A huge swath of Americans in 1960 had grown up or lived with Henry Ford’s Model T and A. Ford preached the gospel of minimalism, with no excess of size, weight or other unnecessary elements. But starting in the 1930s, even Fords began swelling. And this trend accelerated in the ’50s, reaching a zenith (or nadir) in the 1960 full-size Ford, the widest car ever sold in the US. And plenty long too.
This was a painful reality for many who longed for more elemental transport, but weren’t ready to buy an import, especially Ford loyalists, of which there were many. As such, the 1960 Falcon was something of the second coming of Henry Ford: compact, upright, sensible basic and economical. The only element he would have objected to was its six cylinder engine, as he had a distinct bias against that obviously ideal configuration. A rough four cylinder, like the 153 in the Chevy II to come would have suited him much better.
Motor Life reviewed the new Falcon, in two parts: in an instrumented test as well as a longer over-the-road trip.
Motor Life notes that in addition to being the long-awaited return of the Model T and A, it also wasn’t quite as cheap or austere either. A 1930 Model A Tudor sedan cost $495, which was only $878 in 1960 dollars ($7700 in 2019 dollars). So yes, the base price of a 1960 Falcon Tudor at $1912 was almost twice that amount.
Due to its light weight (2,380 lbs as tested), power assists were unnecessary, and the steering was light, although a bit slow with 4.6 turns. The brakes were deemed good. And cornering was termed “excellent”, “capable of taking turns well beyond the capabilities of most American sedans”. That needs to be put in perspective, as Car Life was not an enthusiast magazine, and the frame of reference was normal driving, and the comparison was with the typically ill-handling big cars of the time. I don’t think anyone is going to accuse the Falcon of being a canyon carver, especially in direct comparison to either the Corvair, Valiant or most imports.
The ride was a bit firm, “but with less bounce and float than the big Fords”. True that. And “it does shake on rough surfaces”. true that too. There’s no question that the Corvair had a better all-round ride quality, most especially so when the road turned rough.
As to the Falcon’s new 144 CID (2.3 L) inline six, it’s noted upfront that economy is good, averaging 24.6 mpg. But it was all-too painfully clear that Ford tuned the engine and set its rear axle ratio to maximize fuel economy at the expense of performance. The made a point of noting that its real-life performance was decidedly less than its tested 0-60 time of 17.3 seconds.
The problem was that Ford specified a very high (low numerical) 3.10:1 rear axle ratio. That gave good cruising economy, but made the gap between 2nd and 3rd gear of the manual column-shifted transmission downright problematic. Passing from 50 mph was a problem, as the wheezy little six was out of breath in 2nd gear by that speed, and grossly lacked torque in 3rd at that speed. It was the same problem as with the Corvair and really all American cars with three-speed transmissions, unless they had a husky V8, but in this case the situation was exacerbated by the engine’s unwillingness to rev and the axle ratio.
Motor Life rightly pointed out that the problem would be solved by a four speed manual, and Ford did offer a UK-sourced unit starting in 1961 at extra cost, but the typical economy-minded buyers of Falcon shunned it. The more obvious and cheaper solution was to revise the axle ratio, which Ford did in 1961, lowering it to 3.50:1. That helped, somewhat. And of course there was a bigger 170 CID six with 101 hp optional in 1961 too, which helped even more. A ’61 with the 170 and the four speed was the hot ticked, but a very rare little bird.
Why did Ford do this in the first place? Bragging rights about the Falcon’s economy, at the expense of its performance. Since the Big Three compacts were inevitably not going to be fully competitive with the VW and other imports on fuel economy due to their larger size and engines, they were set up to make the most of what could be squeezed out of them. But drivers wanted a more balanced package that performed adequately too, so Ford had no choice but to respond to the complaints.
Somewhat ironically (in relation to the Corvair), the Falcon’s trunk came in for criticism, as it “was proportioned so poorly that a pair of normal suitcases have to be juggled to fit“.
The interior came in for mostly good marks (this is a base interior; the tester appears to have had the deluxe version), except for a few minor nits.
On to the Cross-country test:
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Paul, very informative as always.
I have a question. You say the six cylinder is the ideal configuration. In all cases or in in-line configuration? I’m not disagreeing, just want to follow your thinking. I’ve read that in V-configurations, an even number of cylinders per bank is inherently smoother, which if correct would make a V-8 (or a V-4 I assume) smoother than a v-6. On the other hand, the inline 6’s I have driven have all been quite smooth.
I should have said “an ideal configuration”, and not “the ideal configuration”.
An inline six has vastly better inherent balance than an inline four. But a boxer four is well balanced, although its exhaust is a bit lumpy. A boxer six is extremely well balanced and smooth. A V4 is inherently very unbalanced and requires a balance shaft. A V8 is quite smooth, but the firing order can make for variations. A 60 degree V6 is quite smooth.
There was a good reason the inline six was so popular for so many years, and it’s actually made a bit of a comeback. It’s a very ideal configuration, but not the only one with the potential for smoothness.
Thanks again. The depth of the writers’ automotive knowledge here (and yours especially) is why I hang around. That, and the car photos, of course!
In your second paragraph, you mentioned Mr. Ford’s dislike of six cylinder engines. Does anyone know what his reasoning was?
BTW, eons ago I my daily driver was a ’48 Ford with a 226 inline six. In my opinion, it was better than the V8’s of the time.
Robert, as to Ford’s contempt for sixes, I think I can sort of lead you to an answer from an authoritative source.
The exact details aren’t “pulling up” this minute but I believe that I read that Mr. Ford had a bad experience with a six in one of his pre-T cars. Also, I believe it was said he had deep set theories on balance and crankshaft torsional strength. But mostly it was likely because when the “A” was on the drawing board switching to a six would have made Ford look like a follower.
I’m pretty sure that I read the detailed account in Wheels for the World,
Douglas Brinkley’s very thorough study of Ford’s business.
The reason reading it caught my attention is that I knew a “Ford man” who was born circa 1900. Although a serious car guy and accomplished mechanic, he had an irrational deep contempt for sixes. I don’t recall that he could justify why when I pried.
Now I’m curious to relearn about Henry’s reasoning too!
IIRC he had built a 6-cylinder car that had sold poorly before the Model T. You can’t really use Henry Ford and “reasoning” in the same sentence.
When you talk about a V4 requiring a balance shaft, I assume you’re thinking of the 60-degree Ford-Köln V4 used in the Taunus and the Saab 96. But what about a 90-degree V4? Two that I know of: the Soviet-built Zaporozhets and the M422 Mighty Mite:
Wisconsin built a million V4 industrial engines.
(Well, probably that one slow year. lol)
Extremely smooth runners, without balance shafts.
All Honda V-4 motorcycle engines were 90′ V-4 units and all were perfectly smooth.
My Honda 500 Interceptor indeed had a 90′ V-4. Even without rubber mounts, the motor made zero vibration.
You know Paul? I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the fact that you summarize the high points so well so if I want the gist of it I don’t have to read the whole of the (sometimes verbose) original text. Great options! Thanks for the excellent work!!
Thanks. My pleasure.
It is interesting how deeply the 3 speed manual burrowed itself into American life, going back to the 1920s. And what a hard time the 4 speed had displacing it. For a time, overdrive units seemed to be the simple solution that gave that 3 speed more flexibility. I have never checked, did Ford offer OD on the Falcon? I know that OD was quite common in Larks.
It is indeed very interesting, and worthy of future investigation.
Rolls Royce for example used a three speed gearbox in the Springfield Ghosts and Phantoms, while the Derby (UK) built ones used a four-speed.
IIRC, I also read an article that the four speed in the Chrysler CG Imperials (1931-1933) was not particularly well recieved
The American four-speed in the early 1930’s invariably (what were they thinking?) had the disadvantage of essentially being a standard three-speed (gears 2 thru 4) with a granny 1st. I remember Special Interest Autos magazine back in the early 70’s doing an article on these transmissions, complaining quite a bit that they gave no advantage whatsoever over the standard three-speed, and most drivers started out in second.
I can’t remember is the article came to any conclusions as to why they were designed that way, probably a good indication that they didn’t.
Yes, there was a short wave of four speeds, and as you say, first gear ended up not being used. But then the cars it was used in invariably were large powerful cars, and the big engines of the time had gobs of low speed torque. There was no point.
Four speeds are much more useful to a car with a small engine.
The inconvenient truth is that the relatively close ratios of the four speeds commonly available in the 60s and early 70s (T10, etc) had ratios that were really much too close for normal driving, given the power bands of the V8s they were teamed with. They were oriented to drag racing/sports car racing. They all still yielded a much to high of engine speed on the highway.
Really the best combination for anything other than racing was a 3 speed with O/D. Plenty of gears for “normal” driving, and a much more restrained engine speed on the highway.
Maybe it’s that in the 30s many road and driveways were still primitive? The granny gear might have helped getting up steep hills or along deeply rutted muddy paths.
Adding an extra gear for the spec sheet rather than properly choosing an ideal ratio seems to have been an ongoing problem in the auto industry, and continued to be with the transition to 5 and 6 speeds (as manual-transmission variants in general have become less and less of a priority).
The 6 speed in the thirdgen Honda Fit has an almost useless 5th and a 6th with the same OTGR as the 5th in the gen1-2 5-speed, ignoring the need for a really tall highway cruising gear.
I’ve noted the apparent deficiency with the Fit’s 6-speed manual transmission, as well. It’s quite odd, and I can only surmise that it was done that way if Honda figures most Fit buyers who intend on doing a majority of highway driving will choose the automatic. Still, the sixth gear being the same as the previous top gear in the 5-speed would seem to render it virtually useless.
Maybe it’s something as simple as it’s better suited to other markets and, with the take rate in the US being rather low for manual transmissions, Honda didn’t feel there was a cost justification to tool up one.
I drive mine like a 4-speed with a dogleg after 3rd 90% of the time. 1-2-3-6. 4th mostly is used for taking hills at speed.
I do the same w/ my 2012, 1-2-3-5. I had a co-worker who complained about gear hunting while using the cruise control, and I realized that manuals don’t have that problem! 🙂
Having had one for 5 years, the only advantage of the 6-speed Fit I find is that it’s loads of fun to run through all the gears on the on ramp. Performance is such I’m still under the speed limit.
Knowing Honda’s reputation for weak automatics on some of their vehicles, I was also a little wary of a first year model CVT out of a new Mexican factory. I will say that I’ve only driven a CVT Fit once (loaner), and it seemed fine.
That makes sense. The 6-gear Fit gets you up to a specific speed quickly, but, then, that’s it. I guess Honda figured that just adding a sixth gear to the existing 5-speed ratios and the accompanying big rev drop in sixth gear would turn people off, even if it meant better gas mileage on the highway.
I have a 2000 VW Golf (only 5 speed) but the thing that drives me crazy is the gap in the 2nd-3rd is large (sorry, don’t have the ratios handy) . I frequently seem to be hunting between 2nd and 3rd to get the right gear.
I’m mostly an in-town driver (sure you figured that out) and though it has a high 4.1 final drive, and is OK to drive in town (I have the much maligned 2.0, which was OK in A3 and earlier (lighter) models but has a job with the heavier A4. Actually have driven it to both coasts (I’m in middle) it only has 134K miles on it…but it isn’t a good highway driver with those ratios, along with the 2.0, but can’t say I do much highway driving now. Not sure how a 6 speed would be in terms of minimizing gaps.
Never drove a Falcon, but rode in them more than once as a kid. My Dad went right to Rambler for his smaller car (actually our only car in 1960-1965..he had 2 of them in a row, both wagons) and by the time he had full sized, then he went to Ford. When he started buying 2nd cars for himself, he started with a used ’59 Beetle followed by a new ’68 Renault R10…didn’t buy domestic until a 1980 Dodge Omni). He got used to VWs when he was in the Army in the early 50’s in Germany, guess they drove VWs as well as Jeeps, and trucks (he drove a REO). My friend’s mother in Catonsville drove a Corvair, and another friend’s father in Burlington had a ’63 Comet (they only owned Mercuries the whole time I knew them, wonder what he’s driving now?)
What surprised me the most was Horch 853 series (1937–1940) had the optional 5-speed manual gearbox built by ZF in the late 1930s.
That got me wondering what was the benefit of having five speeds back then…
And Maybach’s Doppelschnellgang too, for that matter.
No OD available on the Falcon. And Valiant. And of course Corvair. Which makes a four speed all the more compelling.
Why no OD? The great majority of OD transmissions were built by B/W. Ford built its own lightweight 3 speed for the Falcon, as did Chrysler for the Valiant. They obviously didn’t want to engineer them to accept a B/W transmission with O/D, which were rather chunky and heavy.
Studebaker only used B/W boxes anyway, as did AMC, so it was easy to just offer the O/D version.
This article led me to research the B/W OD transmissions. Never was aware of them, even though I grew up in the 60’s. They sound pretty neat in their operation – a 3 speed with OD in 2nd and 3rd was really a five-speed; except you selected OD with a hand switch you pulled in or out. A solenoid and planetary gear set did the shifting, with OD kicking in above a set speed and “normal” below. One problem apparently was that the car free wheeled with the foot off the gas, leading to roll-aways of parked cars that were left in OD.
My ’63 Ford Galaxie has the three-speed with OD. The free-wheeling you describe does not exist on mine and the OD (with the pull handle) is engaged much more often than not.
Sure it does, if it hasn’t actually shifted into OD. If OD is engaged, but not activated (in an OD gear) it will absolutely freewheel.
I assume you’re rarely in that situation, as you live in flatland country. But if you were in 1st gear or 2nd or 3rd before OD activates, and suddenly went down a steep grade, you would be freewheeling and have no engine braking.
It’s actually one of the main reasons there’s a pull handle to engage or disengage OD, so that if you’re in the mountains and want to make sure you have engine braking, one disengages OD.
I noticed that you shift up from 2OD directly to 3OD, which means no freewheeling in those. But 3OD gives very little engine braking because it’s geared so high. So if you lived in mountainous country, you’d want to disengage OD before you crest that pass and head down.
I hope you found the best article on the web on the B/W OD here at CC:
In regards to engine braking, modern direct injection VVT engines have little engine braking since they are designed to reduce pumping losses.
My 2015 Kia Rio had a little engine braking but my Golf has practically none. I assume this is because it is turbocharged. At first, it was really weird not using the gears to slow down but now I am used to it.
As for brake wear, well, I still have 10 mm front and 11 mm back after 35,000 km. I tend to try to keep the car rolling at all times which in my opinion saves on both brakes and fuel. The brakes will probably go 100,000 km at this rate.
I wonder if the idea was the less shifting you have to do, the better?
I can well imagine in those pre-synchro days, people new to cars and driving would welcome less shifting, and if there were fewer ratios to choose from that would suit them just fine. Speeds were lower, the pace of traffic was slower, and any car was an improvement over a horse.
Ford might have sold the Falcon as an urban and suburban transporter, but in spirit, this car belongs to fictional Mayberry N.C. where they were seen each week in glorious black and white. Having owned a three-on-the-tree Falcon as a daily driver, you don’t go anywhere fast. The reason I was able to buy it was because a dad bought his high schooler this car in Denver. However, she didn’t want to drive it and couldn’t master the unsynchronized manual column shift. The Falcon was too slow for Denver commuting.
It was a high quality vehicle. Unlike the Chevy II, the Falcon was built with better materials. It was very well engineered and designed. The steering was light at speeds, but not at parking. You did everything slowly in a Falcon. It belonged in Sheriff Taylor’s driveway for Aunt Bee.
IMO it would’ve been a better patrol car than the Galaxie. Mayberry’s crime rate didn’t really call for a high-powered interceptor and Barney probably couldn’t handle one anyway. No reason to replace the 1960 model with 144, 2-speed Fordomatic and the original tall axle ratio even in the late color episodes either.
Reading this makes me like the ’60 Falcon. It was an honest car; even with the inline six Henry should have been proud.
I’ve never driven a six, three on the tree ’60 Falcon but I have driven a six, three on the floor early Mustang. It had more engine than the Falcon and still needed more yet.
60 years later.
For the same (inflation adjusted) money that a Falcon with automatic cost, the cheapest thing Ford sells is the EcoSport. Pundits say it’s a horrible vehicle, but it gets better mpg and performance out of a 1 liter I-3 than the Falcon six, loaded with features that were unimaginable in a Lincoln or Packard in 1960.
On the surface, it seems like a chalk-and-cheese comparison, but we really live in amazing automotive times.
That’s true, but in some cases, it is like comparing a rotary phone from the 1960s to that smartphone in your hand today.
Does the 1960 Falcon do all that your current new car can do? No, but it did everything that the other current 1960 cars did. Some things better, some worse, some exactly the same. All of them seemingly 50 different shades of gray in the great spectrum of life.
So comparing a modern car, while quite reasonable, is really not even close to an apples to apples comparison, and nobody would expect the old and the new to be close in performance and function.
Remember, only 30 years separated the Falcon from Model A, not 60. From a 2020 perspective, a 1990 car does not seem nearly as crude.
This. I had to do some quick mental math when I read Paul’s opening statement that Model T’s and A’s were still fresh in many Americans’ minds when the Falcon came out. My automotive memories of 1960 are pretty limited, but by 1962 or so I remember only occasionally seeing a Model A, and never any Model T’s. In those days, we called them “old fashioned cars”. Today, a 60 year old Falcon is old, but to me, hardly old fashioned. And today, many 30 year old cars don’t even seem particularly old, especially if they are of a model still on the market, such as a 1990 Camry, Accord, Golf, F150 etc. I’m curious … do younger readers here have the same perspective?
My thoughts on car styles kind of follow yours, born in ’54. I was well aware of cars by the time I was five. Cars from the 20’s and 30’s were pretty rare. Did care for the most of the cars from the 30’s thru the early 60’s. Mid 60’s thru the early 70’s were the best. Mid 70’s to early 80’s were the worst. Things started improving from then all the way thru now. I also agree seeing a 30-40 years old car today doesn’t bring up the same thoughts as it did when I was a kid.
As for as six cylinders go I held most of them in great disdain. My thoughts were the manufacturers offered crappy 4 and 6 cylinder engines as an incentive to buy the bigger engines. That has obviously changed. I’ve owned several 4 and 6 cylinders over the last 20 years that were great. The poorly designed intake log manifold cast integral to the cylinder head was the just criminal. Another sin was most were not crossflow cylinder heads. I wonder why they had problems with vapor lock, poor engine getting the crap wrung out of it and a red hot exhaust manifold sitting directly under the carb.
The one 6 cyl memory that sticks in my head involves nearly identical Ford Farimonts. I had a 78 Futura, 302 v8 with the 3spd auto. My buddy had the same car except his had the 6 cyl with the 4 speed manual O/D trans. His gas mileage was not nearly as good as mine.
My guess on the transmissions with the non-synchronized first gear was the same as the non-synchronized reverse gear. The vehicle isn’t moving when you engage 1st or reverse so why would you need a synchronizer? I remember very clearly the cars struggling to accelerate in second because trying to engage 1st usually resulted in a lot of gear grinding. The Fords did eventually get all synchromesh 3 speed tranny.
Well, xr7, that fairly miserable Falc 6 unit lived on in Australia, and in ’76, it DID get crossflow, and four years later, an alloy head (and later still, SOHC and then DOHC, dying only with Ford Aus itself in 2016). It grew up to become a good, then really rather grand engine, but in the US-of-V8-A, it really would have seemed a pretty poor alternative in its original form.
As someone presumably younger if not young, a 1950s car seemed older to me in the 1980s (there were still quite a few in everyday use in NZ until the Japanese ‘used imports’ arrived) than a late 1980s/early 1990s car seems to me now. On the other hand, my younger daughter saw a VN Commodore and said ‘that is a very very very old car’.
Ah, i remember these well, as a friend had a 1961 with the four speed. No speed demon, but it held 4, 5 or 6 teenagers with surfboards on the top. It was our go to surfmobile in Southern California and provided excellent fuel economy with basic transportation. And, it was unkillable – an important point for teenagers!
The 144 six cylinder engine and the power & pleasure zapping 2 speed Ford-O-Matic automatic transmission in the 1960 Falcon made for a smooth driving car, but “Ice Wagon S L O W” when you (tried to) accelerate & merge into faster moving traffic. The particularly annoying “bleating” sound of the exhaust system made it even more excruciating.
The 170 Slant Six Valiant and 3 speed pushbutton Torqueflite automatic powertrain felt like an Atlas booster rocket (a time period reference) when compared to the Falcon.
In fairness, there were far fewer high-speed expressways back in 1960, as well as the lengthy commutes that are commonplace today. Plus, there were scads of other slow-moving cars (VW).
Still, the 144/Ford-O-Matic Falcon sounds like it would have been dangerously slow in all but low-speed-limit, urban traffic. It was definitely an occasional use, second car.
+1 on the 144/auto. I used to get a ride to school in one occasionally, and the engine seemed to go from screaming in first to just chugging along in second. Not a pleasant ride at all, and that was just around town. Dad’s same-year 170 manual seemed a completely different experience.
The Falcon, whether in base or deluxe version, did indeed have a much more attractive and pleasing-to-the-eyes interior than any Corvair variant for 1960.
But I still recall the Valiant as having the best looking interior of the “Big 3” compact car bunch.
The black Falcon in the add with six grown adults, a 140 cu. in. engine, and automatic, is pictured heading uphill…
That allowed the artist to paint it using the actual car in motion as a model.
I like the little motion circles behind the tires. It makes it look like the car is struggling (even though the driver and passengers are all smiles). Maybe a little unintentional truth in advertising?
At least that shows it’s not rolling backwards.
Loosing momentum as it climbs the incline, no doubt.
Especially with 6 people on board, and on a higher speed expressway as shown in that picture.
It’s actually a static photo with a slow shutter.
The movement you see is that of the rotating earth, which, though an detectable to thing to us humans, is still faster than an automatic ’60 Falc with six on a hill.
As a child, I remember my first ride in a Falcon. Getting into the car I noticed a huge gap between the instrument cluster (trimmed in a bright metal surround) and the dashboard itself. The sides of the cluster were painted silver, and there was this huge, gaping silver mismatch 1″-1-3/4″ wide, that just stood out to me.
I thought that some one had put the instrument cluster from another car in it.
There was no attempt to transition anything. It was just stuck on the dash.
Over the years, I have never been able to un-see that “cheap-cheap-cheap” feature.
In the modern photo of the engine is an AC compressor.
So, 144 cid, Ford o Matic, 6 passengers, A/C full blast and uphill….it would be quite an experience!!!
I wondered at that myself!
No wonder 1960 Falcon sales blew away the “foreign” Corvair, overstyled Valiant, and even Volkswagen. It was a conventional car in every respect and the right size at the right time.
The Falcon was a nicely styled, practical car. Later options like the 170 cid. motor would make a big difference especially with the automatic. The car has been compared with the BMW 2002. The 170 six was also the original base engine selected for the Mustang, though it was replaced early on with the 200 cid. I think that the 200 was the best of the small sixes. The 250 was more powerful, but not as fuel efficient. I like in line sixes, the fuel injected motor in my Datsun 280Z paired with a five speed was great. the six in my XJ6 is even better. Hot rod magazine published a whole series of Ford small six, hop up articles. I’ve got the entire collection. A. K. Miller was a huge fan of sixes and penned the series. The problem today is that things like headers, and modified induction systems were always rare, and are now super expensive. I found a triple carb set up years ago at a swap meet and the seller wanted 1,500.00 for it. It’s much cheaper to start with a 260/289 small block, hop up parts are common, cheap, and easy.
In the road trip article the author stated that he found US101 to be monotonous, he would really have loved I5! Which I usually avoid. US 101 is my usual choice to So Cal, and my favorite highway.
Who in their right mind, with ANY automotive experience, would favorably compare a 1960 Falcon to a BMW 2002??
Having spent way too much time in a GF’s ’64 with the 170 and Fordomatic, I too cannot even fathom it being compared to a 2002. It was a whiny, moaning, bleating dog. And dog-slow. Never mind the steering, handling and brakes. And quality of the materials. And…
But you’re right, the 200 was the best of the bunch, and the only one to consider using in any of these cars in a modern context. The 170 Mustang was a dog too.
If you think the Falcon was slow with its 144 C.I. engine, think of how slow a full-sized ’60 Ford must have been with its 223 C.I. six! A 55-58 Ford six weighed about 3200 libs. and delivered adequate, somewhat leisurely performance. However, one of those aircraft carrier ’60s weighed 400 lbs. more, with the same little engine to haul it around! A ’60 Ford six must have been a real dog! And noisier too, with mechanical valve lifters that weren’t nearly as quiet as Chevy’s hydraulic lifters!
But there must have been a lot of slow, noisy dogs running around in those days. How fast does a ’60 Beetle go from 0-60? Or how about a ’50s Dodge flathead six? Or one of those bathtub Nashes without the V-8?
So I think the expectation was that an economy car was going to be slow. But the rewards were higher MPG and easier maintenance, which apparently was a trade many motorists were willing to make. “If you want economy, you have to pay for it.”
My ’60 4-door was stuck with the Fordomatic, so I didn’t try to drag-race anything livelier than a semi truck. However, the handling was sure and predictable; I loved to dive into roundabout on- and off-ramps, and could come out well ahead of almost any larger car. When the transmission died, none too soon, I was delighted to sell it to a family of Falcon freaks who had a fresh-built 200 Six and four-speed waiting in the garage for it.
The Nashville-area Falcon club was a constant source of help and info, and I learned from them that the 1960-spec front springs were optional “Import” springs in ’61, and NLA by ’62. So maybe the testers of later Falcons may not have been so complimentary about the handling …
Having actually owned (and fixed) a 1964 Ford Falcon in 1980 for my college commuter, I have mixed feelings about its inherent goodness. My Falcon had a 170 cid inline six with a two speed automatic. The good points were its serviceability and interior room. The trunk was usable (not sure why the slam by the typical Ford agnostic snob).
I cannot support the notion that it was made of good materials (especially on the interior) which were decidedly substandard and not durable. The car’s overall rust proofing and rust resistance was substandard (or should I say non-existant!)
I wish I had another just because it was easy to work on. It was a very roomy car and it was likely more Model A than even I would want to admit with its manual choke. I don’t know how it compares with comparable low-priced competitors, but I learned much swapping engines, axles, etc. The car isn’t worth much so learning on it was pretty cost effective.
I had the cousin, a Comet with the same engine and an automatic (I’m guessing the 2-spd?).
My luck with not rusting was better than yours. It being my first car I don’t know what the interior materials were like. For the life of me I can’t remember a manual choke; was there ever an automatic one?
Bob McNamera’s answer to the ‘der peoples’ car.’ It had a drivetrain that could run forever but in my part of the universe, the rust weevils ruled otherwise.
Falcon engineering left much to be desired: the floor of the trunk was–wait for it-the gas tank? Really? Ford had to stuff an ‘insulator’ between the rear wheel well and the rear fender on each side to keep the body panels from drumming. The optional electric wipers did not clear a full sweep, just a short sweep on high. And the 9″ brakes were anything but adequate. (Other magazine test reports of the new Falcon pointed that out.) A ’60 Rambler American (of a truly antiquated design) with it’s flathead 196 cid engine, could run circles around the Falcon and get better gas mileage at the same time, with or without AMC’s optional 3-speed automatic, and optional overdrive.
“Ford had to stuff an ‘insulator’ between the rear wheel well and the rear fender on each side to keep the body panels from drumming.”
So THAT’S what those were! They were deep underneath the trunk. I discovered them when I was doing rear fender rust repair on my ’62 Comet. They were a brown, jute-like material in a clear plastic “baggie”. By the time I got to them, they were rotting–soaked in grime and road salt spray. I threw ’em out. Didn’t notice any difference driving.
I wonder if the 1958-60 Lincolns had those too. Those cars were supposedly susceptible to body drumming noises, and maybe that was part of the cure.
(Other magazine test reports of the new Falcon pointed that out.) A ’60 Rambler American (of a truly antiquated design) with it’s flathead 196 cid engine, could run circles around the Falcon and get better gas mileage at the same time, with or without AMC’s optional 3-speed automatic, and optional overdrive.
You’d have to show me those to convince me of that. A flathead Rambler American running circles around anything is an image hard for me to conjure up.
You have those old reviews? I’d love to post them if so.
A young woman I worked with in the early ‘80’s had a flathead Rambler American. Its motion was better described as a walk, than a run. Going in circles around anything else on the road was pretty much out of the question. If I remember right, she replaced it with a Civic, and a few years later a 5 speed V6 Fiero. Now that RAN, and did the circles pretty well too.
Paul, I’ll find you a couple of those, but it will probably be after Christmas!
Geez, I never realized early Falcons were that light. That’s only like 100 pounds heavier than my featherweight Mazda 2.
I count 3 legitimate comments in the Trash right now, including mine!
They’ve been released now!
I am generally not a fan of convertibles, but when I was in high school the parent’s of a girl in my class had a red Falcon convertible. Her brother occasionally got to drive it to school. I never had a ride in it but I thought that as a convertible it was a nice clean understated design.
When I was a kid, every single Falcon owner was, well, an oddball. We had a woman who lived on our street with a black one who stared out her window day and night. If you wanted to know what was going on, ask Betty, she knew it all. The other one the next block over was a darker blue, and it was owned by the local “tiny car” woman, who went from Triumphs to MGB’s, and a couple of other little cars that were nothing but Lucas Electric nightmares, to the Falcon, which was vastly better than any of her previous cars. Strangely enough, she would eventually become a very wealthy realtor and investor towards the end of her life. A really strange outcome for a self called, “Hillbilly from West Virginia”.
And the last and biggest oddball of them all, who owned a black Falcon with a white top on it. I don’t know if it was factory for sure, but I think it was. He had those “indian” seat covers in it, along with a spinner on the steering wheel. He was my 7th and 8th grade science and gym teacher and one strange guy. He was only 25 when I was in 7th grade, but looked much older due to his terribly acne scarred face. He was obsessed with, as he said it, “Ath-uh-Letic Supporterrs”, and my sister said he started teaching her last year of grade school and “He pegged my creep meter”.. He would famously decide that his wife was having an affair with the school principal(He was actually talking to his wife to try to get him some help with his worsening mental state), and was on his way to murder the principal when he was intercepted by several police cars about 300 yards from the school. About 40 years later, I found his mug shot from an arrest for domestic violence on his second wife. And then I saw him inside Meijer’s one morning, all white haired but sounding the same, and in the parking lot, sat the Falcon, looking pretty good. Not perfect, but no visible rust. It sure needed paint though!
This part was news to me: On the brand-new Falcon, Ford supposedly realized the outdated transmission (the manual 3) wasn’t going to do it with the base engine.
Then twenty years later they did it again on the brand-new Escort, with the outdated 4-sp instead of a 5-sp.
You can lead a horse to water…
The Falcon was reviewed well in the UK and Oz when it got here, which makes for universally good reviews I guess, but also suggests reviews weren’t quite then what they are now. The closest uniform criticism is the slow steering, and most are polite about it anyway.
They shouldn’t have been. The steering was bloody ridiculous on a light car: it was 5 turns in any reality, and any goodness the car might’ve had dynamically was completely compromised by this nonsense. On modern tyres, it isn’t even light!
And the brakes being praised on this 1 ton four-door six-seater shows only how awful the standards of then were. The little 4-seater Beetle had bigger brakes than this, not to mention the inherent rear-engined brake benefit.
This car is a distillation of rationality, if profit and actual end-use are the parameters, almost like it was shepherded to production by a cold-eyed maths whizz in charge of Ford. It’s otherwise not a great thing at all.
But the review is right in saying it met what had been missing, a Model A for 1960. That’s spot-on (again, almost like it had been commissioned after careful research, like a maths whizz had been in charge or something). It’s also still right in saying the handling was really quite ok for the times, and compared to the sinking boats from much else of Detroit, it was a bit a flickable flivver – well, for those quick of arm and unconcerned by stopping, anyway. No weirdburger oversteer from – you guessed it – killer swing arms here.
There’s one other thing not mentioned, but I reckon relevant to this day.
For all of the pinched pennies, this original billowing-roof Falc is a really handsome car, and certainly not potentially confronting like the Valiant or the Corvair, “ugly” at least as far as the arguably ugly and unarguably grille-less face of the latter is concerned. In that way, it turned out Ed Cole was just plain wrong when he thought a small car could not be done on big car proportions without radical stuff like rear-engines for low floors.
One last last thought to add to some above.
A two-speed auto Falcon of this era is like accelerating a dead cow, one huge, long, death-rattle moan of hissing until about 45 mph followed by an apparent dive into a strangled burble of deep unremitting sludge in 2nd, with 70mph unlikely to even arrive unless the road was a billiard table.
I mean, I wish the hipsters well: it is for sure the ideal car in which to cultivate facial hair, as the journey has just one decent hill for the beard-length to alter.
Well said, as always.
The slow steering was undoubtedly a sop to women, in terms of parking. I’m sure Ford knew the Falcon would have strong appeal to women, who were the most vociferous big-barge haters. And my memories confirm that, an unusually high percentage of female owners/drivers.
Which really explains much of the Falcon: it was designed to appeal to women all-round, unlike the Corvair and Valiant, which both were designed to appeal more to men, who were typically more responsive to issues like technology and more radical styling.
The Falcon was “safe” in every way except of course in the true way. And that’s what women mostly cared about.
Which explains why the Falcon was somewhat less than ideal for a place like Australia, where back then it would undoubtedly be a man’s car, a role it was not so well suited for, with its wheezy (but very economical) engine, slow steering and innocuous looks.
Speaking, of, like you, I find the ’60 Falcon to be a quite good looking car, unlike many here who have disparaged it. Having been there in 1960, it was a breath of fresh air (more like a gale) compared to the absurd over-wrought barges from the ’50s. It (and the Corvair) were harbingers of a new era indeed.
Was the UK-sourced four speed optional down your way? Seems like it should have been, or even standard.
Spot-on description of the 144/automatic. Truly painful to listen to, and torturous to experience.
No, the four speed wasn’t offered, probably because Holden didn’t either. It would have made a big difference, though the gearchange might have been a bit difficult. Funnily enough, it was the most criticized thing after the steering (and the too-long column), yet in my experience, the Ford set-up was always a great deal nicer than the Holden column changes. Which isn’t saying much.
My personal view is that the Falcon’s weaknesses were much over-stated, in a country where “Australia’s Own” – which ofcourse was never anything but Detroit’s – absolutely dominated. In reality, the car had some too-small ball-joints for bumpy roads, quickly rectified, and an auto where they skimped on water-cooling, so it overheated too easily (again, changed pretty quickly). Yes, it got considerable toughening over time, even ending up with the US convertible’s underfloor bracing by the ’65 XP, but they didn’t ever fall apart as so many claimed. They were man enough alright, just not Osrtayan enough. Mate.
Btw, on checking, I see we got a 3.56:1 differential. Realistic speeds outside of cities didn’t go much above 60mph for many, as many (perhaps most) roads were still unsealed. We also had really low-grade petrol, so the performance of the car was almost identical to the US – except REALLY screaming much over 75 mph!