Monday, August 15, 2016

Ford's Falcon: The Most Successful First-Generation Compact Car

Increasing market penetration by foreign brands, especially Volkswagen, along with rising sales by American Motors' compact Rambler in the late 1950s inspired America's Big Three car makers to introduce their own compact models for the 1960 model year.  I dealt with Chevrolet's Corvair here, and the Plymouth Valiant here.

The third 1960 American compact car was the Ford Falcon (Wikipedia entry here), the subject of this post.  Its first generation (treated here) was sold during model years 1960-63, and the third generation cars were last marketed for 1970.

Non-North American readers are reminded that an American "compact" car is roughly the size of a standard size European sedan. For example, the wheelbase for the 2001-2007 Ford Mondeo is 2,754 mm (108.4 in), and that for the current U.S. compact Ford Fusion is 107.4 in (2,728 mm).  Wheelbase lengths for the 1960 American compacts were: Chevrolet Corvair, 108 in (2,743 mm); Plymouth Valiant, 106.5 in (2,710 mm); and the Ford Falcon, 109.5 in (2,781 mm) -- all almost the same.

Ford's Falcon was the most conservatively designed of the three and its first-year sales about equaled the combined sales of its two competitors.  The Valiant featured odd, Virgil-Exner type styling and the Corvair had an air-cooled motor mounted at the rear, Volkswagen-fashion.  Here was a clear case of cautious, conventional styling and engineering winning over creativity.


Although it was styled during the Baroque phase of Detroit's tail fin and wrapped windshield era, the Falcon reverted to a simple, three-box design.  With a bit of imagination or three glasses of wine, one might consider it a modernized classic 1949 Ford.

Here is more of a profile view for the four-door version.

And this is a side view of a two-door Falcon for 1961.  Also very clean-looking.  But I think Falcons would have looked better with larger wheels.

The rear styling was logical and simple as well, as seen in this Owls Head Museum auction photo.  Ford's traditional (for a while in the 1950s) round tail lights were dropped on standard size 1960 Fords, but continued on Falcons.

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