The Monte Carlo Rally Ford Falcons do 0-100 m.p.h. in 16.9 secs. and cover the s.s. 1/4-mile in 14.8 secs.
We originally intended to drive the cars which finished first and second in the Monte Carlo Rally but although we managed to drive the winning Mini-Cooper S of Paddy Hopkirk (see page 153), we didn’t do so well with the Ford Falcons which finished second.
The car that finished second was Bo Ljungfeldt’s Ford Falcon, which was taken off to Sweden immediately after the rally for a spot of ice-racing, a branch of the sport at which Ljungfeldt also excels. Alan Mann, who manages the Ford Falcon team from Lincoln Cars factory on the Great West Road, promised to find us a suitable car out of the fourteen which were prepared for the rally, and we eventually wound up with one of the practice cars, which were never intended to be used in the rally. The Ford Falcon started life in 1959 along with the Chevrolet Corvair and Chrysler Valiant as the spearhead of the American “Compact” challenge to the ever-mounting sales of the imported European cars. Despite being the most conventional of the lot, the Falcon began to sell really well despite its poor performance (top speed 85 m.p.h., standing start 1/4-mile 24 sec.), low-geared steering (five turns lock-to-lock), 3-speed gearbox, and generally uninspiring behaviour. However, the compact boom began to run out within a couple of years or so, for with America’s strict speed limits just about the only fun left for the driver is to blast up to his permissible 60 or 70 m.p.h. as quickly as possible, and sales of the normal compacts began to slacken. In their efforts to save the vast expenditure laid out on the compacts the three manufacturers decided to give their cars a “performance image,” with General Motors boosting the power of their flat-six and Chrysler and Ford offering V8 engines and other speed-making bits and pieces. The size of the compacts also began to creep up, so that nowadays a matter of 3 or 4 in. can separate a compact from a full-size American car. However, the Falcon did not increase in size until this year, but early in 1963 Ford announced the Falcon Futura Sprint, a 2-door coupé version with V8 engine, 4-speed gearbox with floor-mounted lever, Stiffer suspension and a general competition flavour. By entering a team of Falcons in the 1963 Monte Carlo rally Ford began their now famous assault on the motor sporting scene. The cars caused a few smiles when they arrived in the rally department at Lincoln Cars for they were not exactly prepared for an arduous race over the Alps, but with their vast array of equipment they looked more suitable for an expedition across the Sahara. A few judicious changes were made at Lincoln Cars and, as we all know, Bo Ljungfeldt astonished the rally world by putting up fastest time on all the special stages. He didn’t win the rally but it set many people thinking, for it had always been imagined that the small, light European cars were the only thing for racing up and down the mountains. Subsequently, French driver Henri Greder won both the Tulip and the Geneva rallies in one of the Monte Carlo Falcons and Fords were well and truly embarked on their ambitious competitions programme.
The 1964 Ford Falcons were announced late in 1963 and although there were not many mechanical changes the size and styling of the body was altered quite considerably. The previous Falcon was about the size of a Ford Consul but the 1964 model is a bit wider although not much longer than the current Zephyr range. The styling is quite restrained and the chrome work is kept to a minimum, the vast bumper’s being the only large areas of chrome.
A team of fourteen cars was prepared for the rally, with eight cars to take part in the rally and six spare cars for practice. These were very carefully prepared both in America and in England and France for the rally, and Fords were quite willing to make alterations to suit individual drivers so that the cars do differ somewhat. The car we tried was a practice car, so did not have some of the additional equipment requested by drivers. One item all the cars have in common is the engine, which is the 4.7-litre V8 lightweight unit having a bore and stroke of 101.7 x 72.09 mm. and a capacity of 4,727 c.c. All the engines were tuned by Carroll Shelby of A.C. Cobra fame to give 285 b.h.p. at 6,000 r.p.m. This is a fairly mild state of tune for this unit as Shelby can take it up to about 350 b.h.p. at 7,200 r.p.m. if required. However, it was felt that this amount of power would be an embarrassment in the mountains! The compression ratio is 12 to 1 and carburation is by two double-choke Carter carburetters. An oil cooler is fitted alongside the water radiator, and the only other major change is the use of an alternator in place of the normal dynamo. Various detail changes have been made, such as fitting a new, longer, dipstick so that it can be reached without groping around under the bonnet, while all the caps for radiator, fuel tank, etc are attached by chains.
The engine drives through a single dry plate clutch to a Borg-Warner 4-speed all-synchromesh gearbox with close-ratio gears, which in turn takes the drive to a rigid rear axle which is fitted with an American-made limited-slip differential. The front suspension is by double wishbones and co-axial coil-spring/damper units with the springs mounted above the wishbones and protruding into the engine compartment. Stiffer coils are fitted in conjunction with heavy-duty shock-absorbers, and a thick anti-roll bar is supplied. The rigid rear axle is suspended on semi-elliptic leaf-springs, which are unchanged.
On the rally version except for the addition of a short extra leaf to prevent spring wind-up. Heavy-duty shock-absorbers are fitted at the rear.
The brakes of the normal Falcon are drum all round but the rally cars have big Girling discs at the front in conjunction with the rear drums which have hard linings. A vacuum brake servo is fitted under the bonnet. Normally the Falcon is fitted with 14-in. wheels but as suitable competition tyres are difficult to find for this size wheel the rally cars use 15-in. wheels. The tyres used on the rally were Dunlop SPs of 185 x 15 size (the largest SP made) and Swiss-made Firestonee with spikes for the icy stages. Our car was fitted with the SPs.
To save weight much of the bodywork of the rally cars is carried out in glass-fibre, including the doors, boot and bonnet lids, and the front wings, which saves about 130 lb., but our car only had the boot and bonnet lids in this material, which is almost paper-thin. The side and rear windows are of a plastic material while the windscreen is of laminated glass. Inside, the car is gutted of practically all its trim save for a strip of carpet under the driver’s and navigator’s feet. In place of the normal big seats the driver is supplied with a small bucket scat with curved backrest, while the navigator has a reclining scat of more comfortable dimensions, both seats being supplied with full double-shoulder harness. The normal instrument panel is retained, which has a 120-m.p.h. speedometer with fuel contents and water temperature gauges at either end, along with the usual warning lights. A 22-gallon fuel tank is fitted in the boot, and with the two spare wheels there is little room for luggage. Surprisingly there is no radiator blind fitted and the car ran very cool until we inserted a piece of cardboard in front of the radiator. An electric rev.-counter is fitted on the upper edge of the facia board and in front of the navigator are the various instruments of his trade, such as the Halda Speedpilot, chronometer, map lights, and switches for the fog and spot lamps, windscreen wipers and so on, while the navigator also has a horn button on the floor so that the driver can get on with the job of driving and not have to worry about such jobs as switching on wipers or lamps. A good deal more instrumentation was supplied on the rally cars, such as oil-pressure and temperature gauges, ammeter, etc., which were also in the charge of the navigator.
We picked the Falcon up from Lincoln Cars and were soon battling with this seemingly vast left-hand-drive car in the Great West Road rush-hour. It did not take long for us to realise that this car possessed real performance, the likes of which only those who can afford such exotics as Aston Martin Zagatos and E-type Jaguars are likely to experience in British cars. For traffic driving the technique is to give a short burst in 1st gear and then pop the lever into top, where it is quite content to stay except for dead stops, for this engine produces plenty of torque as well as peak power. The engine itself is unusually quiet and well silenced, giving off that low burble for which W8 are noted, but changing to a coarse crackle as the revs rise. Most of the noise in the car comes from flapping glass-fibre, creaking doors, vibrating floor panels and fierce clanks from the limited-slip differential which are rather worrying to the uninitiated but completely harmless. Once clear of traffic, however, all thoughts of such trivia disappear in the sheer glorious rush of power. The rally cars arc fitted with a low 4.5-to-1 final drive ratio, which gives 18.4 m.p.h. per 1,000 revs and a top speed of only 110 m.p.h. at our self-imposed 6,000-r.p.m. rev. limit. But into that 110 m.p.h. it packs an awful lot of performance which enabled us to blow off 3.8 Jaguars as if they did not exist and make sports cars like Austin Healey 3000s and TR4s look as if they were standing still. This performance is not achieved in a “hairy” fashion and there is no “kick in the back,” just a relentless surge of power right through the rev, range which shows not the slightest sign of tailing off even at 6,000 r.p.m. in top gear. In fact, due to the action of the differential and the leech-like grip of the fat SPs, it is difficult to spin the wheels on a dry road and the clutch has to be let in with something like 5,000 r.p.m. on the tachometer for the wheels to spin. Whilst carrying out performance tests we discovered that acceleration figures did not benefit from spinning the wheels and due to the high 1st gear it tended to bog down a little before getting into its stride. All the same, the figures below indicate that this car has a goodly proportion of its advertised power for it takes a lot of power to propel a 25-cwt. car from a stand-still to 100 m.p.h. in 16.9 sec. and to cover the standing start 1/4-mile in 14.8 sec., while the intermediate figures such as 11 sec. from 0-80 m.p.h. are as good as one can expect from the most accelerative of European sports cars.
The acceleration has to be paid for in some respects, for the low axle ratio does not allow the car to settle for a given cruising speed and consequently the car is fairly noisy at most speeds, although wind noise is not a problem. The rally drivers overcame this problem by using crash helmets fitted with inter-com. headsets. The Borg-Warner gearbox is an excellent complement to the engine for it has a delightful quick, notchy action which allows gears to be selected as fast as the hand can move. First gear is synchronised like the rest and can be selected quite easily on the move. The synchromesh can be beaten on really rapid changes but for all normal purposes it is first class. Reverse gear is beyond 1st-gear position but a safety catch has to be lifted before this gear can be engaged. First gear is a trifle high and is good for 51 m.p.h., while in the other gears speeds of 75, 90 and 110 are reached at 6,000 r.p.m. This gearbox, produced by the thousand, is undoubtedly as good as anything produced by a British Manufacturer, and a good deal better than most. What a service Borg-Warner would do British motorists if they could persuade British manufacturers to fit this gearbox.
We expected the fuel consumption to be horrific but our overall average worked out at 14 m.p.g., which included a lot of fierce driving and track testing as well as town pottering. The 22-gallon tank gives a range of around 300 miles.
Despite being a good deal stiffer than standard and with 35 p.s.i. in the SP tyres, the ride of the Falcon is a good compromise, giving an excellent ride on all but the worst roads. Due to the absence of sound deadening material the wheels can be heard when they drop into potholes, but the ride is one we could put up with in everyday motoring with no hardship at all. There is a fair amount of roll when cornering but it is not excessive and was probably accentuated on British toads by the left-hand driving position. The cornering power of the Falcon, while not as good as the better sports cars, is very good indeed and no doubt, on a clear road with the knowledge that nothing was coming the other way, an operator like Ljungfeldt would embarrass many sports cars. Quite strong understeer is apparent but a slight prod on the acceleiator brings the tail round, and no doubt with some practice we could bring ourselves to do it on the main road. The Dunlop SPs have fantastic adhesion on dry roads and no doubt on wet roads as well, but fortunately we had only bright sunshine during our few days at the wheel.
The recirculating ball steering is remarkably light for a non power-assisted layout, and although it requires four turns from lock to lock. in practice it heels mutch less than this. In competition, of course, the throttle would be used to do most of the steering. The wood-rimmed steering wheel is nicely placed and in conjunction with the figure-hugging bucket seat the driver really feels in command of the car. The pedals are well positioned for heel-and-toe gear-changes.
Our test car had done the equivalent of four Monte Carlo rallies when we took it over so it would be unfair to criticise the brakes too harshly. In fact, if they are applied gently and progressively the braking power is excellent, but a sharp jab at the pedal produces a violent juddering, indicative of an oval drum, and in fact it was this fault that caused Peter Harper to crash during the circuit races at Monte Carlo. Some hot smells emanate from the brakes during hard application but they are difficult to fade. The handbrake is the umbrella type and not very effective.
In the past we have tended to be contemptuous of American cars, admitting only that they are capable of providing furious acceleration in a straight line. With the Falcon Sprint we have to admit that not only does it go quickly in a straight line but that it steers, rides and handles in a very pleasing fashion. In fact if pressed to choose a new car in a hurry this writer would have great difficulty in by-passing this exciting Falcon. Look out, Coventry, Detroit’s got the message! – M. L. T.