October 25, 2006

At the beginning of the '63 model year, Ford had a vanilla image with new-car buyers. Under the direction of Robert McNamara, president of Ford Motor Company at the time, the corporation was all about practical, reliable transportation. There just wasn't much in the way of passion-inducing testosterone. McNamara, one of Henry Ford II's post-war whiz kids, would later move on to become President John F. Kennedy's Secretary of Defense. The Falcon was McNamara's brainchild-affordable, practical transportation for the masses. And because of that, Ford sold a lot of them.

While McNamara pushed Falcons and other Ford nameplates, a rising young executive had other ideas about what Ford needed to do to sell even more cars-Lee Iacocca. Wonderfully persistent, determined, savvy Iacocca saw potential in the youth market-post-war baby boomers coming of age who weren't the least bit interested in practical transportation. They were interested in exciting transportation and a sporty image. Young people didn't want grandpa cars; they wanted cool cars-ones that made a statement.

At the dawning of the '60s, Ford cars lacked the kind of zest young people were seeking. As a result, Ford sales weren't reaching potential. Young people were buying British sports cars and sporty domestic cars like Corvair Spiders with bucket seats. They weren't buying Fords. Iacocca noticed.

When McNamara left Ford to join the Kennedy administration, Iacocca, then new Ford division general manager and vice president, was finally free to move on his ideas. First, he gave instructions to pump up the horsepower. Powertrain engineers responded with the 406-a big-bore FE-series big-block born of 390 architecture. To make the 406 more competitive in racing, Ford engineers gave it cross-bolted main caps to withstand high revs. As the '63 model year unfolded, Iacocca examined all of the carlines and engines, looking at what could be done to infuse adrenaline into the lineup.

Iacocca looked at the '61 Starliner with its fastback roofline born of the need for speed in NASCAR competition. It was an attractive automobile that was not only slippery, it was exciting. His attention then turned to the '63 Galaxie and Falcon, both with formal rooflines and mainstream personas. With Iacocca's direction, Ford stylists went to work on a midyear '63 revision-fastback rooflines for Falcon and Galaxie. During the spring of 1963, Ford Division added two fresh body styles to the option sheet.

The Iacocca-inspired Total Performance campaign at Ford led to new public awareness that would have the Number Two automaker more involved in racing and a more aggressive attitude on the street. In addition to fastback rooflines, Ford added Falcon Sprint and Galaxie XL to each carline. What's more, Iacocca called for exciting engines-the super big-bore, high-revving 427ci big-block for big Fords and the solid-lifter 289 High Performance small-block for Fairlanes. Ford salesmen now had something to rock, roll, and sell with.

Lightweight fiberglass-paneled Galaxies would catch notice in NHRA competition (still not fast enough to beat the Mopars, however). A year later, an aggressive Ford dealer from the Northeast, Bob Tasca, would get Iacocca's attention with a 427 Fairlane Ford would call Thunderbolt.The masses watched in utter shock as Thunderbolt Fairlanes cleaned house from coast-to-coast, spanking everything from Plymouth to Chevrolet. The 'Bolt was a rabid dog to be reckoned with, gaining Ford new respect.