '60s. There can be no doubt that more than a few of the era's muscle-cars were wedged in that monumental traffic jam, among the VW microbuses painted in psychedelic colors. But it would have been unusual to find a COPO Chevelle or Camaro in the group: The Central Office Production Order cars were produced in very limited numbers.
These engine/body combos were built in small batches to meet special needs - such as the NHRA 50-unit minimum rule to make a car eligible for Super Stock drag racing classes. The impetus behind the whole program, of course, was the CM corporate policy banning the use of engines over 400 cubes in intermediate-size cars. Although there has been much disagreement among musclecar historians as to just how many of each COPO model were produced, it appears that about 350 Camaros were made with the 427-cubic-inch L72 engine for dealers like Yenko, Dana, Berger and Motion, who wanted to convert them into special SS street racers. There were also some 120 L72 Chevelles sold in factory form, and two runs totaling 69 Camaros were built with the all-aluminum Corvette ZLl competition engines. There were bought in the crate. So it's possible that some 500 or so 1969 Camaros with 42 7 engines were roaming the streets back then.
Ecology was a new word creeping into mainstream America's vocabulary, and a Gallup poll found that 70 percent of Americans put environmental issues first among domestic problems. And it was the youth of this country who were most conspicuous during environmental crusades. An oil spill directly off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, brought directly home to 40 miles of clean white beaches hundreds of thousands of gallons of gummy crude. The impact of the disaster wised up many to what could happen. People close to the racing scene weren't at all surprised to see Mario Andretti make it to the Indianapolis 500 winner's circle. HisFord-poweredHawk averagedl56.867 mph in a year when he also won the USAC driving championship.
Jackie Stewart took his first world driving title and Lee Roy Yarborough swept the Daytona 500 in a Ford. Dearborn fared well overall in the '69 competition wars. The 1969 season marked the first time since 19 51 that a New York Yankee team would be starting the campaign without Mickey Mantle, though a sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium that summer would pay homage to the slugger on a day of honor. In Seattle, an inauguration took place for an astonishing new airplane, the Boeing 747 superjet, heralding a new wide-bodied era in commercial aviation. While the 747 was a marvel in transportation, airports were hard pressed to keep up with passenger demand. And these new jumbo jets with tremendous capacity didn't help the overcrowded terminals and the miles of traffic that clogged access roads.
Muscle-cars were not the least bit happy in crowded conditions such as these, particularly the highest-horsepower versions, but one development in the GM « camp made things easier on the ol' clutch leg. GM introduced a highly beefed version of the Turbo Hydramatic 400 automatic transmission, offered in all the wildest performance models. Internals were up to the task of the torquiest motors and shift points were high—6200 rpm! It was more than welcomed by many GM street racers, who were tired of getting hole-shotted by Dodge and Plymouth big-blocks with the heavy duty TorqueFlite trans, famous for its great launches. You could even order the new Turbo Hydro in the ultimate Corvette—the L88! Only 116 of the '69 models got the 427 in this form - basically a competition-use, $1032 extra-cost package. Yet there was one more rung up on the Corvette horsepower ladder, the all-aluminum ZLl. This $3000 option was installed in just two cars, making it one of the rarest of Vette combos.
If Elvis hadn't been into Cadillac’s, he might have gone for one of those monsters. But he was busy getting back into the public's eye again, recording for the first time in Memphis. Tennessee, since his days at Sun Records. "Suspicious Minds" wound up as another big hit, while his already unusual manner of dealing with fame became increasingly bizarre. Full-sized Chevys were restyled and available with the SS 42 7 package. But it was more likely for a street enthusiast to opt for a smaller chassis, such as the Chevelle or Nova—the latter available with up to a 375-horse 396. The Chevy-Ford rivalry was bigger than ever, though the Mopar contingent was certainly getting in its licks. Not resting on the success of the prior year's Road Runner, Chrysler engineers came back with the fabled Six-Pack option, which nearly matched Street Hemi performance for half the price—$458. The 440 engines running the three big Holley 2-barrels on the aluminum hi-riser manifold proved to be smooth and flexible, as well as quick.
Mopar foes kept an eye out for GTXs, Dodge R/Ts and Road Runners so equipped. They were strong machines, but not the sleepers that the 440 Darts and Barracudas were! Switching from the 383 to the 440 was abolt-in situation for Chrysler engineers, and there was little in the way of external identification to tell the Chevy and Ford drivers what was beating under the hood of those awesome A-bodies. Rod Stewart created a stir when he broke from the Jeff Beck Group and started a solo career that still manages an occasional hit. And David Bowie's single "Space Oddity" was perfectly timed for our lunar landing, an event witnessed by 528 million people, the largest television audience ever. Contributing to Apollo 11 was an amazing number of supportpeople—20,000 contractors and 300,000 workers. A rigid schedule had assured that President Kennedy's May 1961 deadline—"To land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth before this decade is out" - would be met.
The hit show "Laugh-In" coined a popular phrase, "Here comes de judge." Pontiac's marketing people saw a great opportunity here, with the slogan fresh on everybody's lips. So along came "The Judge," a GTO with bold graphics, wild colors and an available Ram Air IV, 400-cube engine, re-engineered with all the internal goodies. It was an all-MM out street racing engine from the word go, right down to its 4-bolt main bearing caps. Racers like Jim Wangers could set one up to run in the I 12s at around 108 mph at the strip, but off the showroom floor, low 14s were the norm. Neat car. And highly prized today. Oldsmobile stuck with the proven 4-4-2 and Hurst formulas for its performance line-up, known as the W machines. The W-30 4-4-2 ran a 360-hp, 400-cubic-inch V8, topped with a Quadrajet hooked to the "vacuum cleaner" induction system.
The W-31 was a new option and you could get it in the F-85. This less expensive alternative was based on the 350 mill, with new "small port" heads and a mild cam with lightweight valves and stiff valve springs. This meant a redline of6500rpm—with hydraulic lifters! The 325-hp rating was possible because Olds threw in the W-30 induction system. It was a great junior supercar for the go-fast crowd. But Oldsmobiles were too pricy for the younger set, as were Buicks—one reason why the hot Buick GS models were usually driven by folks in their late thirties and seldom seen cruising with the street racers. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were married in Gibraltar and gained further attention with their "bed-in" for peace. The Beatles made their last album together, Abbey Road, whose cover caused worldwide speculation among their fans that Paul was dead—something about his being "barefooted" in the Iain Macmillan photograph of the group crossing Abbey Road on the album's jacket.
But the most popular rock band in America was, without a doubt, Creedence Clearwater Revival, which jumped onto the charts early in the year with "Proud Mary." They were not the least bit revolutionary or underground— just a pure rock 'n' roll band, much the same as they were back in high school when they originally got together. Who could possibly sit still while listening to the fantastic heat of "Down On the Corner"? It was a o time when rock fans couldn't wait for John Fogerty's next song to hit the charts. Motown's golden era was beginning to wind down, though the artists continued with occasional big hits. Marvin Gaye was perhaps the most-played Motown artist that year.
Outrageous was the only way to describe the Dodge Daytona Chargers and Plymouth Superbirds - the long nose and high rear wing went perfectly with the character of the 440 and Hemi engines available. If one was seen at the local drive-in, you could've sold tickets—they stopped traffic for sure. While they were very successful on the high-banked tracks in NASCAR, they were dead fish in dealer's showrooms. Today they're among the most sought-after Mopar collector cars. Ford's attempts to combat the "winged warriors" from Mopar were the Talladega and Cyclone Spoiler—with streamlined nose sections and very limited production. But Ford's big news on the NASCAR front didn't involve a car—it involved a driver. The racing world was knocked back on its heels when the news leaked out that Richard Petty had signed with Ford. It had about the same effect as if Mantle had suddenly signed with the Dodgers. It was the first time Petty had driven anything but a Plymouth since 1959.
It was ironic that the Ford people were pretty much forced to build the models that proved to be their most popular muscle-cars of the '60s. The Boss 302 and Boss 429 have quite a history. The Boss 429, or shotgun, motor was all-new, with huge hemispherical-type cylinder heads, though not a true Hemi. The combustion chambers were crescent-shaped and the motor was so massive that the cars couldn't be assembled in the normal way on the production line. So Kar Kraft in Brighton, Michigan, got the contract to complete the cars by hand. In the 302's case, it was a matter of having to build at least 1000 units of the hi-po Mustang with less than 305 cubes to be eligible to race in the popular SCCA Trans-Am road racing series that Camaro Z/28s had dominated in 1968. Ford engineers cleverly made a racer out of the wimpy 302 by adapting new big-port Cleveland 4V cylinder heads, adding a forged crank, special rods, better oiling and a solid-lifter cam with 6500 rpm valvetrain, topped with a new hi-riser manifold and 780 cfm Holley. With all the chassis goodies, it was a definite match for the Z/28, though Chevy had Mark Donohue as a driver, which was a decided edge.
Trans-Am racing that year had the fury of a hurricane, with standouts like Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney, George Follmer, Jerry Titus and Donohue battling it out for the title, which the Penske team won. But the biggest hurricane of all hit the Gulf Coast in August. Camille devastated coastal towns in Mississippi and Louisiana with 200-mphwinds and took 256lives. Some towns disappeared completely. Equally as shocking were the Tate/ LaBianca murders in Los Angeles, by a cult group known as the "Charles Man-son Family." They were the other end of the spectrum of hippies - and it was frightening to think of what they had planned.
The cars from American Motors were sort of outcasts in their own right. Car freaks were not that anxious to have a parent who drove a Rambler—no bragging rights went with the territory. But old AMC came through with a very unusual (for them) performance version known as the Hurst S/C Rambler, using the big 390-cube 4-barrel. With a Warner T-10 4-speed and heavy duty suspension, these little red, white and blue monsters would run low 14s at 100 mph. They weighed in at around 3000 pounds and could deliver 20 mpg. The cars were assembled by the Hurst specialty people in their Detroit shop.
On all fronts, 1969 was hard to top. Woodstock was the ultimate happening. And even Rambler got into the musclecar act. From then on, things would start a subtle spiral downward. The dog days lay just a few years off.
Formula One Championship:
Jackie Stewart (Britain) / Matra-Ford
Ann Jones d. B.J. King (3-6 6-3 6-2)
Rod Laver d. J. Newcombe (6-4 5-7 6-4 6-4)
- Midnight Cowboy
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
- The Wild Bunch
- Easy Rider
- Anne of the Thousand Days
- The Italian Job (number #5 in our Top 5 Car Chase Movies)
- Best Picture - Midnight Cowboy
- Best Actor - John Wayne (True Grit)
- Best Actress - Maggie Smith (The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie)
- "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," - Marvin Gave
- "Aquarius/LettheSunshineIn," - 5th Dimension
- "Sugar, Sugar," - The Archies
- "In the Year 2525." - Zager and Evans
- "Everyday People." - Sly and the Family Stone
- "Honky Tonk Woman." - Rolling Stones
- "Get Back," - The Beatles
- "Crimson and Clover." - Tommy James and The Shondells
- "I Can't Get Next to You," - The Temptations
- "Dizzy," - Tommy Roe
- "Come Together/Something," - The Beatles
- "Leaving On a Jet Plane," - Peter, Paul and Mary
- "Wedding Bell Blues," - 5th Dimension
- "Na Na Hey Hey, Kiss Him Goodbye," - Steam
- "Crystal Blue Persuasion," - Tommy James and The Shondells
- Dwight David Eisenhower (WWII General and thirty-fourth President of the USA)
- Joseph P. Kennedy (Father to the famous Kennedy clan)
- Jack Kerouac (American writer)