Everyone remembers the Ford Mustang, but does anyone remember its predecessor? The economy classed Ford Falcon deserves a page in automotive history.
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Following the creation of the Ford Mustang, the late 60s were known as the “pony car era”, but prior to that was the compact economy car push. American automakers were combating compact imports with models like the Rambler American, Chevrolet Corvair, Studebaker Lark, Plymouth Valiant, and the subject of today, the Ford Falcon.
The Falcon was basic, small, and didn’t really excel in any area except in price. The competition of similarly classed American compact cars couldn’t beat the price that the Falcon was available for. Ford amassed plenty of sales with their affordable Falcon, but the car would lose its success when it lent itself to the creation of the Mustang. There’s a Ford Falcon sized space in Ford’s history that they don’t seem to want to recognize fully, but we feel it’s an important building block in what made Ford what it is today. Before we dive into the car itself, we have to look at the person behind the creation of the Ford Falcon.
Political historians may know Robert McNamara as President John F. Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense who escalated America’s involvement in Vietnam’s conflict leading to the Vietnam War. However, before his political career, McNamara worked for Ford. He was a big numbers guy who relied on early computer spreadsheets to manage the company’s efficiency, finances, industry sales, and kept track of changes in automotive trends.
McNamara took his calculated and efficient methods into the car designing side of Ford. He had a team of designers create a compact sedan model that could seat your typical American family, utilized readily available parts to cut cost, kept its weight down, and wasn’t overly featureful. What came about from McNamara’s direction was the affordable economy car known as the Ford Falcon, and his focus on numbers and cost showed in its design.
However, just because the Falcon’s design wasn’t eye-catching didn’t mean that it didn’t sell. In the Falcon’s first year it sold over 400,000 models and forced the hand of other manufacturers to try and better emulate Ford’s compact car. Following the Falcon’s sales achievement, Robert McNamara was named the president of Ford Motor Company in 1960, but that esteemed position was short lived as his aforementioned political career started the following year.
The first Ford Falcon was released to the public in 1959. The body came as a 2 or 4-door sedan, 2 or 4-door station wagon, and as the second iteration of a ute known as the Ranchero. All of the body styles were unibody construction with parts bin front coil springs and rear leaf springs bolted on for a suspension. All four wheels had drum brakes, so you weren’t stopping very fast. But this car didn’t reach high speeds with its basic powertrain.
Originally, the only engine available under the hood of the 1960 Ford Falcon was a simple 144 CID straight-six engine that made 90 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque. The engine was mated to either a 3-speed manual or an optional 2-speed Ford-O-Matic automatic transmission, and power was directed to the rear wheels. With a 0-60 mph time of over 15 seconds, you weren’t speeding off in a hurry or reaching top speed for a while. But this was the early 1960s, that leisurely jog to highway speed was on par with most cars of the time period. Plus, the national interstate highway system was in its infancy at this time, so the highest speed limit you’d encounter was 50 mph.
Obviously for the Ford Falcon, performance wasn’t really the selling point they were pandering to potential buyers. Instead, it was the capability as a family car for a reasonable price, and that shows with its interior. Inside of early Ford Falcons you’ll notice basic hand crank windows, simplistic design elements, and springy bench seating that could seat up to 6 passengers inside. That’s pretty much all it offered honestly. The imported compact cars at the time that Ford was combating could only fit about 4 passengers in them. And while the land yachts like the Lincoln Continental could fit a similar number of passengers to the Falcon, they were sold for a much more extravagant price. So, the Ford Falcon found its niche and thrived, at least for a short time.
In the Ford Falcons following years it would receive some more options and features, only because McNamara wasn’t there anymore to say otherwise. In 1961, the Falcon received a 170 CID straight-six engine option that made 101 horsepower and higher trim levels. One was the DeLuxe trim that added more chrome trim, rear seat armrests with built in ashtrays, a limited-slip differential, and a radio. Another was the 2-door Futura, which added DeLuxe features as well as front bucket seats and a center console to the Falcon design.
In 1962, the Ford Falcon station wagons had an optional Squire trim that had faux wood paneling on the sides. This year also added more to the Futura trim like factory seat belts (yes, that was a feature back then), updated badging, and an updated interior. In 1963, the Futura trim expanded to a 4-door option, a Futura Convertible and Sports Convertible were introduced, and a 260 CID V8 engine was made available for a short time in the Falcon. That V8 was only available in the Ford Falcon Sprint models, which would turn out to be the test cases for the Ford Mustang.
The first Ford Mustangs to hit dealerships held a lot of Ford Falcon inside of them. They carried the same interior, drivetrain, and suspension components found in the Ford Falcon Sprint. It was basically the same platform in a different skin, but the Mustang wasn’t the only Ford to derive itself from the Falcon. Prior to the Mustang’s development, the Ford Falcon had been molded into a couple of different models that spun off on their own.
There was the Ford Falcon Ranchero with its utility bed installed on the car platform. The ute style mixed with the compact size of the Falcon didn’t make for a very capable hauler, but it kept the Ranchero nameplate alive against the Chevrolet El Camino. The Ranchero would eventually spin off to the larger Fairlane and continue as a model into late 1970s.
Ford also wanted to break into the panel van market, so they introduced the Ford Falcon Van, otherwise known as the Econoline. The Ford Econoline was available as a cargo van, passenger van, and even a pickup truck. It carried the same components as the Falcon, aside from a mid-engine placement, solid front and rear axles, and leaf springs on all four wheels. Ford’s Econoline also went on to distance itself from the Falcon and is better known today as the E-Series.
Then there’s the Comet, a corporate cousin to the Ford Falcon under the Lincoln–Mercury division. While the Falcon was bland in design, the Mercury Comet made more a statement with the same platform. It added quad headlights, trendy rear tailfins, a more appealing rear design, and more interior options. The Comet ran concurrently with the Falcon up until 1971, when the Comet switched to the Ford Maverick platform.
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The Ford Falcon went on to experience two more generations that added a couple more features, some more style, and bigger V8 engines, but the nameplate wasn’t meant to stick around. In 1970, Ford branded their lowest priced sedan option based off the Ford Torino as the Ford Falcon. The following year, the Falcon and Fairlane nameplates were dropped in favor of naming all of their intermediate vehicles as Torinos.
Then that’s it. The Falcon name never returned and the models were left to basically rot, because who keeps a basic car in collector’s edition? It’s like keeping a Chevy Spark from today with low-mileage and in show room condition for years. That’s not why people buy affordable compact cars. They’re meant to serve the purpose of being a daily driver until the owner trades it in for something better.
It was a sad matter of fact for the Ford Falcon, but that’s why it’s intriguing to see one in person today. The Falcon was a car that shouldn’t be driving on modern roads, you’d think they all went to the scrap heap by now. To those who take care of or have restored one of these pieces of history, I say thank you. That’s more than Ford has done to remember this model. They could have at least brought the Falcon name back for their Mustang styled EV SUV. Kind of would have went full circle then.