From the Beginning...
In 1956 When Cessna introduced the C-172, they chose the Continential O-300A six cylinder engine to power it. It came with an electrical system including a starter and generator (lights were optional). By the way, the "Skyhawk" was not introduced until 1960, and it represented a deluxe version of the C-172, usually wheel pants, interior, and radio upgrades.
The 1956 Cessna 172 was actually called the Businessliner. The first Businessliner had a book cruise speed of 131 mph, sea level climb of 660 ft/min and a 2200 lb gross weight. "Land-o-matic" landing gear, a venturi system, single controls, and smooth 145 HP engine rounded out the standard features. Optional features included dual controls, L-2 Lear auto pilot, landing lights, sun visors, tow bar, and a streacher installation.
To the end...
The last 6 cylinder O-300 C-172/Skyhawk was in 1967 with the H model. When I was looking to buy my first airplane, many folks told me to avoid the O-300 because it was so expensive to overhaul, was no longer in production, and was under powered. BUT then I saw 62L. She was a very nice looking plane with a high time engine, a sad panel, and a great price.
By 1967 the C-172 had changed considerably, but like the VW Beetle, not too much. It was no longer called the Businessliner , it came in two versions (the 172 and Skyhawk), it had a rear window, more space, lower gear, higher gross weight, better avionics, and dual controls were standard.
My Skyhawk has had a pretty complete overhaul with a 0 SMOH engine, oil filter, leakproof pushrod tubes, digital radios (including an IFR certified GPS), new style paint, new carpet, digital engine gauges, ashlights, better panel lighting, new style control yokes, intercomm with 4-seat connections, new wiring and a million little details to make this one of the the nicest '67 Hawks around.