Most of us likely think of the Ford Falcon as the precursor to the Mustang, which it is, of course. But the sedate little sedan quietly developed quite the racing curriculum vitae over it's life.
Most American carmakers were coming to the realization that there was a desire for some offerings that were more size practical, and economical. So in late fall, three new cars debuted: The Plymouth Valiant, the Chevrolet Corvair, and the Ford Falcon - all of which were classified in the day as 'compact' cars. The Falcon was touted right out of the gate as "The New Size Ford" and promoted for its economy at the pump, and well as in price. Amazingly, early promotional material claimed more than 30 mpg was possible. Surely such economy in that era left performance as it's sacrifice. Validating that point, the lone powerplant at introduction was a 144 ci inline six, making an optimistic 90 horsepower.
The 1961 model saw subtle changes, including an optional 101-horse 170ci six, as well as other body styles, but a hint toward sportiness began in the spring 1961 arrival of the Futura, which featured bucket seats and a console interior. Sales were huge, with nearly a million Falcons built in the first two years alone.
For 1962, the midyear arrival of a four-speed option and new Sports Futura increased the sporting nature of the car. But in February 1963, a trio of 1963 1/2 introductions hit the market; the new semi-fastback two-door hardtop, the first Falcon V-8, and the Sprint package. Interestingly, the Falcon was the first in its market segment to offer eight-cylinder power, albeit just 260 cubic inches and 164 horses worth. Total production for the first generation of Falcon was over 1.5 million units.
The Falcon went through a complete makeover when the 1964 models bowed in late 1963. It was clearly more chiseled and square-edged than its predecessor. The new Falcon visually appeared larger than before, although in reality it barely was. The 289 ci engine hit the lineup in 1965.
Ford realized early on what they were sitting on, and realized that getting Falcons into the racing world would breed more success in the showroom. Several companies initially dabbled with hopping up the tiny six with triple-carb induction, but this clearly wasn't the outcome Ford had hoped for.
In 1962, Bill Stroppe and Holman Moody worked to create V8-transplanted Falcons well before Ford executed the idea. Holman Moody quickly directed its efforts into the Challenger I - a 1962 built for sports car racing using NASCAR rolling stock, aluminum body parts, and a 243 ci version of the new Fairlane V8. The Challenger I raced at the 1962 Sebring 12-hour event, where it finished second in class. Challenger III was an even bolder effort, with a one-off body, custom fastback roofline, aluminum body panels, and a Weber-carbureted 289. The Challenger III competed at the 1962 Nassau Speed Weeks with NASCAR driver Marvin Panch, where it went wheel to wheel with Cobras and Ferraris before eventually falling out with suspension failure.
Holman Moody's Falcon road racers go Ford's attention, and was contracted by Ford in 1963 to build a trio of cars for European rally competition. It was a conscious 2-year program meant to draw attention to the Falcon as something more than basic transportation. Between the two years of competition, Ford won three class wins at the Monte Carlo Rally, and a Second overall at the same event in 1964. Several examples were fielded at other long-distance rallies, such as the La Carrera Panamericana as well. Ford advertising regularly touting the Rally Falcon's exploits.
Falcon road racing was hardly limited to rallying, with several of them being raced in SCCA A-Sedan, and even some in Trans-Am. A '64/'65 Falcon even took second in class behind a Mustang at the 1967 24 Hours of Daytona, and an Alan Mann Racing Falcon won the British Saloon Car Championship that same year.
As if rally racing and road racing wasn't enough, there was drag racing. A few cars, predominately in 1964 and 65, made big headlines. In an interview, Ford R&D guru and factory driver Dick Brannan talked about the background of the two "factory" '64 427 Falcons. "In the late Winter/early Spring of 1964, we could see the handwriting on the wall-we were going to need something lighter than the Thunderbolt Fairlane. We knew the Mustang would be the answer, but couldn't get one at the time. So being that the Falcon shared so much in common, we decided to build one as a development car." A maroon '64 Falcon hardtop was delivered to the subcontractor of the T-bolt project, Dearborn Steel Tubing (DST), where revisions and fitment of a 427 High Riser commenced. Fiberglass hoods, fenders, doors, and bumpers were part of the program, as were other typical T-bolt modifications. "We were about 90 percent done, when Phil Bonner dropped in on a visit from Georgia. He liked the idea of the Falcon so much he went back home and began to build one himself." Soon, it was decided that DST should build the Bonner car as well, so the light blue hardtop went to Detroit to become the second factory 427 Falcon. Among many wins, Bonner would score a trifecta in class, Top Stock, and Stock Eliminator at the 1964 AHRA Nationals in Green Valley, Texas, while Brannan won S/SX at the AHRA Summernats.
The Falcon continues in name in the spectacular Australian V8 Supercar series.
While the Falcon isn't held in the same level of regard as the Mustang, in many ways, it has a much more diverse racing provenance.