1964 Ford Falcon Futura; photo courtesy . Click image to enlarge
By Bill Vance
In the 1950s, the North American auto industry began to note an increasing interest in smaller, more fuel efficient imported cars. They came with names like Austin and Morris from England, Volkswagen from Germany and Renault from France.
To appeal to this interest and counter this rising tide of imported sedans, the non-Big Three manufacturers produced smaller models, the Nash Rambler, Kaiser-Frazer Henry J, Willys Aero and Hudson Jet. Ford and General Motors turned to their European arms for small cars and brought in their “captive import” English Fords and Vauxhalls.
But those Volkswagens, Austins, Volvos, Renaults and others still kept coming, so for 1960 the Big Three made a more serious effort to produce efficiently sized cars. They called them compacts.
1962 Ford Falcon Futura; photo courtesy . Click image to enlarge
General Motors was the most daring. The Chevrolet Corvair’s flat, air cooled, rear engine was clearly influenced by the successful Volkswagen Beetle. Chrysler’s Valiant was more conventional with its front engine, rear drive layout, although its styling was biased toward the European, and front torsion bar suspension and a slant six engine were a touch exotic.
Ford was the most pedestrian of the three. The plain unadorned Falcon was powered by an overhead valve, inline six driving the rear wheels through a column shifted three speed manual transmission or optional two speed automatic. With slab-sided styling that was simple and straightforward, the whole package could only be called totally conventional, bordering on bland.
But it turned out that plain and simple was what buyers wanted. The Falcon outsold the technically unusual Corvair and more elegantly styled Valiant by substantial margins. Although Ford Division president Robert McNamara wasn’t a “car guy” (he was a steely eyed human computer who could just as well have been selling refrigerators), he had read the public’s mood correctly.
Chevrolet was chagrined that its bold Corvair was being outsold by the modest Falcon so it decided to change the thrust. In May 1960, it launched the mid-year Corvair Monza, a sportier version of the Deluxe 700 coupe. Bt fitting bucket seats, a fancier interior, stylish wheel covers and more exterior trim, the character of the Corvair was transformed from family practical to youthful sporty. Monza sales took off, helped by the early addition of a four-speed, floor-shift manual transmission. By 1962, the Monza line would expand to a sedan and wagon, accounting for 75 per cent of Corvair sales.