1964 Year In Review

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Ford Mustang
The Ford Mustang, arguably the greatest automotive success story of the 1960's.

Renault 16
The Renault 16 set a new benchmark for 1964, economical, safe, reliable and versatile were not words heaped upon many cars.

Porsche 911
Very nearly the 901, but Peugeot's patent ensured the 911 would be born.

Bond Goldfinger DB5
The Bond Goldfinger DB5 was the standout at the 1964 Paris Motor Show. But the modifications cost much more than the car itself, Aston-Martin quoting 9,000 on top of the RRP, so that the total price was 13,248.

Walt Arfons (left) with Tom Green
Walt Arfons (left) with Tom Green.

Art Arfons
Art Arfons makes some last minute mechanical adjustments between record attempts.

Art Arfons Green Monster wheel
Art Arfons Green Monster wheel after the 500 miles-per-hour flat tyre. The bodywork was badly damaged, but the wheel remained unscathed.

HMAS Melbourne
The bow of the HMAS Melbourne following its collision with the HMAS Voyager on February 10th. 82 lives would be lost in Australia's worst peacetime maritime disaster.

The Ford Mustang

There is no greater automotive success story of the 1960's than that of the Ford Mustang. When launched in 1964, it became an overnight success, capturing the spirit of the times perfectly. A master stroke by Lee Iacocca, the Mustang shared much of its mechanicals on the humble Falcon, right down to the floorpan and rear leaf-sping suspension. But any shortcomings were easily overlooked when taking in the graceful lines, particularly of the Fastback model, and the car quickly reached cult status with the release of Bullitt starring Steve McQueen.

The Renault 16

Perhaps a little less alluring, but still highly innovative was Renault's release of the model 16 in December1964. The concept of a five-door saloon was very new,the Renault 16 using a rear hatchback door with fold-downrear seats. Although it had awkward styling, at thetime it was considered very unique. But being uniqueis one thing (just look at the Lightburn Zeta), makinga good car another. Fortunately the 16 fitted thelatter category, achieving excellent roadholding viaits fully-independent suspension. The economical 1470ccengine gave it a very respectable 145 km/h top speed,and braking came courtesy of front discs. The 16 enjoyeda long production run (some 15 years) until ultimately being superseded by the Renault 20 in 1979.

The Porsche 911

The legend that would create the three most famous numbers, when put in sequence, began in 1964 with the release of the Porsche 911. But did you know that Porsche originally wanted to call their new sports car the 901? We can thank Peugeot, who patented all three digit number configurations containing a middle “0” (zero) for forcing Porsche to change it’s name to 911. Regardless of it’s model designation, the 911 remains a triumph of development over design - and is still as popular today as when it was originally released. Despite many variations, pre-1974 vehicles are perceived as the best classics to own.

Shaken, Not Stirred

The Goldfinger DB5 was arguably the standout car at the October 1964 Paris Motor Show. The Aston Martin DB5 sedan, dubbed the Goldfinger DB5, was the actual car driven by Sean Connery in the film of the same name. It was also a fitting tribute to Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, who had passed away only months before.

The car was equipped with everything a well-heeled secret agent would have required. For protection: A bullet-proof windscreen and bullet-proof panel which could be raised from the boot by hydraulic operation to screen the rear window. For evasion: a smoke-producing mechanism, operated from inside the car, which emitted a dense smoke screen to harass following cars, as well as the ability to change both front and rear number plates while the car was making a getaway.

For defence: Bumper overriders which were hydraulically extended to form ramming devices, two Browning-type machine guns, mounted for firing forwards, which protruded when the turn indicator lights were hinged downwards. The rear light assemblies could be lowered to allow either oil or triple-spiked tyre-bursting nails to be sprayed into the path of Bond's pursuers. (In the film a revolving cutter was extended 24 in. sideways from the rear hub caps to tear the tyres of an over-taking car and was then retracted).

For tracking Goldfinger's car there was an early version of the GPS, a moving map display, built in behind the dummy radio, upon which a "dot" was electronically superimposed to indicate the location of Goldfinger's car (on which a "homing" device had previously been planted). A radar-type wing mirror transmitted the signals to the "dot." If Bond had an unwanted passenger, they could be disposed of by an ejector seat. Ejection was effected by a push button control mounted on top of the gear lever. A snap-up cover precluded accidental usage and prior to ejection a secret panel in the roof was jettisoned (as with jet aircraft).

All the Goldfinger "extras" apart from the ejector seat were operated by switches concealed in the arm rest. The cockpit of Bond's car included a machine gun firing button beneath the false head of gearlever; radar screen, pull-out tray beneath driver's seat carrying Bond's guns, radio telephone in door pocket and racing wing mirror-cum-radar scanner. Believe it or not, Aston-Martin even went to the trouble of pricing these extras - not that you could order any of them. The cost? Some UK£9,000 on top of the RRP, so that the total price was £13,248 - making the Goldfinger DB5 probably the world's most expensive and exclusive car.

Land Speed Records

1964 was a big year in the world of Land Speed Records. As for what actually constituted a record, that all depended upon who was recognizing it. When Craig Breedlove first zipped across the Bonneville Salt Flats in his 3-wheeIed jet-car, the only international body which would give him official sanction was the FIM (Federation Internationale Motor cyclist) which classified his de-winged jet-plane as a cycle-and-sidecar. That was in 1963 and Breedlove's record was an impressive 407.45 mph average, whatever its category. It was a Land Speed Record, according to the resultant advertising by Breedlove's sponsors even if it wasn't the Land Speed Record.

The FIA (Federation Internationale de Automobile) usually sanctioned such things but had taken the easy way out of the knotty "is it a car or an airplane?" controversy by saying the FIA couldn't sanction it because it had only three wheels and everyone knew a car had to have four. The FIA's real bone of contention was that the Jet-car derived its propulsive thrust by the super-expansion of air within its engine, rather than by pushing its wheels against the surface of the earth in the time-honoured tradition.

USAC (United States Auto Club), as the official timer for both, made no such distinction. But the FIA saw the light early in 1964 and amended its specifications to allow air-driven vehicles to become eligible for the Land Speed Record, as long as they had four wheels on the ground. Breedlove's "Spirit of America" was not acceptable but several other Jet-cars were: Namely, the two Arfons creations from Akron, Ohio. The whole sanction business was a tempest in a teapot: What was important, in the public's eye, was who went fastest across the surface of Mother Earth - a point greatly appreciated by sponsors and backers of these wheeled Chimeras. And a Jet-car, with its power measured in thousands of pounds of thrust, obviously was a far better bet than anything powered with a reciprocating engine.

With the backing of virtually the whole English automotive industry and an investment approaching several million dollars, Briton Donald Campbell had failed in several previous attempts to get up enough speed to make a dent in countryman John Cobb's 1947 mark of 394.196 mph. One of these attempts had nearly destroyed his "Bluebird" at Bonneville, another was washed out by seasonal rains here Australia on Lake Eyre, a salt bed similar to Bonneville. Campbell's Bluebird, named after the car his father, Sir Malcolm, once drove to the LSR, was a beautifully engineered and crafted machine, powered by a Bristol-Siddeley Proteus turbine. Designed for turbo-prop aircraft use, the engine developed about 4500 hp at the output shaft, which drove all four wheels.

Despite less than ideal salt surface conditions (the car gouged 3-inch ruts into it every time it ran) at Lake Eyre, Campbell put identical runs of 403.1 mph back-to-back to claim, on July 17, the Land Speed Record. Then, two months later, the Bonneville flats were deemed acceptable and first up was Walt Arfons' "Wingfoot Special" with Tom Green doing the steering. Somewhat less sophisticated than either Bluebird or Spirit, Wing-foot was merely a 4-wheeled roller skate with a driver's pod in front and a jet engine on its back. Power comes from a "pure jet" turbine engine, a Westinghouse J-46 of nearly 10,000 lb. thrust potential. Unlike Breedlove's General Electric J-47, the J-46 had an afterburner, which served to good purpose.

The Arfons/Green machine is 26 ft. long and weighed about 5000 lb. Its frontal area was probably no more than a Chevrolet sedan and its streamlining was about half-and-half; the front half was, and the rear half wasn't. Handling, Green said at the time, was no problem at any speed he had reached. But pushing even this much car through the air required a great deal of power and Arfons/Green found they just didn't have enough in the early runs of their week-long attempt. After days and nights of checking, adjusting and just plain fiddling, Walt Arfons turned the engine idle adjustment screw 1/16 of a turn and opened up the clamshell afterburner doors.

With time quickly running out on the last day of their schedule, Green and Arfons got a run of 406.55 mph by liberal application of the afterburner to get and keep the speed up to the point where it might be competitive. Green even touched the booster briefly in the timing traps. Half an hour later, they had it ready to return (the rules require a return run over the same course within an hour's time), although the engine had swallowed one or more foreign objects near the end of the first run and had damaged the compressor stage. This reduced power, so when Green started off again he used the afterburner nearly all the way. The result was a 420.07 mph run and a 2-way average of 413.20 for the flying mile.

But Arfons' and Green's elation was short-lived. Three days later, Walt's half-brother, Art Arfons, warmed up his "Green Monster," which more than the others looks like a stovepipe on a roller skate, with the driver riding side-saddle, with a run up at 394 and one back at a stunning 479.62 mph for a new record average of 434.02. In a game where pure power is king, the younger Arfons seemed to hold the upper hand. His Monster was equipped with the J-79 engine out of the supersonic B-58 Hustler bomber that produced upwards of 16,000 lb. of thrust when the afterburner was cranked on. If anything, it was dimensionally smaller than either Wingfoot or Spirit, although at 6500 lb. it was no lightweight.

This weight proved to be a drawback in a strange manner. Two days after his first record runs, Art Arfons decided on an all-out attempt. He checked the car out on a 413 mph warm-up (with one of his mechanics going along for the ride on the opposite-side cockpit!), turned it around and put his foot ankle-deep in the throttle. As his airspeed indicator (a pitot tube on stabilizer) flickered past 500 mph, Arfons heard what "sounded just like a grenade going off in the other cockpit." It was no grenade but just as deadly: He'd had a blowout. The weight of the car, pressing the tyres 1.5-2 in. into the surface of the salt, had caused a front tyre to uncover and kick up a rusty old bolt, which shot back and punctured the right rear tire. However, the bang Arfons heard may have been that of the dynamite cap which actuates his drag 'chute, which was located just over the right rear tyre. This automatically released his chute and he coasted to a safe, hardly-wobbly stop, the car still on course.

Although the tyre had disintegrated and mangled the surrounding bodywork, the wheel, designed by tire sponsor Firestone, remained intact despite the sudden and tremendous strain placed upon it. Arfons put the car back onto his truck and headed home. The pressure was then on Breedlove - he had to average better than 439 to get the record back, and he'd have to notch something over that 479 if he wanted to get something he could keep awhile. The Spirit had never been more willing. During the 14 months since his last efforts, Breedlove had honed it to a fine edge. A new engine of the same type gave him 500 lb. more thrust. Brake-line pressure had been increased to let him build up to a full-throttle thrust off the starting line. A new, streamlined nosepiece was added. Shell, one of his sponsors, shipped in a special batch of high-output turbine fuel.

Things went well enough on the trial runs and Breedlove took aim at the Arfons record. He recorded 442.59 mph on the first try and then upped it to 498.13 mph on the second; his average was 468.72 mph, a good big step above the week-old mark. Would that hold Arfons? Breedlove thought not. Two days later, after further adjusting and tuning of the car and its components, Breedlove's group was ready for another attempt. This time, the goal was 500 mph. Breedlove shot the first mile at 513.33 mph, turned around, refuelled, readjusted for even more power, and let fly again. This time the traps caught him at 539.89 for an average of 526.28 mph, but the immediate attention was not on the new record.

Breedlove had started a side slide just as he got into the traps and when he reached the end of the measured mile he popped the drogue - which ripped off immediately. He hit the wheel brakes, and they, designed for 150 mph and lower stops, disappeared in a puff of smoke. Five miles from the traps and still going 300 mph he clipped off a telephone pole as if it were a toothpick. Then the car ploughed through shallow water, hit an 8-ft. embankment and hurtled up and over into an 18-ft. deep brine pond. Shaken but unscathed, Breedlove swam to shore. When the rescuers reached him, he pointed at his car, only the tailfin and jet nozzle of which were projecting from the pond, and said, "Look at my racer! For my next trick I'll set myself afire!"

Mickey Thompson's plans didn't materialize so the way was cleared for a return match with Art Arfons. Damage repaired, and a back-up 'chute system added, Arfons again unleashed the Monster to tack 10 mph onto Breedlove's record; tit for tat, so to speak. Arfons got his first run off at 515.98 mph and came back at 559.179 through the measured mile. His record, which appears to be safe only until next fall when they'll all be back on the salt, is 536.71 mph. Arfons also set a kilometer record of 571.379 mph, indicating there's plenty of potential left in Ol' Greenie. A flat tire, again on the right rear, and at 600 mph, slowed his second run. For 1964 tyre sponsor Firestone had its embarrassments, too.

Motorsport in 1964

The 179 EH came about thanks to Victorian Holden dealers Bill Patterson and Bib Stillwell, who reckoned that the Armstrong 500 would make a good competition debut for the EH. They obviously had friends at G.M. H.'s Fishermen's Bend plant, who understood that a competition version of the EH was necessary – and it would be preferable if it were to include such additions as discs, a floor change four-speed box, bucket seats, larger fuel tank, etc. The 179 cu. in. engine had modifications including improved breathing and exhaust . But Holden were keen to stress that their decision to build the necessary number of cars to make them eligible for racing should not have been misconstrued as an official entry into motor sport. But as you would expect, nothing was further from the truth. At the time of the EH, GMH were duty bound, as were the entire GM global conglomerate, to abide by the agreement among American manufacturers (Ford excepted) not to support motor racing.

At the time GM were far and away the world's biggest automotive corporation, and many considered that, had the organisation have backed motorsport, they would have steamrollered all opposition, and the sport would have suffered. So, while GMH were not officially into motorsport, they were following their successful pattern in the States, where you could buy a Chev or a Pontiac in various stages of time and with various extras. The EH 179M, judged historically, can be seen as nothing more than an attempt to gauge the extent of the growing market of pseudo-racers. But such was the demand for the 179M that the General was soon to release the (officially designated) EH 225 M-S.4 with its 179 cu. in. engine. It was identical to the EH 225 M except for a rear axle ratio of 3.55:1, a PBR servo brake unit, small clutch changes which included a different lining, a slightly modified steering column gearshift mechanism, a .25in. increase in the tail shaft diameter, and a 12 gallon fuel tank which was been achieved by enlarging the lower half. Other changes included a modified carburettor, float chamber, larger clutch housing, which also made it necessary to revise the exhaust pipe attachment bracket, etc.

Since the race rules permitted competition brake linings, the car was fitted with sintered iron linings on the front and Mintex on the rear. Sintered iron linings had already gained a good reputation, thanks to Norm Beechey's racing Impala, and many considered them as effective as discs. A fire-extinguisher, a lap belt and a laminated screen are required for competition, were also fitted to the EH. Armstrong shocks were naturally a must for the race, and the Holden used competition Armstrongs all round with adjustable on the rear. Some 120 of these cars were produced and sold to the public for A£1160. There were some cases, it was alleged, of dealers selling these cars at inflated prices - and it was obvious that, with 600-odd dealers, GMH couldn't give one to each. This gave rise to the rumour that the cars were not available to the public and that the ARDC, the Armstrong 500 organisers, should have considered refusing their entry. No doubt realising that the race would fall flat without new cars, the promoters (Armstrong) and the ARDC had a second and more realistic look at the new cars, which without doubt complied with the race regulation. They could have only been rejected on that loophole clause which allowed an organiser the right to refuse an entry without stating a reason.

Apart from the 120 "produced and sold" cars, the factory produced for the Victorian dealers three cars to be driven by Bib Stillwell - John Youl, Bill Patterson - Doug Whiteford, Lex Davison - Brian Thompson, in the Armstrong 500, another one for Scuderia Veloce for the same race, and a couple for themselves as test cars. The Victorian cars were soon given over to the Police Forces in Victoria and South Australia when the ARDC originally banned the cars. It was a shame, as the handling of the 179M, aided by the shock absorbers, was quite remarkable - flat and firm, yet never uncomfortable. Shod with Goodyear G8 tyres, adhesion was good. Sedan car racing in Australia underwent quite a change in 1963 and 1964. And the biggest shake-up came in the up to 1600cc. class. The man who started the new trend was rally-cum-track expert, Harry Firth. He introduced the Ford Cortina to circuit racing here, and the cult caught on so fast - boosted along by the advent of the GT model - that Cortinas took over in popularity from the long-in-the-tooth 2600cc racing Holdens. Not only were the Cortinas faster than most of the ageing machinery of nearly twice the capacity, but the Lotus-modified cars were exhilarating.

A case in point came from Neptune team driver Jim McKeown of Victoria. McKeown's Lotus Cortina began as a 103 bhp road model. The engine was opened up to just under 1.6 litres and worked over extensively to give more than 150 bhp. Naturally, handling was improved to suit the car's extra performance. The Victorian Lotus was not only a consistent class winner, it re-wrote the record books, and put a scare into the big bore sedans, especially on tight circuits like Warwick Farm. The EH Holdens, particularly the Armstrong S4 cars, also showed a lot of potential. Norman Beechey proved that the Holden could be made to go really hard, but his car was a bit too brittle. Sydney's Brian Muir had a similar mount - and almost as fast - but it was more consistent mechanically. Em Abbott's Valiant lost its good nature when it found more horsepower - 300-plus was the figure claimed - and a lot of work had been put in to find reliability.

The South Australian Valiant of Clem Smith had seemingly satisfied its appetite for crankshafts. Most consistent car of the lot was the 4.1-litre Jaguar of ex-Australian champion Bob Jane. It chalked up more than 30 successive wins, a truly impressive total. Jane hadn't "bought" his titles through having expensive equipment. The white Jaguar had had some formidable opposition, including the Beechey Impala and the equally vast and explosive Ford Galaxie. Further down the scale, the Geoghegan brothers got back into touring car racing with a GT Cortina, and showed the same polished - and winning - style that took them to the top in open-wheelers and sports cars. Ian Geoghegan winning the 1964 touring car championship. Among the tiddlers, the two outstanding drivers were Peter Manton and Brian Foley, both BMC works drivers. Manton was called the Mini king, and it was a well deserved title. He held the lap record at most of Australia's main circuits, and he lapped Sandown quicker than the Holdens of Spencer Martin and Bruce McPhee, and only a shade under four seconds slower than the Jane Jaguar and the Galaxie. Foley was an accomplished sports car driver as well as a top Mini man.

HMAS Voyager Disaster

1964 was also the year the Royal Australian Navy experienced its worst peacetime maritime disaster when, on February the 10th, the destroyer HMAS Voyager would sink after being rammed by the aircraft carrier Melbourne during night exercises. 82 lives were lost aboard the Voyager, including the Captain and 13 other officers. The "George Cross" would be awarded posthumously to CPO Jonathon Rogers, DSM, for conspicuous bravery during the rescue operation. Subsequent inquiries and Royal Commissions (held in 1964 and 1967) would eventually absolve the Melbourne of any wrong-doing, instead laying blame on the Voyager for not taking avoiding action and persisting on a collision course.

Formula One Championship:

John Surtees (Britain) / Ferrari

1964 Bathurst Winner:

Bob Jane & George Reynolds / Ford Cortina GT

NRL Grand Final:

VFL/AFL Grand Final:

Melbourne Cup:

Polo Prince (R. Taylor)

Wimbledon Women:

Maria Bueno d. M. Smith (6-4 7-9 6-3)

Wimbledon Men:

Roy Emerson d. F. Stolle (6-4 12-10 4-6 6-3)

The Movies:

  • Red Desert
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • My Fair Lady
  • Mary Poppins
  • Zorba the Greek
  • Becket

Gold Logie:

Bobby Limb (The Mobil Limb Show, Nine)

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture - My Fair Lady
  • Best Actor - Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady)
  • Best Actress - Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins)

The Charts:

  1. All My Loving - The Beatles
  2. Love Me Do - The Beatles
  3. A Hard Day's Night - The Beatles
  4. Can't Buy Me Love - The Beatles
  5. The Wedding - Julie Rogers
  6. You're My World - Cilla Black
  7. If I Feel - The Beatles
  8. I Feel Fine - The Beatles
  9. Poison Ivy - Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs
  10. Tell It On The Mountain - The Beach Boys


  • Herbert Clark Hoover (Former US President)
  • Douglas MacArthur (WWII General)
  • Harpo Marx (Comedian)
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