Where were you in ’62? That famous tagline from American Graffiti inspired me to actually take a look at some of the old car ads from 1962, and see what was going on in the auto industry in the early part of that decade. It was a pretty good year. Cars were starting to transition from the excessive chrome trim, wide whitewalls, and sharp tailfins of the ‘50s. Suddenly styling was cleaner, cars were smaller, and compacts were really starting to gain momentum. General Motors in particular launched some nameplates that year that we’re still familiar with today. Let’s check out some of the notable cars from the era.
This ad touts the new for ’62 Studebaker Avanti, “America’s Most Advanced Automobile.” I don’t know if I’d go that far, but they were pretty nice. Most of the “advanced” part of the equation was the styling. These had a clean, fiberglass body, which was unusual, especially on a four-seat car. They also had Bendix front disc brakes, which was a first on an American car. You could also order a supercharger if you wanted, which was pretty cool. But much of the bits you can’t see were a little more ordinary. The chassis was essentially shared with the Lark, and Studebaker’s 289-c.i. engine was good, but hardly groundbreaking. Studebaker only officially made these cars for two years, but boutique manufacturers continued to produce small numbers of Avantis into the mid-2000s.
I mentioned that compact cars were starting to take a foothold on the market around this time, and Chevrolet introduced the Nova/Chevy II in 1962. Of course, they had already been building the compact Corvair for two years, but the Nova was meant for a more conventional buyer—specifically, buyers like the ones that were buying Ford’s popular Falcon. We all know that Novas eventually became popular with enthusiasts due to their light weight and small block V8s, but in 1962 they were strictly meant to be small, frugal transportation. This ad uses the words “frisky,” “perky,” and “money-saving.” Those descriptions, combined with small inline four- or six-cylinder power plants, don’t exactly strike fear in your fellow motorist. Of course, these were not meant to do that.
I still get more excited about Corvettes, though. 1962 was a big transition year for the popular two-seat sports car. It was the last year for the straight-axle, first-generation Corvette. But it was the first year for the 327-c.i. engine, narrow whitewalls, and less chrome trim. Advertisements said things like, “It’s a car worth driving. It runs like all get-out because it has a mighty 327-c.i. V8 engine. It stops, it changes direction with the speed and ease of a gazelle because of its knife-edged balance and great, huge brakes. It’s a car to make driving enthusiasts of us all …” You gotta’ love that old Campbell-Ewald ad copy. Based on that description, I think that car sounds pretty exciting to drive even today.
Another big introduction in 1962 was the Pontiac Grand Prix. Don’t confuse these early cars with the one you rented in 2005 while your car was in the shop. The early Grand Prix was an opulent, sporty, desirable car. Or, more to the point, it was spruced up like the big, top-of-the-line Bonneville, but it was the same size as the smaller Catalina hardtop. They had great-looking bucket seats, a fantastic, chrome-lined console, and that outstanding clear Pontiac steering wheel. These were no slouches performance-wise either. The base engine was a 303-hp, 389-c.i. V8, and you could order all the way up to a 405-hp, 421-c.i. Super Duty V8. These were a couple of years ahead of the GTO, but they could still be muscle cars nonetheless.
The Lincoln Continental was actually new in 1961, but it still looked fresh the next year. This car was clean, pressed, and contemporary. This is the kind of car that Sinatra would arrive in, wearing a perfectly-tailored sharkskin suit. That ad says, “count the doors.” I’ll give you a second. Did you get four? That’s right. Pretty unusual for a convertible, huh? And somehow, Lincoln managed to sell a convertible with suicide doors, and still make it look modern and understated. These cars still don’t look out of place today. That’s what happens with truly classic design.
There were other cars that debuted in 1962, like the Buick Wildcat, Pontiac Lemans, and others. And then there were the refreshed carryovers, like the Studebaker GT Hawk, the Oldsmobile Starfire, the ever-popular Chevrolet Impala, the Imperial, and the Cadillac. When was the last time you saw a Dodge Polara convertible like the one in the picture to the left there? No doubt about it, 1962 was a good year to be a car-lover. The slideshow below has a bunch of automotive print advertisements from 1962, or click this link for a nicer version.