The Most Iconic Vehicles From the 1960s

The 1960s were, in many ways, the years that set a precedent for so many of America’s most formative cultural moments. It was a decade that saw humanity’s ascension to the moon and the depths in which our nation could sink in the treatment of its sons and daughters during the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam. Whether greatness or tragedy, our cars, trucks, and motorcycles were there for all of it. Every once in a while, these vehicles were so deeply connected with the moment that they became fused in history, cementing themselves as iconic vintage vehicles. 

Buzz Aldrin’s Corvette

Apollo 11 astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin arrives at the flight crew training building of the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida with one of the most iconic vehicles of all time, Buzz Aldrin's Corvette
Buzz Aldrin and Corvette | Michael Ochs Archives/GettyImages

There aren’t many moments in human history as momentous as the Apollo 12 moon landing. The Chevrolet Corvette has been the vehicle of choice for many Astronauts. According to Hagerty, following sponsorship limitations from NASA, Jim Rathmann, owner of a dealership in Florida at the time, came up with the slick idea to offer a $1 lease for up to two vehicles for a year at a time.

Buzz Aldrin famously drove a ‘67 Stingray before his legendary trip to the moon. As the Hagerty article states, the astronauts and Corvette connection started when GM president Ed Cole presented Alan Shepard (the first American in space) with a white 1962 Corvette. I think it’s safe to say that Buzz Aldrin’s Corvette holds a special place as far as automotive icons are concerned. 

Captain America and Billy 

These are arguably the most famous motorcycles of all time. Easy Rider was one of the many artistic creations that sought to represent the cultural supercollider that was the 1960s. The ’60s was not only home to some iconic vehicles; it was also home to more than one “counter-culture.” While hippies are usually the first to pop into someone’s head when you mention the late ’60s, there were equally important groups intermixing like the Black Panthers and the “outlaw” bikers. 

A custom made chopper motorcycle based on the iconic bike ridden by Peter Fonda in the film 1969 "Easy Rider" and used in publicity for the film
Captain America | Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

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Not only does what is depicted in this film represent these other two groups, but also the creation of the film and its most recognizable assets does as well. The Vintagent describes the long road that led to creating these two bikes and the film itself.

Cliff Vaughs, was a documentary filmmaker, political activist, and chopper builder. He was one of the prominent builders who made these two motorcycle Icons. Vaughs helped build the legendary bikes, and from making some Black Panther documentaries, he even workshopped early ideas for Easy Rider with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. 

The VW Van is the definition of an iconic vehicle

A hippie girl stands next to a Volkswagen bus painted in a bold design, San Francisco, California, July, 1967.
VW van | San Francisco, California, July, 1967.

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This one is a little different because it isn’t a specific vehicle or individual example, but it’s impossible to talk ’60s iconic vehicles and not mention the VW van. It might as well be the physical manifestation of the ’60 and counterculture at this point. If someone merely mentions VW vans, many of us immediately picture one painted up with peace signs and flowers driving through Hait-Ashbury. The VW van is as ’60s as apple pie laced with LSD.

The Aston Martin DB5 vehicle is a massively iconic vehicle

Aston Martin DB5 on display at the 2019 Concours d'Elegance at palace Soestdijk
DB5 | Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images

The Aston Martin DB5 is hardly a car at this point. Aston Martin is a spy car company. Well, they aren’t – but, yeah, you kind of know they are. It is hard to separate the two. Case in point, I haven’t even said James Bond until now, and we were all thinking it without even realizing it. Of course, it doesn’t stop with DB5; that was just the first one they showed him driving in Goldfinger.

John Lennon’s Rolls Royce Phantom V

attends the world premiere of the 'The Great Eight Phantoms - A Rolls-Royce Exhibition' at Bonhams
John Lennon’s Phantom V | at Bonhams

Rolls Royce might not be the first or even last thing you think of when someone says “psychedelic beetle-mobile.” The late ’60s were a time of change. Everyone has plenty of opinions about the specifics changes that occurred during that time, but no one can deny that like it not, things were changing.

According to a Rolling Stone article, in 1967, John Lennon ordered a Rolls Royce Phantom V and commissioned artist Steve Weaver to paint it yellow and cover it in a mixture of brightly colored Romany and Zodiac symbols.

It turned out that this was the kind of change the fine people of England certainly weren’t cool with. As John drove through the Picadilly Promenade, a woman reportedly shouted, “You swine! How dare you do that to a Rolls Royce!” This stunt caused severe outrage. This act put into question the old system of values and polite society. If that doesn’t represent the ‘60s, I don’t know what does. 

John F Kennedy’s SS-100X (1961 Lincoln Continental Convertible)

A 1963 Lincoln Continental Limousine Cabriolet on display during a preview for the upcoming Coys Spring Classics auction at the Royal Horticultural Society's Lindley Hall in London
Lincoln Continental | Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

Arguably the most iconic vehicle most directly associated with one of the most unforgettable moments in America’s history. SS-100-X was originally a standard 1961 Lincoln continental before the secret service got their code names on it. As the car that was driving the president through Dallas when he was unfortunately assassinated while being televised, that instantly locks the Lincoln continental in as an icon.

It’s a bitter and tragic icon, but an icon nonetheless. This moment contains so much of the turmoil and violence that plagued the ’60s while also acting as a significant cause for the uprooting of so many previously unquestioned social norms and societal structures the made the young people so restless. The Lincoln contenental was there to bear witness to it all and us to it.