The modern car interior can be tough to get right. New cars have to accommodate buttons and switches for climate control systems, audio systems, safety systems and the now-de rigeur infotainment screen. Modern interiors are comfortable, and they’re filled with all the tech and toys you’d ever want. On the flip side, the car interiors of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s were much simpler; with fewer features to worry about, a clean aesthetic was easier to achieve. Simple as they may be, our favorite interiors from those decades are full of mid-century style — designs that have become retro wonders. These five reign supreme.
C1 Chevrolet Corvette
The original Corvette may have been inspired by the Jaguar XK120, but its interior upheld the early 20th-century American tradition of plush, well-designed interiors. The seats are big and cushy, the steering wheel is massive but thin and the shapely dash is home to a cluster of chrome gauges and switches. Red was a common interior color option (for the Corvette’s first year it was the only option), and looks best when paired with white interior trim. But the C1’s finest design feature was how the two seats were seamlessly molded into the rear deck of the car.
In his 1957 book Mythologies, Roland Barthes described the Citroën DS’s interior thusly: “The dashboard looks more like the working surface of a modern kitchen than the control room of a factory; the slim panes of matt [sic] fluted metal, the small levers topped by a white ball, the very simple dials, the very discreetness of the nickel-work, all this signifies a kind of control exercised over motion rather than performance.” Barthes’s thesis was that the DS’s design (both inside and out) represented driving joy that did not necessitate performance. Barnes didn’t even mention the two finer points of the DS’s interior: the overstuffed, couch-like seats and the slim, single-spoke steering wheel, an iconic and elegant detail from designer Flaminio Bertoni.
Upon its debut in the early 1960s, the Mercedes 600 was the most expensive car you could buy. For the most part, that was because of the car’s elaborate hydraulics-powered systems, which controlled everything from the windows and seats to the automatic-closing doors. Hydraulics allowed these systems to operate silently which, when combined with a big cushy leather interior and exotic wood, made for one opulent experience. Most Mercedes 600s were built to order, so many were fitted with custom options like TV sets and even a record player, as in John Lennon’s example. While the “standard” short-wheelbase version was already an incredibly posh car, a long-wheelbase Pullman version and open-top, long-wheelbase Landaulet were also available.
Of all the reasons the Lamborghini Miura is one of the greatest cars ever built, the interior probably doesn’t immediately come to mind. But if there were one performance car from the ‘60s and ‘70s that got interior design right, it was the iconic Lambo. Above all it was simple: the low, lean bucket seats are situated right up against the bulkhead separating the cabin from the engine, and they look fantastic in their svelte, leather-swathed splendor. Ahead of the driver the minimalism continues with a three-spoke steering wheel, and a tachometer and speedometer molded beautifully into the leather dash. The central transmission tunnel houses a handful of switches, the ignition and a gated shifter, and then flows into the aggressively angled central gauge cluster. It’s a flowing, gorgeous design that, along with the car’s body shape, has inspired supercars for generations.
As supercar designs became more aggressive and angular in the 1970s, the interiors followed suit. One particularly handsome example of those designs is the Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed Maserati Bora. The most prominent design element of the Bora’s interior are the two seats, which are covered in ribbed leather and have the long, low flow of a chaise lounge. The Bora’s instrument layout is busy with various gauges and switches, and because its center console is angled towards the driver it feels almost akin to an airplane cockpit.
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