THE FORD FALCON STORY
The Ford Motor Company produced the Falcon family of vehicles from 1960 through the 1970 model years. Everything from sedans to vans to innovative small trucks could be ordered with the Falcon emblem. Originally envisioned as a compact economy car, Falcons evolved through four distinct body style phases. Of these, model years 1963-1965 are considered to be the most collectible. In the first five years of its existence, the Falcon marquee transitioned from bare bones econo-boxes to an array of small cars offering sporty convertibles, as well as exciting V-8 powered cars.
The Falcon truck, called the Ranchero, began its life in 1957 as part of the Fairlane lineup. In 1960, the design was drastically restyled to align itself with the Falcon design family. It continued to be a highly successful part of the Falcon line until 1966, when Ford began to market it separately from the rest of the Falcons. In 1967, this divorce was formalized when the Ranchero rejoined the Fairlanes. It enjoyed great sales success for many years afterwards in that role.
The Roots Of Ranchero
The Original 1957 Ford Ranchero (left), along with the car from which it was derived, The 1957 Ford Fairlane. Note the difference between this body style and the Radically Restyled 1960 Falcon Ranchero.
The Falcon marque began to realize its potential when, late in the 1964 model year, Ford introduced the Mustang, another sporty compact car that achieved some (small) amount of popularity. Ford utilized the Falcon’s unitized chassis, as well as many elements of the Falcon drive train, to “re-skin” and “re-market” the Mustang. From then on, the Falcon existed in the shadow of its more popular offspring, finally fading away in 1971, a victim of corporate marketing neglect. The success of the Volkswagen and other compacts, along with the Arab oil embargo just a few years later, proved how forward-thinking the original Falcon designers were. Like many good ideas, it peaked just a little too early. Collectors of these great cars appreciate the compact design, the simplicity of maintenance and operation, and the innovative thinking of its designers. Simply put, they are a lot of fun. If you are looking for a great car to restore and enjoy, consider a classic Ford Falcon or Falcon Ranchero.
Ray Miller, FALCON!: THE NEW SIZE FORD, (Evergreen Press, 1983). An essential pictorial history of the Falcon and Ranchero. Drifts in and out of print, but is currently available. Hardback.
Phil Cottrill, THE FORD FALCON: 1960-1963, (Rigel, 1983). The only extensive history of early Falcon development ever written. Includes fascinating developmental photos of the Falcon, including a four-door convertible prototype, and other designs that you’ll be glad never made it into production. No longer in print, but can be found at swap meets, etc. Paperbound.
FORD FALCON: 1960-1970, (Brookland Books). A collection of reprinted magazine articles about the Ford Falcon, starting with the 1960 Motor Trend road test, through the Road Test magazine review of the 1970 1/2 Falcon. Includes articles featuring how to fit a 312 c.i.d. Y-Block into a 1960 Falcon (Hot Rod), the Falcon Convertible (Motor Trend and Car Life), 63 Sprint Monte Carlo racers (Car Life), and other reviews, Very informative. Softbound.
THE FALCON NEWS TECHNICAL TIPS MANUAL. A collection of technical tips for Falcon restorers collected from the pages of the Falcon Club of America’s newsletter, The Falcon News. This material covers almost ten years worth of member-submitted material on all topics. Includes production charts, production code interpretation charts, and many other useful items.
FALCON DEVELOPMENT CHRONOLOGY
(From Phil Cottrill’s Book, The Ford Falcon: 1960-1963)
- 1942-1946: Ford Light Car Project developed 7 pilot models on wheelbases from 97-112 inches.
- 1945: Earle S. MacPherson was appointed chief engineer of Chevrolet Cadet project.
- 1952: Robert S. MacNamara was made Assistant General Manager of Ford Division. He immediately appointed a Market Research Unit to study who was buying the Volkswagon and why.
- 1956: Ford management was firmly convinced that a car sized between the Volkswagon and the standard Ford could be successfully marketed.
- 1957, March: Ford Motor Company committed itself to build the Falcon.
- 1957: A low weight six cylinder OHV engine was developed for the Falcon.
- 1957, November: Ford President, E.R. Breech, announced to Ford management that the optimum economy car appeared to be the 2,400 pound car with a six cylinder engine.
- 1958, Summer: Falcon clay model finalized and accepted by Ford management.
- 1958: Jack Hooven appointed chief engineer for Falcon development.
- 1959, February: The New York Times published an article about the Ford XK-Thunderbird project.
- 1959, May 21: Henry Ford II announced the Falcon Project at a Ford stockholders’ meeting.
- 1959: The first non-prototype Falcons assembled at the Ford Pilot Assembly Plant.
- 1959, September 9: The 1960 Falcon was released to the press.
- 1959, September 10: 14 Falcons with experienced endurance drivers began covering every mile of Federally numbered highways in the continental United States.
- 1959, October 2: The 1960 Corvair arrived at dealer showrooms.
- 1959, October 3: The 1960 Falcon made its public debut.
- 1959, October 29: Plymouth’s 1960 Valiant goes on public display.
- 1959, November: Falcon sales take off and Falcon soon becomes “King Of The Compacts.”
- 1960, Winter: Falcon Station Wagons introduced.
- 1960, Spring: 1960 Ranchero introduced.
- 1960, September 25: 1961 Falcon line introduced. It included the 170 inch engine and the Econoline utility vehicles.
- 1960, December: Robert S. MacNamara left Ford to become Secretary of Defense. The Falcon lost its strong backing.
- 1961, Early: The Falcon Sedan Delivery was introduced.
- 1961, April 9: 1961 Futura introduced to combat [Corvair] Monza Coupe sales.
- 1961, September 19: 1962 Falcon line introduced.
- 1962, February 14: 1962 Sports Futura with four speed transmission introduced.
- 1962, September 11: 1963 Falcon line introduced, including Falcon convertible.
- 1963, February: 1963 1/2 Falcons introduced. Included 260 V-8, hardtops, and the Sprint line.
- 1963, July: Last 1963 1/2 Falcons produced. Dies shipped to Argentina.
OTHER DATES IN FALCON HISTORY
- 1964, April: The Ford Mustang introduced late in the 1964 model year.
- 1965: Falcon Sprint production falls off sharply, the Mustang having co-opted its market niche. Less than 3,000 1965 Falcon Sprint hardtops and less than 500 Sprint convertibles in production. This is the last year for the Falcon Sprints. Ford produced other “Sprints” but these were to be mere shadows of the original.
- 1966: Falcon line again promoted as an economical alternative to the Mustang, as well as the Ford line generally. With the new body style, Falcon hardtops and convertibles are dropped from the lineup. Except for minor changes, this third-generation body style would continue almost until the end.
- 1967: Ranchero’s association with the Falcon line is dropped. The disassociation process has started in the 1966 model year. From the beginning of the 1967 model year onward, the Ranchero was reunited with the Fairlane marquee, having been introduced as such in 1957. It continued on as a successful Ford product for many years thereafter.
- 1971, January: The 1970 1/2 Falcon was introduced based on the Torino body, with Falcon badging. The design was poorly received and the Falcon marquee was dropped at the end of the model year. Rumors persisted that Ford dealers were provided with re-badging kits to convert these Falcons to Torinos in an effort to improve sales. The Ford Maverick assumed the original Falcon mantle as the Ford economy-class car. This marketing heritage can be followed through to the present day via the Escort, Tempo, and Contour.
“We are just now beginning to understand what influence and impact that the Ford Falcon had upon the U.S. automobile industry and what a boon it was to the Ford Motor Company. Within weeks of introduction in the fall of 1959, it became a runaway seller in the new compact car field as well as an important money maker for Ford.
“More important that its obvious success during the 1960-1963 model years was its less salient role as a progenitor of its evolutionary forms. Mike Davis, in an article in May, 1981 CAR EXCHANGE, first made us aware of the varied Ford products that were really Falcons in disguise. His main criterion for determining a Falcon derivative was the car’s chassis. The name, engine, and sheet metal could be changed, but the underbody structure went all the way back to the 1960 Falcon. For example, when the Ford Granada-Mercury Monarch appeared in the mid-seventies, an article pointed out that the, ‘underbody pan from the floor under the dash all the way back to the gas tank came from the 1970 Maverick’. The ’70 Maverick was very much ’60 Falcon. Mr. Davis lists the following cars as basically Falcon: [the Canadian] Frontenac, ’64 1/2-’73 Mustang, the whole Econoline series, ’67-’73 Cougar, Maverick, Granada and Monarch through ’80, Lincoln Versailles, Torino and Montego through ’72, Fairlane and Meteor, ’60-’73 Ranchero, plus all the Falcons produced in Argentina, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Chile. Many other countries receive disassembled Falcons that were reassembled upon arrival.
“When production figures are applied to the above list of Falcon-based marquees, Mr. Davis notes that the total surpasses even the Model T Ford production. Given a few more years for the continued Falcon production in Argentina and Australia, the Falcon will claim the all-time production record from Volkswagen. And the VW started in the 1930’s!”
Phil Cottrill, The Ford Falcon: 1960-1963
“Just sneaking in under my time line, with a launch in late 1959, was the Ford Falcon. Contrasting it with the Corvair, we said: ‘Ford has taken the opposite tack from its major competitor and produced an absolutely normal compact car and in so doing has come up with something quite new.’ The Falcon was, in fact, the breath of fresh air the industry needed after the suffocating excesses of the late Fifties. GM immediately copied the Falcon, building the Chevy II, later the Nova. Without those new platforms, there would have been no Mustangs, Cougars, Camaros, and Firebirds. By celebrating simplicity, the Falcon set new standards. It’s a lesson some could relearn today.”
Automotive writer Karl Ludvigsen (reprinted from Car & Driver Magazine, July, 1995, and further reprinted by the FALCON NEWS, November, 1995.)
“The greatest accomplishment of the Corvair, Falcon, and Valiant is not listed in their specifications. It is the greater choice they have given the America car buyer. No longer is he restricted to one kind of car, with variations in chrome or fins according to how much money he will pay”
Motor Life, December, 1959
- The Ford Motor Company won a close race with coincidence. Both Ford and the Chrysler Corporation, unknown to each other, chose the name Falcon for their new small cars. But because Ford reserved the name with the industry registry only twenty minutes ahead of Chrysler, it won the right to the name.
- “Ford and Chrysler independently settled on Falcon, but Ford won by notifying the Automobile Manufacturers Association of its choice twenty minutes ahead of Chrysler. The association is the official industry arbiter and its Proprietary Name File is the trade name Bible for the car makers. “Actually Chrysler was said to have been the first to indicate its interest in the name Falcon, when it asked that a search be made on the availability of the name.
- “The report was made, but while the company was making its final decision, Ford called and registered the name, unaware, association officials said, that Chrysler was considering it too.
- “Falcon is not new to the automobile industry. The roster of 2600 names that have graced the automobile scene in the last sixty years shows that Falcon was used by two other manufacturers. A Falcon passenger car was made in 1922 and a Falcon-Knight was marketed in 1926.
- “Two Auto Makers Pick The Same Names,” THE NEW YORK TIMES, May 21, 1959. reprinted in: Ray Miller, FALCON!, (Evergreen Press, 1983).