American Baby boomers probably remember the compact car called the Falcon. Millions of them were built and sold by Ford Motor Company. The humble looking car is actually more interesting than you’d think, at first glance.
The marketing name for the Ford product almost didn’t happen. Take a moment to forget about Ford Falcons. Now let’s adjust our mental images to envision a Chrysler Falcon.
During the 1950s, General Motors was selling Corvettes and Ford was building Thunderbirds. Chrysler had nothing comparable. In order to try to catch up, Chrysler’s Advanced Styling Studio contemplated a car for their company.
Concept cars are a normal part of the auto industry. They provide pre-production experimentation and trial use of new ideas for the various companies. For Chrysler, in the mid-1950s, designer Maury Baldwin designed the car for Virgil Exner’s studio as a show car. A handmade model was built for the company by the Italian coach builder Ghia in 1954. It is believed that three Chrysler Falcons were built.
The Chrysler Falcon was targeted to the adult market. It was to be more luxurious than either the Chevrolet Corvette or Ford Thunderbird. The only existing Chrysler Falcon has a 331 Hemi engine, Power Flite automatic transmission, power brakes, and power windows. The interior features bucket seats and small levers on the lower dashboard to control various systems. Its convertible top stows away under a lift-up hatch behind the seats.
Corporate infighting between the styling and the engineering departments at Chrysler got in the way of an actual production run of the car. However, the company was in no hurry to compete with Corvette and Thunderbird because Chrysler was quite healthy at the time. That said, many people regret that the Chrysler Falcon was never commercially produced.
Meantime, Ford Motor Company should have had no problem reserving the name, Falcon. In 1935, corporate president, Edsel Ford wanted a luxurious Ford automobile, so he came up with the idea for a car named the Falcon. He later chose to name the marque, Mercury, instead.
By the late 1950s Ford General Motors and Chrysler decided to enter the small car market that had been dominated by foreign makers. The “Father of the Falcon” was, then Ford General Manager, Robert McNamara. He commissioned a team to design Ford’s version of the compact car.
McNamara insisted upon keeping the weight and costs of the vehicle as low as possible. A unibody construction was utilized and standard suspension, engine and drivetrain were utilized to allow reasonable comfort for six occupants.
Before the big three introduced their cars, names needed to be finalized. Ford’s domestic competitors included Chevrolet and Plymouth. Studebaker had early success with their Lark, and Rambler marketed their American. General Motors had already decided upon the name Corvair.
One version of the naming story is that in 1959, Henry Ford II wanted the name Falcon for his new car. But Chrysler wanted to retain the name of its concept car.
In the race for the name, Chrysler consulted the Automobile Manufacturers Association for a trade name search to find out if the name was available. On May 20, 1959, the association informed Chrysler that the name was indeed open.
While the Chrysler committee was meeting, Ford Motor Company called the Association and found out that Chrysler was considering the name. So, Ford registered the name, right away. By the time Chrysler called the association again, they learned that Ford had reserved the name. Chrysler missed their opportunity by only 20 minutes.
Chrysler had to settle for the name, Valiant as the marque for the small size Plymouth. McNamara and Ford won the day with Falcon all set to debut the 1960 Falcon in September of 1959. By the way, after the car was marketed, McNamara was appointed by President Kennedy as U.S. Defense Secretary.
The Falcon went on to be an immediate sales success, as it widely outsold its domestic competitors Corvair, Valiant, AMC American, and Studebaker Lark. The Falcon and its Mercury counterpart, Comet, continued until Ford North America, discontinued manufacture in 1970.
Ford fanatics know that Ford Motor Company, Australia, still builds Falcons. The first Aussie versions were introduced as four door sedans, in 1960, as right hand drive, four door sedan versions of the North American cars. The Falcon name is still quite popular as a contemporary car make in Australia.