Vintage Road & Track Road Test: 1970 Ford Maverick – “…They’ve Got To Be Out Of Their Minds”

Regarding the quote in the title: it was too long to put the whole thing up there, but here’s the full opening sentence from R&T’s review of the new Maverick: “Seriously now, if the Ford Motor Company really thinks that their new Maverick is going to instantly render the imported economy sedan unnecessary for the American driver, they’ve got to be out of their minds.”  Of course they were absolutely right, R&T, that is, as the Maverick had effectively zero impact on the imports, whose market share increased strongly during the Maverick’s great first extended model year (1970: 579k sales).

So where did all those sales come from? And more to the point here, what was it like to drive? Note: I had a lot of seat time in these, as I was a car jockey at a Ford dealer at the time. So my own impressions are going to only amplify R&T’s.

R&T points out that other than relatively peppy performance with the optional 200 CID six, “it has almost none of the virtues that are common to the best of the economy imports available to the U.S. buyer.”

The first thing was its styling, which of course was very American, with that “fat-hipped look” that was the hot new thing. In my CC of the Maverick, I called it “a recycled Falcon in hip-hugger bell-bottoms”, or something lie that. Of course the tiny tires hiding under those large bulging fenders didn’t exactly help, even if they were the optional 6.45 – 14 tires instead of the really pathetic 6.00 – 13s that were standard. And which made the Maverick look really bad.

The first thing you will notice on getting into the Maverick is how bad the front bench seat is“. True that; a dreadful slab of a thing, that drops you down low into the dreary dark interior of these caves. Lee Iaccoca was determined not to repeat the mistake of the 1960 Falcon, by making the Maverick look stylish; in essence it was a low-end Mustang. But it would have greatly benefited from the original Mustang’s bucket seats and floor shift for the manual three-speed, as that (not tested here) had a miserable column shifter. Did Ford think that Maverick buyers were really going to be having three adults sit in that narrow front bench seat? They really were out of their minds, given that essentially every import sedan had buckets and a floor shift.

It all added up to a big mistake: reinforcing the idea that cheap American cars have to be drab and uncomfortable. That’s precisely what appealed about imports, going back to the ’50s: they were cheerful, with nicely trimmed interiors and exterior trim and such.

The optional 120 (gross) hp 200 CID (3.3 L) six was teamed with the optional three-speed automatic, a very recommendable upgrade over the base 170 six and three-on-the-tree, which only reinforced that drab, uncomfortable, crude image of cheap American cars.  The 200 six was of course much bigger than anything in imports, and it ran and pulled well enough. R&T must have gotten a good one, because found most of the ones that came off the transporters to be pretty mediocre-running, but then I was a 17 at the time, and my standards were a bit higher. It was pedal-to-the-metal pretty much all the time.

R&T car did the 0-60 in 14.5 seconds, which was pretty decent for a six cylinder American cars, although not really outstanding either. The 302 V8 came along in the winter of 1969-1970, and I had a lot of fun with the first one that showed up at Towson Ford.

So much for the good stuff. The steering was abysmally slow, with 5.2 turns lock-to-lock. This utterly destroyed any sense of genuine pleasure in piloting a Maverick, most especially so in comparison to all those imports with their quick, accurate and light steering. “...far clumsier than it should be and light years behind its imported competitors.” And likely quicker power steering was not even available, at the time, anyway. Eventually it had to be offered.

Not surprisingly, the all-drum brakes weren’t much better either.

The Maverick hung on well enough in fast bends. Plenty of understeer to keep things predictable in quick corners, if one’s hands were able to keep up with the slow steering. When I was driving these, the new 1971 Pinto was already out, and in comparison to that, the Maverick felt really dull, slow and clumsy on the winding road I was able to take all the 1971 Fords on between the showroom and the remote body shop. The Pinto, especially the early ones with the 2.0 four and stick shift, was a veritable sports car in comparison.

The ride was of course”smooth and soft. The shock absorbers were watery on rebound and with four people in the car it tends to bottom over even moderate-sized dips and bumps.”

The driving position, because of the poor bench seat, is back-breaking but the optional individual seats would no doubt help in that respect.”  Yes, as already previously mentioned. Visibility was deemed “poor” because of both the crappy seating position and the high hood line as well as the small rear windows. The trunk was small, pony-car sized. Again, the imports were held up for their better space utilization.

Another failing versus the imports was economy, as the six and automatic were thirsty. Average fuel consumption was a mediocre 20.5 mpg.

The Maverick in essence was of course a smaller American car, but with few if any of the advantages of that smaller size. It was essentially a 1960 Falcon, but with less interior room, or a 1965 Mustang without its charms and nice interior. “Compared to the leading import economy sedans, it isn’t even in the same ballpark in such things as agility, braking, handling and fuel economy.”

So who was buying all those Mavericks? The US economy was heading down in 1969, and that clearly was a factor. Imports and compacts were booming. The Maverick rode that wave, and undoubtedly like the 1960 Falcon, cannibalized some of those sales from the big Fords, which were down over 160k in 1970, as well as the Mustang, which was down over 110k in that year.

R&T assumed that it was essentially similar to the 1960 Falcon, in that its sales boomlet was by folks who didn’t really care much about the dynamic qualities and just wanted a cheap American car, no matter how dull. True that.

My CC on the Maverick:

Curbside Classic: Ford Maverick – The Simple(ton) Machine