This was a fun one. I put in the better part of a week, and it also spawned my TV cars article. The art credit goes to Aaron Miller though, he put in the leg work to get pictures he could use.
The 1960s saw some of the most beautifully futuristic race cars the world has ever seen, and many of the shapes below continue to influence race cars and road cars alike, 50 years later. Blindingly fast, they were occasionally so advanced that they used government-funded tech.
These 11 pushed the boundaries just that little bit further in pursuit of absolute speed.
1. McLaren Mk6
Founded by the legendary Bruce McLaren, most of McLaren’s 1960s creations were ahead of their time, including the team’s amazing 1968 F1 car with then-unheard of advances in front wings. McLaren’s Can-Am Mk6 was unbeatable in 1967 and ran away with the championship. It was so futuristic that a kit car version became the star car for the TV Show Hardcastle & McCormick almost 20 years later.
2. Lola T70
Lola has made some legendary race cars, including the Mk6 GT, which Ford evolved into the all-conquering GT40. In 1966, the dominant car in Can-Am racing was the long, low, and swooping Lola T70. The innovations from this car would later lead to the T160 along with new trends in airflow with an angular body, downward sloping nose, and a pronounced spoiler. Lolas were campaigned by guys like Dan Gurney and James Garner, and the T70 was even picked by George Lucas to represent “normal” cars in his first film, THX 1138, “filmed on location in the 21st century.”
4. Ferrari 330 P4
Its shape would spawn a dozen imitators, but none could match the 330 P4’s 4.0 liter V-12 song. The P4’s only fault was that it was designed to combat the Ford GT40 at Le Mans.
5. Ford GT40 Mark IV
The Ford GT40 Mark IV was a shot right at Ferrari. The Ford GT40 was so futuristic in the ’60s they made a modern version 40 years later. Then another after that. The fourth iteration was built for a singular purpose: put a swoopy, 100 percent American cowboy boot right into the backside of the boys from Maranello. At Le Mans in 1967, it was mission accomplished.
6. Chapparal 2J
In 1962, F1 racer Hap Sharp and Texan Jim Hall founded a race company that lead the 1960s in aerodynamic innovation and futuristic designs. Among their innovations were the 2D that featured side pod radiators and the 2F with a huge wing and big block Chevy. But what they are really known for is the Chaparral 2J, aka the “Sucker Car.” Designed in 1969, the 2J was campaigned in 1970 before being outlawed. A snowmobile engine hooked up to two huge fans pulled from a friggin’ tank actually sucked air from under the car and created such downforce that the car was literally stuck to the track.
7. Porsche 906
Porsche has been futuristic since building its first sports car: In the ’60s, it practically definedthe genre. Its opening shot into the battle of futuristic race cars, the 906 would be the framework for Porsche’s immensely successful 917s and even 962s. Lean, low, and fast, Porsche’s low-slung boxer engines allowed for a height of a mere 33 inches and created a new aerodynamic profile unseen until this time. To quote Jayne from Firefly…”I’ll be in my bunk.”
8. Marcos Mantis XP
Yes, that’s a real race car. Only one was built and it boasts semi-gullwing doors and a Perspex (think Lexan) engine cover. Initially powered by a three-liter Brabham engine, it raced only once and was relocated to the U.S. Amazingly, it still exists.
9. Howmet TX Turbine
It was powered by a jet engine. A jet engine!!! The Howmet TX (Turbine eXperimental) is what happens when the government walks away from an assault helicopter development and the contractor doesn’t have any other use for the engine.
10. Porsche 917
This falls into the “Well Duh!” department. First campaigned in 1969, the 917 wasn’t just futuristic, it spawned a spree of successful Porsche endurance racers and inspired a line of kit cars and imitators for decades to come. Obviously Steve McQueen drove one.
11. Maserati Tipo 61 “Birdcage”
Technically it started production in 1959, but was raced into the early ’60s by guys like Carroll Shelby before he started making Cobras. The stunning “Birdcage” Maserati’s curvy lines sparked the era of futuristic race cars that, in turn, influences our road-going cars to this day.
The odd musings and automotive observations of a guy who willingly calls himself Mental