A "compact" in England

Motor Sport’s Impressions of the Ford Falcon

LAST Motor Show time a considerable stir was caused by the knowledge that in America Ford, Chrysler and General Motors had had enough of losing sales to foreign imports and were going to show at Earls Court “compact” cars which they hoped would restore the balance of trade lost to Volkswagen, Renault and other European manufacturers, as well as appealing to U.S. customers who, even in this land of space and freedom, were beginning to wonder if the typical broad acres of gin-palace that for so many years have represented the American automobile were entirely necessary.

In due course those three new “compacts ” appeared—the Ford Falcon, Chrysler Valiant and Chevrolet Corvair. They were very much larger, both in area and swept volume, than the European cars they were expected to challenge, if not obliterate, but to American eyes, they were, in fact, modest cars, planned to make life when driving in thick traffic and parking in congested streets less of a strain on nerves and temper. These were, of course, not the first “compacts” to come from the U.S.A. in recent times—the Rambler American and Studebaker Lark had preceded the new trio, and some people consider the Rambler to be the best of the lot.

Be that as it may, I was anxious to try each of the new “compacts” in turn, because, although import duty renders them comparatively costly in England and there are home-built cars of comparable size, Motor Sport readers in other lands are potential buyers of Falcons, Valiants and Corvairs, and in America, where these cars are becoming well known, attention will be paid to the observations of English journalists who have tried these “little” automobiles under the sort of conditions in which “compact” cars should excel.

For this reason we made early application in the right quarters and the first “compact” to come along for critical analysis was a right-hand-drive automatic transmission Ford Falcon four-door sedan, strikingly finished in Belmont Blue metallic.

It is quite an occasion when an English journalist is permitted to try the latest and much-discussed product of the great Ford Motor Company of Canada. On the Monday on which I was to collect the Falcon I drove up the Great West Road and returned a front-drive two-stroke Auto Union 1000S we had been testing, drove into London in my front-drive four-stroke Morris Mini-Minor, which is essentially the best sort of car to employ for errands in the big cities, (if the Falcon is compact, the “Minibric” is microscopic), and, leaving the office earlier than usual, drove down the Great West arterial road again to the white tower of the Lincoln Cars building.

Here, after two men, one in a brown overall coat, the other in white overalls, had indicated their dislike of my minute motor car entering a parking lot normally reserved for vast American autobiles (they were probably afraid it would give a Fairlane the itch), I was shown the spacious workshop in which imported Falcons are resprayed after shipment and given those additions and alterations deemed necessary for motoring in them in this country.

Right from the start it was possible to admire the extremely clean external lines of the Ford Falcon, although I must admit that these roughly-Zephyr-size cars were very much overshadowed by vast 5.4-litre V8 Ford Galaxie nine-seater “Country Sedans,” one of which Rob Walker had just ordered, in his personal colours, for transporting his personnel about Europe on motor-racing commitments. I was interested to learn that you can buy such spacious and eye-opening transportation in sedan form for only just over £600 more than the price of the Falcon in which I was about to drive away.

In the States they may regard the Ford Falcon as a comparatively small automobile but it is internally sufficiently spacious to seat six persons in comfort, three on each bench seat, or eight occupants possessing unexaggerated vital statistics for short distances. The interior is finished entirely in blue to match the external paint job; the upholstery likewise in blue, which isn’t bad when you have grown accustomed to it. Driving the automatic transmission Falcon is simplicity itself, and the selection of suitable gear ratios for prevailing conditions is carried out by the hidden gremlins with commendable smoothness. There is the usual left-hand stalk selecting N, to enable the ignition key to work the starter (it turns the other way to keep the radio active), or D for normal automation motoring. The other positions, P, R and L, are self-explanatory.

Getting to Know the Falcon

Other control factors of the Falcon are in keeping with the smoothly-operating transmission. The steering is finger-light and transmits neither kick-back nor more than very minor vibration. If the action is supple and spongy, there is strong castor return-action to spin the wheel back after corners, which is just as well, because this is low-geared steering, the three-spoke dished “Lifeguard ” steering wheel, with half-horn-ring and good finger-grips, asking 4¼ turns (or five if sponge is taken up) from lock-to-lock. The truck-size 9-in. dia. hydraulic brakes have a lining area of 114.3 sq. ft. and are applied by the broad left-hand pedal of the two-pedal control system. They are powerful and vice-free. The handbrake lever is set conveniently, under the facia, for pulling out with the left hand.

Visibility over the pleasingly plain broad bonnet, with its suspicion of a central “power-bulge,” is adequate but a driver sitting close to the steering wheel may find that the thick screen pillars restrict sideways vision, although they are raked back at an angle from the only slightly wrap-round screen. Also, the wipers leave an unswept patch in the line of off-side vision.

The instrument panel is decently restrained. A normal 100-m.p.h. speedometer with arced scale, calibrated every 10 m.p.h., forms the main motif, and gives notably steady readings. It is flanked on the left by the water thermometer dial, marked C-H, and on the left by the petrol gauge, which, although it merely has readings of E and F with a line showing the hall-full position, is an electrically-actuated gauge of extreme accuracy, the needle taking its time to rise into position after the ignition is switched on. Below the speedometer scale are windows for oil and generator warning lights, and a total, with decimals, mileage recorder. The minor controls take the form of a row of seven pull-out knobs below the facia, with restrained lettering on the speedometer face above four of them. From left to right these knobs control defrosting, heater, heater vent and two-speed blower, cigarette lighter (cigars, we figure, are for Galaxie owners!), choke, wipers and lamps. It is interesting to find that the efficient screen-wipers are of the suction type, their speed thus varying with throttle openings, but with overriding control to a nicety by turning the knob. The side and headlamps (foot dipper) are controlled from a single knob which turns one way to light the central interior lamp, the other way for rheostatic variation of panel lighting. The self-cancelling direction flashers, with indicator lights on the speedometer scale, are conveniently operated by a left-hand stalk. The interior lamp, set between the vizors, has courtesy action from opening the front doors only. On Canadian Falcons the screen-washers are foot-operated but on the test-car a small button on the facia looked after this necessary task.

Above the facia runs hooded crash padding, ahead of which is a wide shelf containing heater and loud-speaker grilles. These reflect in the windscreen. There are good twin anti-dazzle vizors which swivel and clip sideways to obviate side glare. No vanity mirror or clock is provided as standard equipment. The test-car had a good Ford radio, and there is a nicely-made drawer-type ash-box in the facia, another on the back of the front-seat squab. No door pockets are fitted and the back-compartment parcels-shelf has a rather shallow lip. The facia incorporates a very shallow cubby-recess with neat push-button but non-lockable lid.

All four doors possess side arm-rests and the front ones have quarter-lights with prominent rain gutters but no anti-thief locks. The driver’s was stiff to open. The front-window handles need three turns to wind the glass fully down, the back ones 3⅝ turns; the off-side rear window would only wind down half-way. There are rotating finger-grips on the handles. Behind the back-door windows there are static quarter-lights.

What else do you see while getting to know the Falcon? Well, there are crude coat-hooks in the back compartment but they are set too far back, so that coats overhang the seat. Very large lever-type pull-up interior door handles are used, with push-button exterior handles. The doors have powerful keeps. The heavy bonnet lid releases from the front of the car and has to be propped up. The engine is typically Ford, with narrow valve cover, a six-port inlet manifold integral with the head, and all the fillers, the dipsticks for engine and transmission, and the 12-volt Ford General Duty Power Park battery splendidly accessible.

A separate key opens the lid of the luggage boot, which springs up of its own volition. The spare wheel lives amongst the luggage but the carrying capacity is enormous (23 cu. ft.). The keys prefer to be inserted upside down on the Falcon! The doors have sill-locks, which I like, with a good lock in the driver’s door (and weather-flaps cover the locks). The petrol filler is an unsecured bayonet cap in the centre of the back panel, and I found it difficult to refuel away from a gas Station, even with my excellent Eversure Fillacan, which is an indispensable road-tester’s companion. Alas, in the big boot of the Falcon it felt uncomfortable and emptied itself.

Front suspension is by vertical coil-springs as on English Fords, the upper mountings visible under the bonnet. The external clean lines of the Falcon are enhanced by recessed Marchal headlamps, recessed tail-lamps incorporating stop and turn-lights, and number-plates sunk into the bumpers. Also, the test-car had whitewall Firestone tyres. Rather haphazard aspects are the exposed tail-lamp wires in the boot and flexible heater pipes in the front compartment, one of which detached itself.

Driving Impressions

I was unable to obtain performance figures for the Ford Falcon because on the day set aside for doing this the starter refused to turn the engine. The trouble was merely that the small Power Pack battery had unpacked its power but it took time to sort this out. At first this was merely inconvenient but when it happened again the next morning stronger terms were applied—the trouble was traced eventually to the generator overcharging and boiling the battery dry. However, it can be said that a very smooth flow of power emanates from the distinctly “over-square” engine, resulting in very good acceleration and an easy cruising speed of 80 m.p.h. The absolute maximum is in the region of 85/90 m.p.h., and the speedometer held an indicated 100 m.p.h. downhill. This easy, smooth speed made light of a journey to Oulton Park and back. Normally the transmission changes up smoothly at about 45 m.p.h., but for maximum acceleration kick-down action on the treadle accelerator holds maximum pick-up to 50/55 m.p.h.

The suspension is supple, as on larger U.S. cars, but there is not overmuch emphasis on roll when cornering fast. The tendency is towards appreciable understeer, with front-tyre scrub exerting a retarding effect, although on rough roads back-axle tramp can convert this to mild oversteer. Along straight roads there is a tendency to yaw slightly. On bad surfaces shocks to the occupants are effectively killed at the expense of rather lively up-and-down movements and transmission of mild tremors through

Summing Up

The Ford Falcon is the least elaborate of the three latest “compacts” from America. It has no pronounced character, being, rather, a car which is simple to drive and one possessing willing, easy performance and reasonable handling qualities for such a spacious vehicle. The manufacturers who evolved it claim to have tested the prototype Falcons exhaustively under the confusing “XK Thunderbird” code-word, during which propeller-shaft hum, inadequate heating, excess oil-burning, and so on were eradicated in tests said to have occupied three years and 3,000,000 miles of driving.

The fuel economy of the Falcon is noteworthy at 25.3 m.p.g. and after 1,157 miles no oil was required.

In conclusion, the Ford Falcon provides a new, very convenient form of American-style motoring. Unfortunately, in this country the price is in excess of £2,000, but Falcons are finding eager buyers all the same.—W. B.