The eight best F1 cars of the 1960s (List) | GRR (2023)

A golden era of F1, the 1960s saw the rise of the British teams, those “garagistes” so loathed by Enzo Ferrari. Indeed seven of the ten seasons were won by cars built in Britain, with one of the other won by a car run by a British team. Dominance and reliability were questionable at all times, but some cars stood out.

Lotus 25

When Lotus sold a series of 24s to teams including Brabham, they promised that the cars would remain pretty much identical to the new car Team Lotus would run. When the 25 turned up the teams that had bought 24s stared at it and immediately began to wonder if they’d been lied to.

The Lotus 25 was the first F1 car to use a stressed monocoque, making it three times more rigid than the old car, while also being an extraordinary half the weight. It had a lower frontal area for better aerodynamics and inboard dampers. It was a revolution. Over the next six years the 25 would win 14 of 49 races entered and hand Lotus four titles – two Drivers’, both to Jim Clark, and two Constructors’. In 1963, the second season Lotus fielded the 25, Jim Clark won seven of the ten races, only finishing off the podium once. In reality the only reason that the 25 didn’t win two more titles was engine reliability – a part not made by Lotus.

Love F1 in the ‘60s? Make sure you read our feature: The history of F1: The 1960s

The eight best F1 cars of the 1960s (List) | GRR (1)

Ferrari 156

One of those titles surrendered by Lotus when Climax engines gave out was handed over the Scuderia Ferrari and the Ferrari 156, which was by then helping Ferrari to win its second title of the decade and a bit of a venerable old beast. Four years earlier the 156, with its iconic “Sharknose” shape, had led the field – the car itself was good, but it was a change of engine that really sparked the 156 into life. Originally fitted with a 65-degree Dino engine, designer Carlo Chitti was adamant that a new engine with a bigger vee was needed to make the 156 competitive. When Enzo Ferrari eventually relented, Chitti would be proved right.

With the new 120-degree V6 in place the 156 was not only 10PS (7kW) more powerful, it also delivered its power in a much more manageable way. After the engine change the 156 won five of the next six races, with the championship boiling down to a two-horse race between Ferrari drivers Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips. Trips would die in an accident at the Italian Grand Prix – a race that Hill won, and with it the Drivers’ title. While the 156 continued to compete for three more seasons –without its famous sharknose – it would only win two more races, one for Lorenzo Bandini and one for John Surtees.

Make sure you read our other list, the seven best F1 cars of the 1970s.

The eight best F1 cars of the 1960s (List) | GRR (2)

Brabham BT19

The 1966 season was a good one for Formula 1, as after years of racing with weedy little 1.5-litre engines, the rules were relaxed, finally allowing bigger, 3.0-litre engined cars, with big wheels and generally more racing car looks, to race. The king of that first season, was the Brabham BT19.

The change in engine regulations meant all the teams needed new motors, and in most cases new chassis in which to fit them. Brabham owner Jack Brabham and designer Ron Tauranac though, disagreed over direction, and ended up having to shoehorn a new 2.9-litre Coventry Climax V8 into a chassis designed for the old regulations. Despite being a bit of a bodge job, the BT19 was the class of the field, and brought Jack Brabham four wins (all in a row) and both Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles. The following year the BT19 would help the team, alongside the BT20 and BT24, to win a second consecutive pair of F1 crowns.

The eight best F1 cars of the 1960s (List) | GRR (3)


A rather unwieldy looking thing in an era of sleek little Lotuses, the BRM P57 was much more successful than it really looked. Blindsided by a regulation change that limited engine size to 1.5-litres, the heavy P57 was initially lumbered with a four-cylinder Coventry Climax engine that did not suit it – it only managed to score points four times in 1961.

By 1962 BRM had been able to develop its own, in-house P56 V8 engine, which the car had always been designed to have. Now called the P578 the BRM was much more worthy of competition. In the hands of Graham Hill it won four races and the Drivers’ crown, Richie Ginther pitched in a few more podiums to bring BRM the Constructors’ title. The P578 would go on to race for three more seasons, in both factory and privateer hands, helping BRM to three more runners-up spots in the Constructors’ Championship and a pair of race wins for Graham Hill in 1963. While the successor P261 was undoubtedly more successful for race wins, it would never clinch either title, settling for bridesmaid positions in both 1964 and ’65.

Have a read of our list ofthe eight best F1 cars of the 1980s.

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The eight best F1 cars of the 1960s (List) | GRR (8)

Porsche 804

Today Porsche and F1 really isn’t a known partnership. You’re probably more likely to think about the engines it designed for McLaren – badged TAG – if you ponder Porsche’s Formula 1 involvement than its own team. But in the 1960s the company from Stuttgart hadn’t established itself as a sportscar superpower yet. In fact in 1962 Porsche’s first Le Mans victory was the best part of a decade away.

Initially Porsche had entered closed-wheeled cars into F1, taking advantage of a rule change allowing them in 1957. To all intents and purposes these cars were just the Porsche sportscars of the day with mild modifications. Eventually, following more regulation changes, Porsche built some proper F1 cars, eventually leading to the Porsche 804 of 1962. Narrow, with a horizontal cooling fan to reduce size and a low flat-eight engine, the 804 was advanced for its age, but still only managed a single victory – for Dan Gurney at the French Grand Prix. It makes this list not for being one of the true greats, but for its “what if” potential, as Porsche canned all F1 activities following the 804’s single season.

The eight best F1 cars of the 1960s (List) | GRR (9)

Lotus 18

Second in the championship was all the Lotus 18 would ever manage, and it would never actually win a full championship Formula 1 race when fielded by Team Lotus themselves. But in the hands of Stirling Moss and Rob Walker’s eponymous outfit, it was a true championship contender.

With a Climax inline four engine the Lotus 18 was the first mid-engined F1 car built by Lotus and would be the first of the firm’s cars to win a Grand Prix – Moss claiming victory in its second ever race at Monaco. So popular was the lightweight and simple-to-use 18 that a total of fourteen different teams fielded them at various stages of the 1961 season. While it would never win a championship it set Lotus up for a decade of success, and brought Moss his greatest victory – deposing the mighty Ferrari sharknoses at Monaco in ’61.

Read another list:the eight best F1 cars of the 1990s.

The eight best F1 cars of the 1960s (List) | GRR (10)

Matra MS80

In Jackie Stewart’s first three seasons in F1 – all with BRM – he had proven himself to be incredibly fast, but also decidedly unlucky. In that time he only finished 12 races, but of those 12 he was on the podium eight times and won twice. For 1968 he joined Ken Tyrrell’s fledgling team, then running Matras for the French manufacturer, and finally discovered reliable cars, winning three races and finishing second in the championship with the team’s MS10 car. For 1969 followed up the MS10 with the DFV-powered MS80.

The key features of the MS80 were the side-mounted fuel cell and the introduction of wings. These new aerodynamic aids had been introduced in the middle of 1968 season, mounted via spindly high sticks directly onto the suspension. The MS80 initially raced with such high-mounted wings, in some cases both front and back, before a series of accidents involving broken wings led to new, lower, wings being mounted to the bodywork. In Stewart’s hands the MS80 was nearly untouchable, winning five of the eleven races that season and securing both titles for Stewart and Tyrrell. So dominant was the Scot, that his total of 67 points was nearly double that of his closest rival, Ferrari’s Jacky Ickx.

The eight best F1 cars of the 1960s (List) | GRR (11)

Eagle Weslake

The Eagle Mk1 was not a successful car. In fact out of 26 races it started it finished just six. It makes this list for two reasons. Firstly it was born out of the work of an American racing icons, the great Dan Gurney, and secondly it was simply the very prettiest car of the cigar-shaped era.

Using a Weslake V12, the Eagle was designed and built at All American Racers, USA, then shipped to Anglo American Racers, an arm of the home company with the same initials, in the UK for final assembly. Designed by Len Terry – who had just left Lotus – it was closely modelled on the Indy 500 winning Lotus 38. When it was finally mated with its Weslake engine the Mk1 was very competitive, but hideously unreliable. Allegedly manufactured using surplus WW1 tools, it had a habit of pooling oil in the sump and had awful tolerances. So poor was the reliability that it could well have been a story that ended with nothing for Gurney, until everything worked just once, at Spa, and Gurney put in the performance of his career to take victory. The Eagle is another what if story, but this time just “what it if had worked?”

Read our list:the seven best F1 cars of the 2000s.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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