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.
This Ford file photo says...
This Ford file photo says plenty about the roots of the Mustang, and the styling progress that occurred between 1960 and 1965. The Ford executives are the late Don Frey (L) and Lee Iacocca (R).
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:
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 Falcon convertible debuted...
The Falcon convertible debuted at the beginning of the 1963 model year, though a Sprint convertible such as Fred and Cindy Capellas' wouldn't have been available until February 1963.
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.
A number of Falcons were campaigned...
A number of Falcons were campaigned in SCCA's A/Sedan class, but two or three actually made the jump for brief appearances in Trans-Am. Michael Eisenberg of Maeco Motorsport restored and owns what is believed to be the only '63 to have seen such action, which occurred twice during the 1966 T/A season-at Marlboro and Green Valley, while owned by Jim Taylor. While not a frontrunner at the time, two things stand out when reviewing Taylor's Trans-Am appearances. One, the car finished both races, and two, Taylor drove the car to the races-while pulling a small trailer with spares and tools!
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...
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.
Rancheros were based on the...
Rancheros were based on the Falcon from 1960-1966, and have always had a dedicated following. One of the wildest we've ever seen is Rick Hamilton's '65 open track monster. Built by Maeco Motorsport with a legit 358-inch NASCAR motor, it's like a vintage interpretation of a Craftsman race truck for the road course.
Jeff Green's '74 XB does what...
Jeff Green's '74 XB does what Australian Falcons have done for years-work the road course. Ford 351s powered many Aussie Falcons over the years, including the Cleveland variation under the hood of Green's ride. Recall that for years, one of the most sought after Cleveland cylinder heads for street applications were the Australian two-barrels, featuring a combination never offered in the States-two-barrel ports and valves with quench combustion chambers. Come to think of it, they're still a good option for a budget build today.