Ford Falcon History (Early Years)
Article by Mark Trotta
In contrast to the large, gas-thirsty cars of the fifties, the 1960 Ford Falcon was small, light, and economical. Immediately after its introduction in the fall of 1959, it became Ford's best-selling model, far outselling rival compacts from Chrysler and General Motors.
The Ford Falcon would see many changes over the next ten years of production. This article covers the model years 1960 to 1963.
America In The Early Sixties
Post WW2 America enjoyed a booming economy, with cheap gas and bigger and faster cars. During this time, car manufacturers like Crosley Motors found that American consumers had little interest in compact cars. However, after a mild economic recession in 1958, interest began to grow.
Ford Motor Company felt there was a large enough market for a small car sized somewhere between the Volkswagen Beetle and a current full-size Ford. Research and development began in 1957, with a full-scale clay model finalized the following year. Wheelbase was set at 109.5 inches.
Vehicle weight on the Falcon was minimized in two major areas. First, a unit-construction body was used, which eliminated a heavy, conventional full-size frame. The second measure was in design of a new engine, the "Thriftpower Six" (also known as the Falcon Six).
Thriftpower Six Engine
Weighing just 385 pounds, the short-stroke inline six displaced 144 cubic inches. The intake manifold was cast integrally with the cylinder head, which helped reduce production costs. The little six-cylinder produced an advertised 90 horsepower, more than twice that of the Volkswagen of the day. Also new was an optional two-speed Fordomatic transmission, or buyers could opt for the standard three-speed manual unit.
Both of Ford's major rivals also introduced compacts in 1960: the Valiant from Chrysler (becoming the Plymouth Valiant in 1961), and Chevrolet's rear-engine Corvair. Also fielding cars in the new compact market were the Studebaker Lark and Rambler American.
In September of 1959, the 1960 Falcon was released to the press, arriving in dealer showrooms one month later. First-year Falcons were offered in two-door sedan, four-door sedan, and two-door hardtop, soon joined by a two-door or four-door station wagon, and the Ranchero pickup. By production years end, over 430,000 Falcons were sold.
The relatively short piston stroke of the 144ci engine helped the Falcon achieve 25-30 mpg, but dealers received complaints about lack of power. Ford improved the situation with the addition of a larger, longer stroke, 170 cubic-inch six producing 101 horsepower.
The exterior of the Falcon saw only minor changes. Additional models added to the 1961 lineup included a 2-door sedan delivery, a Falcon-based cargo van, "Station Bus" passenger van, and the Econoline pickup truck.
In response to growing sales of the sporty Corvair Monza, Ford came up with the Falcon Futura, a two-door sedan with Thunderbird styled bucket seats and console. The Futura model was easily identifiable by having three ports on the rear fenders. Falcon sales continued to outsell the Corvair for a second near-record year.
Midyear Futuras received their own roofline and were offered with an optional 4-speed transmission. The Ford Falcon now had to compete with two Chevrolet competitors; the Corvair and the new Chevy II and Nova compact cars.
The Falcon had changed quite a bit from its humble beginnings. A re-design for 1963 saw sculpted side panels and a squared-off roof. Joining the lineup were a four-door Futura, convertible model, and V8 power.
In mid-1963, the Falcon Sprint was introduced, sporting bucket seats and console interior, deluxe wire wheel covers, tachometer, and chrome valve covers. Halfway through the model year, a Sprint convertible was offered, as well as Ford's 164-horsepower "Challenger" 260ci V8 engine.
To accommodate the extra power of the V-8, the suspension and body were stiffened, 10-inch drum brakes replaced the 9-inch drum brakes, and five-stud wheels replaced the four-stud wheels used on the six-cylinder models. Production numbers for the 1963 Sprint Hardtop was 10,479, and the Sprint Convertible at 4,602.
Since it's inception, numerous models have been built off the Falcon platform, including the Mercury Comet, Ford Maverick, Granada/Monarch, and the Lincoln Versailles. The Falcon Sprint was the basis for the 1964 Mustang.