At Age 50, Ford's Falcon Is Forever Flying High
Is it really possible that the Falcon began production a half century ago? Much as we may want to think otherwise due to implications on our own mortality, the humble Ford compact is indeed turning 50 years young in 2010. While we can't exactly throw a birthday bash for the guest of honor, we will celebrate the occasion with an overview of the Falcon's substantial history and legacy.
For many people, the Falcon is best known as the physical forbearer to the Mustang. While true, we'd assert this lineage is most properly viewed as an extensive sidebar to Falcon's history, not the focus. A more accurate emphasis of the Falcon's story is its role as a game-changer-one of several cars on the front wave of a shift to smaller, more economical American cars. No less than three new compacts hit the market in October 1959-the Chevrolet Corvair, the Plymouth Valiant, and the Ford Falcon. The Falcon was arguably the most conservative, but soon established itself as the leading seller of the segment.
The Falcon was touted right out of the gate as "The New Size Ford" and promoted for its economy-both at the pump, and in price. Amazingly, early promotional material claimed mileage possibilities of more than 30 mpg. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize such economy left performance by the side of the road, verified in the fact that the lone powerplant at the start was a 144ci inline six, making an optimistic 90 horsepower. Nevertheless, it didn't take long for performance buffs to take notice, realizing the lithe size and weight of a compact translated into potential that could never be realized in a two-ton fullsize. Initial attempts to race and muscle up the new Falcon occurred within months of the new model's intro, and have continued ever since. Ironically, timing was such that the car rarely had a true high-performance model in the offering, but that has never kept enthusiasts from building the car into a legitimate contender in a variety of competitive environs.
In The Beginning: 1960-19631/2 When the Falcon debuted for 1960, it was truly a humble machine. Economy was foremost in the minds of the designers and marketing department, and the entire lineup had stodgy written all over it. To be fair, 1960 wasn't exactly a banner year for styling at any of the Big Three, so Ford was hardly alone. The Falcon debuted with two- and four-door sedan body styles, while two- and four-door wagons and Rancheros signed on several months later. The only engine in the 1960 lineup, the 144ci six, could be had with either a three-speed manual or two-speed automatic. Reflecting the nature of the beast, power steering and brakes were not even available.
The '61 model saw subtle changes, including an optional 101-horse 170ci six, as well as the two-door sedan delivery and Falcon van-essentially a passenger version of Ford's Econoline. Sportiness began to be spoken of with the Spring 1961 arrival of the Futura, featuring a bucket seat and console interior. Sales were huge, with nearly a million Falcons built in the first two years alone.
For 1962, the midyear arrival of a four-speed option and new Sports Futura were noteworthy items, while even more significant happenings would come the following year. When the 1963 models debuted in the fall of 1962, the big news was the first Falcon convertible. But more good times were just around the corner, since in February, a trio of '631/2 introductions hit the market. We're speaking of the new semi-fastback two-door hardtop, the first Falcon V-8, and the sporty Sprint package. Interestingly, Falcon was the first in its market segment to offer eight-cylinder power, albeit just 260 cubic inches and 164 horses worth. Total production for the first generation of Falcon was over 1.5 million units.
1964-1965 The Falcon went through its first complete makeover when the '64 models bowed in late 1963. More chiseled and square-edged than its predecessor, the car appeared larger than before, though truthfully was only incrementally so. A large variety of body styles continued with two sedans, two wagons, sedan deliveries, Rancheros, convertibles, hardtops, and vans. A 200ci six-cylinder arrived in 1964, while the 289 followed in 1965.
For 1964, the Sprint continued as the sportiest offering, in both hardtop and convertible form. Initially, the '64 Sprint came with much of the same equipment as the previous year, including standard V-8, chrome engine trimmings, bucket seats/console, dash-mounted tach, and wire wheel covers. Later in the year however, some de-contenting occurred, with Ford even advertising the "new lower priced Sprint"-with buckets, console, and tach no longer standard.
Falcon sales in general (and Sprints in particular) took an expected big hit with the introduction of the Mustang. It was a fact that dramatically influenced the product lineup during the following five years. Total production for 1964-1965 was around 430,000.
Eight '64 Falcon Sprints were prepared for Ford's second attack on the European rally circuit in 1964, sporting dual quad 289s, disc brakes, and fiberglass body panels. Here, Bo Ljungfeldt is on his way to a class victory (over 2,500cc Touring), and Second overall in the premier event of the season-the Monte Carlo Rally. Another of the eight Falcons, the Anne Hall/Denise McCluggage entry, took First in the over 2,500cc GT class.
1966-1970 With Mustang setting sales records and carrying the sporty two-door banner, the redesigned '66 Falcon returned to its roots as an economical people mover. The lineup was relatively austere, with the elimination of hardtops and convertibles, leaving two- and four-door sedans, four-door wagons, and Rancheros as the standard bearers.
Grabbing a name from the Fairlane playbook, a Sports Coupe model tipped a hat to people who avoided the Mustang as their two-door choice. Sports Coupes came standard with bucket seats, but otherwise were not particularly sporty. Small changes occurred until this design was retired just after the beginning of the 1970 model year, including the defection of the Ranchero to the Fairlane line in 1967, a change from round to square taillights for 1968, and an updated interior that same year.
From an enthusiast's standpoint, it's worth noting that the '66-'70 generation was essentially a shortened Fairlane chassis, meaning FE big-block swaps are a piece of cake, even though the factory never installed one. Production for this generation of Falcon was approximately half a million cars.
1970 1/2 In a strange twist, the '70 Falcon was dropped after the first few months of production, and the nameplate switched to the intermediate Torino platform-and designated a '70 1/2. Available as a two-door sedan, four-door sedan, and four-door wagon, it was a brief appearance-lasting only through the end of the model year. Ironically, this flash in the pan spawned the most performance oriented of any production U.S. market Falcon, for the '70 1/2 could be ordered with a variety of 429s, including the top-of-the-line Super Cobra Jet!
Australian Rules,1960-2010 Our internationally savvy readers will realize that for as big a role as the Falcon played in America, it's been far bigger in Australia. There, the Falcon has been available for 50 years running, and is one of the most successful cars ever in that market-with several million sold. Coinciding with the Falcon's debut here in the States, Ford Australia manufactured its own version of the American Falcon beginning in 1960, and in the early years, the car appeared little different save for righthand drive. By the second generation in 1964, Aussie Falcons had taken on a distinct look of their own, despite still being based on U.S. models. Performance versions were introduced which would have been savored in North America, including the GT variants, which began in 1967.
Beginning with the '72 XA, the Australian Falcon became a unique creature unto itself. Today, we wish we had the current model, known as the FG, which remains rear wheel drive and optionally V-8 powered. The latter comes in the form of the XR8, and its 390-horse 5.4-liter DOHC powerplant. Unfortunately, we hear the grim reaper of the world economy is likely to spell the end for the Australian-built Falcon, which will be a sad day indeed.
Racing Falcons: 50 Years Of Fast Ford was soon convinced that getting Falcons into the racing world would make the breed more successful on the sales floor. Several companies initially dabbled with hopping up the thrifty six with triple-carb induction, but this clearly wasn't the answer to the power vacuum. Both Bill Stroppe and Holman Moody worked to create V-8 Falcons well before the factory did, with Holman Moody quickly directing its efforts into a competitive environ with Challenger I-a '62 built for sports car racing using NASCAR rolling stock, aluminum body parts, and a 243ci version of the new Fairlane V-8. Challenger I raced at the 1962 Sebring 12-hour event, where it finished Second in class. Challenger III was an even bolder effort, with a one-off sectioned body, custom fastback roofline, aluminum body panels, and a Weber-equipped 289. As much a styling exercise as it was race car, Challenger III competed at the 1962 Nassau Speed Weeks with NASCAR driver Marvin Panch, where it went wheel to wheel with Cobras and Ferraris before eventually succumbing to suspension failure.
But Holman Moody would soon do more than dabble with Falcon road racers, for it was contracted by Ford in 1963 to build a trio of cars for European rally competition. It was an intentional effort to draw attention to the Falcon as something more than mundane transport, and combined with a repeat effort in 1964, succeeded. Between the two years of competition, Ford would garner three class wins at the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally, and a Second overall at the same event in 1964, with Ford advertising regularly touting the Rally Falcon's exploits. Yet Falcon road racing was hardly limited to rallying, with any number of cars being raced in SCCA's A-Sedan, and even Trans-Am (see sidebar). Walt Hane recalls that a '64/'65 Falcon finished just ahead of his Mustang for a Second in class at the 1967 24 Hours of Daytona, and an Alan Mann Racing Falcon won the British Saloon Car Championship that same year.
Another big splash for the Falcon came in the form of drag racing, where a few cars, predominately of '64/'65 vintage, made big headlines. In a recent interview with Modified Mustangs & Fords, Ford R&D guru and factory driver Dick Brannan graciously told us about the background of the two "factory" '64 427 Falcons. "In the late Winter/early Spring of 1964, we could see the handwriting on the wall-we were going to need something lighter than the Thunderbolt Fairlane. We knew the Mustang would be the answer, but couldn't get one at the time. So being that the Falcon shared so much in common, we decided to build one as a development car." A maroon '64 Falcon hardtop was delivered to the subcontractor of the T-bolt project, Dearborn Steel Tubing, where revisions and fitment of a 427 High Riser commenced. Fiberglass hoods, fenders, doors, and bumpers were part of the program, as were other typical T-bolt modifications. "We were about 90 percent done, when Phil Bonner dropped in on a visit from Georgia. He liked the idea of the Falcon so much he went back home and began to build one himself." Soon, it was decided that DST should build the Bonner car as well, so the light blue hardtop went to Detroit to become the second factory 427 Falcon. Among many wins, Bonner would score a trifecta in class, Top Stock, and Stock Eliminator at the 1964 AHRA Nationals in Green Valley, Texas, while Brannan won S/SX at the AHRA Summernats.