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The Ford Falcon Story

The Little Car That Almost Wasn’t

The appearance of the Falcon came at a time of prosperity in the automobile industry, the demand for new passenger cars in 1959 was expected to exceed 1958 by more than 40%. The decision to introduce a new type of car by all of the “big three” manufacturers was based on three major factors, the following is taken verbatim from a Ford memorandum.

  1. A growing interest in foreign cars, resulting primarily from the fact that wage-cost inflation made it increasingly difficult for standard-size U.S. vehicles to compete cost-wise with the smaller imports.
  2. A steadily increasing number of U.S. families, resulting in expansion of the potential auto market generally.
  3. Increases in both the actual and potential numbers of two-car families.

The last two factors enlarged the market, increased the demand for variety, and made possible the introduction of new products.

Prior to the Second World War, (pre 1941), 92.9% of Ford vehicles were sedans, after the war, in the period up to 1959, the sedan market segment had dropped to 58%, the remainder being hardtops, converts, wagons, and specialty vehicles ( T-BIRD).

The Falcon then, was a product of market segmentation and the challenge of foreign producers.

Detroit’s automotive engineers were required to “re-think” the automobile in the mid to late ’50s. What they accomplished was a monumental breakthrough in design, management, and manufacturing.

The decision to proceed with basic design concepts was made in 1951, and by 1952 the project had taken the name “X-600”. Through to 1956, market studies repeatedly showed that the demand for a new “small” car was not high enough to support real production.

Onto the scene came a new group of relatively young engineers known as the “whiz kids” that had some fresh ideas about product development. A new approach was taken to market research and several points that had previously been overlooked came to the forefront.

  1.  Women were generally driving the family’s “second car”, and they did not particularly like the steadily increasing size of the regular full-size vehicles.
  2. Many buyers were becoming more critical of fuel economy; (gasoline was dirt cheap compared to today’s prices) especially lower income drivers who were concerned with operating costs.
  3. Many potential buyers were generally dissatisfied with very small size, general poor construction and fit quality and high repair costs of most import vehicles of the time.

Various proposal packages were put together representing different overall sizes, inside dimensions and drive trains.

These were presented to selected groups of potential buyers and reactions to different sections were noted. They next proceeded with a “paper car”, a 4 to 5 inch thick loose leaf volume containing descriptions and scale drawings of every part that would go into the car and each part is “sourced” and “costed”. Advanced planning built a whole fleet of “paper cars” until it arrived at a final recommendation in July, 1957. The original production date for the vehicle now known as the 19XK was originally set for 1960 but was later moved up to late 1959. The final paper car turned out to be amazingly close to the final production vehicle.

From the paper car to the production vehicle, an amazing amount of development took place that takes pages to describe even in condensed form, but needless to say, all of the problems were overcome and the new car came into production.

It has been documented before that both Ford and Chrysler were interested in the name Falcon for their new small cars and Ford beat Chrysler to apply for the right to the name by only 20 minutes.

The new car, now officially named Falcon, went onto the market in the 1960 product year and enjoyed far higher sales success than the Advanced Planning team had ever imagined. A one-year “special” model was produced for the Canadian Mercury dealers under the name Frontenac, and was actually introduced into the market slightly earlier than the U.S. Falcon.

In 1961, the Falcon was somewhat refined and it’s almost twin, the Comet was introduced through Mercury dealers. The Comet was the first “spin-off” vehicle to use the basic Falcon “platform” (chassis and drive-train) which was slightly revised to accept the distinctive Comet body styling.

Comet enjoyed a somewhat modest market success while Falcon sales continued to climb. In 1962, the Falcon platform was modified and expanded to become the basis for the new Ford Fairlane and the Mercury Meteor, which were developed to fill a market niche. The ever-fickle consumer wanted a car “bigger than small but smaller than big” thus causing the invention of the “mid-size” car. Not wishing to go back to the very beginning and engineer a new car totally, Ford used the existing technology developed for the Falcon, and modified where necessary to accommodate the larger body.

The 1960 Falcon was available as a 2 or 4 door sedan, a 2 or 4 door station wagon, and the Ranchero. The same model line-up continued for 1961 but added a 5 passenger (bucket seat) 2 door called Futura and a sedan delivery. Two more new models were introduced for the 1962 product year. A 4 door station wagon with fake, adhesive decal, wood-grain on the side, designated as Squire, and in March of 1962 a new Sport Futura, a Futura 2 door sedan with a revised rear roofline.

The 1960 Falcon line offered only one available engine, the 144 c.i.d. inline 6 cylinder, but for 1961 and 1962 a 170 c.i.d. engine was offered as a an option. All three years used a three speed standard transmission and offered a two speed automatic transmission as an option.

1963 is probably the most confusing in regard to available models. The regular 4 door sedan remained and was joined by a new Futura, with bench seat, 4 door sedan. The 2 door station wagon was joined by a Deluxe 2 door wagon. The regular 2 door sedan was joined by a bucket seat 2door sedan, a Futura bench seat 2 door sedan, and a Futura bucket seat 2 door Sorts Coupe. The Ranchero also came as a Deluxe Ranchero. The 4 door wagon now also came as a Futura wagon and the 4 door Squire wagon now was available as a Super Deluxe Squire, all had bench seats. The sedan delivery became also available as a Deluxe model. At the beginning of the new model year, the first convertibles were introduced to the Falcon line. Available as a 6 passenger, bench seat, or 5 passenger, bucket seat, model. Also available at the beginning of the year was a “Sprint” package that included bucket seats, console and an engine “dress-up” package, for the convertible only, even though the 6 cylinder engine only was available.

Part way through the year, two new features were introduced that changed the fortunes of the Falcon, and eventually spelled it’s demise. First in January the 2 door Hardtop was introduced as either a bench or bucket seat model. The Sprint option package was available on the early Hardtops with the 6 cylinder engine still the only available power plant. Everything was to change dramatically in February with the introduction of the 260 c.i.d. V8 option. The V8 was offered as an option on all Deluxe and Futura models which are now referred to as ’63 1/2.

Lee Iococa was the vice-president of the Ford division and was actively pursuing a fresh new group of buyers known as “young adults”. The prosperity of the late fifties had carried into the early sixties and more people than ever were now in the market for new automobiles. Parents having more disposable income wanted to buy their “dimpled darlings” an economical new car instead of a used “clunker”. Young professionals and tradesmen were earning the dollars that allowed them to purchase new. And they were fussy. Performance and “sporty” good looks first caught their eye, but economical operation had to be available before they would buy.

Ford Motor Co. designed the new Convertible and Hardtop Falcons to address this market, the V8 engine became a bonus and 4 speed standard transmissions were offered for the first time.

For 1964 the Falcon body was totally re-designed. All new “squared-off” body panels replaced the very familiar but dated rounded panels of the ’60 – ’63 models. The new breed of buyers wanted a vehicle that did not so closely resemble it’s rather staid ancestors. The chassis remained essentially the same but was “beefed-up” in some areas to handle the new engines.

Some of the models were dropped as sales were being split between two radically opposite groups. One wanted basic economy, 6 cylinder, bench seat, 2 or 4 door sedans to drive to work and carry the family. The other wanted convertibles and hardtops, bucket seats, V8 power, four speed manual or the new three speed automatic transmissions, and sporty trim to drive for fun. Very late in the ’64 model year a new larger 289 c.i.d. V8 became available.

Before the end of the 1964 model year Ford offered an all new vehicle, they called it Mustang. Built on a Falcon chassis, the new vehicle’s design never pretended to be anything other than a drive-for-fun car. The bells that chimed the success of the Mustang rang the death knell of the Falcon. Those “young adults” were drawn to the “Stang” like magnets, the Falcon, no matter how sporty it was dressed up, didn’t stand a chance.

1965 saw some subtle changes in the Falcon, but they were mostly cosmetic and could not bring back the young buyers. The “traditional” Falcon buyers were not interested in the sporty models and sales dropped rapidly. Only slightly over 3500 bucket seat Falcons were built for ’65 as compared to almost 30,000 in ’64. The new 200 c.i.d. 6 cylinder engine was almost standard, very few buyers ordered the 170 c.i.d., and the 289 c.i.d. became the V8 option.

From 1966 to 1970 the Falcon became almost a forgotten car. The Hardtops and Convertibles were to be no more, even the Ranchero was moved to the Fairlane product line in 1967. Falcons were available as 2 and 4 door sedans and a 4 door wagon.

One model of note in the late ’60s was the revival of the Sports Coupe. It was available with V8 power, bucket seats, sporty trim, and 4 speed manual transmission, for those die-hard Falcon buyers who still wanted a little “go”.

The last of the 1969 Falcons were sold before the end of the product year, which put Ford into a dilemma. They did not want to produce any more of that model because it would be phased out and replaced with a new “compact” to be named Maverick for the next product year. The tooling “dies” for the body panels were already partially dismantled to ready for shipping to Australia, where this body style was to motor on into the ’80s with some very interesting power options, but that is another story. The problem was that the Maverick was just not ready in time. The answer was to put some Falcon “badges” onto specially selected Fairlane/Torino bodies and call them 70 1/2 Falcons. There were not many, but some that were built were interesting. One odd quirk of this solution was that Falcon was available with the same power-train options as the Fairlane/Torino, including the 429 c.i.d. Cobra-Jet engine.

There were many landmarks, milestones and unique innovations during the 10 years that Ford Motor Co. offered the Falcon in their sales line-up. The basic chassis developed for the new small car was modified and used to create many new products and is still used for many new rear wheel drive vehicles. The Falcon is gone but not forgotten.

The Fairlane Story

The Fairlane drew it’s name from Henry Ford’s mansion near Dearborn, MI. Introduced in 1955 as the luxury version of the full size Ford, the name was also used on the retractable roof Skyliner models. Then Ford introduced a new mid-size car for the 1962 model year and Fairlane became more than a version of the big car; it now was a whole new model line of car. Sixteen inches longer than a Falcon and 400 pounds heavier, no sheet metal inside or out matched that of the Falcon. Also new was an optional 221 cubic inch V-8 engine, which used a thin-wall casting technique to produce the lightest complete V-8 engine of the time. Horsepower was upped from 143 to 164 with the new 260 cid V-8 in the 1962 1/2 Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe and just over 297,000 Fairlane 2 door and 4 door sedans and 2 door sport coupes were sold the first year.

In 1963 Ford added 3 wagons and a true hardtop coupe to the Fairlane lineup. In 1964 there were now 5 engine options, 170 cid and 200 cid sixes and a 260 cid and 2 289 cid V-8’s. The 64 models lost their fins and sales which had hit over 340,000 in 1963 dropped to under 270,000. Overall length and width were increased in 1965 along with a total restyling, but sales continued to slip to under 225,000 units.

In 1966 the Fairlane was dramatically restyled, model choices expanded to 13 and the GT models with a 390 cid 335 HP V-8 were available in coupe and the first Fairlane convertibles. Sales of all Fairlane models increased to over 315,000. For 1967 only minor styling changes were made and sales declined to less than 240,000 units.

1968 saw another styling change to the Fairlane line and the introduction of the name Fairlane Torino which carried through to 1969. By 1970 the Fairlane was just a base model of the intermediate line and was identical to the 1970 1/2 Falcon which likewise was at an end.

During it’s 9 model years life the Fairlane sold over 2.6 million units and achieved a performance image from it’s small block hi-po 289 engines, it’s 390 and 428 big blocks and of course from the 427 Thunderbolt drag racer. Referred to by some as “the forgotten Fords” the Fairlanes are revered by many enthusiasts today.

Ken Grahame 2000


The Comet Story

The birth of the Mercury Comet was on March 17, 1960 (St. Patrick’s day) and was a key factor in a very successful selling season for Mercury, although the Comet did not officially become a Mercury until the introduction of the 1962 models on September 21, 1961. The cover of Car Life magazine called the Comet the “First Luxury Compact”. The 1960 line included two- and four-door versions of Sedans and Station Wagons and ranged in price from $1,998 to $2,365. They were powered by a “Thrift Power”, 144 cu. in. 6 cylinder engine with your choice of 3 speed manual or Comet Drive 2 speed automatic transmissions. The Comet was 14 inches longer than the Falcon , with the extra inches devoted to more trunk room.

The ’61 Comets were introduced on October 6, 1960 and were mostly unchanged with the exception of the addition of air conditioning and a larger 170 cu. in. 6 cylinder engine to the options list. A mid-year addition to the Comet line-up was the new S-22 coupe. Apparently, the alpha-numeric designation had no significant meaning.

On September 21, 1961, the ’62 Comet was introduced with significant rear end styling changes and officially became a Mercury. Available were two and four-door Sedans and two and four-door Station Wagons. The 1963 models again had only modest changes. But the big news came midyear when a new V-8 powered Comet Sportster model hit the pavement. The V-8 was the same 164 horsepower engine available in the Ford Falcon Sprint models. After the Comet V-8 was introduced, the smaller 144 cubic-inch engine was dropped and the 170 cubic-inch became the standard engine. The Comet S-22 series now was offered in a stylish convertible.

In 1964, the Comet bodies were completely redesigned. Mercury upgraded the Comets and took them to the race tracks with some success. The Comet became available in three series; base Comet 202 car-line included two- and four-door Sedans and a four-door, six passenger Station Wagon at prices from $2,084 to $2,483 US. The mid-range cars were Comet 404’s. The same body types were offered in the 404 series, at prices from $2,171 to $2,570 US.

The Comet Custom evolved into the Caliente, with bench seats. The S-22 became the Cyclone, with bucket seats. Comets were available with sixes or V-8s. There was a two-door Hardtop, four-door Sedan and Convertible in the fancy line. this upgraded version of the Mercury Comet was more of a car that the Custom had ever been. It really filled the market niche vacated by the discontinued Meteor.

The Calientes could be had with the 170 cubic-inch, 101-hp six or a 200 cubic-inch “big six” with 116-hp. Fans of V-8 power could get the 260 cubic-inch 164-hp engine for starters. However, the real heart of the Caliente’ “Total Performance” tie-in was the new 289 cubic-inch V-8.

In mid-year a new Comet Cyclone high-performance model arrived. It featured less chrome than other Comets but boasted a 210-hp version of the 289. This priced out at $3,027 US with options.

The 1965 Comets were introduced on September 25, 1964 with a front end restyling. Offerings continued with the 202, 404, Caliente and Cyclone series. A convertible was available in the Caliente series featuring a power top, optional V-8 and air conditioning. The Cyclone series offered a distinctive twin-air-scoop fiberglass hood as an option. The 195-hp “Cyclone V-8” engine was a $108 option for non-Cyclone models. In addition there was a 220-hp “Super Cyclone 289” available. The only six available was the 200 cubic-inch and the 260 V-8 was no longer available.

1966 saw another major redesign on the Comet bodies. It was again offered in four lines; the 202s, the new Capri line which replaced the 404s, the Calientes, and the Cyclones. The 202s came in two- and four-door Sedans with a six cylinder engine. Due to the different quarter panels that were used, the 202 was 7.1 inches shorter than the other Comet lines. the Capri series was a little dressier and came in two models; the four-door Sedan and the two-door Hardtop. There was a “Custom Sport Coupe” version of the Capri Hardtop that came with a number of options at the time. Comet Calientes were sporty models that had the same trim basics as Capris and same model offerings except that a convertible was also available. The Cyclone series now came in a Hardtop or Convertible and both came in standard or optional GT series. The Cyclone GT was powered by a 335-hp 390 cubic-inch V-8. The Cyclone GT Convertible was picked as the Official Pace car for the 1966 Indy 500-mile Race. There were also two Comet Station Wagons available; the Voyager and the upscale Villager.

Not a lot changed for the 1967 Comet lines, but the Comet was restyled again for 1968. The Comet was offered in only one model in the base line, the two-door Hardtop. The Cyclone series was avilable in in a two-door Hardtop and a two-door Fastback each came standard with the new 210-hp 302 cubis-inch V-8.

The 1969 Comet showed minor changes except now with a 155-hp 250 cubic-inch six cylinder and the Cyclones were offered as a Fastback and a new Cyclone CJ model using a 302 V-8. The Cyclone Spoiler model came with a 290-hp 351 V-8.

In 1970, the Comet was again unchanged and finally, on September 18, 1970 became a sub-compact. The Cyclone was still available as a Cyclone, a Cyclone GT, and a Cyclone Spoiler aptly featuring front and rear spoilers. Standard in Cyclones was the 429 cubic-inch 360-hp V-8 engine, whereas the Cyclone GTs had the 250-hp 351 and the Cyclone Spoilers had a 370-hp 429. Wow!

The Frontenac Story

Ford of Canada introduced a new compact car, the Frontenac, for 1960. Ford was keeping a level playing field for its two dealer chains., Ford and Mercury. So when the compact Falcon appeared in Ford

showrooms in Canada, Mercury dealers displayed the Frontenac. The Frontenac was however, a make in its own right – not a Mercury, not a Meteor It was a Frontenac. Its grille had two sections with many

vertical bars. Each was rocket shaped and pointed to the centre. At the centre was a chrome disc with a red maple leaf on it. This centre plate was attached to the grillwork by a long horizontal bar on

each side. A chrome dart on the front fender also had a red maple leaf. Three chrome windsplits, one over the other, were near the back of the rear fender. The chrome lock and handle on the trunk

also included a red maple leaf.

An interesting variation from the Falcon’s tail lights used a smal red lense. Though much smaller than the Falcon’s lights, they appeared just as large when illuminated as a wide multi-bevelled rim

reflected the light from the protruding lense. At first only 2 door and 4 door sedans were made, but later 2 and 4 door station wagons were added. Like Falcon, there was only one line, but deluxe

trim was optional. Frontenac was mechanically the same as the Falcon including the 90 hp 144 cid 6 cylinder engine.

This Canadian variation was a big hit with buyers looking for a compact car. Over 8,400 were sold in calendar year 1960. That was ahead of Valiant and Corvair, the Mopar and GM offerings.

Falcon and Frontenac accounted for 5.23% of the total 1960 new car market. Despite it’s popularity, the Frontenac lasted only a single model year. In 1961 Mercury dealers got the Comet to sell.

Mercury dealers in the US got the Comet part way through the 1960 model year, but in Canada Comet sales did not begin until the 1961 model year.

Thank you to 61thriftpower.com and mr.frontenac@shaw.ca for the above story.