Despite its wild success, the Ford Falcon went through development during a tenuous time for Ford. In the fall of 1957, Ford Motor Company was embroiled in its biggest failure ever, the Edsel. Several years earlier, when it was proposed to create a new marque, medium-priced cars were the fastest-growing market segment and an area where Ford felt it was vulnerable to the competition. However, by the time the Edsel started reaching showrooms, the combination of economic recession and poor initial production quality quickly left an irreparable scar on the new make's reputation.
At the time of the Edsel's release, Robert S. McNamara was vice president of Ford's North American vehicle operations. From the start, he was strongly opposed to the Edsel, believing it would steal customers and resources from the Ford Division, which he had seen become the most profitable arm in the growing company.
Using his pragmatic, no-nonsense reputation, he claimed to always be looking to the "bottom line" as his guide for success. As much as McNamara was against the Edsel, he was the biggest proponent of a truly new Ford compact when the idea was first put on the table.
This was not the first time Ford had looked into making a compact car. Attempts in the late Forties and early Fifties had been shelved when it was found to be financially unfeasible to produce such a vehicle. The push for the Falcon was done only after the European compacts started to show solid growth, which was about the same time that the Rambler American, a slightly updated revival of the two-door 1950-1955 Nash Rambler, was put on the market and helped spur Rambler to sales gains in recessionary 1958 while almost every other brand was slumping.
Many of the European cars relied on four-cylinder engines, while the little 100-inch-wheelbase Rambler used an inline six. Most European cars were suited for four passengers, while the American was able to seat six. When Ford product planners sat down to consider building a compact, engine size and passenger capacity were the first two concerns to be addressed.
This new small car was targeted to have a price tag well under the $2,000 mark, or about 20 percent less than a full-size Ford sedan. Planning and marketing worked long and hard to come up with a basic package, depending on public input. Thousands of hours were dedicated to conducting and studying opinion polls, in addition to long months of research and planning.
Even the model lineup was jockeyed back and forth. At one point, a full complement of models including hardtops, sedans, convertibles, and station wagons was suggested. At another stage, the new car was to be offered only as a two-door sedan before more consideration led to the decision to offer both two- and four-door sedans. In time, two- and four-door station wagons were deemed necessary; then, finally, a compact pickup.
Coming up with a new name for the car was another major project. During development, the code name Thunderbird XK was used. (This gave rise to rumors that a two-seat T-Bird was about to be reborn.) The previous time Ford introduced a new make, more than 10,000 names were assembled before it was decided to call it the Edsel (a name not even on the list). For the new compact, the Falcon was on the list, and was eventually unanimously approved by those at the top.
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