1970 Ford Maverick
1970 Ford Maverick. Click image to enlarge

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Article and photo by Bill Vance

What started as a trickle of imported cars reaching North America in the early 1950s rose to more than half a million per year by the end of that decade. That prompted Detroit’s Big Three to introduce their 1960 compact Chevrolet Corvair, Ford Falcon, and Chrysler Valiant. While this slowed the imports for a while, they gradually recovered and by 1970 their annual North America sales were back to more than a million.

Ford’s next answer was the Maverick, a plain, no-nonsense compact sedan like the Falcon. Its mission was to again repel intruders like the evergreen German Volkswagen and the new Japanese threats, Toyota and Datsun (now Nissan).

Ford’s market research indicated that a successful import fighter had to be economical to buy and run, be sturdy and reliable, and have contemporary but not flamboyant styling that would endure for several years.

It should offer more space and performance than the top selling VW Beetle, have good fuel economy and the usual American comfort and convenience items. It was to be the American definition of what an economy car should be.

To develop the Maverick quickly and economically Ford used many existing corporate parts. The drive-train came from the Falcon/Mustang, as did a suspension comprised of high-mounted coil springs in front and leaf springs and solid axle at the rear. Standard power was Ford’s 2.8-litre, 105-horsepower, overhead valve, inline six, with a 3.3 litre six optional.

Power reached the rear wheels through a three-speed manual transmission, with a semi-automatic or full automatic available.

The unit construction, two-door sedan had a low roof and semi-fastback profile with just a hint of a spoiler. The deck lid’s vertical cut-off followed the theory of famous German aerodynamicist Wunnibald Kamm.

Maverick dimensions made it larger than the target imports, particularly the Beetle. It had a 2,616 mm (103 in.) wheelbase and was 4,557 mm (179.4 in.) long, compared with the VW’s 2,388 mm (94 in.) wheelbase and 4,064 mm (160 in.) length. The 1,134 kg (2,500 lb) Maverick was 272 (600 lb) kg heavier than the VW.

A welcome feature was the Maverick’s 12.3 cubic feet of luggage space, about twice the Beetle’s. A somewhat jarring note were the tiny 13-inch wheels that made the Maverick appear to have outgrown its tires; it would get 14s in 1972.

The Maverick was introduced on April 17, 1969, as an early 1970 model, exactly five years after the Mustang’s appearance. Ford targeted young buyers with such whimsical colours as Anti-Establish Mint, Hulla Blue, Freudian Gilt, Original Cinnamon and Thanks Vermilion.

The Maverick was well received, selling 100,000 in the first three months, and topping 450,000 in its extra long first model year. The Maverick succeeded the Falcon, which was in its tenth, and last, full year.

Road & Track (9/’69) tested a Maverick with the larger 3.3-litre, 200 cu. in.) engine and three-speed automatic and recorded zero to 96 km/h (60 mph)in 14.5 seconds, and a top speed of 153 km/h (95 mph). While the performance impressed the testers, they criticized the poor seats, slow steering, mediocre brakes, and relatively poor fuel mileage of 20.5 mpg (U.S.).

R&T concluded that the Maverick would appeal to buyers who demanded little of their cars, and that it wouldn’t really replace the imports, a prediction that proved correct. Ford must have realized this too because it was already working on its even smaller 1971 Ford Pinto.

To polish the image a little Ford introduced the jazzed up Maverick Grabber for 1971 with such additions as a phony hood scoop, dual racing mirrors and body-side tape stripes. In 1971 Mercury got its version of the Maverick, which it called the Comet.

For 1972 Ford offered a four-door Maverick on a stretched 2,791 mm (110 in.) wheelbase. Also, a third engine, a 4.1-litre (250 cu in.) 145-horsepower six was now optional.

The Maverick soldiered on with small changes. The inevitable V8 made its appearance, the corporate 5.0-litre, and the 2.8-litre six was dropped in 1973. An improved seven main bearing (up from four) 3.3 six became the base engine.

The new mid-size Ford Granada was introduced in 1975 as the intended replacement for the Maverick, but when Maverick sales continued stronger than expected, helped by the 1973 “oil crisis,” Ford gave it a couple of extra years of life.

Although now in its death throes the Maverick got one more moment of glory in the form of the 1976 “Stallion” version with such adornments as flat black trim and horse’s head decals on the fenders.

The Ford Maverick left the scene in 1977, replaced by the more modern and efficient 1978 Ford Fairmont. Although it didn’t really repel the imports, it did accomplish its mission by being a solid if unspectacular performer in its market niche.

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