Old Fords Week: America's Ford Falcon
Don't let its humble looks fool you. America's Ford Falcon started out as a late 1950s economy car, then became America's most-loved 1960s pony car, morphed into a compact and sporty coupé/sedan for the 70s, and finally retired in garish style in the early 1980s. Except for one small exception.
This versatile compact (Not sub-compact, as was the Pinto) platform began life as Ford's answer to the small import cars that were trickling their way into America in the late 1950s. The VW Beetle, Toyotas, Datsuns, and a few British cars more than hinted at sensibility and thrift. This was a novel idea on American roads at the time, as most 1950s and 60s cars were getting longer, lower, and wider.
But the 1950s' Suez Crisis got a lot of people thinking, especially in Europe. The thought of petrol-miserly cars caught on quickly over there and has remained to this day. That happens over here only when gas prices go up. Then they go back down, and we go back to where we were.
The Falcon has also been built overseas, but that history is way too involved to get into here. However, I would feel this post was neglected if I didn't mention that the car Mel Gibson drove in "Mad Max" was the Australian Ford Falcon. Argentina also made their version of the car, using many of the original American Falcon body panels, from 1962 until 1991.
The name "Falcon" was first used by Edsel Ford in 1935 for a luxury car, which was renamed the Mercury. Later, the Mercury Comet, a near clone of the Falcon, was originally meant to be a Ford Edsel. Talk about coming full circle here!
The Falcon Sprint's front bucket seats and console were a preview of the Mustang's interior, and similar to the Falcon Futura model. Then after the Mustang came along, more performance-oriented parts were available, and they trickled back down to the Falcon. So eventually a Falcon could do about anything a Mustang could do except look like a Mustang. Or sell like one.
The Falcon was designed to haul six people, with flat bench seats front and rear. Some early Mustangs even had a front bench seat adapted from the Falcon.
The cars were unibody, usually equipped with a six-cylinder, and the shifter (For a 3-speed manual or 2-speed automatic) was on the steering column. Starting in 1962 a "4 on the floor" was offered, and in 1963, the Fairlane's 164 hp "Challenger" 260 cu. inch (4.3 L) V-8 was an option.
I owe a special debt to a Falcon. My first submission to Car and Driver magazine was their "10 Best Wild Things" contest in 1986 (Published in the January, 1987 issue). The car I found was a 4-door Falcon that had been shortened into a 2-door, souped up, and had been very nicely done. The doors were half front door, half rear door. He sat in the (former?) back seat to drive.
I met the guy that owned the car and did the work, but I never got his name. I don't know if he ever knew his car was in the magazine, but I hope he finds out some day that it was.
I'd like to make a little comparison here. The Falcon supported a wide range of compact body styles on a single platform, using many of the same parts. This concept was repeated about 10 years later with the Chevy Vega. But Ford used proven techniques and didn't "reinvent the wheel" and then break it.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words (Or more), so here's a little gallery of some first generation Falcons:
This near-stock Squire Wagon is a nice example.
A Tudor Wagon that was also built as a panel truck.
The car looked right at home with the top down.
It's hard to believe this became the Lincoln Versailles.
A rare 1963 Falcon Sprint. Notice it's a hardtop.
The Falcon Ranchero. That turquoise is unforgettable.
This Falcon is the forerunner of today's E-Series vans.
The second generation Falcon (1964 and 1965) was basically a reskin. Its lines were squared off, the body seemed tighter, and the doors had that "snap" sound when they closed, typical of all Fords in the 1960s and '70s. I even read somewhere that Ford had a committee to assure that all their doors had that familiar corporate sound.
One of the most famous of these Falcons was the Ranchero that henchman Oddjob drove in the James Bond film "Goldfinger." It served the job of transporting a crushed and cubed Lincoln Continental from a Kentucky salvage yard back to Auric Goldfinger's horse farm.
I think I've said this before... whoever the electromagnet crane operator was in that scene was a magician... he maneuvered the heavy cube into the back of the Ranchero quickly without even scratching the bed... quite an accomplishment considering the tidy space he had to work with.
Could a Falcon Ranchero easily transport a smushed 2+-ton Lincoln Continental in its bed? No. But this is a movie, and that scene is a favorite with us 007 fans. Now that's a pressing engagement, Mr. Bond!
The third generation Falcon (1966-1970) continued the compact car theme, but with some notable changes. According to Wikipedia, "This body was based on a shortened Fairlane platform with different body sheet metal. The two-door Hardtop and Convertible were dropped, while the Station Wagon and Ranchero were moved to a larger platform shared with the contemporary Fairlane. The Ranchero would leave the Falcon line and adopt the Fairlane's front sheet metal for 1967."
"The final model year for the Falcon in North America was 1970. Continuing sales declines and the inability of the car to meet forthcoming safety standards resulted in a short run of 1970 models identical to the 1969 version being built through the end of December, 1969." Thanks, Wiki.
As mentioned, the Falcon chassis was the underpinning for other cars. The original Mercury Comet, Ford Mustang, Maverick, Granada/Monarch, and Lincoln Versailles all owe their existance to the Falcon.
A 1963 Comet, which almost became a 1963 Edsel.
There would never have been a Mustang without the Falcon.
A Maverick Grabber, before the big bumpers went on.
The father of the Mustang and another Falcon spin-off.
This is as close as you could get to a 2-door Versailles.
The Granada ESS. Just like a European car. Sorta.
My apologies if I've upset anybody's stomach here.
The final car to carry the Falcon name in America was more or less a stripped-down Ford Fairlane/Torino. Most notably, it had a post (B Pillar) behind the front doors, which was associated as a lower trim indi- cator back then. It was sold for a whopping six months as the "Falcon 1970½," and you could get a two-door, four-door, or five-door wagon.
The car was a plain Jane, but you could buy the full range of Torino powertrains from the 250 cubic-inch six-cylinder, all the way to the 429 Cobra Jet V8.
I saw one of these when it was new, and its owners said it would be a collector's car some day because it was so rare. I really hope and think it is.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
Image Credits: The 1960 Falcon image is from PopularMechanics.com. The Falcon interior is from SunsetClassics.com. The "10 Best Wild Things" winner is from the January, 1987 issue of Car and Driver. The 1963 Falcon Wagon image is from StreetRodderWeb.com. The Tudor Wagon image is from LoveFords.org. The convertible Falcon image is from SpecialtyCarLocators.com. The 4-door Falcon image is from Wheels.Blogs.NYTimes.com. The Falcon Sprint image is from SecondChanceGarage.com. The Falcon Ranchero image is from HowStuffWorks.com. The Falcon Van image is from BridgetownBlog.files.wordpress.com. The "Goldfinger" Ranchero image is from CurbsideClassic.com. The third generation Falcon image is from HowStuffWorks.com. The 1963 Comet image is from OldCarAndTruckPictures.com. The Mustang image is from MustangMonthly.Automotive.com. The Maverick image is from Maverick.To/Pics/Shaw_Simpson. The Granada image is from Tocmp.com/pix/Ford/images. The Mercury Monarch image is from DeSoto58.com. The Granada ESS image is from ProductionCars.com. The Versailles image is from Automobile-Catalog.com/Pict_sm. The Falcon 1970½ image is from Media.Photobucket.com. Whew!