Suddenly it’s 1969

Tony Oksien dials the Classic American time machine back 50 years to 1969 when the muscle car wars were raging and horsepower ruled the roads…

Tony Oksien Muscle car files

Maybe the one single year that really defines the “muscle car era” for all of America’s automotive manufacturers is 1969. During that model year came stunning performance, looks and innovative engineering, way beyond anything seen previously; ’1969 was truly a landmark year for the motor car, but also the whole world. To get the full picture here are some events from that year.

Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

1969 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

In the UK the Fab Four gave their final live performance on the roof of the Apple Records building at 3, Saville Row, London, on January 30. Other happenings of significance were the abolition of the death penalty, Concorde’s maiden flight, the Harrier Jump Jet entering service with the RAF and Brian Jones, founding member of the Rolling Stones, found drowned in a swimming pool. Although first built in December 1968, the Ford Capri is really a 1969 model and gives Europe its very own Mustang-flavoured two-door sports fast-back.

Over the pond and events were evolving with Woodstock dominating the music scene. However the biggest “ leap for mankind” took place in July with Apollo 11 , when the United States successfully landed humans on the Moon and then did it again in November with the Apollo 12 mission. The Boeing 747 jumbo jet made its debut commercial flight and a hit record in 1969 came from Hippy musical H air with the double A-side Aquarius/ Let the Sunshine In, which became anthems for the repatriation of American troops from Vietnam.

American Motors built a very special model with collaboration from Hurst Performance, known as the Hurst SC/R ambler. Only 1,512 were produced and competed exclusively in the NHRAF/Stock class, the SC stood for stock car.

General Motors announced the 1969 Camaro would wear all new sheet metal, except for the trunk and the hood, and the car took on a more aggressive stance – some say it was the best shape and best looking Camaro ever built. COPO and Yenko versions were still available along with the Z/28, SS and RS models.

Perhaps the most significant new arrival for ’1969 came from Pontiac, with the Trans Am version named after the race circuit series. Finished in only Polar white and blue stripes, the car slipped under most folk’s radar, but this was the beginning of something big; T/A Firebirds would become the flagship models for Pontiac over the next couple of decades, even eclipsing the GTO.

GM agreed to pay $5 per Trans Am car built to the organisers of the Sports Car Club of America. Unbelievably only 697 Firebird coupes and eight convertibles were built from its launch in March 1969. Down in St Louis, Missouri, the Corvette plant had a longer than expected ’1969 assembly run, with a crippling auto workers’ union strike disrupting the 1970 models, while the C3 lost the 327 cu in V8, but gained the 350 cu in V8 as a base engine.

The Blue Oval boys came up with a winner as well: the new 1969 Mustangs were heavier, wider and longer, but the Mach 1 had arrived! Can you think of a better name to call your latest muscle car offering? Ford went with a quad headlight grille and a shaker hood scoop. To trump their new model they came up with the Boss 302 and 429 Mustangs, that were earth-shakingly awesome automobiles. Designed purely for racing, these limited-production pony cars were the ultimate in power and handling for a Mustang and they also fared very well in the Trans A m sports car racing series – the 4 29s were quarter mile stompers as Ford looked to the drag strips for promotion. 1969 also saw the plush Mustang Grande appear on the sales list.

Mother Mopar had a few tricks up her sleeve for ’1969; as most models received minor facelifts the Charger had full-blown Botox, with the slippery 500 model and then the outrageous aerodynamic Daytona showing Chrysler’s intent to return to success on the NASCAR track. A further Mopar momentous moment was the introduction of the A 12 option on the Dodge Super Bee and Plymouth Road Runner mid-way through the year. The heart of these cars was a 440 cu in V8, with a trio of 2bbl Holley carbs sitting on an Edelbrock ally manifold. Normal driving would be on the two barrel 350 cfm centre carb, but hit the loud pedal and the other two 500 cfm carburettors crashed in and all hell let loose.

The new engine could achieve a factory-tested 390 horse power and rivalled the Street Hemi, which at a lower build cost made the six -pack setup good value for money and excellent all-round performance. The two B Bodies looked amazing with a fibreglass lift-off hood, chrome hood pins and plain black 15-inch wheels. Over the coming months I will look at several of these cars in more depth, so stay tuned for more 1969!

Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Mustang Mach 1. 1969 Dodge Charger. 1969 Indy 500 Camaro.

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