The Falcon was to become a household name in Australia during the 1960's, evolving from a direct copy of the US built versions. In their homeland, they were manufactured from 1960 through 1970. During these years the Falcon was offered in many shapes and sizes including two and four door sedans, two and four door station wagons, two door hardtops, convertibles, sedan deliveries and Rancheros. Even the original Mustang evolved from the development of the Falcon.
Many of the design elements and chassis pieces were actually Falcon parts used to build the original 1964½ Mustang. It was Lee Iacocca's idea to develop a new car based on the Falcon chassis. Simply put, without the Falcon there would never have been a Mustang!
The initial Ford Falcon platform was designed to provide the family with enough room to store the groceries and the kids, roomy enough to seat six, but still maintaining the fuel economy and savings that were being sought after the gas guzzling beauties of the Fifties. Though rarely was there a US car so well matched to meet both Australian and European requirements.
The Ford Falcon Sprint first came into prominence at the beginning of 1963
at the time of the Monte Carlo Rally, which it narrowly missed winning. The rally cars were hardtop coupes, specially prepared and tuned, although a little more attention to the durability of the suspension components should have been made to the Aussie design (for more on this, read the Ford Falcon Story
Most sought after today of these early Falcon Sprints is the "Power Top" convertible, with was fitted with a 4·26-liter, 164 h.p. V8. Briefly summarized, the features of the compact design reflected European influences, and included an all-synchronized three or four-speed manual-change gearbox, relatively firm suspension, fairly high-geared steering (which had no power assistance); and a torquey engine with throaty exhaust.
There were many options offered, although arguably the best was the 4th cog. The brakes did not have the usual powerful servo action found in contemporary American models, but the brake pedal pressures were comparable with those of British sports cars. By this we mean, they were light enough, but not likely to cause a front passenger to butt the windscreen if the pedal was pressed unintentionally hard by the driver.
The heart of the Falcon Sprint was of course the V8 engine. Moderately powerful, it produced more torque from the bottom end of the r.p.m. range. As a result there was no need to do a lot of gear changing and the car pulled lustily in top gear from around 25 m.p.h. when the driver put their foot down. The engine did not start to snatch in top gear until the car speed had dropped down to about 10 m.p.h. If the gearbox was used freely the acceleration could be very brisk, provided the rear wheels gripped - and remember that tire technology of the 1960's was no match for what we take for granted today.
The mean time for a standing-start ¼-mile on a dry surface was 17·8sec. One road test we read had the Sprint do the standing start ¼-mile in top gear only, and it recorded 24·1sec, with a speed at the end of 71 m.p.h. This, of course, was of no real significance but it did demonstrate the flexibility and sustained torque of the engine. An electric r.p.m. indicator was provided and this was sensibly red-banded from 5,000 r.p.m. upwards. Maximum power and torque were given respectively at 4,400 and 2,200 r.p.m. rumor had it that the engine could take 6,000 r.p.m. without damage, but road test reviewers noted that there was a significant power fall-off above 5,600 r.p.m., which made this the practical top limit, unless you really wanted to test the engines durability.
The maximum speeds in the intemediate gears were evenly spaced at approximately 40, 60 and 80 m.p.h., taking into account what we at Unique Cars and Parts believe to be the "real" maximum RPM of 5,500. Of course below 5,000 r.p.m. the engine was very smooth and willing. It produced a slight drone and the rumble of the exhaust was just audible inside the car. Outside, the exhaust was heard plainly when the throttle was open wide.
The Ford Falcon Sprint Convertible...
The Falcon Sprint's speedo was one of the best ever designed up to that time. Unlike most cars of the era, the needle remained dead steady and accurate throughout its range. At the cars maximum speed of 107 m.p.h. the needle was out of sight beyond the scale's top limit. Fuel consumption was much as would be expected, the overall test figure being 16·1 m.p.g. At home on the highway, the Sprint was capable of over 20 m.p.g. at speeds varying from 60 to 85 m.p.h. Based on these figures, the 11·5-gallon tank would have been good for a between-fills journey range of about 180 miles.
Contributing to the lively acceleration figures was the excellent Borg-Warner gearbox. The lever movement was free and smooth, and the synchromesh unbeatable, so the speed of change depended mainly on the driver's dexterity. The lever movement was far too long by todays standards, and even in the 1960's there were some that complained that third gear required an extended forward reach by the driver. The clutch was was reluctant to slip and the take-up was smooth.
As you probably are aware after reading the
Falcon specification pages on this site, the "Sixes" had a simple 8·5in. diameter clutch; however that on the V8's was a 10in. semi-centrifugal design. To the driver there was no difference in operation, mainly due to the use of centriifugal weights which assisted the normal spring to engage the clutch, although the pedal load as a result was a little lighter when moving off from a standstill and at low speeds. Both the clutch pedal travel and release pressure figures were on the high side.
But even looking at the Sprint through the rose-coloured glasses of today, the brakes were average. 10in. drum type, they were "adequate" for road purposes but were not reassuring. When pushed the brakes become hot and smelly, with some increase in pedal pressure required, but the testers of the day commented that they remained even and did not fade appreciably. Owners today are unlikely to report such complaints, given their cars would be driven with great care - and who could blame them, but go back through the archives and you will see rather poor maximum retardation figures recorded which were, admittedly, as much a fault of tire adhesion and weight distribution as of the brakes themselves. One or other of the front wheels would lock very early and the rear wheels did not contribute much to maximum braking effort. The hand brake was efficient for parking.
adhesion has a bearing on steering, and the Sprint really should have been fitted with high-adhesion sports tires. For manoeuvering on dry roads the load at the steering wheel was high, but in all other conditions light enough. Control was fairly quick and precise-including the correction of a skid. With light throttle or when simply rolling, the Falcon had practically neutral steering with perhaps a slight tendency to run wide. A couple of p.s.i. tire pressure more at front or back was enough to alter the balance; for the record, Ford suggested 24 p.s.i. front and back.
As soon as power was used through a corner the Sprint was more eager to turn, this tendency increasing with more power and also on wet roads. On wet and greasy roads it was incredibly easy to spin and slide the Falcon's rear wheels in the intermediate gears, either straight ahead or in a corner. Weight distribution, unladen was 56·6 per cent front, 43·4 per cent rear. That made the ride and stability of the Falcon good, but not great. The car never rolled more than expected, and was not prone to plunging in front like so many of the more softly-sprung cars from Detroit. The ride was firm but never harsh, and the large spring deflections permitted enabled the suspension to absorb the mounds and hollows of rough very well. The extent of the spring movement provided was not helpful on some undulating roads, where too much vertical movement could build up and give the rear passengers a bouncy ride. Gusts and crossswinds had little effect, and on highways the Falcon held course as straight as an arrow.
The Ford Falcon Sprint Advertisement...
As for the convertibles, prior to 1970 it was not usually expected that a soft top could be as quiet or as rigid as sedans and Coupes - and even today some manufacturers get it wrong. Today the honours for rigidity and solid build quality for any mainstream convertible manufacturer go to Mazda for their brilliant MX-5, but winding the clock back, the Falcon Sprint was not so far behind - even if in their execution the two cars were poles apart!
The Sprint was exceptionally free from rattles, flapping and wind roar at high speeds and there was little shake or vibration except on rough roads. Big as the doors were there was no visible movement at the joints when driving on rough roads. Over concrete surfaces and others top-dressed with coarse stones, there was considerable tire roar, and slight vibration was felt in the steering wheel.
Inside, the Falcon Sprint was a compromise between the American, European and Australian. It was necessarily "tizzy" to appeal to the US market, however in keeping with the best of British the dash featured a plain, padded covering over a quite simple and attractive instrument panel. The clean and accessible engine compartment was spoiled a little by the number of wires and pipes which were not all that neatly contained. Surviving examples regularly have this "sorted", but it is not how they left the factory. The bonnet lid was spring balanced.
For an ideal relationship between pedals, steering wheel and gear lever, the steering column should have beeen some two inches shorter or, better still, adjustable. The seats themselves had sufficient rearward adjustment to suit tall drivers. Rear-seat leg room was nothing special, but thankfully for a car of its size it was at least possible to squeeze in or out of the back compartment without disturbing those sitting in front.
To keep the length down on the "compact" Ford, the nose assumed a rather snub shape and the tail was short; however the body was full coupe size. Luggage space was sufficient but the boot floor was high so the compartment was shallower than usual. To make room for the full flow of air from the powerful heater it was necessary to give it a way out, and so the rear quarter lights had their own winding handles to pivot them down from the lower front corners. When partially open they did not produce draughts or undue wind roar. At the time lamp flashers were illegal in the U.S.A., and so the practice of adding a simple foot dip-switch was continued.
The door handles were obtrusive, but at least they pointed safely forward. The horn was operated by a horn ring, superimposed on each of three wheel spokes, which was both neat and convenient. On the convertibles, the top was electrically power-operated after releasing beautifully designed over-centre catches attaching on the top of the screen frame. Not only were these catches large, smooth and flush fitting, but the passengers were further protected by attractive curved and padded visors which lay over them. The flexible rear window had a normal zip at the top and, at the sides, touch-fasten strips.
The headlamps were adequate for their time, although the difference from high beam to low was dramatic, and the spread narrow to the point that is was difficult to pick up nearside verges in the face of approaching vehicles. It was widely reported that the headlamps did not dazzle at all when dipped. The interior lighting, with rheostat for the instruments, was satisfactory. The wipers too were best described as adequate, leaving an all to large an area unwiped at the driver's screen-edge.
In line with other manufacturers Ford did a great deal to simplify maintenance and avoid the need for early replacements. Major lubrication and grease for six points was scheduled only at 36,000 miles or 3 years, and oil changes every 6,000 miles or six months. The final drive was filled for life. The car was delivered with anti-freeze intended to stay in for two years. Protection against road salting in winter was found in the form of galvanized underparts and, for the silencer, aluminum surface treatment.
Summarising, the Falcon Sprint was a restful and satisfactory car to drive, with plenty of performance. It boasted an obvious competence in engineering and detail design, restraint over dimensions and decorations, better handling, generous torque, a reliable and lasting engine - these were the qualities which were becoming more and more evident in early 1960's American mass-produced cars. Today they are highly prized, not just for their looks, but for the engineering qualities that ensured their survival to this day.