Auto123 test drives the 1960 Ford Falcon!
Standing on the shoulders of others is a hallowed tradition in human history. Some of the most significant names in history would never have risen to prominence had it not been for the work done by some predecessor, person or element that paved the way for them. To give just one example close to home, Jacques Villeneuve would probably never have taken up motor racing if his father Gilles had had a passion for macramé rather than speed.
Sometimes the trailblazer also gains some level of recognition; such was the case with our Gilles. Very often, however, the pioneer works in the shadows, and the glory goes to the one who comes next.
What applies to people can also be applied to things… like the automobile. In that particular universe, we’ve seen the phenomenon occur time and again: if it hadn't been for this or that early, forgotten model, some other future classic would never have seen the light of day.
Case in point is the fabled Mustang. The Ford Mustang, which first appeared in 1964, is today a truly legendary car. But owes a great deal to another Ford family car.
From little things, big things grow...
In the 1950s, American manufacturers weren’t really offering compact cars to consumers. There were the Corvette at Chevrolet and Thunderbird at Ford, but they were sports cars, not family-friendly models.
Gradually, a change in mentality took hold over that decade. Bit by bit, European cars were making their way onto North American driveways, and many consumers, taking advantage of the booming post-war economy, were now considering buying a second car.
Enter a totally unexpected personage into this story: Robert McNamara. Before he was Secretary of Defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, the businessman worked at Ford; and there, he was in some ways the father of the Falcon. On joining the company in 1946, he drew kudos for his flair and business acumen. He contributed to the rebirth of Ford, for which the war had not been easy.
McNamara inherited the Falcon project, floundering at the time, and turned it around to produce the car it eventually became. His goal was to produce a car that was inexpensive to buy and maintain. One that would offer the consumer the best of the American automobile, but in a small format.
And of course, it had to be profitable for Ford.
Even though its performance capabilities were not exactly exceptional, the Falcon got off to a flying sales start. Introduced to the press on September 21, 1959, the Falcon obviously touched a nerve; Ford’s order book filled up at lightning speed.
In its first year on the market, in 1960, Ford sold 435,676 units. In 1961, it surpassed this mark with 474,191 units sold. In 1962, the one million mark was passed.
Within two years, the same kind of success was repeated with the Mustang; unfortunately for the Falcon and its place in history, its initial success was largely forgotten.
Simplicity as a goal
The success of the Falcon came down to two things; simplicity and price. In 1960, the two-door model sold for $1,912, while the four-door model sold for $1,974. It was hard to find a better deal. Chevrolet had the Corvair and Plymouth the Valiant, but they were slightly more expensive to buy.
As for the simplicity of the Falcon, again, there was nothing to match it on the market. Its engine was a 144-cc 90-hp inline-6, the suspension was coil-spring in the front and leaf spring in the rear, and braking was provided by four drums. The three-speed manual shifter (on the steering column) was standard, while the two-speed Ford-O-Matic was available as an option.
(Now, wouldn’t anyone with an ounce of nostalgia in them not delight in having a vehicle featuring a bit of equipment called the Ford-O-Matic?)
There were four versions in the catalogue: sedan, coupe and two wagon variants; one with two doors, the other with four doors.
Unsurprisingly, the most popular model was the least expensive. In all, 193,470 two-door units were sold. The two-door wagon, priced at $62 less than its four-door sibling, was the least popular variant with 27,552 units sold.
Behind the wheel
Those who opted for a Falcon in 1960 knew what they were getting into, in every sense of the word. Here one had to forget the notion of great comfort that had been introduced by the big sedans of the 1950s. It was also necessary to dismiss any preconceived notions about performance. The numbers told the story: the Falcon's engine wasn't exactly intimidating.
On the other hand, the car wasn't very heavy, and as the 1958 economic crisis was just in the process of coming to an end, its reduced fuel consumption was attractive. And then there were the model’s charming looks.
All this to tell you that when I was recently offered the chance to drive a beautifully-preserved 1960 Falcon, there was absolutely no twisting of arms.
As you settle in on the front bench seat, you realize how simple things were done back then. There’s just enough room to slide behind the wheel, dashboard offers up the bare minimum, the level of comfort is spartan, and the lack of soundproofing makes the presence of a sound system irrelevant.
When you turn the key, the little engine turns on and shakes the casing to the point where you feel like you're sitting on an overfull dryer in the spin cycle. Then, everything calms down as the engine warms up a bit. Instinctively, you can feel when the Falcon’s ready to take flight; it’s as if it’s talking to you.
Out on the road, you understand anew what intentional automotive simplicity is. There is of course no hint of any drive assist systems, and by that I mean not blind spot warning or automatic cruise, but power steering or power brakes. Here, everything depends on the feeling of the person at the controls. However, once in motion, you forget about it and guide the little bird without overthinking things. Above all, you quickly appreciate its sobriety. And, contrary to the model’s bigger compatriots of the time, you don’t feel the heaviness that characterized so many cars of that era. I won’t say it’s agile, but the Falcon behaves almost nimbly.
And as is often the case when you drive an old model like this, the smile is pretty much frozen on your face as you drive along, waving amiably at passersby. In the case of the Falcon, it’s many charms make it easy to understand why it’s got cache among collectors, 60+ years after it first appeared.
Maybe that’s also because this is one classic car model you won’t go broke acquiring. It’s possible to get your hands on a Falcon in magnificent condition somewhere around $10,000.
Was the Falcon a success? The figures I mentioned earlier are there to prove it. When the time came to design the Mustang, it was essentially placed on the Falcon chassis and that was it. Glory went to the pony car and not the bird of prey. No doubt, in turn, the Mustang will inspire other creations further down the line.
Think of it: the upcoming Mustang Mach-E all-electric performance monster might never have been possible were it not for the Falcon.
Respect for the little bird, please.
Brand : Ford
Model : Falcon
Version: Tudor (2-door "sedan")
Production: 193,470 units (two doors)
Price: $1912 USD
Options: automatic transmission ($159)
Engine: 144-cc 6-cylinder inline engine
Power: 90 hp @ 4200 rpm
Torque: 138 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm
Transmission: Ford-O-Matic 2-speed automatic transmission
Weight: 2282 lb
Similar models from 1960: AMC Rambler, Chevrolet Corvair, Plymouth Valiant, Studebaker Lark