Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1962 Ford Falcon – 144 & 170 Six, Manual & Automatic – Who’s The Slowest Falcon Of Them All?

The Falcon instantly became America’s favorite compact after it arrived for 1960. By 1961, its somewhat anemic 85 hp 144 cubic inch six had been supplanted by an optional 101 hp 170 CID version. Car Life set out to test all four power train versions, both sixes, each with both the standard 3-speed manual and the 2-speed Fordomatic. Unfortunately, the 4-speed manual that became available mid-year was not tested. I’m still waiting to find a vintage review of a Falcon six with that UK-sourced transmission.

So if you ever wondered how much faster the manual was compared the automatic with either of these engines, you’re going to be enlightened, as well as perhaps a bit surprised.

(color images are from the web)

According to Car Life, the reason for the Falcon’s success was obvious: it was economical and it was familiar, reminding folks how Fords felt some 10-12 years ago. That applied to its driving feel, seating position, location of its controls, and general road behavior. I’m not sure I totally agree with that second one, as a 1950 or so Ford felt heavier and less light on its feet than the Falcon, but I get the general gist. And it was essentially what folks wanted: a modern update of a 1950 Ford. Or a Model A. No wonder big Ford sales took such a dive in 1960; they obviously weren’t what buyers wanted.

The ’62 was the beneficiary of numerous improvements, including 50% more asphaltic sound deadener and a new torsional damper and revised crankshaft counterweights to make the little six run smoother. And “the tinny sound of the starter has been eliminated”. I forgot about that one; it was rather distinctive.

CL wanted to test all four of the possible engine and transmission combinations, a noble goal indeed! The results are in that graphic above. The biggest—but least surprising—take-away? That the 144 with the Fordomatic was truly a dog, with a 0-60 time of 24.5 seconds, which is right there with a 40 hp VW of the times. Switching to a manual behind the 144 improved that by a whopping 5.5 seconds.

The 170 with the automatic was 7 seconds quicker than the 144 with the automatic, and…a mere 0.2 seconds slower to 60 than the 170/manual. Now that was a surprise! And the manual had a lower rear axle ratio too. Odd.

What’s a bit strange at first glance is that the 1/4 mile times of all four were within 2.3 seconds of each other. How does that work? I don’t have my slide rule handy, but roughly 0ne-third of the total ET is spent in the first 200 feet. So obviously the torque converter behind the 144 allowed it to get away fairly quickly. Unfortunately, the speeds at the end of the 1/4 mile were not given in this chart, but undoubtedly there was a very substantial difference. The 144/auto didn’t even hit 60 in the traps, as its 0-60 time was some two seconds longer. That’s not the case with the other three. CL did give those trap speeds for the 144/manual (63 mph) and the 170/auto (64.5 mph).

As a frame of reference, the ’62 Chevy with the 194 six and Powerglide tested by CL did the 0-60 in 14 seconds; 13 seconds if held in Low.

So what’s the verdict? The 170/manual was obviously the quickest and fastest (90 mph top speed), the 170/auto was the one to get if you had to have an automatic, and the 144/manual wasn’t really all that bad, and was of course the cheapest and most economical. And yes, the 144/automatic was the one to avoid. So all your memories about them is validated.

The steering was criticized for being too stiff as well as too slow. A lot like a 1950 Ford after all.  But the actual steering feel was quite good, unlike all those dead power steering systems then becoming so common. The suspension made a favorable impression; a good compromise between to stiff and too soft. “Cornering sway and high-speed float are well within the reason for the performance available”. Which wasn’t much, obviously.

Related CC reading:

Vintage Car Life Comparison: 1962 Ford Fairlane V8 vs. 1962 Chevy II Six – The Old Ford V8 vs. Chevy Six Battle Updated, With Surprising Results

Vintage Motor Life Review: 1960 Ford Falcon – The Resurrection of the Model A