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
Motor Trend tested a 170 4-speed Falcon Convertible in Dec 1962. With two people on board it had a test weight of approximately 3200 lbs and it was equipped 3.50 rear axle. The car provided the following results:
0-30: 5.5 secs
0-45: 11.0 secs
0-60: 19.6 secs
1/4 mile: 22.7 @ 64 mph
I just read that review, thanks to you! The acceleration stats are disappointing, but then the engine was brand new but most importantly, the test weight of 3200 lbs was almost 400 lbs more than the sedan’s tested weight in these CL reviews. That would account for most of it.
Too bad they didn’t say anything about the 4-speed, as in whether it made daily driving more pleasurable. The 3-speed had a pretty big hole between 2nd and 3rd.
I agree the extra weight and green engine definitely hampered performance, which is why I listed the weight.
In high school, the ability of our Rambler American to outdrag a 144 Falcon was some minor consolation for being seen by peers in such a dorky car. If the only cars present at an informal backroad high school gathering were Ramblers, 144 Falcons & worn out beaters, I wasn’t totally embarrassed.
Now if a high school gathering included a 170 Falcon, Valiant or anything with a V8 suspected of having 5 or more working cylinders, I’d park the Rambler a bit back from the group & hope nobody noticed how I arrived.
Just based on styling alone, 1962 is my favorite year for the early Falcon. They finally got the grille right but still kept the original bubble rear window. Shoulda held onto the latter another year, the Thunderbird-style one never looked right with the rounded lower body, it was really meant to work with the ’64-5 wedge-sided reskin.
It’s nice to see the comparative data here. I haven’t ridden in an early-1960s Falcon in, well, sixty years, and wonder how it’d feel in 2023.
It’d be interesting to compare the 0-to-60 and quarter mile times to, say, the worst of the later smog-handicapped “malaise” cars (all of them surely heavier)–that’d give me some useful perspective.
The 144 is a bit like the 4.3 in my fleet-spec ’02 Silverado. It exists because some people (in the case of my truck, the US government) simply want the cheapest vehicle possible.
In the case of my truck, the 4.8L V8 was a $700 upgrade – probably equivalent to what the 170 Falcon upgrade cost, inflation adjusted – but it gave 33% more horsepower at effectively zero loss in fuel economy. (And with a load in the bed and the six struggling, fuel economy was probably worse than the V8)
Upfront costs aside, there was no good reason to buy the 144 Falcon , or the 4.3 Silverado (and lots of bad reasons!) but there will always be people who want the cheapest thing possible.
In a word, marketing. The manufacturers put the weakest engine in these loss-leader type vehicles specifically to convince potential buyers into paying for more expensive, more powerful, optional engines.
Or, as stated, for the fleets where the people who buy and spec the vehicles don’t have to drive them. To them, the absolute cheapest, slowest, worst engine is just fine, regardless of how dangerous it might actually be on the road.
Absolutely. On some level the Falcon was competing with the Beetle, so a low base price for the stripper was critical.
But the real marketing, as far as I’m concerned – and this is probably based on my lack of understanding of how engines are manufactured – The 144 and 170 engines are based on the same block, same bore (3.5″) but 1/2″ longer stroke (2.5″ vs 2.94″). I don’t understand how the 170 would cost more to build, and maybe it doesn’t, but people will pay more for it anyhow.
It didn’t cost more, just like a Chevy 350 didn’t cost more than a 305, or 327, or 283, or 265. Or for all of the other engine families.
You’re paying for the hp, and hopefully, the badge on the fender for the prestige value.
Since 2packs4sure posted the info (below) today, I did the math to satisfy my curiosity—-$37.40 for the 1962 model year, so 10x as much in today-dollars:
The discussion about engine size, auto vs. manual, and axle ratios is interesting. Implicitly acknowledging that the car would be used mostly in town and equipped with an auto trans, recommending the 144/3:50 combo for that use. I wonder how many Fordomatic buyers opted for the small engine and optional lower rear axle ratio?
Realistically, very few. You had to be a pretty well-informed buyer to understand the benefit and then order one like that. Of course if you got a wagon, it came that way automatically.
Why would you want the 144 ratio the engine would have been screaming at near maximum rpm at highway speeds with higher fuel consumption,
The reason for the crawler diff in the wagon is so it could move at all loaded the ute and panel van would have been similarly equipped.
To quote the magazine:
Another way of approaching the objective…would be to equip the 144 automatic with 3.50:1 axle. This would liven the car up a bit without causing much of a drop in mileage. In fact, we doubt that any drop in fuel consumption would show up in city driving.
They were assuming that powertrain combo would be hauling little Jimmy to football practice and little Suzie to ballet lessons on suburban streets so it didn’t need long legs for the highway. Consider that the Beetle of the same year had a (4.375 * 0.89) 3.89 final drive, albeit with taller tires.
If you think these times are bad, I seem to recall one magazine testing a Comet with the 144/automatic, and its 0-60 was in the 26 second range!
This was the car of my childhood,,, mom’s white 62′ Falcon DELUXE 2door..
170, Ford-O-Matic, no radio, and Polar Aire…
It was an excellent car,,,, meanwhile across the street was my friend’s mom’s 63′ red Corvair and at 70000 miles it was a smoking, clacking, PILE with oil pouring everywhere..
Next up for mom was a red 72′ Maverick 2 door with 302, factory air, AND power steering,,, WOW,,,,, with manual brakes…
Took my driving test in it in 1979…..
FUN CAR !!!
That UK sourced 4 speed was from the Zephyr/Zodiac cars where it was standard equipment either floor or tree shifted, Here at the end of the world we could get whole MK3 Zephyrs locally assembled and they outsold the feeble Falcon easily Ford Australia cut right back on Zephyr assembly making them much harder to get to support Falcon sales
GMH did exactly the same with larger Vauxhalls never updating them from the 2.6 63/4 model so Holdens appeared to be much better rather than the agricultural hard riding gutless wonder they were compared to a 3.3 Velox or Cresta.
I have a 1963 “Buyers Digest of New Car Facts” put out by Ford Australia, inherited from when Dad bought his XL. Sort of a Reader’s Digest size publication, with lots of short features about various automotive-related subjects interspersed with features on the various Ford models sold here. The Zephyr was definitely seen (by Ford anyway) as a more luxurious car, upmarket from the Falcon, rather than being in competition with it. What I don’t have handy is relative pricing information. Did they cut back production/importation of the Zephyr, or just price it out of direct contention? Despite the early Falcon’s faults, they clearly saw it as the way to go.
I never understood why Ford only got 101 HP from it’s 170 CID engine while Studebaker managed to get 112 HP from it’s venerable Skybolt.
You think that 101 was the maximum potential of the 170? Ford came within a whisker of offering a high-output version with triple carbs and a few other changes that was rated at over 130 hp (I can’t remember the exact amount).
It’s the same reason the base Chevy 283 had 170 or 195 hp, unlike the 270 or 283 hp version: these engines were specifically tuned for a balance of maximum economy and reasonable performance.
The Mopar 170 slant six was also rated at 101 hp, until 1967 (or so) when it was suddenly rated at 110 hp.
Presumably Studebaker put a slightly more aggressive cam or a slightly bigger carb on their six. But that Studebaker six had much less potential to make any significant real hp, because its valves were very small, due to the small bore. Did you ever hear of anyone hopping one up? The 170 and 200 Falcon six were very popular for hopping up, and lots of speed equipment was and still is available. Some have gotten 350 hp out of a 200 Falcon six.
No I don’t. Sorry for the misusnderstanding. My bad. Of course, they could have get more power from the Falcon engine easily, I just don’t understand why they chose (Ford & Plymouth) so conservative values.
True the Studebaker OHV6 had a smaller 3″ bore but its valves are actually bigger than Ford 144/170 (you had me look at my shop manuals there!). They achieved this by staggering them and using a semi domed combustion chamber. Also Studebaker designed a dual carb setup but never put it into production. The late Bill Cathcart could squeeze more than 150 HP from the Champion engine but in 185 form. Others tried themselves at hopping up the OHV6 with good results but were hampered by a cylinder head prone to crack. One of my dreams would be an alloy head for the OHV6.
I recall the Falcon six had a handicap that could not realistically be overcome: the log intake was cast integral with the head. The slant six, of course, did not.
Easy solution: just cut the log off. It was commonly done.
Easy if you have a machine shop, maybe.
The styling of these early Falcons is very pleasant, with good proportions, and a spacious interior for such a small car. While the fuel economy seems awfully low from our current view, fuel mileage for full size V8 cars was often in the low double digits. The performance seems very poor and actually was, even back then, but freeways were fewer, long commutes were rare, and Hyundai Elantras didn’t go shooting past you at 80 mph. either!
I have a series of road tests on the Mustang at it’s introduction back in late ’64. While the initial cars were equipped with the 170 six, it was replaced by the 200 six within it’s first year. The testers found that the bigger six, even with an auto box, was a surprising “spritely”( their term) performer. They of course liked it even better with a three speed manual. What a lot of current Mustang fans don’t realize about the early cars was that there was quite a bit of difference between six cylinder cars and V8s. Base model six cylinder cars were usually much lighter than V8 equipped models. Besides the obvious increased weight of the engine, the transmission, drive shaft, and differential were quite a bit heavier and ate up some of the V8’s horsepower advantage. The chassis also had a heavier cross member, springs, brakes and wheels. The V8 cars would usually carry options like power brakes and steering, and even a/c. All this added weight. Oftentimes a loaded base V8 car (289 two barrel) wasn’t that much quicker than a more basic six cylinder with three speed.
Most of this applies to the Falcon also, as they were platform mates and probably weighed close to the same.
Of course progress is wonderful, and my ’96 and 2006 Mustang GTs can match the Falcon’s mileage with a lot more performance. Better living through Science and Engineering
I had a ’66 Mustang coupe, tutone blue & white pony interior, 200 six cylinder engine with the “Green Dot” 3 speed cruise-a-matic automatic transmission.
Not as powerful as a 289 V8 Mustang, of course, but it was a “Real World Peppy” powertrain in the 1980’s. No hills in New Orleans, but more than enough oommph to merge onto crowded Interstate 10 when I stomped it hard enough for a “passing gear” downshift to second.
In normal traffic driving I never wished for a larger engine.
I’m aware that cars of 60 years ago weren’t as quick on average as today’s cars, but those 0-60 times range from not great to wretched. I wasn’t of driving age in ’62, but I suppose the 101-bhp engine would be tolerable in and around my smallish hometown, which wasn’t on a freeway. I suspect that driving an 85-bhp Falcon on the freeways in Los Angeles would give rise to many white-knuckle moments.
if you like more vintage Falcon road tests, I spotted a vintage road test from Down Under from October 1962 issue of Wheel Magazine where an Aussie Falcon is tested against the Holden EJ Premier.
And the Argentinian Falcon need no more presentation but here a vintage Argentine 1970 Falcon ad.
I drove a 60 Comet with a 144 years ago. It was not fast, even with a 3 speed. The combination of the gutless engine and the vacuum wipers made trying to accelerate from a stoplight up to the roads 50 mph speed limit made me glad it wasn’t raining harder.
A friend an bought a ‘60 4door before it went to junkyard in the early 70’s. We paid $15. for it. The goal was to finish it off. We thought a sunroof would be cool , so with a cutting torch installed one. We hosed down the fire on the upholstery. Steve McQueen in Bullet was everyone’s hero, and if he could make a GTA Mustang fly, we should be able to do the same thing in a junk Falcon. With about a hundred foot run we leaped it off a 3foot terrace on an unbuilt housing tract. All 4 doors burst open on the nose dive impact. Of course there were no seat belts. We lived to tell and gained a new respect for Steve McQueen. We pushed to the junkyard and got our $15 back.
I knew several people in the 1970’s that acquired nice survivor Falcons and Comets from the early 60’s. I believe they were all manual trans. models. In two cases, they were brought out of reserve to fight one or the other of the two oil embargos.
Two of them were 144 ci models. As I recall, there was some sort of serious top end oiling problem with the 144 ci. engine. There was some sort of external oil line mod that reputably helped for a while. Replacing the 144 with a good and then available used 170 was usually the end result.
I owned a 61 4 door Falcon 144 automatic as my first car. Certainly not much power. There hills in W VA it could not conquer. I did like the metal weave in the seat fabric.
I had a 1963 Futura and it was so dreadfully slow, I couldn’t drive it anywhere in a city without causing extreme stress trying to keep up in traffic. Moved to a tiny farm town in Kansas where it fit in. But it was so painfully slow, I wouldn’t want another.
Along with the guttural, pitch changing groan of a Powerglide 6 cylinder Chevy struggling uphill; the unique & irritating, bleating squeal of a 144 six/Ford-o-matic Falcon struggling to gain momentum (gaining speed would be too generous) to merge onto Interstate 10 in New Orleans will forever be ingrained in my automotive memory.
Compared to my Grandpa’s 1960 144/Ford-o-matic Falcon, Dad said that Mom’s 1960 Slant Six Valiant “felt like an Atlas booster rocket firing” when he stomped it.
I breifly had a 1961 Comet with the 144 & two speed sush box, at that time I lived at the very top of a steep hill in Los Angeles and had to lock it into low gear and pin the throttle to make it to my driveway .
I don’t normally mind slow cars but this one was ridiculous .
The Falcon was quickly developed into a decent-performing car with an available V8, but it seems remarkable that it met with so much sales success when its performance was positively marginal. It’s a wonder that the Chevy II was as good as it was, because the auto executives must have been demoralized by seeing the feeble early Falcon eating their lunch. If the Mustang ultimately killed the US auto industry by showing that engineering was the last thing on the buyers’ minds, then the Falcon’s early success certainly set the stage.
Thanks for the memories. My first car was a 1963 Ford Falcon, for which I paid $35 (in 1974). I spray painted it red (with a lot of shaker cans) and the driver-side floor had a hole covered by an 18×18″ piece of plywood. I could see the ground passing beneath me as I drove. I didn’t really think about 0-60 times in those days (mine was an automatic) as all I cared about was going from point A to B without breaking down. But even back then I knew it was a real dog, speed-wise. On the positive side I could change my own oil!
Great first car memories!
A friend had a 60 or 61 Comet (we called it the Vomit) with the 144 and 2 spd automatic. He tried to get it to spin the tires in the gravel of our fraternity parking lot. No way; revving it and slamming it into gear didn’t work, going backward and slamming it into Low at full throttle didn’t work, nothing could make that gutless thing churn gravel. It would just grunt and slowly begin to move.
A lot of new age hipsters are supposedly driving or wanting to drive Falcons now!
Wow…what an awful car. Primitive chassis even by 1962 standards, archaic mechanicals with the ancient 2-speed slushbox and 1930s-relic generator.
Nope. Not if you gave it to me. Lancer or Valiant, please.
Our neighbors across the street, Betty and Bill, were Ford people and, well, “frugal”. They had a yellow Galaxie as their main car, the wife drove it, and a black Falcon as his “go to work” car. No options except for the trans and AM radio. Once in a while, he would take us to school in it. The four of us kids, and Bill, always smoking that damn pipe. I’m pretty sure it was a ’62, and I know, it was painfully slow. I would imagine because Bill bought it, it had the smaller engine, with an auto trans. I thought my step grandfather’s VW bug was slow, but it seemed like a rocket compared to Bill’s Falcon. Somehow, it stuck around long after he retired on disability after a bad workplace accident, until 1982! I was floored to see it in their garage after all those years. By the time the Falcon went away, sold to some fanatic, they had soured on Fords and had gone fully Olds. They had a ’78 Cutlass next to the Falcon, and a Cutlass of some kind, in a pale yellow (Go strong or forget it, IMHO) replaced the Falcon. It would die a violent death when their son fell asleep driving it home the day after they gave it to him around ’86, and went off the side of a mountain in W.Virginia. He was ok, the car wasn’t. They went back to Ford at the end, the Taurus sucked them in, but when Betty’s health went sour, she was driving a Camry, and the son ended up with it.
Ford was building the same basic ’62 scoop-side Falcon in Argentina up until about 1990 or so. So weird seeing that early-60s relic body with big rectangular Volvo 240-sized headlights and square taillights. I went there in 2010 and there were still a number of them chugging around BsAs trailing a cloud of blue smoke.
I bought a ’63 Falcon a couple years ago and decided to rebuild the 144 when no replacement could be found close by. I’m glad I did, coupled to the 3 speed performance is just like the review said, adequate. It even does pretty well on the highway. Cruising at 70-75 is no problem and when given a long enough, straight, deserted stretch it will fill out the 100mph speedo (GPS said 96 though). It gets good mileage and even with your foot to the floor it’s under stressed breathing through that single barrel carb. It’s a nice little old car.