In the middle years of this decade—big, bullish, booming years—Detroit's Big Three haughtily ignored the influx of foreign sports and economy cars. Then two years ago, with a sobering recession mounting, the triumvirate blinked at the import figures and the sales of home-grown economy breeds (Rambler and the more recently successful Lark) and began to explain to the public why the little cars would never last. This year they took a hard look at the dollar-green wave of the future and produced their own variety of the economy automobile—appropriately tagged the "compact car."
Ford will be out first with its Falcon—a hip-snuggling six-passenger vehicle which they confidently think will be an irresistible second car, and which many others think may displace its larger blood brothers in many garages. (General Motors with the Corvair and Chrysler with its Valiant will also soon be in the compact-car act, with appropriate fanfare. Their offerings will be introduced in subsequent issues.)
To Americans—who now are diet-conscious and willing to squeeze—the economy car is exemplified in such vehicles as the beetle-hunched Volkswagen, the pert Renault Dauphine and the basic Fiat 1100 sedan. The compact car, however, will not put the same squeeze on U.S. drivers; the Big Three are deferring to what they interpret as a demand for a bit more comfort, weight, luggage space and styling—without, we might add, the chromium cosmetics long thought to be the most notable characteristic of Detroit.
The Falcon is a fraction more than 181 inches overall, as against the 1959 Ford's 208 inches. It has a 109.5-inch wheelbase, about nine inches shorter than the standard Ford, and its over-all width is some seven inches trimmer. The Falcon is more pudgy and yet more sophisticated than her British Ford sisters Anglia and Prefect, and she is even stouter than the French Dauphine, which has an 89-inch wheelbase, 155-inch over-all length and a girth 10 inches narrower than Falcon's 70 inches. The American car crouches at 54.5 inches, while the Dauphine is 2.5 inches taller. In comparison to the 1959 Ford Fairlane series and Custom 300, the Falcon comes remarkably close to meeting the big car's interior dimensions. Its weight is 2,366 pounds.
The exterior is neat, trim and efficient, with thin walls and doors. There are only 12 parts in the Falcon door, compared with 21 in ordinary cars, and in the door frame-two parts do the work of a previous 12.
Durability is a promise of Falcon, which will appear in two-door and four-door styles and will utilize an adequate overhead-valve engine which is expected to develop approximately 90 hp and give substance to claims of up to 30 miles per gallon. The six-cylinder plant has a 2½-inch stroke, one of the shortest in the industry, and a bore of 3½ inches. Friction should be reduced by these features. The six was selected over the four-cylinder engine to eliminate lugging, affording a smooth haul at low speeds with heavy loads. Falcon claims the six gets only two miles less per gallon than a four-cylinder automobile would.
The standard transmission offered will be three-speed synchromesh, but Falcon offers optional automatic shifting similar to Fordomatic. Its pickup is spunky, covering 380 feet in 10 seconds from a standing start. A 1959 Ford will cover 362 feet. Furthermore, accelerating at 50 mph in a passing situation Falcon will cover more ground than a standard model.
In general appearance the new compact Ford has some distinctive family characteristics, such as the suggestion of a Thunderbird hood, a hint of Mercury in the windshield and here-and-there Ford family characteristics. If the Falcon is not strictly economy (it will cost about $2,000), neither is it extravagant; it is new, it is compact, and it is going to give competitors, foreign and domestic, a run for their money.