1970½ Ford Falcon: Mission Implausible

Happy New Year ! For most of us, the turn of the calendar represents a new (hopeful) beginning. A fresh start, if you will, to take stock, begin anew or re-commit to what’s important. New Years Day is life’s reset button. So it was on this day 42 years ago when Ford re-launched a trusted marque that had, in its former life, defined what it meant to be sensible and  thrifty. The new “Falcon” that buyers saw in showrooms that day was not in itself a bad car. But with an unclear purpose and a half hearted commitment by a management very much in turmoil, the last Falcon was an endangered species from the moment it appeared on the scene.

The original Falcon’s ashes weren’t even cold when FoMoCo  pirated the name for a new sub model to be carved out of the Fairlane/Torino series in time for the new decade. The original Falcon had been made superfluous by the new for ’69 Maverick and imminent federal crash protection standards that the car couldn’t meet, and Ford pensioned it off in December 1969 after a short run of 1970 models.

Even before Ford released the Falcon as a “half year” model, there were many sub-plots taking place out of sight of the public at the company’s Dearborn, Michigan headquarters. The executive suite at FoMoCo had become, by 1969, a seething palace of intrigue and political infighting that threatened to split the company into warring camps. The corporation went through an entire year with no president after “Bunkie” Knudsen (above) was dismissed on September 2nd and remained rudderless during almost all of 1970. Characteristically, company chairman Henry Ford II had grown bored, resentful or just jealous of Knudsen and thus the way was paved for his favorite marketing Svengali, Lee Iacocca, to ascend the greasy pole to the company presidency in December 1970.

Thus the real history of who exactly greenlighted the Falcon of 1970 ½ is hard to pinpoint with any accuracy. More than likely, it was a collective effort of anonymous committee men with no real power to lose or perks to share. On the other hand, what would become the ’70 Torino was one of Iacocca’s favorite designs of this era. He approved it as a project after just a single viewing. This would explain the bizarre coming and going of one of the most obscure models ever intended for a mass market. The car would be gone in a season (literally) and leave no lasting legacy except confusion. To this day, even knowledgeable Ford watchers call it a Torino. This is the car that in a sense, never was.

One thing that is known is that the last Falcon would share the body developed in 1967 by Bill Shenk for the 1970 Torino/Montego twins. There would be some differences for the Falcon line (see below) , but the same basic car was offered as everything from straight six stripper Falcon at $2599 to a Mercury Cyclone for $3938.The Torino line won the Motor Trend “Car Of The Year” award for ’70, (which more or less affirmed Iacocca’s gut instinct) and sales marched smartly upward.

The new Torino was a fetching design that got Ford’s mid size line away from the boxy, dated Fairlane genre of 1967-69 that was rapidly losing ground to the curvaceous new GM midsize models. Straight lines were out, the “coke bottle” look was in, and Ford interpreted the trend with a full line of mid size/mid price cars that were arguably among the best looking cars on the road in their day.

The Falcon was the dowdy “grandma car” in the Torino/ Fairlane lineup. (The Fairlane had been downgraded to a sub series of the Torino line in preparation for its phase out for 1971). Even though the Torino offered a strikingly handsome hardtop and a sporty convertible, the Falcon lineup included only a two and four door sedan and station wagon. Ford also kept the Ranchero in the Torino family, even though the model had been a “Falcon” staple in years past.

Interiors were taxicab plain, with all of the usual stripper characteristics that kept the price low (rubber floormats, radio delete, tinted glass optional) and delivered the kind of value that the marque was known for.

Under the hood, the base engine was Ford’s 250 Straight Six that was itself a stroked 200 that had been around since 1963 and had found its way into lots of bottom feeder Blue Oval cars since that time. With 155 HP, the six made the Falcon respectable, but not particularly exciting. The effect was that of a librarian’s dream wheels.

That is, unless you checked off just the right boxes on the order sheet at your friendly Ford dealer. One anomaly of the Falcon adventure was the availability of every engine combination offered in the performance Torino. That meant that if so inclined, a potential buyer could choose from no less than seven powertrains on offer in the Torino catalog. This meant that you could get some picante relish with your dog dish hubcaps. Engines ranged from the low-po straight six to the mighty 429 Cobra Jet Ram Air mill that belted out 370 (gross) horsepower. A Hurst shifter was another option for the go fast buyer on a budget. This could make the car a real sleeper in the stoplight derby of 1970 if the protagonist didn’t understand what he was up against. But only 90 429-4V –CJ engines left the factory in the car’s brief run. And since front disc brakes were offered, but not standard, stopping a 429 at full tilt must have been terrifying.  Falcon’s rode 14 inch bias ply Firestones.

One option not in the mix was the hidden headlights that gave the Torino its unique “face” . The Falcon made due with a cast plastic mini eggcrate grille that was shared with the base Fairlane 500. Windshield wipers were the hidden variety that was becoming popular in these years. Lack of adornment made the car look exactly like what it was meant to be- a bargain priced stripper that belonged in an air force base motor pool. While by no means unattractive, its plain jane looks helped hold sales below expectations.

By Memorial Day, it was obvious that the reconstituted Falcon was a turkey, and plans to phase it out were set in train. The jazzy Torino was selling like hotcakes and it didn’t make sense to tie up production lines with a car that made little money and had no future. The last Falcons were assembled the week after July 4, and dealers slowly sold their remaining stock.Just over 67,000 Falcons were hatched in the short model year, so the car is obscure, but not really rare. When the ’71 Fords debuted that fall, the Fairlane and Falcon were nowhere to be seen. Mid sized Ford would mean Torino forthwith.

Finding a Torino Falcon these days is tough, but not impossible. Lots of them have the straight six with three on the tree and as such, don’t bring any big money. Lots of those models were driven into the ground and ended up as beer cans not too long afterward. The big engine, go fast examples command big bucks in top nick, but condition is paramount. Rust, a thirst for premium gasoline and indifferent build quality meant that survivors of the second gas crisis in 1979 were few. Some owners may not even know that they are even driving a Falcon. It was not unheard of  for teenage gearheads to swap the Falcon emblems on their straight six hand -me- down for Torino livery (Like my friend Donny Crabtree did in our high school days). And rumours persist that Ford offered dealers a rebadge kit for leftover Falcons late in 1970.

Have you seen or remember these rare birds?  I welcome your comments below.