(first posted 8/10/2012) From the late 1950s to the mid-1960s, Ford showed a lot of new product moxie, upstaging GM with two iconic, trend-setting vehicles: the 1958 T-Bird, and the 1965 Mustang. But one trend that Ford missed the leading edge of, and had to play catch-up to Chevy with, was a widespread shift toward “sportiness” in the lower-price segments. To make up for time, Ford started introducing new cars in the spring, like this 1962½ Futura. They got so good at it, by the spring of 1964, they leapfrogged Chevrolet with the Mustang. Consider the Futura the warm-up act.
In January 1960, Chevy invented the domestic compact sporty car, with the 1960½ Corvair Monza Club Coupe; it would prove to be among the most influential new cars of the decade.
Instead of playing up the Corvair’s original attributes as a spartan, VW-fighting economy car, the Monza instead emphasized sporty luxury. This new direction was key to keeping the Corvair afloat, as the Falcon and Valiant became the bread and butter economy cars of choice. By 1961, the Monza coupe became the best-selling Corvair model, and remained so for the rest of its lifespan.
This rendering from the 1960½ Monza brochure doesn’t do it full justice, but the Monza’s interior was nicely trimmed, with bucket seats–a huge first for any American car excepting a couple of very expensive models. In fact, Chevrolet wouldn’t expand the use buckets again until 1962, in the Impala SS. The 1960½ Monza Coupe paved the way for every Chevy SS to come, not to mention the Mustang.
The 1960½ Monza’s other pioneering feature was an optional four-speed stick, something almost unheard of in anything but the most serious V8-powered big cars, and unheard of in the smaller and lower-priced domestic segment.
Ford saw the suddenly changed future, and wasted no time responding to the Monza: the new Falcon Futura arrived for the 1961 model year. It was identifiable by wearing less chrome than the Falcon DeLuxe (below), but it did sport three ventiports on the rear fenders. Less is more!
That trend was beginning to work its way through Detroit, where less chrome (in the right places) suddenly conferred a greater degree of sophistication and sportiness. The 1963 Grand Prix was the poster boy of that.
On the inside , the Futura bragged about being the “Compact Cousin of the Thunderbird” with its bucket seats and console. Well, it couldn’t exactly say it was “Ford’s Answer to the Corvair Monza”. That interior was quite a change too from the typical Falcon interior of the time. Both Chevrolet and Ford learned a huge lesson from these cars: sporty luxury sells, and is highly profitable. Bucket seats? Uses less material than a full bench, and sells for a hefty mark-up; a bean-counter’s delight.
The Futura returned for the 1962 MY with only very minor changes: a new “electric razor” grille, and…a new chrome molding on the sides. Oh well. Otherwise, it was essentially identical to the 1961.
In February 1962, Ford took another big step into the sporty future by having a major mid-year introduction of several new models, all of them with sporty attributes (styling cliches?), under the banner of “The Lively Ones”. This included the 1962½ Galaxie 500XL, Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe and the new Falcon Futura Sports Sedan. All featured bucket seats and other trim differentiation. And they were all part of a more concerted response to Chevrolet, which beat Ford to the punch with its 1962 Impala SS.
The biggest exterior change for the 1962½ Futura was its “Thunderbird” roof line, which all the Fords now wore proudly.
Sadly, there was nothing very lively under the hood; just the same 85 hp 144 inch (2.3 L) six, or the optional 101 horse 170 inch (2.8 L) version. But there was one other response to the Monza: now a four-speed stick was available in the Futura. Its origin? Dagenham, England. Ford reached out to its UK subsidiary for a fully-synchronized four-speed to team up behind the little sixes. Now that did perk up the 170 inch six a wee bit, as the three-speed had a miserable hole between second and third.
How I wished my father’s 170 inch ’68 Dart had a four-speed; these little sixes just didn’t have the torque that three-speeds depend on. In my 240 inch F100, I use second gear overdrive (same as a third gear, ratio-wise, in a four speed box) incessantly on city streets; second is too buzzy, third a bit too luggy. The venerable three-speed was adequate in the days of slow-running flatheads, but the smaller, higher revving modern engines deserved better.
This particular 1962½ Futura has the more typical column-mounted three-speed. The four-speeds were rare, but there was a youngish woman who drove one here for several years a while back. She drove it briskly, and it was a pleasure to hear a Falcon six be worked through the narrowly-spaced gears properly, emitting a nice little rasp from its exhaust instead of wheezing nasally through a two-speed Fordomatic. Am I in England?
There’s lots of old Falcons around, but none sporting this white-over-black paint scheme. Maybe a cop bought it initially?
This one also sports some minor non-stock flourishes. Nice touch of green in the hood scoop.
Was the Futura badge really held on by a rivet originally?
The 1963 Futura only merited another revision of the grille, and some more side-trim revision. But this Futura must be a 1963½, because it has the 260 V8, which arrived with Ford’s next mid-year onslaught of new fastback models, including the Falcon Sprint.
Once the Sprint arrived, the Futura soon became second-rung, just the higher-trim level of the Falcon sedans, and by 1964, it even lost its bucket seats (except Futura Sport). The usual upward-ratcheting was in effect, once again. The Sprint was the final step in the Falcon’s evolution from cheap-skate family-mobile to the Mustang, which totally eclipsed it one year later. But the Futura and Sprint had served their purpose, before quietly slipping away into obscurity.