Where Were You In ’62? By D. Randy Riggs from issue 2012.2 – Mar/Apr 2012
How could it be that half a century has eroded since 1962? It seems just like yesterday … well, maybe not. In the early part of that year I was a lad of 15 in 10th grade dealing with the challenges all kids of that age face, fighting parental control, curfews, pimples and trying to get to second base. Much to my Mom’s chagrin in my spare time I read every car magazine I could get my hands on. “Put those magazines away and do your homework!” In class it was, “Mr. Riggs, are you hiding a car magazine in that study book?” Busted again, but the irony here is now I produce car magazines— destiny I suppose. Subscribing to Hot Rod, Car and Driver, National Dragster, Car Life, Rod & Custom and Road & Track gave me plenty of reading material but only served to make me wish I was older and had new cars of my own.
Most certainly 1962 was an excellent year to be interested in cars and racing. At the time I was living near the long-gone Trenton (NJ) and Langhorne (PA) Speedways and attended nearly every race in that “golden era,” not always easy since I was too young to drive legally, so I begged rides or convinced my Dad or older cousin Walt Keuper Jr. to take me. Coming up with the dough to buy a ticket was sometimes a challenge, but part-time jobs here and there like cutting neighbor’s lawns usually sufficed. I wasn’t about to miss A.J., Herk, or Parnelli in action.
Cousin Walt was my aunt’s son, and his father was Walt Keuper Sr. who, prior to World War II, was a well-known race driver in the Trenton, N.J. area competing in stock and sprint cars on the East Coast. Walt, although not a racer, shared his dad’s passion for cars and in 1962 bought a new 340hp, 4-speed Corvette. With it we competed in sports car rallies, he the driver and I the navigator. We ran in the unequipped category, did fairly well and earned several trophies. And since the rallies were populated by sports cars, I was around some of the latest and greatest cars of the period and very pleased to be riding shotgun in the cockpit of that rumbling fast Roman Red Corvette.
It was a good year for new cars, with performance in the headlines. Chevrolet dealers alone retailed 2,130,004 vehicles, a record. GM was on top of the world, and back then would any of us have ever imagined that Oldsmobile and Pontiac would be out of business 50 years later or GM itself bankrupt?
Ford meanwhile, introduced the 221cid small-block V8 and it soon grew to 260 and 289cid, which Carroll Shelby quickly realized was the answer to his sports car dream, and the Cobra was born. So too was Ford’s “Total Performance” campaign, the most ambitious competition program in the history of the industry after it repudiated the so-called safety resolution adopted by the Automobile Manufacturers Association in 1957.
Torn about the Cobra, I thought it was a hellacious sports car yet I was a Corvette fanatic and its throne was threatened. Threatened hell—toppled, at least for a time.
Fans of drag racing in 1962 were thrilled to be watching Detroit (who wanted to sell to the budding youth market) get serious about their sport, the Super Stock class forming to accommodate the 406 Fords, 409 Chevys, 421 Pontiacs and 413 Plymouths and Dodges that were rolling off assembly lines. The horsepower race was on like never before and it quickly escalated the performance envelope of these sedans (in a straight line) to a new level. Twelve-second quarter-mile times were reached by the best-prepared cars.
Phil Hill was the reigning World Driving Champion, but the year 1962 would not be a good one for his Ferrari Dino 156, eclipsed by BRM, Lotus and others. Another Hill (Graham) would be the 1962 Champion.
At Indianapolis Parnelli Jones became the first driver to crack the 150mph barrier though Rodger Ward would win the “500.” The 33 starters once again had a rear-engined car among them, Mickey Thompson’s Buick V8 entry driven by Dan Gurney in only his second oval race, signaling a change in the wind from the Indy roadsters.
It wasn’t easy to keep up with racing then, most reports filtering in three months late and only the GP of Monaco shown on TV’s “Wide World of Sports.” I kept my automotive lust busy by taking apart my ’42 Ford (it did not run) and servicing my Dad’s Chevy Impala, something I think he appreciated.
In ’62 enthusiasts like myself were anything but jaded, because what the automotive future held knew no bounds—a time I cherish and remember fondly.