I saw a survey on social media recently asking readers about their opinions regarding the best model year for cars. The premise was simple: if you could go back and pick any year to buy a car (or cars), what year would you pick? I noticed that the overwhelming majority of respondents to the post picked this year or last year; their argument being that cars have never been faster, more refined, and easier to drive than they are today. I suppose there is truth to that, with 0-60 pulls in the sub 4-second range available for less than $50k. For instance, every car guy I know won’t shut-up about the performance of the new Dodge Demon, (and my condolences to those owners who were planning to moth-ball their 15 mile Hellcat’s- you should probably start driving your cars now that Dodge has made something even faster). ZL1 Camaros, GT500 Shelby’s, to say nothing of the new Ford GT, ZR1 Corvettes, Veyrons, La Ferraris and speed from all the other exotic manufacturers Americans can’t pronounce properly, but hear Jeremy Clarkson say perfectly. (Koenigswhat…)
There’s no shortage of speed available to buy today. And to top it off, the interiors are comfortable, the cars have real warranties, they’re safe if you crash, and easier to drive than ever with Mother Stability always looking over your shoulder, ready to yank your leash if you get too far out of hand. I read some very convincing arguments for keeping it modern.
Still, I pondered the question a few minutes and my preferred year came to mind- 1965. I argue that all the classic cars you could ever want to round out a sound collection of speed and style were being made in 1965. To make my case, I present the following evidence.
The Mustang was a half-year old, and you could (and should) get the fastback. And really, why not opt for one of the 108 Shelby GT350’s or even rarer (only 13!) GT350R’s?
Not a Mustang fan? Plymouth introduced the Barracuda as their first entrant into the Pony car wars, complete with funky wrap-around rear window. For ’65, they introduced the Formula S ‘Cuda, with a high performance 273 Commando with 4 barrel, higher compression pistons, aggressive cam and solid lifters. The Corvette, continually refined and updated since the launch of the C2 in ’63, finally got disc brakes at all four corners.
You still had one more year to get fuel-injection, though few did, as the 396 big-block was available for the first time that year; more power than the fuelie, and for less money. The face-lifted for ‘65 Pontiac GTO was making a name for itself, with Tri-Power equipped models pushing 360bhp and 430 lb-ft of torque.
Across the pond, there were plenty of interesting choices as well. Although already in production a few years, you could still get a good-looking E-Type; the Series 1.5 was still a few years away. For ’65, the 3.8 six was bumped out to 4.2 liters. No additional horsepower, but gains in torque. The 4.2 cars also benefit from better brakes, better seats, and a full synchro gearbox, ditching the old Moss box used on the 3.8 cars. The MGB’s were beefed up that year, with stronger 5 main engines, and you could still get the good looking dash for a couple more years.
1965 was also the first year of the beautiful MGB-GT, and I’ll take one of both, thank you. Another alternative that got a nice update in ’65 is the Triumph TR4, which received independent rear suspension that year, when it became the TR4A. If you wanted something more minimalist than the MG or Triumph, Lotus introduced the Series 3 Elan, for the first time in fixed head configuration. If that 1600lb lightweight was too heavy for you, Colin Chapman was also still building Sevens, coming in around 1,100 pounds. Of course, if you happen to need room for more passengers and it has to be British, there is always the stunning Jaguar MkII Saloon. This is probably one of the best looking four door sedans of the 1960’s.
Have a need for raw, dangerous power? 1965 also brought us MkIII 427 Cobras, ready to shake pavement, with the fastest models delivering top speeds up to 185mph. Not fast enough for you? Then you could be one of the select few to pick up a MKII GT40, but only with enough coin and connections.
1965 was the first year of the 911 in the US, or you could pick up the very last of the disc brake 356 C’s produced (or why not one of each). If German engineering with a desire for comfort was your priority, Mercedes was producing the ultra-luxurious 600 for the likes of Hef, John Lennon, George Harrison, Jack Nicholson, Elvis, and an array of small time dictators who wanted to ride with authority. Need something Italian? Sadly, I miss the Lamborghini Miura by a year, but I’d rather have a Ferrari 275 GTB anyway. Less likely to spontaneously burst into flames. Don’t have Ferrari money? Get the new for ’65 Alfa GTA. 1965 was also the last year you could pretend to be Sean Connery in your brand new Aston Martin DB5. The car was still popular, with its brief appearance in Thunderball that year.
I do understand appeal of the modern car sports car. They start all the time, leak nothing, are easy to drive, and frankly, from an engineering and technology standpoint, are stunningly superior to anything built even ten years ago. They’re also difficult, if not sometimes impossible to repair by anyone other than factory trained technicians. More than that though, they’re just common. To me, they just don’t offer the same driving experience, and certainly don’t elicit the same appreciation for style, heritage and design as my favorite cars of the past do. I can easily waste hours pacing around E-Types, MGA’s, Mirua’s, C2 Corvettes, Gullwing Mercs, Ferraris and the like, taking in their lines, often noticing something different every time I see one. Just a couple weeks ago I had an opportunity to spend some time photographing both a Veyron and Enzo. While I appreciate that they are technological marvels, and among the fastest cars in the world, I found them both vastly less visually interesting than most of my favorite cars of the past. On the other hand, I spent a long time last year photographing a very nice Jaguar XKSS continuation (because I haven’t been next to a real one yet), and was much more enthralled with that subject than either the Ferrari or Bugatti. I don’t think cars will ever be as stylish as they were in the 1960’s and given the chance to pilot a 275GTB or an Enzo for an afternoon, my choice would be the 275 every time- no question.
I’ll also point out one other observation- for the price of a Veyron, I could assemble a very nice collection containing many of the cars I pointed out- almost all of them in fact. For the wealthiest among us, this point is of no significance, but if I could have 5 of my favorite cars from 1965 sitting out in my garage right not but be forced to pass on a chance to own a Veyron, I certainly would. Cast my vote for 1965.
John Hansen is an automotive writer and owner of Michigan Automotive Inspection Services, which provides professional pre-purchase inspection, consultation, and appraisal services for classic automobiles located all over the United States.