(first posted 8/17/2016) The reason that the childhood story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears resonates so deeply with many of us is that there are so many things around us that are a little wrong. Things can be too big or small, too hard or soft, or too warm or cold. “Just Right” is something to be appreciated. In 1961, a woman went into a Ford Dealer and picked out this car. Quite unwittingly, she showed us what “just right” is all about.
The first generation Ford Falcon was a pivotal car, both for the Ford Motor Company and for the U.S. car industry as a whole. Before the 1960 Falcon, the market for compact cars had been for niche players. American Motors and Studebaker were able to make sales by going where the big three were not, each in its own not-quite-modern way. But then the big three made their big splash in the compact market in 1960 and never looked back. And of those three, it was the Falcon that proved how big the market for a compact in America could be.
The quest for the American compact car that was “just right” was a lot like the later search for a successful small pickup truck that played out a decade or so later. With the pickups, it took several stabs at new and unique configurations before someone brilliantly decided that the best compact truck was a smaller version of a standard truck. Ditto the compact car. Corvair went all whiz-bang on a rear engine and modern styling, while the Valiant went all – well, nobody was really sure. And then there were the stalwarts from AMC and Studebaker who kept on with their “something old, something new” formula. In the end, it was Ford that had the winning combination – simply take a standard Ford sedan and make it all smaller. There. Any questions? And boy did it work.
After Studebaker, Ford of 1960-62 was the most conservative of car companies, making conservative cars for conservative people. Did you like your 1951 Ford? Then you were sure to like a 1961 Ford too, because while there had been some important updates, there was clearly a continuation between the old and the new. And if that new ’61 Ford had become too big for your liking, the smaller Falcon should suit you to a T. Six cylinders up front, and cooled by water, hooked to a 3 speed manual or 2 speed automatic with a lever on the column and two bench seats for seating six friendly people – oddly, this was a configuration that, similar as it might have been to pretty much everything built ten years earlier by everyone in the industry, could not be duplicated in a compact found at either a Chevy or Plymouth showroom. Of course, the downside was that the shrunken-big-Ford formula of the Falcon took a bigger bite out of the sales of standard Ford models than was the case with Chevy or Plymouth.
For the Ford Motor Company, the 1960 Falcon was important for another reason: It would provide the basic DNA for the lion’s share of the company’s products pretty much up through the 1980 Ford Granada. Until the new 1972 Torino platform, this Falcon’s lineage would stretch to cover almost every Ford passenger car not called Galaxie/LTD or Thunderbird. Comets, Fairlanes, Montegos, Torinos, Mustangs, Cougars, Mavericks and that formerly mentioned “junior Mercedes” of the ’70s all sprung from this little car’s humble roots. That the basic platform would eventually punch (and punch very successfully) far above its intended weight class is a testament to the basic goodness of this little car.
The early Falcon has gotten a lot of screen time here at CC. We have done a nice but well used daily driver ’61 Falcon, but here we have the opposite – a gorgeous completely original black sedan, equipped just the way our imaginary Uncle Clem would like it. In case you missed it, we shared the wisdom of the Uncle Clems of life when we came across a stripper of a 1956 Plymouth. Uncle Clem is like the old folks so many of us grew up around. They were simple people from a simpler time, who didn’t need much to keep them happy. And they were suspicious of modern American life that was always trying to sell them bigger and better, new and improved. “I can save 100% by just keeping what I’ve already got” would be Uncle Clem’s response to an advertiser hollering about the 20% savings on a new whatzhit.
It wasn’t actually our Uncle Clem who bought and maintained this gorgeous little Falcon, but the current owner’s late grandmother. Mrs. JPC and I went out for dinner on a recent Friday evening, and I walked past the Falcon on the way in. It was hot and I was hungry and I just didn’t really care about someone who considers a stripper ’61 Falcon to be such a rare collectors item that it was worth a fast black respray in order to throw it online for a mere $10K. But after dinner, the car was still there, so I decided to walk over and look at it up close. And boy was I surprised. Just as I started taking pictures, I met Emmett and his friend, who told me all about this car.
It turns out that this car is a stunning original with all of 51,000 carefully-applied miles on the odometer. Emmett’s grandmother bought it new, and after she passed away, Emmett and his mother have continued to treat it like the member of the family that it has become. I wish I had thought to ask Emmett’ for his grandmother’s name. But I don’t suppose it matters whether she was named Elsie or Emma or Irene, her personality shines through in this little car. In fact, it isn’t too much of a leap of the imagination to believe that Emmett’s grandma was related somehow to our dear old Uncle Clem.
In fact, I can imagine Clem accompanying her to the Ford dealer. “Those salesmen will hold you up like a stick-up man if you try to go in there by yourself”, Clem might have said. And in 1961, he may well have been right. Grandma would have probably agreed with Clem’s wisdom about black paint being the only color that will hold up over time. “I agree Clem, and it looks elegant in black, anyway.” And who says that a basic little black sedan couldn’t be dressed up with some whitewall tires? Despite Clem’s grumbling, there was nothing wrong with Grandma showing just a little class. I could just hear her say “Now Clem, there is no reason to brag to the world about how cheap you are. I think the white sidewalls make the car look nice.” And she would have been right. And while Clem would have never put up a modern confustication like an automatic transmission, he would reluctantly agree that no self respecting lady of 1961 should have been expected to row a gearshift – it wasn’t 1947 anymore.
If the brochure is any guide, the blue valve cover and air cleaner tell us that Grandma stuck to the basics in this Falcon’s powerplant. The little 144 cid (2.4 L) six was none too powerful, but it also did not add to the price of the car, like the “big” 170 cid (2.8L) mill with the red paint on it. Clem would have been adamant about this one. “The standard engine is all you need, especially with the automatic you are getting. Too much power will tear that transmission right up.” Grandma would have agreed, but for more practical reasons. “Heavens, I don’t need a race car. If you leave plenty of time to get where you are going, you don’t need all that extra power. Besides, I want a car that is good on gas.”
In the true form of that vanished breed of car buyer, there was no foolishness here like the “Deluxe Trim and Ornamentation Package” with such fripperies as ashtrays and armrests for those in the rear seat. Clem would have jumped in with “First, nobody has any business smoking in the car – makes it stink. And who besides the driver needs an armrest? Ya got a lap to rest your arms on for free, so use it.” And door operated courtesy lights and a fancy white steering wheel? “Pshaw!” Let’s not even mention all of that extra chrome trim all over the outside, to which Grandma might have said “Good heavens, we can’t have everyone at church thinking I’ve gone and bought a Lincoln Continental. It just wouldn’t be seemly.”
That sliver-gray interior is something that really fascinates me. Almost American manufacturer offered a version of this color for a very short time in the two or three years either side of 1960, only for it to completely disappear. It is funny that I am all aswoon over gray interior in a 1961 car when I am so thoroughly sick of it in anything built over the last thirty years, but . . . yeah. It undoubtedly satisfied Uncle Clem (“You won’t get tired of it and it won’t go out of style”) and Emmett’s Grandma (“I think the fabric looks stylish, so there’s no need to spend money on the Deluxe upholstery.”
Other than new whitewall tires (except for the original one which continues to live on the spare wheel in the trunk), and some basic maintenance items, this car is pretty much just the way Ford built it, perhaps right down to the upside-down parking brake handle. I have actually never seen an early Falcon in the state of preservation as displayed in this car. Emmet’s grandma was clearly someone who took care of her things. “If you don’t take care of what you already have, you will never have anything” is something she may well have said to her grandchildren. And if she did, Emmett certainly took the advice to heart, because he is proving to be a wonderful steward of his Grandmother’s Falcon. She had a lot of options when she went to buy her new car in 1961. Hindsight proves that she made a good choice, and got something that proved to be just right.
1961 Ford Falcon (Paul Niedermeyer)
1962 1/2 Ford Falcon Futura (Paul Niedermeyer)
1963 1/2 Ford Falcon Futura V8 (Paul Niedermeyer)
Automotive History of the Falcon Platform (Paul Niedermeyer)
A hipster’s wet dream.
I can understand no radio, but no rear door armrests? That’s stretching things a bit. I guess you have to close the door by yanking on the release lever.
The Falcon’s success over the radical Corvair and Valiant really is astonishing. A plain, basic, big car made small (and cheap) ends up beating out cars with substantially greater R&D costs. In fact, I have no doubt that the Falcon’s triumph over the Corvair really put the zap on GM’s corporate think. The next time they would try something so radical on a brand-new, mainstream car wouldn’t be for another two decades with the X-car Citation. Ironically, although the Citation sold like gangbusters for the first year (just like the Falcon) but, unlike the Falcon, the Citation ended up being a huge black mark on GM that lives on to this day.
The Citation sure was radical…for GM, but the Vega was a reasonably radical car for it’s time, at least mechanically. After Ford’s success with the Falcon you would have thought GM would have engineered a much “safer” car. They had tried aluminum engines before, and abandoned that idea. And then there were the bodies of the Vega: GM’s 1st hatchback, if I’m not mistaken and a return of the sedan delivery/panel truck after dropping it on the C/K trucks.
Of course the interior was that of a bigger Chevy, “cut-down” to fit a smaller platform.
GM did build the conventional Chevy II as a Falcon alternative starting in 1962. You could even get a 4 cylinder.
Rudiger: remember that X Body spawned the A Body and underpinned millions of GM’s cars similar to the Falcon, but only because of long production runs, rather than giving birth to new variants on the same platform.
Yeah, I’d considered the A-body. More importantly, though, is that in 1980, FWD was just on the verge of being widely embraced across the board with every auto manufacturer. GM beat out the Chrysler K-car by only one year and actually followed the 1978 Omnirizion by a full two years. Likewise, Ford would have their own FWD Escort on the market by 1981 (they had already imported the FWD German Fiesta from 1978-80).
The rear engine Corvair’s only similar rival in 1960 was the Beetle. So, it was definitely a very different automotive environment in 1980, compared with 1960 when the traditional front-engine, RWD Falcon arrived on the scene. The bottom line is that, while revolutionary (for GM), the X-body was nowhere near as radical as the Corvair.
True. The X was radical for US markets. The Corvair was off the scale in that regard in 1960 with not only it’s mechanical configuration, but it’s styling, which influenced many foreign manufacturers. Can’t say that about the 5 door Citation or 2 and 4 door Omega.
There was an article about the Corvair as a “Hero car” in a Car and Driver around 1980 and included observations like you made between it and the Citation.
The Corvair was radical and I’d still like to see rear mounted transmissions make a comeback like in the Tempest.
With the way computer-controlled ‘drive-by-wire’ systems are becoming more and more prevalent (Chrysler’s latest dial automatic shift knob is an example), a rear-mounted transaxle makes more sense than ever for a front-engine, RWD vehicle. Is there some inherent design deficiency, or is it just simply too costly to justify the benefit? It seems like some automatic transmissions have cooling lines to the radiator so maybe that’s it. Or maybe it has to do with the switch to non-traditional automatics that are either CVT or clutch-type automatics.
Whatever the reason, it is curious that no one has explored using a rear-transaxle for use with a front engine vehicle for a long time. Besides the Tempest, I can only think of Porsche using it with their 928/944 cars.
rudiger, there have been various other European cars with front engine/rear transmission. Good question as to why it does not seem to be done much these days.
rudiger: I’m assuming you’re forgetting the Corvette, which has used a rear transmission since the C5.
The main engineering challenges of a front-engine/rear-transaxle layout are automatic transaxle cooling (if you need water-cooling, the coolant lines have to run back up front) and the additional loads on the transmission’s innards — particularly the synchronizers, in a manual unit — due to the input shaft’s greater inertia. These are of course manageable, but that does cost money.
On a practical level, it compromises packaging (potentially a bit more than just RWD), increases assembly costs, and requires either an independent rear suspension or I suppose a De Dion axle. So, not ideal for a family or commercial vehicle or something intended to be cheap.
The main reason you’d want a rear transaxle is handling: excellent weight distribution and stability. That’s great, but with modern suspension, tires, and electronic stability control, the advantages only really matter if you’re going for maximum performance and/or you want to show off your uncompromising sporting hardware so that all the buff book editors will get weak in the knees. (Hence the modern Corvette.) You wouldn’t want it for a family car, if only because of the cost, which also rules it out for sporty cars based on family cars.
AUWM makes a good point on the packaging. Since nobody has front bench seats anymore, no usable space is gained by having less of a center hump in the front floor. Conversely, to make room for the transaxle in back, something has to give, and it will be either trunk space or the rear seat placement or some of both.
All good points on why a rear transaxle on a front engine car is a dead end for mainstream vehicles. Still, you have to admire Delorean for giving it a shot when he was handed a longer version of the Corvair platform and told to make a Pontiac out of it. Here’s a link to a very nice write-up on the ‘rope-drive’ Tempest by Paul when he was doing CC over at TTAC:
The rear-engine Corvair and FWD Toronado tend to get all the attention when discussing GM’s great engineering attempts, but the Tempest was pretty damn innovative, too.
In fact, imagine the later Pontiac OHC six in a rope-drive Tempest…
The Tempest was a slightly different story because it was a matter of coming up with something different sharing a lot of Corvair parts, so it wasn’t either a clean-sheet design or a conversion of a conventional front-engine/rear-drive. It was very clever, particularly the design of the transaxle itself — the way they adapted the Corvair Powerglide to create TempesTorque is ingenious, if not exactly elegant — but it had a lot of limitations. The four-cylinder stick shift was not a very pleasant combination.
The Porsche 924/944/968 were better examples, certainly in terms of the handling potential. However, by the time of the 968, there were a lot of much less complicated FF and conventional FR cars that were in the same league for less cost.
With its torque converter hanging out the rear of the transaxle, saying TempesTorque is “ingenious, if not exactly elegant” is an apt way to describe it. It was one of the more outlandish engineering endeavors to come out of a GM division and I wonder exactly how much of Delorean is actually in it, particularly considering how he had worked on Packard’s ‘Ultradrive’ automatic transmission. Delorean might have eventually ended up being a flawed individual later, but early in his automotive career, he definitely seemed to have some extraordinary engineering prowess.
As to the limitations, wasn’t it rather fragile? It sure looks like it would be. Of course, they did build 12 NHRA, experimental-class specific race cars in 1963 that used the 326 (which actually had a one-year-only CID of 336) V8 but maybe those were special, heavy-duty units.
I knew someone who had a Tempest with the curved driveline (why?) and rear mounted transmission. The driveline had several bearings along the way necessary to keep it working. It produced a very noticeable whine, and being bearings no doubt wore out eventually. What were they thinking?
The points about the transmission hump not mattering with bucket front seats and then the transmission in back taking up space, plus electronic aids and generally better figured out suspension geometry plus cooling for automatics and linkage for sticks seem like good reasons why the seemingly ideal arrangement never caught on.
And almost all smaller cars without cubic feet to spare are FWD anyway.
The Tempest was simply less of a compromise than the Buick or Oldsmobile versions of the Y-body, Corvair-based floorpan. The Tempest used not only the Corvair’s transaxle case (but few internal Powerglide internal parts), but a relatively unaltered Corvair floorpan, as well, simply to save stamping costs. But it does seem odd that GM would allow Delorean to spend the money to develop a completely new type driveshaft when they could just let him use the modified Corvair floorpan that Buick and Oldsmobile were using.
In a foreshadowing of things to come, GM corporate wanted the Pontiac version of the Corvair to essentially ‘be’ a Corvair with nothing more than different front and rear styling (the Pontiac Polaris concept car). Ironically, if the Corvair had been conceived, say, a scant 15 years later, the Polaris is exactly what would have been built instead of the Tempest. And, who knows, maybe the Polaris would have helped sell the idea of the Corvair layout to the general public.
No small number of Falcons were sold with the Deluxe trim package, that brought the little car up to something a bit closer to Ford Galaxie / Chevy Impala standards for trim and equipment, including rear armrests.
Despite Mercury fielding the somewhat successful Comet, Mercury was a shambles in 1961, and Ford, as was common at various points in its history, fielded cars crossing the basic, sporty, and luxury ranges. The Toyota business model before Toyota was a major world player.
JPC’s clue the other day caused me to read the entire 16 page 1961 Falcon brochure, the 20 page 1962 brochure and more. By ’62, the Falcon was offering the even higher Futura coupe trim and Squire wagon trim. ’63 brought a convertible, and ’64 the Sprint coupe and convertible packages.
Despite all the luxury trims and many options available, Ford also felt the car was in a fight with the VW Beetle. The ’61 brochure makes frequent reference to how the Falcon has roomy storage consolidated in a single large trunk, vs. the front and behind seat storage in a VW. There were endless references to fuel economy, while also touting an automatic transmission, up-level engine, and for the truly decadent; air conditioning!
With the likelihood that the Falcon stole a number of large Ford sales, Ford knew they had some kind of lightning in a bottle, but seemed a bit unsure how to handle it. In ’62, they incorporated an unrelated van (they even called it a bus) into the Falcon line up, thinking of the VW Bus, while also increasing the American style luxury available in a smaller car. The Falcon was, to no small extent, briefly a sub-brand at Ford, offering everything from a strippo to Uncle Clem, to a luxed up Futura to young people like my parents that bought one after returning from a European stint in the military in the fall of 1962.
Maybe the original buyer didn’t plan on regularly carrying rear seat passengers?
Not to mention omitting the armrests may have helped the hip room dimension which would have been important in a compact car.
Strippers like a 1958 Chevy Yeoman station wagon and Delray sedan had no arm rests at all and only a driver’s side (something like cardboard covered in vinyl) sun visor. A deluxe interior Falcon would have had rear arm rests.
The Valiant was not any more radical mechanically than a Falcon. The Falcon had new precision cast lighter iron engines. The Valiant had a redone old flathead engine changed to overhead valves. The slant was because it was an older long stroke design and needed to be tipped to lower it to fit under modern hoods.
Valiants did ride (including less noise and harshness) and handle better than Falcons. If Chrysler had gone for Engel type design instead of exentric (not that there was anything wrong with it, just fringier) Exner, like they did later with the next series of Valiant/Darts built on the same platform, they would have sold a lot more.
Then two years later, not having learned the lesson yet the downsized Plymouths and Dodges followed suit and they didn’t sell that many either. Although I still think they are the coolest non-luxury cars of the time.
I’ll agree to the extent that they can be made cool.
The cleaned-up 1963 Valiant was actually an Exner design. Engel didn’t show up at Chrysler until ‘after’ Exner had finished up the styling on the 1963 Valiant. All Engel did was give a few tweaks, mainly the stubby, little ‘fins’ which, ironically, were somewhat Exner-like.
In fact, Engel was at Ford styling when the 1960 Falcon was released. Is it possible he had anything to do with how the final shape emerged? Regardless, the Valiant carried on through 1966 with relatively few changes. Engel put a rather ungainly new front end on it in 1966 but the first completely Engel Valiant wasn’t released until 1967.
In that regard, does anyone know if ‘any’ Valiant model styling was influenced by a GM or Ford product? One would have thought it would have had some Nova or Falcon influence, but it doesn’t really look like it. If it wasn’t influenced, the Valiant truly was a complete Chrysler original.
Yeah, I wasn’t really sure exactly when the Exner to Engel thing happened, and of course there is a time lag until their designs get to market also. Not gonna try to figure out the years, but for example the Chrysler Turbine car had a front end that was very much like the rear of the ’61 T-Bird, not to mention the whole car which had a lot of similarity, and the ’63 Dodge Dart front end clearly had a lot in common with it although like the Valiant it dropped a lot of the design characteristics of the original Valiant and downsized 1962 Plymouth and Dodge. The 1963 versions of Plymouth and Dodge, although really basically the same as the new 1962’s dropped a lot of that stuff also and tried to normalize what was carried over like the dashboards.
The Turbine Car, unlike the ’63 Valiant, is a car where Engel actually deserves the styling credit. Ironically, the 1964-66 ‘Flair Bird’ Thunderbirds look a lot like the Turbine Car and Engel was surely working on them before he left Ford to replace Exner as Chrysler’s design chief in 1961. In fact, you have to wonder how much Engel’s Flair Bird design that he brought along with him influenced Lynn Townsend to go ahead with the Turbine Car project, knowing he’d have his own Chrysler version of the Flair Bird a full year before Ford released there’s, sort of like Engel thumbing his nose at Ford. I can’t imagine Henry Ford II being too thrilled about the similarity between the two cars.
>>The Valiant was not any more radical mechanically than a Falcon. The Falcon had new precision cast lighter iron engines. The Valiant had a redone old flathead engine changed to overhead valves. <<
the slant six was a clean sheet design and offered much better engine performance than the Falcon engines
the slant six is legendary while the Ford Falcon engines are better forgotten if you're a Ford fan
Indeed, Dad’s roommate in college had a fairly new 61 Falcon with the 144, with 4 males on board, they would routinely roll the windows down and act like they were rowing to encourage something resembling acceleration.
the Slant Six by comparison was a rocket ship, even in smog strangled 225 guise in 1974, and could hold its own over a 3.9 powered 87 Dakota in a drag race, and then completely run away from it on top end.
The only Ford straight 6 that has any sort of legendary status is the 300.
The Falcon engines did get off to a literally slow start with their cast-in intake manifolds, resulting in uneven mixture distribution to the cylinders. By contrast, the long intake runners of the slant six were a primary reason for its superior performance.
Thank the Aussies for making it work. First, they ditched the original head and came up with their own crossflow design. Then they upgraded that with one overhead cam, then a second. Add turbocharging and all of a sudden you’re cranking out as much as 436 horsepower.
Yes, the famed Aussie Barra engine family (not named after GM CEO Mary) traces its roots to that original Falcon engine.
And probably the only bits in common are the bore centres! 🙂
Great piece, JP. What rugged old things these were/are. Photo below is of my late brother’s ’61 around 1980 at the time of it’s resale to the happy guy on the right.
This car was equipped like Clem would have liked with the 144 and three-on-the-tree. I recall it had sufficient power for any driving conditions provided you didn’t load it up with a bunch of NFL linebackers. It returned phenomenal gas mileage delivering as much as 28-29 miles per gallon on the road.
It was a $300 car and all it really needed at the time was rear springs.
Nice Falcon. The one thing I learned in writing this was that the Deluxe Trim and Ornamentation Package was the source of all of the side trim like in your brother’s car. There was just a single model, unlike Corvair and Valiant. That deluxe package must have been hugely popular. I hardly ever recall seeing plain ones.
You’re right, JP. Uncle Clem would never have spent the extra $78 for the DeLuxe Trim Package, especially on a car with a base price of just under $2000.
This made me think of something. Just whitewalls make the car look nicer than if it had the deluxe trim and blackwalls. I think Emmett’s grandma played her cards well on that choice.
Yup. They dress it up just enough.
Now that I had a moment to think about it, I remember that my brother Ron found his Falcon in a private garage in a suburb of New York City. He had answered an ad for a ’67 Valiant V100 with similar equipment (a 170 Slanter and three-on-the-tree) and when we got down there we found the Falcon in the same garage. He probably spent around $500 for the pair of them and we made two trips down and back to drive them both up to Vermont.
No pictures of the Valiant, unfortunately, which was really cherry except for faded red paint. It met it’s unfortunate demise a few years later when a log truck dumped it’s load on the driver’s side “A” pillar after hitting another car that had pulled out in front of it. The driver’s side of the roof was flattened down to the belt line and if my brother hadn’t been able to dive into the passenger side foot well when he saw what was unfolding before his eyes, I have no doubt that he would have been toast that day, too.
I swear they spent the extra money to color-match the wheels on these rather than using the uniform “wheel silver” Ford in Britain had already gone to, just so the cars would look plainer if you didn’t pop for whitewalls and/or trim rings.
Color matched wheels seemed to be the norm in American cars in the 50s and 60s. When not in color, American cars usually defaulted to black wheels (except for Studebaker, who went with off-white for some reason.)
In most cases, if you ordered full wheel covers the wheels were painted black; if the car came from the factory with dog dish caps the wheels were color matched. The black wheels were considered way cooler when you removed the covers – as most teens did in my h.s. days.
Motor Trend invited stylists to review the 61 models for their December 1960 issue. At least one also preferred the Falcon without the deluxe trim package.
Gene: that is one of my favorite MT issues. I always wished they’d do that every year. They did with the 65s IIRC.
It’s the black paint as well as the whitewalls that makes Emmett’s car. Few self respecting up level sedans of the time (just ignore the ’63-’64 Chrysler New Yorker sedan – more Mopar weirdness) went without chrome side window frame mouldings. Like modern cars, this Falson’s chrome drip rail surround with the blacked out window frames imparts a sort of hardtop look.
Clem was right, the black paint choice has held up VERY well.
@DweezilAZ – stylists these days would probably be banned from commenting on competitors’ cars, which is a shame.
Great write up on a great car, JP. I can’t reply to CA Guy below, but I’d love to see the full article on the styling analysis of the ’61 cars. The obvious restraint at of the comments on the ’61 Imperial are hilarious. One can only imagine what they said about that year’s full size Plymouth…
$2000 in 1962 = $15835.28
$74 in 1962 = $585.91
Nice write-up on a very nice little ’61, Mr. Cavanaugh. What a minty-looking Falcon. I dig that interior along with the bench seats. At 51,000 miles it’s barely ‘broken in’ after 55 years. 😀
I’d like nothing more than to be able to drive down the highway in my ’64 sedan and one day run into a flock of Falcons heading for a car show.
In Australia the Deluxe was a separate model, and I think our Standard was more basic than yours; I don’t recall that fancy-patterned upholstery.
A great story about a great little car.
The lack of armests does seem a little cheap, but that extra 3-4 inches of hip room probably comes in handy if you actually try to put 6 people in there. Based on my Dart experience, those little armrests aren’t really very good for putting your arm on anyway.
One of Ford’s Saving Graces. I have no problem with the bare-bones McNamara origins of this model; it’s a great shape derived from the sublime Quicksilver and it does its bare-bones job well. I had a girlfriend with a t-bird roofed oz XL; the 144 was gutless but it carried us on the 2 hours+ journey to her parents’ town and back without complaint. Love it in black. Nice car Emmett.
Never figured out how ‘pshaw’ is pronounced.
Almost-silent “p”. You barely say the letter, but it’s still obviously there.
Thanks Syke. I’ve read it in ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ type literature, but I’ve never been able to figure out exactly how it rolls of the tongue. Next time, I’ll try your suggestion.
I didn’t know that only the ’60 and ’61 were this round and smooth. Apparently in North America they almost immediately became a little blockier in ’62 unlike the Aussie version that retained most of the original styling for the first six years.
Was the wood clad Squire wagon ever offered in North America, or did it remain an Australian thing?
These stayed pretty much the same through 1963 in the US, except that the roofline was updated on the newer ones. And yes, the Squire wagon was here (from 1962, I believe), in all its wood paneled glory.
Now that you say it, the ’62 and ’63 still do use the original body; it’s the front cutout and grille that make them look much more square than the ’61.
The squared-off roofline first appeared on the fancy Futura in midyear ’62 and then across the board for ’63. I think it looks kind of odd and heavy over the original round lower body on those years and they should’ve held it for the 1964 full reskin.
The faux wood Falcon Squire Wagon was available starting in 1962.
I’ve always preferred the 64-65 Falcon Squire:
The squarer update in 1964 also came with revised suspension and seats, and were noticeably nicer to ride in. As you can see from the station wagon roof, essentially the same body with all new panels below the beltline.
That’s a really nice car. The saving grace here (other than interested family members) is that a Falcon 4-door sedan isn’t the kind of car most people modify, so there’s a good chance it’ll stay the way it is for a long time.
I wonder how many miles a year Emmett drives it.
Somehow I doubt that ya’ll would still be heaping accolades on this dull, boring gutless wonder if you were forced to drive it as your Daily Driver for a year.
Was my girlfriend’s DD for about 4 years. She loved it.
I’d love to if I found one within my budget. Can’t be any less exciting than my 90 hp Toyota.
If you ever experienced the “joy” of trying to merge on today’s Interstates with a 144 cubic inch engine/2 speed automatic Falcon, with an aftermarket Air conditioner wheezing away at your knee cap, you’d haul azz back to your “90 hp Toyota” quite quickly.
Autobahn actually, and the right lane generally moves at 56 mph because of electronic limiters in semi trucks except on sundays when semi trucks aren’t allowed to drive, but then people will clear the right lane for onrampers.
My family had a ’63 station wagon with factory air – which was not integrated and about the same as aftermarket, with a different radiator and fan – and a 170 with the two speed automatic. Standard operating procedure when entering any highway was to floor it, AC on or off. (It might have been sophisticated enough to turn off the compressor when floored – not sure). It eventually shifted, engine roaring at maybe 5000 rpm, at about 50 mph. You lifted your foot from the floor only when cruising speed was achieved.
In the 1990s I experienced the joy of getting on I-95 in West Palm Beach, FL with my ’64 Falcon sedan with its ‘170’ and 2-speed Ford-O-Matic. I did not have air conditioning. The ‘170’ had 101 hp in 1964 and I expect by the mid-90s the unrestored engine probably possessed more like 90 hp. It’s giddy-up wasn’t that speedy! That said, even in ’90s the Falcon stuck out like a sore thumb in traffic and I usually navigated my way into the interstate traffic without much fuss. It’s very toasty in S. Florida much of the year, but there was no way I could install an aftermarket A/C in the Falcon. It’s little quirk was that it enjoyed going from ‘C’ to ‘H’ in a hurry. It never did overheat, but it came close many times. I think the car just liked me so it acted like it wanted to overheat, but then stopped short of doing so. Thankfully. I drove it every day from Sept. 1989 through Jan. 1999. It actually runs better now than it did then. The Falcon went to high school, college, Publix (to work) and everywhere else I needed to go. Everyone knew me because of that turquoise Falcon. Funny how it worked out that way.
That’s the beauty of it: It’s not a sexy, ultra-desireable, teenage-wet-dream automobile. It’s what the majority of America drove back in 1961. And it’s the truly rare automobile at any car show or cars and coffee nowadays. Because nobody bothered to save a four wheeled appliance.
I’m hoping I live into the 2030’s, so I can read the websites singing the hosannas of the late-’90’s Toyota Camry. God’s Own Car, and The Perfect Automobile.
I just noticed that someone sprung for backup lights on this thing. Interesting.
Hipster cred aside, early ’60s compacts seem like fun options for people who want an inexpensive old car. Corvairs have an enthusiastic ownership and good parts availability, and Falcons are Mustang-like enough that parts are probably not a huge problem (other than maybe trim/interior bits). Valiants are the wild card here, because parts availability is near zero (even for my Dart, there’s no such thing as a really good A-Body “catalog”), but they’re certainly interesting. Then you have Larks and Ramblers, BOP compacts (good luck on parts for those)…lots of options. Never mind, I’m just daydreaming again.
Valiants are good over here for parts, particularly in Adelaide where they were built although I remember someone pointing out to me that the lens for the ceiling light is unobtainium.
You have expressed the very reasons my girlfriend had one of these. Easy to maintain classic.
Surprisingly, parts for Lark’s are readily available. There is an enthusiastic core of Studebaker diehards and several parts vendors who cater to them.
FWIU Studebaker management didn’t really care about the South Bend plant or anything in it to go to the effort to destroy anything when they got out of cars; all the parts stocks and blueprints for every Stude ever went to the Altman/Newman Avanti corporation who in turn sold it to the Studebaker Drivers’ Club.
Yes, and all that stuff is now in the hands of the Studebaker National Museum, and available for viewing. The other thing was that when sales were slow (which was always), the plants would overproduce parts which went into stock. Newman & Altman were bright enough to foresee a significant demand for replacement parts (for at least awhile) and bought up the huge stock of parts, for probably pennies on the dollar. You can still buy many NOS items that owners of other brands can only dream of.
I visited the derelict Studebaker plant in 2000, and remember seeing a small store in the complex that sold NOS parts.
This also explains the dearth of old Chrysler parts (including for old A-bodies). In a previous CC, someone else wrote that, unlike Studebaker management, when Iacocca was put in charge of Chrysler, in his effort to streamline and ‘clean house’ to make the company lean and efficient (and profitable), he wanted to get rid of all the NOS parts Chrysler had in stock, to presumably make better use of the space. Rather than the Studebaker method of offering up the parts for sale, he couldn’t be bothered with the effort for so little return and, instead, just had all the (now precious) old Chrysler parts hauled off to be destroyed. Considering Chrysler’s dire straits at the time, I guess it was a good decision, but in hindsight, sure seems lacking, particularly considering how Studebaker did it.
It’s rather ironic since the company where Iacocca came from (Ford) is actually pretty good at maintaining a decent supply of old parts, particularly for those models that had high levels of production. I wonder if Iacocca had the same level of power at Ford that he had at Chrysler, if he would have done the same thing and eliminated all of Ford’s old parts, as well.
I would imagine GM is somewhere between Ford and Chrysler in their old parts availability.
There exists a horrifying picture (at least to Studebaker enthusiasts) of a huge pile of NOS sheet metal that was pitched from upper stories to the side of the Newman & Altman building, likely late ’60s-early-’70s. Much of it seemed to be ’56 to ’58. At the time it probably was worth more as scrap.
The BOP compacts weigh up the claimed extra hassle of parts tracking through their coolness and weirdness factor though.
Aluminum V8s, America’s first production V6, the world’s first production turbo engine (good luck finding one), the largest petrol straight four in a post-war production car, rope drives, transaxles, fully independent suspensions, and the Buick’s styling was comparable to full size models, especially those obscene front fenders. Not even the Corvette had any of these things in 1961.
Aaron, never had any problem with parts for my 63 Sugnet over the past 35 years. Parts seemed to get scarce in the 90s, but with the advent of the Internet, no problem now.
The last air filter I bought was made in Israel and I bought a rebuilt alternator through Amazon recently. Lots of resources. Atlas Obsolete even has the gas tank fuel level part that I’m going to need since the gauge has stopped working in the dash. Post it notes with mileage & date every fill up for now.
Mechanical parts, sure, but trim and body parts? Not so much. On the other hand, I had a heck of a time just finding a ball and trunnion boot, and good luck finding gaskets or bearings or synchros for the A-903 three-speed. Stuff’s out there, but it’s drying up and parts manufacturers aren’t replacing them.
Trim and body are another story, Aaron, but that would be true of any of the less popular cars out there and not a Valiant specific problem. I was able to get patch panels for the lower rear fenders, floor and trunk pans are available and scrap sheet metal can be cut to fit.
I was even able to get repro headlight trim rings for my 63.
I have the 3 speed manual, and they’ve been trouble since new. My parent’s own 63 Dart wagon was two weeks old when it had to be towed back to the dealer because the linkage hung up. CR was still griping about the linkage in a 71 test of basic compacts which included the MOPAR offering[s].
I was able to get a later model remanned “z bar”, “Torque bar” for the linkage and have it adapted. Far more stout that the wimpy 60-66 style.
All I’m saying is that, while it is harder there are solutions. It takes more digging. Hemmings, internet, auto jumbles at Mopar Fests, club membership and such will help.
The Spring and Fall Mopar meets at Woodley Park in Van Nuys served up lots of spares and new reproduction stuff.
In time, like you might have read in car collector magazines, it may be necessary to have parts made that are no longer available. In all my reading, though, that seems only to happen with obscure makes from the 20s and 30s. And with 3D printing becoming available who can say what the future will bring.
Perhaps at some point you’ll be able to print, or have someone print the ball and trunnion part you need.
Far fetched, but I never thought I’d see the day where independent parts suppliers would be reproducing parts for what were common old cars from when I was growing up, either.
Someone will make a nice living providing small lots of obscure parts using modern technology or on demand and there will be a ready market for them.
Crystal ball fading…… connection lost.
Best to ya, Aaron. Take care of what you’ve got and jump on any parts you think you might need in the future. A little strategic planning helps and having a stockpile will reassure you about parts availability.
Probably not Mustang level, but there seem to be some pretty serious Falcon part sellers out there.
My guess is the Corvair and the Falcon are the best supported of the early ’60s American compacts.
One of several options for Falcon parts: http://www.falconparts.com/
As of this moment, E-bay has 22,715 listings related to 1961 Falcon parts.
Nice, nice, VERY nice!
I never studied the side profile of the Falcon sedan before, but I find it unusual that the greenhouse has more glass area in the back doors than the front doors, although the door cutouts are about the same overall! It looks a bit odd, but good for rear passengers’ entry & exit. Overall, a it’s a well-proportioned design to carry people front and back, not just a driver and front passenger. Very similar to our old and beloved 1990 Plymouth Acclaim!
I was pretty young when the Falcon made its debut in fall, 1959 when I was 8½. I’ve said this before in past articles: in the commercials for the Falcon, Ford made a point about the way the hood curved down at the front, allowing the driver to see a bit more of the road closer to the car. A “safety” feature, I’m sure!
At that age, this was the first car to make an everlasting impression on me, and Dad would’ve liked to own one if he could afford it. The second? Probably my aunt’s square steering wheel Dodge.
Cool article, and the owner of this car has my deepest respect – NO RESTO MOD! Syke may agree with me.
Good job, JP!
I’m still trying to come to grips with the latest denizen of the bi-weekly Richmond cars and coffee: A 1951 Riley four door sedan restored perfectly – until you realize it has a modern steering column, and then find a GM3800 under the hood. And everything else under there is modern, too.
And I’ll respectfully disagree with both of you…I can’t wait to get a C4 Corvette suspension/brakes/steering and LS power under my ’57 Chevy Handyman! Then again, I plan to drive and enjoy it regularly. No “only on cruise night” for me, thank you.
But this Falcon is a beautiful time capsule. It would make no sense to modify it.
Personally, the 1960, with its concave grill and more horizontal turn signal/parking lights, is my favorite of all the early Falcons.
“… I can’t wait to get a C4 Corvette suspension/brakes/steering and LS power under my ’57 Chevy Handyman… ”
+1 on the concave grille. And I prefer this roofline to the t-bird look.
I don’t like it when people start with a perfect condition 100% original car(as mr. regular did) but I’m totally with you in any other scenario, make them as reliable and capable as modern traffic and DRIVE them. Plus it’s satisfying knowing you’re irritating both the curmudgeons who can’t accept alterations to past technology and the pollyannas who just can’t admit something old can work just as well in the present.
I was kind of disappointed when Mr. Regular restomodded his Falcon, which is red but was otherwise an identical twin to this one.
That was so that ‘normal’ people who aren’t savvy to the needs of driving old cars would be able to experience it, wasn’t it? Which of course does distort the experience.
I could understand upgrading an early Falcon to a quicker steering ratio, but if you are keeping the original tire size much else is going to be of limited worth.
That’s probably the nicest early Falcon I’ve ever seen. It looks like it’s been carefully maintained the correct way all these years.
Also – I’m guessing that Emmett and his family have no intention of selling that car, but if I had to venture a guess I bet they’ve had some offers.
This first generation Falcon was a “sensibly sized” cars for many Americans looking for a second, short distance driven car. They seldom broke, rode ok, were cheap on the budget and fit in well parked at the curb of the developing tract house suburbia of the early 1960’s.
Compared to the bulging hipped, tail finned cars of the late 1950’s/early 1960’s; the Falcon was a marvel of interior packaging and efficiency.
But slow, gutless and irritatingly noisy they also were. “Putting the pedal to the metal” in these automatic transmission equipped Falcons was an exercise in futility and mental irritation.
These “ice wagon slow” Falcons were at their best when “tip toeing” around town, from the kid’s grade school to the Piggily-Wiggily to the beautician’s shop.
They were loved by the women/housewives of the time period because of their under powered, gutless personality. Gals of this time period were, in general, afraid of a car with any power under the hood. They felt intimidated by a car with some ooommmppphhhh when you goosed the gas.
Any man with the slightest amount of testosterone in his blood stream refused to drive one of these. A first gen Falcon was always “The Wife’s Car”.
A Falcon spotted on a used car lot almost always had a “Low Mileage” banner across the windshield. Nobody wanted to drive this bouncy, noisy, “ice wagon slow” car any further than they had to.
I think the big difference for those of us “up north” is that air conditioning was never a factor in these. Even “Dad’s car” was usually not equipped with air until the second half of the sixties in my northern Indiana area. I agree that hanging an a/c unit onto that little six coupled to the 2 speed Ford-O-Matic would have made for some exciting moments on the highways (and not in a good way).
I once drove a 60 Comet with the 144, but it at least had a 3 speed. It certainly wasn’t fast, but would have made a decent “around town” sort of car. That was my experience too – these were the perfect “second car” for suburban families, that would see duty to the grocery store and to the kids’ schools. These were also perfect for the folks in rural county-seat towns where 50 mph on a 2 lane highway was the outside edge of performance needed by the kind of person who never ventured more than 15 miles from home. And for an older person in 1961, the memory of flathead sixes and Fluid Drive had set some low expectations of what was necessary for power in a car. Compared to what this Falcon’s buyer had likely been driving fifteen years earlier, it was probably pretty peppy.
Agree. The “Three-On-The-Tree” manual transmission equipped Falcons were MUCH more peppy than the two speed automatic transmission models; if you could tolerate the un-synchronized first gear.
My (at the time) 51 year old Grandfather traded in his Powerglide ’51 Chevy on a new ’60 Falcon and was quite happy with the automatic and overall performance.
His 30 year old son (my Father) drove it once and commented, slowly shaking his head from side to side, that his Father had somehow managed to buy an even more gutless car than the one he traded in.
As JPC commented: Different generations, different expectations.
HaHaHa, Mark your story about your grandfather wins the thread today! Isn’t it the truth. It reminds me about how my mother (about 52) was so thrilled with her new 85 Crown Victoria while I couldn’t wait to get out of the driver’s seat and back into my 77 New Yorker, which I felt did *everything* better than that gutless CV (except stay out of the shop, unfortunately).
Yup! Different generations, different expectations.
My Koean War veteran Father was an admitted “Car Guy”. We went thru many more cars in the 1960’s thru 1980’s than most “Married With Children” families did.
My Mother adapted quickly to my Father’s automotive tastes and did not tolerate slow, boring cars either. After 9 months of ownership they dumped an otherwise wonderful bath tub Porsche because it was “just too dayumed slow” for either one of them.
Their two 1960’s station wagons both had the optional higher performance engines, suspension, Michelin X tires, brakes and headlight upgrades.
Mom taught my 14 year old self how to “Power Brake” launch a car with her “Grocery Getter” 390 “Thunderbird Special” powered Ford wagon. (“Don’t tell your Dad about this!”)
Their last American car, a ’76 Chrysler Cordoba, was an oddly optioned “Sales Bank” car equipped with the 400 cubic inch, 4-BBL Thermoquad carburetor engine, factory non-catalytic converter dual exhaust, 3.23 posi-traction rear end car. Dad recognized the potential when reading the window sticker; one quick test drive and Mom was hooked also.
The dealer heavily discounted it because it didn’t have a vinyl top or power windows. It was a seldom seen dark blue metallic with medium blue cloth interior. A most under-stated, quite tasteful-almost-regal looking car, compared to the Monte Carlos of the time period.
I know for a fact that this crushed velour lined shoebox on wheels could consistently out drag my best friend’s new 1977 Trans-Am.
HaHa, I am getting a chuckle out of imagining that 70s cliche of bloat dusting that 70s cliche of performance.
As I think of it more, it is not so hard to see how Studebaker Lark sales held up as well as they did in 1960-61. That 259 V8 would have been a real stormer among the early American compacts and even the old 170 flathead six was often found with a 3 speed OD transmission which gave it a lot of flexibility. The Falcon was clearly more modern and better built, but until the 200 six and the V8 came along, there was a definite power deficit if a person needed a car for all-around use.
Grandpa traded the ’60 Falcon (with all of 22K on it!) in on a one year old, 6K ’65 Falcon 4 door, this one with a 289 V8 engine (TANK YAAAA JAYYSUSSS!) and the 3 speed automatic transmission.
A month after buying the ’65 Grandpa exclaimed to his son (my Father) “what have I been missing all the years! This car doesn’t even downshift when going up hills! It scats when I stomp it!!”
Dad just looked at me and we both smiled.
It would be interesting to see how the Falcon would compare to the depths of the Malaise era. A 1980 Slant Six Chrysler Newport was down to 90 horsepower. While it may have had a three speed automatic, it was a NewPork weight wise compared to the Falcon, and mostly likely had AC!
The up-level 170 CID Falcon with 101 hp and dealing with maybe 2,500 lbs might not have been as bad as it sounds.
We need a magazine comparison article on the ’61 US domestic compacts ASAP.
Apples to oranges. The Falcon was still rated in gross hp; it’s net would have been about 65-70 hp.
Dave I have found a 0-60 time of 18.7 sec which I assume is with the manual transmission, a 1/4 mile of 22.4 sec and top speed of 84 mph.
That is a decent amount quicker than the 1961 Hillman Minx I drove earlier in the year (0-60 approx 22 sec?), but that was still perfectly useable on the road and would cruise at 65 mph on the highway without straining too hard. You just have to accept that you are going to lose speed on hills and other cars are going to be faster.
The three speed was decidedly less sluggish, at least around town and getting up to speed (in a matter of speaking). But the gap between 2nd and 3rd was too big. What they really needed was a four speed. A Ford UK sourced four speed was available for a few years in Falcons, but the take rate was very low.
I think Ford charged almost as much for it as for Fordomatic, which was a shame. The English Ford four-speed was the unit from the Ford Zephyr 6, which had much more useful ratios: 3.16 low (synchronized!) with 2.21 and 1.41 intermediates rather an unsynchronized 3.29 in low and 1.83 in second.
I don’t know that the four-speed would have made much difference in flat-out acceleration (probably a little), but it sounds a lot more tolerable in city traffic.
The 4 speed would have been a big help on steep mountain passes, especially with a full load of family and luggage. Would avoid the bog down in 3rd which forced a 2nd gear shift slowdown and the engine screaming in 2nd, but unable to pull 3rd because of the big gap.
It was a lot faster (and less nerve racking) going uphill towing a lot of weight to be able to shift between 3rd and 4th on steep climbs vs. engine screaming while moving slowly in 2nd gear, realizing a shift into 3rd would only slow you down more.
Yeah — second in the three-speed was about the same as Low in Powerglide or Fordomatic, so you had the same dilemma as with two-speed automatics. A little less power drain, but no torque converter multiplication. The four-speed was expensive (and not available until ’63, it looks like), but definitely desirable.
” Even “Dad’s car” was usually not equipped with air …”
Quite common back then. My Dad’s ’70 Monte Carlo had no A/C, but was bought used, not ordered new. We rolled all the windows down in summer. But Plymouth wagon had air, at least for road trips.
“Gals of this time period were, in general, afraid of a car with any power under the hood.” Oh, my God, that made me laugh! My mother drove her ’50 Olds 88 convertible, her ’58 Impala convertible and her ’68 Mustang Sprint like Parnelli Jones. And my sister in law would fling around her ’63 Triumph TR4 hard enough to loosen your sphincters. And don’t get me started on my cousin and her 1950 MG-TD!
“Gals of this time period …”
Don’t assume such, my mother and grandmother learned driving skills from my lead foot grandad. Loved doing 70-80 on highways, before 55 era.
‘red blooded men…”
OTOH, many elderly men in 1960’s , who lived during the Depression and went to WW2, drove “slow, thrifty cars”. 😉
I will say that my own mother always liked having plenty of power available in her 64 Cutlass hardtop with the 4 bbl premium gas 330. When she was in a playful mood, she could surprise some kids in their noisy Chevys at the stoplights. 🙂
My grandmother was the same, she had a bit of a lead foot. Her sister told me about 1950s trips in to Saturday night dances in town from farms with 8-10 people in a big Buick wagon or similar at 90 mph on the unsealed roads, complete with getting air when crossing irrigation channel bridges! I’m not sure if she was driving but the story was not filled with terror.
I love this summation of the early Falcon ‘experience’ and it actually seems to go a long way to explaining the car’s appeal to today’s hipster crowd, something of which I had a bit of perplexion.
I guess it’s the idea of having an old, trendy, rudimentary car best suited for urban duty that will rarely, if ever, see highway use.
I think the manual brakes on my ’64 Falcon would probably scare the hell out of any hipsters were they to drive it!
@JP I recently was reading an article on how Ford of Brazil (IIRC) used this same body style well into the ’80’s, and even did an “upgrade” to period front and end caps. I’ll have to see if I can find it; made for some interesting looking cars! 🙂
You’ve come to the right place
Presenting the new 1982 Ford Falcon from Argentina:
That hurts my brain, kinda like seeing an early ’90s F-1000 from Brazil (a ’72 F-100).
The fastest I ever got my Grandfather’s automatic ’60 Falcon up to was around 82 miles per hour, downhill, on Oklahoma’s Indian Nation turnpike. The speedometer needle was shaking, the engine was bleating it’s guts out and I was too afraid of his (and my Father’s) wrath to push it any harder/faster.
Black is a great color for this car. Does have backup lamps, those must have been an option back in the day. And carpets. The 2 tone seats and door panels give it an upscale look as well. Even has armrests on both front doors, what luxury. With the skinny tires and light weight, the armstrong steering is probably pretty light as well. I like the clean look of no side chrome trim, makes the bumpers, grill, and chrome window surrounds stand out.
Lots of rear legroom, and the trunk seems pretty roomy as well, although the spare takes up a fair amount of space. Really glad to see the family is carrying on the tradition of pampering this little jewel.
The Ranchero version could be considered a compact pickup, even though it is unit body. A friend hand a ’63, though his was a 260 V8 and 2 speed automatic. We upgraded it to a 3 speed auto. The small 6, 3 speed version could be compared to an early compact Japanese mini truck in economy and size. I’d consider it the first true mini truck to appear in the US, at least in any serious numbers.
What a great find, often cars like this get beat into the ground once the original owner passes, this car won’t suffer that fate.
For all my pithy, whinny carping about gutless performance; I must say that this article’s car is an outstanding, well preserved, spotless “Time Capsule” car from the early 1960’s. Seldom seen today!
If I had an antique car museum this car would be a most favored item to display (but not drive).
I bought a white 61Falcon 2-door for $50 way back when I was 16 years old. The 144 six was in pieces in the trunk and it had a fair amount of rust, but I rebuilt the engine and a few applications of bondo and white rattle can spray paint made it presentable. I liked the Falcon for what it was.
Great find; charming write-up. What a rolling time capsule. Great to see that original upholstery. No rear arm rests were common back then, for basic versions. The door handles were sturdy metal back then, and could take all of the closing forces that was inflicted on them.
I’ve been watching episodes of that old 60s sitcom Hazel recently, and in the 1st season or 2 the family’s “2nd car” was a Falcon with probably every available option. In one episode Mr. Baxter is seen getting out off the Falcon in the driveway of his home and I was struck by how….minimal(?) that car looked. A short, yet almost square looking car, with tinny looking doors and sitting on wheels and tires that would make owners of today’s mopeds point and laugh.
And yet, when I was in high school, in the 60s, I so wanted to “upgrade” from the 50s Plymouth I was going to be driving to a mid 60s Falcon…6 cylinder and 3 speed manual and all.
Agree, Howard! The Baxter’s Falcon always looked dumpy, lumpy & frumpy and out of place in front of their upscale (for the time period) northeast suburban home…esp when compared to the full sized Ford station wagon they also always had.
Remember that in the early 1960s, quite a few middle-class families still only had one car. Even when a family did have a second car, it was often a clunker.
My family didn’t have two cars until 1972, when my parents kept their well-worn 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air wagon after buying their neighbor’s mint 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 Holiday sedan. The 1970s equivalent to the Baxter’s Falcon – a 1971 or 1972 Maverick – would have been a HUGE upgrade over that Bel Air. But my parents didn’t have money to buy one.
A nearly new Falcon as a second car, not matter how plain it looked, was still a step up for plenty of families in the early 1960s.
A great story! My grandmother had a 1962 Deluxe sedan that she bought used in 1964, after my grandfather died. Their car had been a 1950 Studebaker Champion sedan with a stick shift, and she hated driving it. She wanted an automatic.
Her Falcon was black, too, and also had a grey interior, although, given that it was the Deluxe version, its interior was upgraded over the interior of this car. I remember that it had the “Ford squeak” in the front suspension. Overall, it was a reliable car that suited her needs. She was rear-ended in 1969, and the resulting collision left a leak on the gas tank (which, in these cars, also served as the trunk floor – not a good idea from a safety standpoint).
She replaced it with a 1966 Dodge Dart 270 sedan that lasted until 1977.
That car has been nicely restored, very very rare cars here the UK Zephyrs were much more robust and popular, and of course locally assembled so there are many more survivors.
The car is all-original, according to the owner.
Ford also assembled the Falcon in Australia. The first Falcons weren’t initially able to handle the rougher roads and dust found in Australia, but Ford worked diligently to improve the car, and it went on to experience considerable success in Australia.
The Australian effort couldnt handle city streets never mind rougher rural roads, the paint on that Falcon is far too shiney to be the original formula. Lots of new parts under the hood its nice and obviously stock buts its had a big tidy up.
In both cases, one point stands out: The original Falcon was bigger than the Zephyr and in the same ballpark size-wise as a mid-90s Honda Accord, but weighed over 100 lb less than even a four-cylinder Zephyr and almost 400 lb less than the Accord.
Every time I see a car equipped this way I wonder if was originally an ad car.
Advertisement would be something like “New Ford with AUTOMATIC and WHITEWALLS only $1699”
Great find. The perfect embodiment of an automobile in the mind of Ford executive Robert McNamara. While certainly no car guy, McNamara knew what cars the public would buy and knew how to make money on them. While best known for the Falcon (its austere, unexciting, no-frills design reflected his personality), McNamara also added the backseat to the ’58 T-Bird, wanted to kill the Edsel the day it was released and approved the iconic, ’61 Lincoln Continental. All proved to be smart decisions. Too bad his winning streak ended in his next job.
The 1962 Ford Fairlane and Mercury Meteor were also his cars.
RE: Winning Streak: To bad indeed!
Ever view the video/documentary “The Fog Of War” in which McNamara kinda-sorta/maybe/perhaps admits his big mistake?
The “winning streak” has to be put into perspective. Yes, individual car lines he developed were successful.
In 1959, the Ford brand came close to outselling Chevrolet.
By 1962, Chevrolet was outselling the entire Ford Motor Company! And that was with a line-up that had been put in place by McNamara.
The full-size Ford was somewhat adrift, while Mercury was headed nowhere fast. Meanwhile, the full-size Chevrolet was setting sales records, and Pontiac was romping through the low medium-price segment, virtually unopposed by Mercury (and Dodge, which had its own issues that obviously weren’t the fault of McNamara).
Yeah, Dodge had become an alternative to Plymouth instead of a step up from Plymouth during those years when the “full-size” Dart was introduced and add the death of DeSoto who allowed a field wide open for Pontiac.
That’s a good review of ‘The Fog of War’, too. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but IIRC, McNamara, although somewhat repentant at times in the movie, comes across more like he’s upset due to a failure of efficiency rather than any kind of moral guilt, sort of like how the Nazi clerks (i.e., Eichmann speaking in his own defense at his trial) were proud of their efficiency in performing The Final Solution with little remorse about the human consequences of their actions.
Donald Rumsfeld comes across in a similar way about his tenure as Secretary of Defense during the Iraq/Afghanistan campaigns.
The way I read McNamara’s attitude in that film is that he spent his career believing that he was acting from a place of moral and ethical rectitude, which he pursued in a deeply rational, logical way. It wasn’t that he acted immorally (at least in his mind — some people feel otherwise), but that his moral framework was inadequate. That’s a heavy conclusion, and you see him sort of feeling his way around the edges before finally backing away.
McNamara was also responsible for the F-111, which he micromanaged with “Should Cost” accounting. Ultimately the Navy dumped it for the F-14 instead, & GD & the USAF eventually sorted out the F-111’s problems; its unique capabilities sold the Aussies on it (who also got the Falcon). It’s claimed the Soviet Su-24 was inspired by it.
USAF nickname: “Aardvark”; Aussie nickname: “Opera House” (after the equally troubled Sydney Opera House).
Love this, JP. I recently saw a 60 model, dove grey that looked like it was showroom new. The driver wasn’t: little white haired old lady who looked like she was nearly 90, and I suspect, the original owner.
You may find Uncle Clem a bit mad, but the wisdom is there. And the “aunt’s” prudence is useful as well. Thrift and restraint are always timeless. Just call me “Clem”, JP.
Of course my parents and grandparents lived through the Depression and World War II. At some point it must have rubbed off. Can’t say the same for my older brother though.
Granny had a 60 Falcon, before the Grabber. It had radio, auto, rubber mats, full wheel discs and a similar interior color to the one featured. No power but made a lot of noise with the gas pedal floored.
The pictured interior instantly brought to mind the color and starkness of my 05 ION 1. Even the seat cloth pattern wouldn’t look out of place in this Falcon. Come back in 20 years and I’ll probably have submitted an ION COAL on it. With recent pictures.
“I can save 100% by just keeping what I’ve got”.
Thanks for taking the time to shoot and report on this just right car.
JPC, wonderful find and article – thank you.
My Dad bought two new 61 Falcons for our household in northern IN in the fall of 1960. One was the four-door sedan in mint green with deluxe trim but no radio; the other was a two-door sedan in white without deluxe trim but with a radio. Both were equipped with the 144, three-on-the-tree and nothing else – no back-up lights as on the subject car, and blackwall tires and dog dish caps.
The biggest difference between the trim levels was in the quality of upholstery. The deluxe interior was far superior to the standard – the one shown in the subject car is identical to ours and I am amazed at the condition. The standard seats had little padding and were not very comfortable or long wearing – they tended to sag under the weight of the average man, even in those days. The deluxe upholstery was well padded, the woven cloth inserts were attractive, and the vinyl surrounds were of higher quality as well. And yes, you got rear arm rests, a cigarette lighter, dome lights – and a horn trim ring on the steering wheel!
I always found it incongruous that you got a white steering wheel – even though it was part of the deluxe trim – in a lowly Falcon as just a few years before a white steering wheel, as in the case of a white home phone, was considered rather luxurious. I remember my aunt’s 55 Oldsmobile had one and I thought it was quite the thing compared with the black or even color matched ones in most cars.
As many have noted, the three-speed manual was far preferable to the Fordomatic given the (then rated) 85 horsepower 144. I cannot imagine trying to drive this car with the two-speed automatic, A/C, and the 144 in modern traffic. Of course, we were in small town IN so the power was adequate if not inspiring. But we took the four-door on a cross-country trip and my Dad managed OK – though within a few years, starting with our 65 Thunderbird, he was moving back to V8s. This was before the age of muscle cars and folks were content with a lot less performance than became the norm later on.
A secretary in our small town got one of the first 61 Falcons with the Futura option introduced late in the model year – white with red bucket seat interior with the little ribbed chrome console box, polka dot wheel covers, and unique chrome trim. I believe it also came with the new narrow band whitewalls, which as a kid I loved. The Futura was a real glamour puss compared to even the deluxe trimmed Falcon and was somewhat of a precursor to the Mustang, at least in terms of interior trim (and of course, the same platform underpinnings).
Within a few years you could get everything from a Falcon convertible to a wood-trimmed wagon and and V8. My Dad later bought a used Falcon Ranchero for light duty hauling. It was a real beauty – two-tone white on red and very practical. Falcon was a huge success and they were everywhere when I was growing up.
The Falcons were all prone to terrible rust problems and the subject car has to be a rare, very well cared for survivor – was it always a Midwestern car?
Just about any ’61 car was a rust bucket in the Midwest. Survivors did occur, they simply weren’t driven in winter in a larger city with fleets of salt trucks.
Jason Shafer wrote recently of his Grandfather’s ’92 F-150. Never garaged, but driven sparingly in mostly rural Missouri – and astonishingly rust-free.
VW Beetles seemed to do a bit better than US metal – though the wheels, bumpers, and hub caps rusted, the bodies held up reasonably well if washed and waxed regularly. Our neighbor had a 62 1200 bought new and it looked great many years later, as did my 60 and 63 models (my bought new 69 seemed to be of lower quality in terms of material and assembly).
Even in small town areas of IN, the roads were heavily salted. Of course, few kept cars for very many years as overall they were far less durable, especially in those conditions. Living in SoCal since 72, it’s a different world. Perfectly preserved cars from 60 years ago are not an uncommon sight. As long as they’re kept out of the sun, cars can have a good long life here.
Hard to say about the impact of model years. The neighbors across our snow and salt encrusted street had a Bug that seemed to be in a perpetual state of freshly bolted on fenders, doors and running boards. The factory color was a light grey-blue and hid the rattle can primer surprisingly well. They had that car a long time, and it was their outside beater (usually parked in the street) while their American iron was treated to the single car garage.
Wow, little did I imagine that we would hear from someone who could give us a firsthand comparison of a 61 Falcon both with and without the Deluxe trim package. 🙂 I was offered a chance to sit in this car, and you are absolutely right – that drivers seat was really, really soft, with virtually no support anywhere. I could not imagine setting off on an all-day road trip in that seat.
Good question on whether this car was always from around here – I forgot to ask Emmett.
From the Peanuts characters at the height of their popularity acting as pitchmen and women (and dogs!), to the something for everybody nature of the Falcon as it evolved, Ford did a remarkable job of marketing the Falcon.
One pitch I don’t think I’ve seen before was a cross-sell of the Falcon in the ’61 Ford full-size brochure. In the expanding economy of the 1960s Ford stepped right up with handy suggestions for how Americans could become a TWO CAR family, and the Falcon was the family helper for all but the truly upper crust………..
Eight doors for a family of three, four doors for a family of four and six doors for a family of five? Also can I have a Country Squire with both wood and chrome on it?
So nice to see one of these in “time capsule” original form; once upon a time, they were everywhere. In April ’62 Popular Mechanics did an Owners Report comparing that year’s model with the ’60 owners’ survey; I didn’t realize that even in 1962 both 144 & 170 were manual choke–and apparently no power steering or brakes yet, either? (Good trivia question: last American mass-market car to come with a manual choke was…….?)
Ford made a major case for how the Falcon’s “larger” brakes and modern steering would keep you from thinking about “big car power assists.” I wonder what the reality was?
I owned a ’67 Ford Galaxie with non-power brakes and generally found it quite acceptable and easy to handle. I’ve never been without power steering.
Aha! FoMoCo’s “selling points” publication for its salesmen (1960 Falcon here, with many pages scanned for us)–and the “truck-sized brakes”: http://www.ebay.com/itm/1960-Ford-Falcon-Salesmans-Book-Brochure-wu1344-/291125312321?hash=item43c86bbb41:g:tOMAAMXQ74JTTEbA
The 60 Comet that I drove once lacked power steering yet the steering was incredibly light, perhaps the lightest of any manual steering American car I have ever driven.
The manual choke knob was still alive and kicking in 1964 Falcons. I honestly don’t know if a buyer could have purchased a ’64 Falcon with an automatic choke? The 2-door Standard Series sedan I have has a manual choke combined with a ‘170’ and 2-speed Ford-O-Matic.
I think FoMoCo made some changes to Falcons for the 1965 model year. The ‘GEN’ was replaced by an ‘ALT’, the 2-speed Ford-O-Matic auto transmission was now replaced with a 3-speed Cruise-O-Matic auto tranny and gone was the manual choke in favor of an automatic choke.
(Someone please correct me if I’m wrong as I’ve never actually seen a ’65 Falcon ‘in the flesh’ to take a look at it inside or under the hood. Only read various publications and Ford books to glean this info).
► I’d be curious to know what the last mass-market American car to come with a manual choke was, too! Maybe an AMC car?
Uh oh, sent too soon:
And now overall results in PM’s early-’62 survey (BTW, I think those Falcon ads were the first time that the Peanuts characters got *animated*–not too long before that first Christmas special on TV, right?):
The Christmas special premiered in 1965, so you’re probably correct.
This looks almost identical to Alice, the Falcon I ran for about four years as my DD, except she was a ’60. Fordor (which Spellcheck keeps wanting to turn into “former”), Fordomatic, bought from a downtown dealer in Nashville for a bit more than it should have been, I think about $3600. It had been given a “ten-foot” restoration, but drove very nicely, especially after I went to the tire place that sold dealer takeoffs 4 for $125 and got a set of basic radials.
At the time of her production these had gotten great press for their handling from such authorities as “Uncle” Tom McCahill, who drove a pre-introduction one at the Ford Proving Grounds and noted that a ’59 Ford following couldn’t keep up through the turns. While Alice was never my weapon of choice for brisk back-roads bombing I used to enjoy getting in front of someone going into a 360º on- or off-ramp and leave him wallowing in our wake, while Alice scooted right through, leaning a bit but tracking just fine. I had also figured out how to install three-point belts, and did so, though as there was no room for an inertia reel they had to be cinch’em-ups. That helped the handling too!
To my eyes, then and now, the 1960 Falcon was a car Ford got right the first time. and then just kept monkeying with and messing it up. The looks were perfect out of the box, and not improved as the years went by. The front springs were stiffer in ’60; these were offered as Export springs in ’61, then not at all afterwards.
Eventually the engine, whose crankcase ventilation had been botched badly, became incontinent and prone to overheating, and the torque convertor took to clanging. I offered it for sale in the club magazine and got an offer of $700 from a family of 2-generation Army guys in East Tennessee, of Mexican origin, who all came in two cars and a flatbed trailer to haul it home from Nashville. They loved it even more in person than in the picture I’d posted, and gave me the wonderful news that she was going to get a complete refurbishment, followed by the installation of a freshly-built 200 c.i. engine and four-speed. Hell, I’d have almost paid THEM the $700 to do that!
This article was a treat – very nice, JP! The whole time I was reading it, my mind kept rewinding to the CC article on that Maverick Grabber – specifically how the original Falcon’s space utilization was head and shoulders above the Maverick’s (in 2- or 4-door form).
My first car was a 1961 Ford Falcon. I paid a whopping $250.00 for her as a used car. It by far was the sweetest car I ever owned (excepting my 2013Lincoln MKT). There wasn’t anything she couldn’t or wouldn’t do. The only issue I ever had was that a little old lady owned her for 15 years before I got her, so I couldn’t get her to ever go over 45 miles an hour. Small price to pay for the dependability.
Ah, what a wonderful story. A car’s worst enemy is usually the child of the original owner. Good on Emmett and his mom for being the exception to the rule!
That Falcon is a beautifully kept. s for a daily driver…. well maybe not. I lived with a $350 ’60 Lark 2 door sedan 259 2v as a daily for several years in the late 90’s and it was great. Total stripper to the point of heater delete. 20 mpg like clockwork and more than enough performance to vex modern traffic. On a trip from the San Diego area to Las Vegas there is a tough uphill at the I15/215 merge northbound and the Stude and I were in the fast lane pushing the modern torqueless blobs aside. Should have kept that one but the Stude truck project was brewing. The Rambler Classic would probably be a better bet over the Falcon too. The 196 overhead coupled with the Borg 3 speed auto is a great combo and I have never driven an old car that rode so well and was super quiet inside to boot. Again while not the quickest accelerator out there, once up to speed it is able to maintain it on our freeway hills. Not so much with the 144. I guess it appealed to the Ford folks with its familiarity with the full sized line.
“Confustication” is such a cromulent word!
I rode in these when new , at the time they were what I thought a ‘ Penalty Box ‘ was .
They did pretty well in the snow on those crappy Bias-Ply tires and potholed , frost heaved New England roads , didn’t rust out in three years and over time I have come to like them very much .
Seeing a true survivor like this makes my day =8-) .
We’re having a serious wildfire problem in So. Cal. (“Blue Cut Fire “) , I saw the Summit Cafe on I-15’s Cajon Pass burned up and in the tow yards storage lot behind it , was one of these very cars , a Convertible no less , burned to a crisp =8-( .
I’ll give this to Ford – nobody did good-looking plain design better. Almost a homage back to the Model T, A, and B.
Exactly. The 1960 Ford Falcon was the type of car that Henry Ford would have absolutely loved. It was simple, basic, reliable, conservative transportation for the masses, no more or less, something that Henry had always championed (to a fault).
And that probably would have been a problem if Henry Ford were still running the company in 1960, since it’s very likely he’d have kept the 1960 Falcon with few styling changes (and only incremental engineering upgrades) for a long, long time, just like he did with the Model T.
I missed this one the first time around, great find and fantastic in black!
A proud Canadian family in the spring of 1960.
Surprised it isn’t a ‘Frontenac’ or ‘Richlieu’ or something else ‘Distinctly Canadian’
I don’t seem to recall seeing too many rusty falcons. I don’t know what it is about
rust and cars my first car was old neglected dirty and no rust this was 1971
then you see a late model Dodge or Chevy truck rusting like crazy
makes me scratch my head.
My friend’s dad had a Falcon Sprint with the 260. The more he dug into it the more rust he found. He gave up after he figured out it needed an entire floorpan. Sounded great with dual exhaust though.
Uncle Clem may have ordered my 1974 Chevy Custom 10 LWB. It doesn’t even have drip rails. 6 cylinder, manual everything. The only “options” are HD rear springs, AM Radio (I’ve never seen a square body without some sort of radio, and cannot find images of a bezel without a radio cutout) and Sunset Gold paint, according to the under-hood spec sheet. I can think of perhaps only one of those actually being optional and costing more.
I love how basic it is, the quentissental work truck.
My dad bought a new 1992 Ford F-150 Custom and it had 0 options except for a dealer-installed car phone, of all things. He didn’t order it that way, we were down to one vehicle and my brother’s were in two different hospitals recovering from the wreck that had took out our second vehicle. He had to later buy a rear bumper and a radio for it. 300 6, 5spd, steel wheels with dog dishes. I loved the truck and it really disappointed me when he traded it in later.
Still a great read, JP! And close to home as my youngest sisters first car, a tan 2 door and my aunt and uncles red station wagon through 3 decades. Just a clean, efficient design from top to bottom and clearly different from GM and Chrysler offerings at the time. Great aunt Dodie had a Comet, and even as a kid it seemed quieter to me than the parent company version. Miss these machines.
Mine was a 1960 Tudor with a 3 speed. Otherwise identical to your photo, except that the previous owner (my grandfather) had painted the wheels white (no whitewalls). Great all around basic car. Wish I still had it.