What is the best year ever for cars and why?

We put that question to the performance-minded people on Summit Racing’s Facebook page. Using their answers as a foundation, we’ve compiled a list of the Top 8 years in automotive hot rodding and performance history. Why? Because it’s fun to make lists. And it’s even more fun to attempt the impossible–like narrowing 100-plus years of automobiles down to the eight best. 

We’ll unveil the list over the next week or so. In order the make the list, a given year must have been nominated at least once by the readers. 

{Image: 1969 Yenko Camaro by artistmac | CC BY-SA 2.0}

1969.

That’s the answer to the question: “What’s the best year ever for cars?

Why?

WHY!?

Take a breath. Turn on some Bryan Adams. And follow along.

Champion racer and car dealer Don Yenko started swapping big-block 427s into the new F-body Chevy Camaro in 1967.

But in 1969, Yenko’s crew discovered a loophole at Chevrolet that might allow them to sell super-high performance Camaros without the fuss of time-consuming swaps at the dealership: Central Office Production Orders. Those were essentially special order vehicles for fleet buyers like police departments and trucking firms. COPOs didn’t require upper-office approval.

GM had to put the kibosh on installing engines larger than 400 cubic inches in the Camaro.

And Yenko had found a way around that.

The COPO 9561 featured a solid-lifter big block engine which was listed at about 425 horsepower. Yenko ordered 201 of them.

And a legend was born.

Zack T. – “1969. Boss 429, Z/28, Mach 1, 427 ‘Vette, Yenko, 365 GTC… No smog or insurance regs. Chrome bumpers and real horsepower.”

Sean C. – “1969. Every manufacturer had a hot car.”

Nathan H. – “1969. No more needs to be said.”

Ben G. – “1969. Most beautiful and awesome cars.”

Brandon W. – “1969. Every muscle car was the best that year.”

The comments above speak for many people: 1969 was an absolutely killer year for factory hot rods.

GM’s stable included the 1969 Pontiac GTO known as “The Judge.” The 1969 SS 396 Chevelle overtook the Goats as Detroit’s best-selling muscle car. The 1969 Oldsmobile Hurst (based on the Cutlass 4-4-2). The 1969 Pontiac Trans Am.

Oh, Yeah. Ford Built Cars in ’69, Too

Detect the sarcasm, please. Because despite the magic delivered by GM (and Mopar!—we’ll get there), more than a little awesomeness came out of Ford factories for the 1969 model year.

In early 1968, Ford Motor Co. hired General Motors executive Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen to breathe life into Blue Oval sales.

Knudsen’s strategy wasn’t complicated.

He took one look at the Mustang and loved how it looked, but not how it drove. Knudsen had a motto: “You can sell a young man’s car to an old man, but you’ll never sell an old man’s car to a young man.”

So, he hired away the designer of the Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 from GM and set him loose on the Mustang.

The results?

The majesty that is the 1969 Ford Mustang: The Mach 1 (more than 72,000 sold). The Boss 302. And the Boss 429.

Ford extended the Mustang about four inches for ’69. Widened it a tad. Launched the tri-bar logo. Featured a functional shaker hood scoop and cable-and-pin tiedowns. And offered a wide array of powerplant options, highlighted by both the 302-cubic-inch and 429-cubic-inch Boss V8 engines.

It is perhaps the ultimate example of Chevy’s performance ingenuity being infused into what is arguably the most-gorgeous Ford Mustang ever built.

We feel like this is something most of us can get behind.

Performance legend Carroll Shelby also got his genius mitts on a ’69 and turned it into the 1969 Shelby Mustang GT350 to put the finishing touches on the first generation of Shelby performance Mustangs.

In 1969, Ford also gave us awesome versions of the Mercury Cougar Eliminator, the Ford Torino Talladega, and the Mercury Comet Cyclone Spoiler II.

Are We Forgetting Something?

Image by Gorguy Kane from Pixabay

Umm, yeah.

Mopar folk be like: “Hey! Look at me!,” followed by some fake coughing and a The Dukes of Hazzard marathon.

The gang at Mopar continued its run of 1960s amazingness through ’69, highlighted by the Dodge Charger, which was immortalized as The General Lee by the fictional Bo and Luke Duke.

Additionally, 1969 bestowed on us such beauties as the 1969 Plymouth Road Runner, the 1969 Dodge Coronet R/T, the 1969 Dodge Dart Swinger, the 1969 Plymouth ‘Cuda 440, and the Superbird-lookalike 1969 Charger Daytona.

We’d be remiss to not at least mention American Motors Corp.’s 1969 Hurst SC/Rambler. Because that happened in 1969, too. And it was kind of a bad mother.

What was your favorite car in 1969? Do you strongly disagree that 1969 was the best year for cars? What year is your favorite?

Author: Matt Griswold

After a 10-year newspaper journalism career, Matt Griswold spent another decade writing about the automotive aftermarket and motorsports. He was part of the original OnAllCylinders editorial team when it launched in 2012.