October 3, 1959, was a momentous day for the Ford Motor Company. An all-new, really new automobile was about to be unveiled. It was the type of car that late company founder Henry Ford might have been very proud of, for it brought to market many of the concepts he had envisioned with his Model T a half-century earlier. The car was of a relatively new class on the American scene known as the compact. It was named the Ford Falcon.
It started out modest, but by 1965 the Ford Falcon
line had grown to include a sporty Futura convertible. See more classic car pictures.
The Ford Falcon's origin came in autumn 1959, when it was one of three new compacts to be introduced by the U.S. "Big Three" automakers. After several marketing blunders in the Fifties, most notably the Edsel, those who worked in the "Glass House" at Ford's World Headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, were keeping their fingers crossed. By the end of the model year, Falcon was the winner of the sales race in the new category by a large margin.
By the mid Fifties, European imports proved to be a growing segment of the American new-car market. At the head of the pack was Germany's Volkswagen. Developed before World War II to be the German "people's car," its basic design had proven popular and dependable. The VW's success lured other European imports to America's shores, though in very limited numbers. Individually, these cars caused little concern for the U.S. automakers, but collectively they were recognized as a sales threat to be reckoned with.
In addition to the Europeans, compact entries from America's "Little Two" were also gaining momentum in the sales race. American Motors' Rambler had been reborn in 1956 and was finding a strong customer base with unitized construction, ample power, and dependability. The case of the American small car was further advanced in 1959 via the new Studebaker Lark, which in its initial year helped put its manufacturer in the black after years of being awash in red ink.
Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors were not going to sit idly by as the profits from others' little cars continued to grow. GM put Chevrolet at the head of its compact-car marketing plans with the Corvair, which was as close to being an American VW as it could be with its rear-mounted, air-cooled engine, rear swing-axle suspension, and limited body styles. It was an impressive bit of engineering, but its unconventional features (to American buyers) left some members of the public leery about these unique vehicles.
Over at Chrysler, the new Valiant -- eventually to be marketed as a Plymouth -- was being prepared. Its strength was said to be its European-influenced styling with sweeping side-contour lines, an impressive trapezoidal grille opening, canted taillights, and rooflines that predicted future Chrysler products. Under-hood sat a new and very well-engineered inline six-cylinder engine mounted at a 30-degree angle; it produced 101 horsepower in standard form, which would make it the most powerful of the new Big Three compacts.
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