Automotive History: The Real Story of How the American Ford FWD Cardinal Became the German Ford Taunus 12M – From Dearborn With Love

After almost ten years there’s not a lot of untold or compelling car stories that we haven’t covered, but the Ford Cardinal is one of them. I’ve been fascinated about Ford developing a genuine VW fighter in the US, with FWD, no less, since I first read about it as a kid. It was objectively superior to the Beetle in just about every way, and was fully ready to roll off the production lines in Kentucky in the summer of 1962. Yet at the very last minute, the plug was pulled.

But the Cardinal did go into production in Germany as the Taunus P4 12M, somewhat reluctantly. The 12M was not the small car Ford of Germany in Cologne had wanted to build, for some good reasons. The details of how that all transpired has eluded me largely; there’s plenty of stories and snippets on the web, but they’re not credible, at least to this cynic. Thanks to a tip from a CC commenter Staxman, I finally found an excellent article in a 1977 SIA (Special Interest Automobiles) by the highly respected historian Karl Ludvigsen. It’s the best one out there, but it too has some omissions. So I have attempted to piece together a comprehensive Cardinal -12M story from the various sources. It turns out to be even more complicated than I might have imagined.

In the mid 50s, import sales in the US rose very strongly, led by the VW Beetle. Like GM and Chrysler, Ford could no longer ignore this inconvenient reality. The issue was exacerbated by the fact that the Big Three’s standard cars were growing rapidly in size and weight throughout the decade. A growing number of Americans, especially women, wanted smaller cars.

In December of 1957, Ford green-lighted the Falcon. As was the case with GM and Chrysler, initially the plans for their compact was a smaller four cylinder car. But in the end, all three of the new 1960 compacts (Falcon, Corvair, Valiant) ended up considerably larger, with six cylinder engines and interior room to seat six adults. As such, they were really more of a relatively compact alternative to the traditional American car than genuine import fighters.

And that’s exactly how it turned out to be with the Falcon: it was very successful in its first few years, but its sales came totally at the expense of the full-sized Ford. Combined 1960 and 1961 (full size) Ford and Falcon sales were lower in both years than 1959 Ford (full size) sales. The Falcon turned out to be a cannibal. And VW sales were of course unfazed and continued to grow.

That’s with the benefit of hindsight; obviously that was not the intent or expectation in 1957. Meanwhile the Chevy Corvair actually was pulling in conquest sales from import buyers. Although Corvair sales were somewhat lower than the Falcon, they were almost all incremental gains for Chevrolet overall. No wonder Lee Iaccoca hated the Falcon and eagerly eyed the the sporty 1960.5 Monza coupe, which led directly to his Mustang. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

While many of the execs in the Glass House (Ford headquarters) felt confident that they’d found the solution to quash the Beetle, there were others who had serious doubts. A small group in the engineering and research staff was particularly concerned about the ability to compete directly against the VW.

This group, headed by Al Hayes, included a Brit and several ex-pat Germans with extensive experience with smaller cars. They knew the VW well, including its limitations. And they considered the Beetle antiquated and felt that a modern car that was quieter, roomier and more stable would have a good shot at really denting the VW’s success. They received the go ahead to begin some preliminary studies of a vehicle package and powertrain in February of 1959. The project was given the code 1-PF-4 (“1” stood for its class; “PF” was for Powerpak Front, and “4” indicated the number of cylinders)

this and other scans from SIA #41

The initial 1-PF-4 vehicle package looked like this, with a fastback and Avanti-like wrap-around rear window. No indication as to how the trunk was to be accessed. Glass hatchback? That would have been novel.

Front wheel drive was chosen from the start, primarily for space utilization and the stable feeling it imparted to a small car. This was clearly in response to the twitchiness of the rear-engined VW. It wasn’t Ford’s first foray into FWD; in 1958 there was work on a FWD Thunderbird for 1961, and FWD had been considered for the Falcon. But these both used longitudinal engines with a side-mounted transmission, driven via a chain, not unlike the Toronado’s drivetrain. This was considered for 1-PF-4 , but was rejected for being too noisy, among other things.

It was decided to go with an engine sitting in front of the ring and pinion and the transmission behind it. This was new for Ford, but had been used by Borgward, Renault and would be used by the Corvair, in reverse position of course. But placing an inline four cylinder sticking out so far forwards was considered unacceptable at the time; Audi would make it very much so a few years later. So very short engine configurations were explored.

They first built a V4 engine with an extremely narrow 20° angle, like a Lancia. It also had a single cylinder head for both banks and a single OHC.

In June of 1959, a second V4 design joined the project, a 60° V4 with overhead valves. The reason was that this configuration would readily lend itself to a V6 variant. The V4 would need a single balance shaft, but the V6 version would have an ideal cylinder angle for inherent balance.

Another unusual feature was the cooling system for both engines was the lack of an engine radiator fan in the usual sense. There were actually two “radiators”, one in the usual position in front and another on the firewall (readily seen here in this 12M engine room image), which would do double duty as the heater core. When heat was not needed in the passenger compartment, hot air was diverted downward. The heater fan came on automatically as needed depending on the coolant temperature (or manually when heating was desired in the cabin). An unusual solution, but it worked well enough in practice.

The 1-PF-4 received something of a push forward in June of 1959, when it was finally exposed to Ford’s Product Planning Committee, including Robert McNamara. The group was a bit skeptical, but allowed development to proceed.

The front suspension consisted of long parallel wishbones with torsion bars that ran forwards. The suspension was connected to the engine-transaxle, a concept called the “ponypak”. This was conceived with the idea that the mass of the engine and transmission would damp and contain jounces from the road instead of the body itself. The rear axle was a beam on single-leaf springs.

According to the account by Ludvigsen, in the summer of 1959 Ford’s stylists began developing the design for 1-PF-4. This clay from September 1959 presumably reflects the body’s basic final configuration but not its final styling, as that would obviously change.

In a curious coincidence (or not), Ford bought two Saab 93s to use as mules for the 1-PF-4. The Ford V4s (both versions) and its transmission and suspension (front and rear) were adapted to the Saab. Of course Saab would go on to adopt the Ford V4 in 1967 to replace its own two-stroke, but that was still well off in the future. But Ford showed that it was a viable solution.

One day Henry Ford II paid an extremely rare visit to the experimental garage, and was very surprised to see one of the cobbled-up Saabs, which had their headlights moved outwards to make room for the two radiators. Intrigued, he asked to take it home for the weekend, with mixed results. The column shift linkage was balky, and HFII missed a downshift to second, causing the 20° V4 to over-rev and damage a valve, which made it sputter and pop, not unlike a genuine two-stroke Saab. But apparently that did not diminish his interest.

According to Ludvigsen, when he brought it back, he asked what the target production date for this small car program was. The answer was “1965”.  “Make it 1963, and you’ve got yourself a program”. This was early in 1960. To build it for the 1963 model year meant it had to be ready to go into production in the summer of 1962, barely two years. But thus was the Cardinal born as a genuine production-oriented program, as a result of a chance encounter by Ford’s Chairman. Such was Detroit in the good old days, especially if your name was on the building.

Meanwhile, over in Germany…

Ford Cologne needed a proper small car to compete with the madly successful VW on its home turf too. The smallest car in its lineup in the 50s was the Taunus P1, which was really a class larger physically than the VW and Renault Dauphine and other cars in that class. It was a conventional RWD car, still utilizing an outdated 1.2 L flathead four from the 1930s.

But clearly Ford (and Opel) had missed the boat with the exploding smaller car class now dominated by the VW. Opel went to work on its conventional Kadett, a pragmatic and very light (1475 lbs) conventional RWD sedan that arrived in 1962, built in a completely new factory (Bochum).

Ford Cologne also went to work on a rather similar-sized car (3.7 M long) as the Kadett. The story gets a bit fuzzy here, as Ludvigsen does not say much about the specifics of that project, code-name NPX-C5, or include any pictures of it. He only says that Cologne was at this time (late 1959-early 1960) presenting its plans for a class C car. He does say that it had a very innovative inline four (1.0 and 1.2L) with what would have been the first use of a toothed rubber belt to drive its single overhead cam. And he says “The German Ford men were sure they had a winner in their new engine and the rear-drive chassis they’d designed for it”.

These two photos of what are purported to be the clays of the NPX-C5 project clearly show that its styling was directly adopted in Dearborn for the Cardinal. But these are clearly smaller than the Cardinal, and lack the extra front overhang that the FWD Cardinal required.

There is another story circulating on the web that tells a rather different tale about NPX-C5.  They are all based on papers in the archives of the German journalist Hans-Peter Thyssen von Bornemisz. It describes the NPX-C5 in rather mangled terms, calling it a two-door limousine about 3.70 meters long, with “its engine in the rear”. He describes having its gas tank and spare tire in the front of the car. And it also says that in the rear, it had a “Starrachse” (solid live rear axle), suspended similarly to the Simca 1300, which was of course a front engine RWD sedan.

And as the pictures of BPX-C5 above show, it was clearly a conventional front engine car, with a radiator grille. There’s no doubt in my mind that somehow “rear wheel drive” became mangled into “rear engine drive”.

But it gets more confusing. This story line also says that “Ford President Lee Iaccoca” came to Germany in February of 1960 to inspect the prototype, “a classic limousine sedan” and did not like it. And that as a result, the Germans turned it into a fastback (above), in an effort to please Iaccoca. Which didn’t please him either, and based on that, Lee killed the NPX-C5 and forced the American 1-PF-4 Cardinal on the Germans.

This story was regurgitated by Jalopnik in 2017, but it has several fatal flaws. The most obvious one is that Iaccoca wasn’t the President of Ford at the time; in fact he only became a VP and General Manager of the (US) Ford Division in November of 1960, and would not have had such unilateral power (or any) over Cologne even then. And major decisions like this were not made in isolation by one executive, unless it was Henry II himself.

Curiously, that fastback clay above clearly is a rear engine car. But it does not show any direct stylistic similarities with the other NPX-5C clays. There’s no way Ford would suddenly have jumped from a front engine to a rear engine car in mid stream; Henry II had as much of a dislike for rear engine cars as his namesake did for inline six cylinder engines.

This story line is just not credible. As to what this fastback clay is supposed to represent, I don’t know. It looks like one of many VW concepts that were being developed during the early 60s, like the one above, but its license plate starts with “K”which is for Cologne. It’s a mystery, and may well stay that way.

Ludvigson’s story is a lot more nuanced and credible: Dearborn was of course very much aware of what Cologne was developing, and Ford product planners recognized that the two projects were rather similar in size and purpose: to compete against the VW. It became all-too obvious to them that one car built in both countries offered potential cost savings. Additionally, key parts for the US version made in Germany offered further cost savings.

Not surprisingly, this set off tensions immediately. At that time, the American I-PF-4 had a projected weight of just under 1600 lbs. Meanwhile, the German NPX-C5 had a target weight of not less than 1700 lbs, in part due to the more complex SOHC engine. This higher target weight was used against them, the lower weight of the 1-PF-4 being given as a key factor in the decision in favor of the American car despite it being considerably larger. The Germans were highly skeptical of that target weight, and with good reason. Sure enough; the final Cardinal prototypes weighed a good 1850lbs, and the production version was right at 1900 lbs. This was almost 300 lbs more than the Beetle, and would become a negative factor in the final production Taunus 12M.

But the tide had clearly moved in favor of the American 1-PF-4, and the Germans would just have to suck it up. They were informed of this in the Cologne boardroom in March of 1960. And they were not happy; the Dearborn cuckoo had pushed out their beloved little egg and replaced it with its own bigger one, and they had no choice but to nurture it.

The Germans were now tasked to share in the Cardinal’s development, although it was decidedly bigger than what they would have preferred. The 12M was only marginally smaller than the existing RWD 17M (here with HFII), which was new for 1961 and was a big hit for Ford Cologne. In terms of interior space, it was even closer. And as they suspected, it would end up being a lot heavier than Dearborn had claimed.

Now that the 1-PF-4 project was approved for further development, it was taken away from the original product study vehicles department and assigned to the light vehicle department, and given the name Cardinal, named after the red bird that feeds on…bugs and beetles. Two versions were developed: Cardinal A for the American market, with a 1.5L version of the V4 and a three-speed transmission, with US-standard threads and fasteners. Cardinal B for Europe had a one liter engine, four speed transmission and metric threads and fasteners. There were also minor differences in badging, trim, and interior details.

Although Ludvigsen implies that the Cardinal (bottom) was styled from scratch in the US, its actual styling is all-too obviously just a direct development of the German NPX-C5 (top). What’s curious is that it shows absolutely no family resemblance to either current or future American or German Fords. The front end alone is unlike anything Ford had or would do. It looks more like a possible subcompact Rambler.

It certainly had no kinship with the oft-praised 1960 Taunus 17M P3, styled by Uwe Bahnsen. Its original and distinctive front end was eagerly copied in Dearborn for two of its most celebrated cars, the 1961 Continental and Thunderbird.

No wonder this widely used artist’s conception of what the Cardinal would look like was heavily based on the 17M, and by extension the Thunderbird and Continental. Frankly, it should have looked more like this. Much better.

Update: This rendering was obviously based on the upcoming Ford UK Corsair, whose early styling would have been going on at this time. Undoubtedly someone leaked it.

The actual result is a bit too similar to the 1961 Ramble American, which also was developed with the goal of using as few body pressings as possible. The Cardinal was not very attractive; it’s a pretty dowdy design. The front end is ok, but the rest of it is certainly not an inspired one in any regard. And its track was clearly too narrow for its body.

From some angles, like in profile, it looks pretty bad. It’s a bit hard to see this being coming out of Ford’s Dearborn studios for 1963. it looks too much like something from East Germany or Kenosha at the time.

The view from the rear isn’t much better. But in the big picture of the times, its styling wasn’t exactly a serious deficit. European styling was moving away from American design influences, and this is something of a transition.

The Cardinal was planned to be sold for $1336, wholesale and delivered, which was directly competitive with the Beetle. Ford projected sales of 150,000 annually. These, and the projected cost for tooling the US version ($45 million) were the numbers that were used by the executive committee, including HFII and McNamara, that approved the Cardinal for the 1963 model year.

At this point, the Cardinal was handed off to the engineers to make it production ready. The biggest changes were with its suspension. The single leaf rear springs were changed to multi-leafs, as no supplier could make them in Germany at the time.  And the front torsion bars were replaced by a transverse leaf spring, which also acted as the upper wishbones, a common solution around this time in Europe. It and the steering gear were still mounted to the transaxle, in the ponypak configuration.

But this turned out to be problematic once prototypes hit the road in late fall of 1960. The V4 engine set up bad vibrations in the body, which was not as rigid as the Saab’s body used for the mules. The initial fix was softer mounts for the ponypak. But this caused even worse problems, like extreme lurching of the whole unit in the transition from acceleration to braking, and sever shudder at very low speeds. This was a serious problem, and there wasn’t much time left to fix it as orders for tooling were being let both in the US and Germany.

The advanced engineering department, which had first conceived the Cardinal, were asked to pitch in. The solution was to mount the front transverse leaf spring to the body instead of the drivetrain, and the steering as well, which did necessitate moving to a conventional worm-and-gear unit from the rack and pinion type.

By late April, 1960, a modified Cardinal was sent on an extend road trip with a Renault Dauphine and a VW, and it acquitted itself fairly well; the lurching was eliminated and the Cardinal was now deemed a reasonably pleasant driver. But the 8″ front drum brakes were found wanting, and thus upgraded to 9″ units.

That’s not to say it was perfect; far from it. The challenges of front wheel drive with an inherently unbalanced V4 were considerable. The production 12M struggled with resulting issues and a somewhat sullied reputation for its whole production life.

Taunus 12M (left), Cardinal (right) with their daddies

There were other problems too, especially in Germany. Supposedly suppliers weren’t eager to commit to key components, but this might have just been sabatoge by the German Ford execs who resented having the Cardinal shoved down their throats. In the end, some key parts had to be supplied from the US and shipped to Germany. Now that wasn’t going to make it cheaper.

A key aspect of the US Cardinal at some point was the decision to not build its drivetrain in the US, on the assumption that building its engine and transaxle in Germany would be significantly cheaper due to lower labor costs and the favorable dollar-mark exchange rate. Whether this decision was made from the get-go or later in the program is not spelled out anywhere. I suspect strongly it was integral to the decision to combine both programs. A new factory was added at Cologne to build the V4, transaxle and other key components for both versions.

In the US, Ford designated its Louisville, Ky. plant, which had been building the ill-fated Edsel, as its assembly plant. A full line was dedicated to the Cardinal, capable of assembling up to 180k units per year.

There was a lot of press build-up and anticipation of the Cardinal in the US. Small car lovers were going to finally get a proper domestic small car, with FWD no less. As this press clipping makes (un)clear: “The car may be built in this country or abroad”. Really? Some press reports like this one suggest that the Cardinal was to be merely assembled from CKD kits shipped from Germany. That doesn’t make a lot of sense, as the Louisville plant had stamping facilities, the expected volume was quite high. In his article, Ludvigsen says that the US  body stamping dies were ordered and delivered, and stored for some time after the Cardinal was cancelled, part of a plan to send them to Brazil which never materialized. First year sales were projected at 100k. units.

At this point the Cardinal had its production name changed to Redwing V4, as Ford had no desire to confuse it with the Catholic cardinals.

A new product planner, Jack Eckhold, was now assigned to the Cardinal. He initiated an in-depth audit of the program including its costs, especially against the Falcon’s, which were by then well known. He discovered that the project had not been handled in the customary manner, and that records were not complete or up to date. And his audit showed that the Cardinal would actually cost more to build than the Falcon!

With this information, Eckhold prepared a report to Lee Iaccoca, who was now VP and General Manager of the (US) Ford Division. His report also suggested that in some 15 or more years in the future (1977), a car of the Cardinal’s size would be a virtual necessity (The Big Three were already aware that the country was heading towards a growing imbalance between domestic oil production and consumption which partially explains the 1971 Pinto and Vega and why GM initiated a downsizing program before the 1973 energy crisis hit). But Eckhold cast doubt on the need for a subcompact for the immediate future (5-6) years. Given that the sales of the Falcon swooned during the mid 60s but import sales roared ahead, and that the Pinto was initiated in 1968 or so, he pretty much nailed it. And of course Ford would eventually build the FWD Fiesta in 1976.

Eckhold’s report had a predictable effect. On April 10, 1962, Henry Ford II announced that the Cardinal/Redwing V4 was cancelled in the US (after having spent $36 million on its development), but that it would be built in Germany for the European market. There is no doubt that this decision was based on Lee Iaccoca’s very strong recommendation. The Cardinal was not his type of car at all; he disdained the unexciting Falcon and he saw the Cardinal as nothing more than an even smaller version of it.

Iacocca was done with dull little boring sedans; he saw a sportier and more dynamic future for Ford. After a series of fourteen management dinners at the Fairlane Inn, the theme “The Lively Ones” congealed to implement his vision. It started a bit modestly in 1962 with the Fairlane and its new thin-wall V8, which soon found its way into the Falcon and the Cobra in ever-more potent versions.

Lee wanted a genuine sports car too. He asked his guys to show him ideas for one. So the dowdy little Cardinal’s V4 and transaxle were repurposed in a mid-engine configuration for the 1962 Mustang I. And Lee liked what his creative engineers had drawn and cobbled up as a concept, and had it built by Troutman-Barnes in California. And the two of them made numerous appearances all over the country, in Lee’s efforts to reposition Ford’s image as a dynamic, sporty brand, and not one that was known mainly for dull sedans and wagons. And Falcons.

By mid-1963, the new direction was in full display with the new fastback roofs on the Galaxie and Falcon Sprint.

you stand over there with that thing

And of course the 1965 Mustang was its pinnacle. Iaccoca had finally put his stamp on Ford, and it would soon start to pay off with the Mustang, which grossly exceeded Lee’s most optimistic projections. And the dull Falcon was soon a distant bad memory, along with its still-born baby brother the Cardinal.

(the following color images from autobild.de)

Meanwhile, back in Germany, the Taunus P4 12M premiered on September 15, 1962. It was not what the Germans would have done to compete against the VW Beetle and the new Opel Kadett. But you fight the war with what you have, and the 12M did have some good qualities.

Most of all, size and weight, for better or for worse. The 12M had a long 99.5″ wheelbase, was a whopping 167.2″ (4.25M) long, and 62.8″ (1.59M) wide. And it weighed 1863 lbs (860 kg).

Opel took a decidedly different route with its RWD Kadett, which had a 91.5″ (2.32M) wheelbase, was 154″ (3.93M) long, and a skinny 58″ (1.47M) wide. And it was the flyweight of the group, weighing 1475 lbs (670kg), 400lbs less than the 12M. Yet its interior dimensions were essentially the same as the 12M’s, except for a bit of width. And it was by far the liveliest of the bunch, with its rev-happy 40 hp 1.0L inline four.

The 12M’s weight and soft springing gave it a relatively good ride, but the trade off was sluggish acceleration no better than the VW 1200, despite having a 6 hp advantage (40 vs 34 DIN hp). 0-60 came in 22.4 seconds; top speed was 78 mph; getting there was another matter. Fuel economy was competitive despite the weight, advertised at 7.5 L/100km (31 mpg). That’s about the same as the VW 1200, but considerably less economical than the Kadett, which got 37 mpg (6.4L).

Handling was not the 12M’s strong suit. Understeer predominated, and it had a tendency to lift its inside rear wheel in tight curves. There was a lot of criticism for that, as folks thought it could easily lead to tip-over (it didn’t).  In reality, the FWD 12M was just showing what would soon be a common feature of small FWD cars in fast corners, on three wheels. But Ford Cologne had to make substantial revisions in its suspension tuning for 1964 to counter the growing backlash.

The stiffly-sprung Kadett was a sports car in comparison, and even the Beetle was faster around the cones and felt sportier in the corners. The 12M’s steering was also criticized for being rather dull and on the heavy side, especially compared to its competitors, both of which had very light and direct steering.

These were limitations of the 12M’s FWD, a technology that had not yet been mastered by all, especially the newcomers. Companies like Saab, which had been at it since 1949, had mostly solved the issues that hamstrung the 12M to one degree or another.

The V4’s characteristics reinforced that image. Thanks to its balance shaft and the fine tuning of its soft mounts, vibration wasn’t really an issue. But it sounded odd, although noise stayed fairly restrained at higher rpm, unlike the typical inline four. But it had a rather hollow sound, and certainly didn’t get the juices going, especially in the rather week-chested 1.2 L version. The 1.5L and 1.5L TS that came along later solved that problem, but nothing could change the v4’s inherent sound and feel.

The 12M’s American DNA was everywhere on display, especially so in its interior. Unlike the Beetle and Kadett, it had a full bench seat, presumably to suggest that a third passenger could take advantage of its greater width and its essentially flat floor, which was certainly a boon and one of the few direct advantages of its FWD.

The dash was basic and rather typical of the times, when American styling themes were still widely adopted in Europe too. But not for much longer.

 

Instrumentation was spartan.

The four speed fully-synchronized gearbox was column shifted, but apparently not to any great disadvantage.  But this also enhanced the non-sporty image of the 12M.

The 12m’s trunk was spacious; vast, compared to the VW, which did have a second storage compartment behind its rear seat. But the Kadett’s trunk was almost as big, thanks to being able to stow its little 12″ spare more efficiently.

The 12M’s heater, thanks to doing double duty as one of its radiators, was certainly quite effective. And the lack of an engine-driven fan kept noise levels low at speed.

Ford was eager to prove the durability of its new 12M, and sent one to the Mirimas oval near Marseilles to set a world endurance record, with a goal of at least 300,000km, on the same engine. They were doing well until at 284,275 km driver Michele Gramond briefly dozed off. He found himself awake in a rolling 12M, which fortunately landed on its wheels.

According to the governing body rules, he was allowed to push it back to the service area, where mechanics worked for eleven hours to make it roadworthy, such as it was. The cobbled-up 12M went on to cover 358.273,8 kilometers, with an average speed of 106 km/h (66 mph). An impressive accomplishment.

The 12M line soon was expanded, with a four door sedan. But these were relatively rare. Unlike France, Germany favored two-door sedans and wagons, except in the larger classes.

A two-door station wagon was also added to the line.

And a coupe too, with a roof that was borrowed from the Falcon Sprint. And power increases soon appeared; a 50hp 1.5 L version followed by a 65 hp TS 1.5. The TS gave the 12M some credible performance, including a win in Germany’s Rally Championship, but the intrinsic qualities of the 12M were always going to be an impediment to it becoming or being seen as a genuine sporty car.

The P4 12M was a solid enough seller, with a total of 680k sold over four model years (1963-1966). That was nowhere in the VW’s league, but about the same as the Kadett A. The 12M presented a very distinct alternative to the VW and Kadett as well as the other cars in its class. It offered a larger, heavier, more “American” alternative, along with its FWD. A rather odd combination in Europe at the time.

The P4 was replaced by the P6 in 1966, which was sold in 12M and 15M versions (12M shown). It was of course the same basic car under its stretched and restyled skin, which made it look decidedly more Falconesque. New engine and trim variants were offered, but the P6 was somewhat of a laggard, under performing the German market during the second half of the go-go 60s. It looked increasingly out of tune with the tastes of the times; it was just not what the market was looking for. As such, it suffered a similar decline that the Falcon was experiencing in the US at the time.

For 1970, the FWD Taunus P6 was replaced by the conventional RWD Taunus TC, which was essentially shared with the British Ford Cortina MKIII (TC=Taunus Cortina). This new pan-European car was developed under the auspices of then-CEO Semon “Bunky” Knudsen, and is often referred to as the Knudsen-Taunus because of its Bunky beak, a feature seen on way too many of the cars designed under his short tenure at Ford.

The V4 engine was consigned to the Transit van, as well as being sold to Saab and Matra in France. The new SOHC inline “Pinto” four was now under the hood, along with 2.0 and 2.3 L versions of the 60° V6.

Ford Cologne did eventually get back to the size and concept of its original RWD NPX-C5 baby, in the form of the 1968 Escort, co-developed with Ford UK.

And in 1976, Ford re-embraced FWD with its even smaller Fiesta, which was also sold in the US as an import. No, Ford’s experience with the 12M didn’t really help much, as by now the modern transverse-engine FWD format had been well developed by others.

The Cardinal’s story is one of the more unusual ones. Who would have thought that an American FWD subcompact designed in the late ’50s would become a major player in Europe? It wasn’t exactly brilliant or beautiful, but it earned its keep and some grudging respect. And its American-designed V4 engine spawned a long line of Cologne V6s, which were built until 2010 and in its final 4.0 L form powered millions of American Ford Explorers and Mustangs. Who would have guessed that in 1959?

 

 

Postscript: If you’re wondering about the similar-sized but very conventional RWD UK Ford Cortina Mk1, stay tuned; it’s coming here very shortly.