Jim Smart
March 30, 2007

The most popular Falcons were produced during the early and mid-'60s. We like those first Futuras. Give us a pristine Sprint fastback or convertible just to add class to the garage or driveway. In 1964, a lot of Falcon allegiances shifted to Mustang, but we'll take a classic aerosmoothy or box-wedge Falcon any day.

It can safely be said that the Falcon changed dramatically in 1966-based more on the Fairlane than its original '60-'65 format. Falcon changed for 1966 because it had to. When Mustang stole the Falcon's marketing thunder in 1964, Ford had to rethink the way it approached the Falcon. It gave the car a wider platform with a longer wheelbase for a smoother ride. Ford stiffened the body as well, with a brute greenhouse and additional structural reinforcements to take chatter out of the ride. Ford's objective with the Falcon in 1966 was to infuse consumer confidence-which it did well.

Nineteen sixty-eight was the 289's final year of production. That year, it was available only as a two-barrel powerplant. Ford added a pinch more stroke to create the 302, available in 2V and 4V form for 1968.

Gary and Sandra Keating have an excellent example of Ford's third-generation Falcon redesign. Before you is basically what Ford brought us for 1966, only better because a lot of nice features were added to the Falcon for 1968. This is the Keatings' '68 Falcon sports coupe. Sandra's mother and father purchased this car new from Trio Motors Ford in Monahans, Texas, in September 1968 as a year-end closeout, and they enjoyed it for many years. In 1984, they gave it to their grandson, Brad, for his 16th birthday. In 2002, Brad sold the car to his father, Gary, to bring back to showroom condition.

Because the car was so well cared for, the restoration wasn't as challenging as a lot of them. Scott Fast of Fast Classics & Customs in Tempe, Arizona, performed the restoration and did a wonderful job, remaining true to the car's original character.

The main reason this restoration was easy was the car had only 83,000 original miles, with most of its history in the dry Southwest. First Class Auto Body in Scottsdale, Arizona, handled the body prep and paint, cladding the Falcon in its original Candyapple Red color. Reassembling the car was not easy because Ford was generous with trim work. It all had to be removed, detailed and restored, and reinstalled after painting. This involved gutting the interior, removing door and quarter trim panels, and more.

Underhood, the Keatings didn't have to do much to their 289-2V engine. It was pulled along with the three-speed manual transmission in order to spruce up the engine compartment. It looks as fresh as it did nearly 40 years ago. And when they spin the Autolite starter, it's a nice mental escape back to 1968-grabbing a column shifter and cruising the cogs.

Ford's nimble 289 was more loaded down with emission controls in 1968. It was as solid as it ever was, though, with unequalled smoothness and reliability. We love the 289 mill for its legendary performance at LeMans, Sebring, Riverside, Phoenix, Northern California, and a host of other world-class motorsport addresses. Where the 289 has always shined is in daily use for millions of us around the world. Turn the key and the darn thing runs well. That, more than anything, is what endears us to the small-block Ford.

When we sit behind the '68 Falcon's steering wheel, it's hard not to notice a change in instrumentation. For '66-'67, Falcon had a twin-pod instrument panel similar to Mustang and Cougar. For 1968, Ford had to tighten its corporate belt strap due to an unfortunate and nasty three-month UAW strike that crippled the company-it had to cut costs. The '68-'70 Falcon instrument panel is shared hardware with the Torino and Fairlane, giving us the feeling of dj vu every time we see one. What makes the Falcon better for 1968 is improved safety features like side marker lamps and reflectors, a collapsible steering column, shoulder harnesses, and more. Ford improved quality, too-ironic considering the UAW's attitude at the time. Labor tensions made it challenging for Ford to build a good car in 1968.

What makes this car great fun to drive is its simple approach to the road. We like shifting an old three-on-the-tree column shift. It's more fun than banging gears with a floor-shift five-speed, and it takes us back to when we were first learning to drive nearly 40 years ago. Most of us baby boomers reflect on learning to drive the family's second car with a column shift, clashing gears, stalling the engine, and other like experiences, with Dad in the passenger seat grabbing the dashboard. Driving a column-shift Falcon coupe helps the Keatings relive the classic '60s, reminiscing over a time we wish we could live through again, even if only for a day.

The Details
'68 Falcon sports coupe
Owners: Gary and Sandra Keating, Gilbert, AZ

3.00 gears

The Falcon's interior became more vanilla for 1968, sharing instrumentation with the Torino and Fairlane. New for '68 was the collapsible steering column-an important safety feature.

289ci 2V V-8
4.030-inch bore, 2.870-inch stroke
1M cast-iron crankshaft
Forged C3OE I-beam connecting rods
Cast 4.030-inch oversize pistons
Cast-iron heads with hardened exhaust-valve seats
Autolite 2100 2V carburetor
Autolite dual-advance, single-point ignition

Ford RAN manual three-speed

Stock single exhaust

Front: Stock coil spring over upper arm, gas shocks
Rear: Stock four-leaf spring, gas shocks

Front: Stock drum
Rear: Stock drum

Front: Steel, 14x511/42
Rear: Steel, 14x511/42

Front: Custom radial, P195/75R14
Rear: Custom radial, P195/75R14

Burgundy Futura vinyl

Falcon sports coupe trim, Candyapple Red paint