History Lessons: #2 – 1963 Ford Falcon Sprint
Not everyone is a purebred. In fact, if you’re like most of the people on this earth, you come from two separate and distinctive families. The new Ford Focus ST follows a similarly branching family tree. For the first time, the high performance Focus you buy in the US is the same as the one you could buy in the rest of the world.
We’ve tasted from the European performance well in the US in the past as recently as the 2002 – 2004 Focus SVT, which was similar to the European Focus ST170. This “World Car” attitude is very present in the current and upcoming Ford vehicle catalog; the Fiesta has been for sale here for some time now and the 2013 Ford Fusion we’ll be seeing here is very much the same as the new Mondeo seen throughout the rest of the world.
In this series, we’ll look into the history of compact performance offerings from Ford and how two parallel developments in the US and Europe have evolved into the new 2013 Ford Focus ST.
MEANWHILE IN AMERICA – While Ford of Britain had just launched their Cortina-Lotus, Ford of America was cooking up a hotter version of their 1963 Ford Falcon. The first generation Ford Falcon was America’s idea of a small and lightweight car. Introduced in 1960, it was initially offered with a 90-100hp six-cylinder and mated to either a 3-speed column shifter or their 2-speed automatic. It was a great success for Ford, selling over a half-a-million units in its first year and over a million by the end of the second. It set standards in fuel economy, offering up to 30mpg and even clocking in 32.5mpg during the Mobilegas Economy Run, a sanctioned road rally run by the United States Auto Club to provide real world fuel efficiency numbers by driving from coast to coast in regular traffic in a real world situation.
Halfway through 1963, Ford offered their new Sprint model which added the Fairlane’s 165hp 4.3L V8 and a floor shifted 4-speed manual. These cars were identified by the sporty 3-spoke steering wheel emblazoned with FALCON SPRINT on the horn button with crossed checkered flags, FALCON letters across the back (instead of FUTURA), and a Sprint V8 logo on the front fenders. Adorning the top of the dash was a 6000rpm tachometer.
In 1963, Ford of America entered their Falcon Sprint into the Monte Carlo Rally. This was a stunning departure from its humble beginnings as a small, family-aimed fuel miser. The Sprint was actively targeting a younger demographic and entering the ’63 Monte Carlo Rally was thought to be a great advertising point for Ford.
Ford hired three teams to run; two teams of men and one team of women. The first team was headed by the Swedish driver, Bo Ljungfeldt, and his equally Swedish co-driver, Gunnar Haggbom. The second team was driven by British driver, Peter Job, and co-driven by American Trent Jarman, a sales manager for Car and Driver Magazine. The women’s team was driven by British driver, Anne Hall – a top European rally driver – and co-driven by Margaret McKensie of Scotland.
With the teams populated with drivers and co-drivers, Ford moved forward on preparing the cars. Holman and Moody were contracted to develop the new Falcon rally cars in a short three month timespan. The engines were fitted with Cobra engine kits, raising power nearly 100hp to 260. Front discs, a tighter ratio steering box, Koni shocks, a heavy-duty clutch, additional leaf springs and a Ford 9” rear from the Galaxie were installed. Contemporary tests showed the car accelerating from 0-60 in 7.5 seconds; dropping nearly 5 seconds from the stock Sprint V8. Like many rally cars of the day, a full navigator suite consisting of the Halda Speedpilot was installed which served as the car’s speedometer and odometer, as Ford had not yet developed a speedometer to work with the new Galaxie rear end in Falcon duty.
A legendary shakedown was performed where the Competition Manager, George Merwin, gave then-president Lee Iacocca a full-bore hooning with the Swedish team. After the run was complete, Lee had two words for George: “You’re fired.” At first, George thought he was only joking, but later was told by Iacocca that he could keep his job if the Falcons performed well at the rally. To this day no one is quite sure if Mr Iaccoca was really joking. Ford drivers banged away for thousands of miles in practice for the Monte Carlo, while service areas were placed all along the route for the Falcons. Advertising was in full swing for the event. The scene had been set. Ford was about to challenge the Monte Carlo as the first major American entry in the rally’s history.
The rally was held in January at the height of the European winter. Early into the race, a major traffic jam occurred where a majority of the field was stuck in icy conditions. Anne Hall, of the women’s team, attempted to circumvent the jam on another route which led to a late arrival at the next checkpoint and also to their elimination from the rally. The team of Jobb and Jarman were also penalized for being late. The Swedish team, despite assisting other stuck drivers, arrived only a minute late. The following day, the Swedes were involved in a high-speed blowout that should have taken them out of the race, but cunning driving by Bo Ljungfeldt allowed them to come to a stop for repairs. A bit later the clutch failed due to improper installation of a retaining pin. They were able to keep pace until the next service area, but repair time for the clutch effectively cost the team an overall victory. However, in the final leg from Chambery to Monaco, Bo ran flat out and won all six of the final special stages, a first in the history of the Rally Monte Carlo. Due to the traffic hangups and failed clutch service, the Swedish team finished 43rd overall while the British/American team finished 35th overall, but first in their class. With a first-in-class win and a brilliant final leg drive by the Swedish team, Ford’s advertising had some solid ammo to use for bragging rights.
By 1964, the second generation of Falcon was introduced and the Sprint was still an available option. The Rally Falcons of 1964 even more closely resembled their Cortina-Lotus brethren with the #49 car featuring white paint with a dark green side stripe. Ford continued to challenge the Monte Carlo, this time with the legendary 305hp 289ci V8 with dual 4 barrel carburetters. The T10 transmission backed the 289 along with 9-inch rear fitted with a limited slip differential. Considerable attention was brought into managing weight, with the final rally Falcon weighing in at almost 1,000lbs less than the road going version, thanks to fibreglass hoods, trunklids, fenders and doors, as well as Lexan side and rear windows. This increase in power and reduction in weight brought the 60mph dash into the high 5-second range and it could clobber the ¼-mile in 14.2s at 89mph at the hands of Car and Driver Magazine. The new 289 also offered a free-revving attitude which could swing the tach needle up to 7000rpm. To complement and service these new Rally Falcons, Ford created some serious support vehicles: Econoline Vans fitted with 427 V8s and NASCAR suspension.
With Ljungfeldt at the driver seat again for 1964, Ford increased their support by fielding eight teams instead of three. All eight teams finished, with Ljungfeldt blitzing to a 2nd place overall finish and a 1st place finish in his class. The team of Anne Hall and Denise McCluggage also took their class (Large Grand Touring), besting their male counterparts in class, Peter Jopp.
Unfortunately, sales of the Falcon continued to slip and by 1966 the Falcon Sprint was removed from the lineup as the third generation of Falcon became a shortened Fairlane. And with that, came the end of the Falcon’s motorsport legacy in America.
The Falcon Sprint is a highly sought after car by the knowing collector. Recently, one was listed for sale on BringATrailer.com. http://bringatrailer.com/2012/04/10/bat-exclusive-monte-style-1963-ford-falcon-sprint/
This car was eventually purchased by Jay Leno, who has prominently featured it on his website: http://www.jaylenosgarage.com/cars/ford/1963-ford-falcon-sprint/index.shtml.