Compacts like this 1961 Ford Falcon make first-class commuters. Here’s how I’d build it. – David Conwill @Hemmings

Compacts like this 1961 Ford Falcon make first-class commuters. Here’s how I’d build it. – David Conwill @Hemmings


There are the first cars we find thrust upon ourselves and there are the first cars we choose for ourselves. The first car I chose for myself, and my fourth car overall, was a 1961 Ford Falcon Futura. What I was looking for at the time was actually a 1961 Ford Falcon Deluxe Fordor—very similar to the one with 80,000 miles that I just found in our classifieds. Thanks to their simplicity, affordability, and relationship to the early Mustang, Falcons are some of the finest collector cars for someone wanting an easy old car to own and drive.

I’m actually on the fence as to whether this is really a 1961 Falcon. There are a shockingly large number of Falcons out there registered as a different model year from what their appearance would suggest. I think this is partially a result of a lot of states still registering cars based on when they were sold, rather than model year, in the early ‘60s, and partially a result that a lot of Falcon wrecks were rebuilt over the years without regard to whether the trim and the title matched very closely.

Evidence that this is a 1961 includes the grille; evidence that it might be a ’60 with a ’61 grille includes the absence of the bright-metal side trim typically found on ’61 cars when the “Deluxe Trim and Ornamentation Package” was ordered. The white steering wheel, horn ring, and bright-metal window trim all imply that this is definitely a Deluxe Fordor of one year or another, anyway.

I’m actually on the fence as to whether this is really a 1961 Falcon. Note the side trim on this brochure image. It wasn’t used on 1960 cars.

Model year notwithstanding, any early Falcon (1960 through 1965) makes a great, low-stress old car to own. The original Thrift Power 144- or inline six in this car, if that’s what it still is, could be readily upgraded in a couple ways. The easiest way would be to find a complete six-cylinder takeout from a 1967-’69 Ford. Architecturally, it’s the same engine but boasts not only 30 to 56 more cubic inches, but also mixes in seven main bearings, a better ignition system, and the correct carburetor to go with said ignition.

The original engine isn’t totally a lost cause, however, and I’ve met at least one Falcon owner who has had great success running the dinky little 144 backed up with a Borg-Warner T-5 five-speed. Mix in an Offenhauser 3×1 adapter and a Davis Unified Ignition HEI-style distributor (last I knew, they still offered one with the skinny shaft to replace the original Ford Load-o-Matic unit) and you’d have an improved package with great fuel economy.

A third option would be to reinforce the chassis (as Ford did, starting in 1963) to accept a Windsor small-block. A mild build with a 2100-series Autolite two-barrel, dual exhausts, and Ford Duraspark II electronic ignition would motivate the lightweight Falcon easily and be a lot more readily understood by the uninitiated come resale time than a hopped-up six. Changing to a V-8 engine and transmission should also be accompanied by changing to a stronger rear axle (necessitating driveshaft changes due to the tiny U-joint used on the original Falcon unit) and likely the five-lug suspension from a 1965 Falcon equipped with a V-8. While that does increase the cost of the project significantly, it’s not a difficult proposition as the ’65 Falcon shared all those parts with the ’65 Mustang, save for the centerlink—and the Falcon-specific centerlink is reproduced for exactly this situation

The blue paint on the block and cylinder head, plus what looks like a positive crankcase ventilation system suggest that this is a later engine. That could be a boon to our potential commuter build

In the spirit of keeping it simple, however, I would probably take a mixture of the first two six-cylinder routes, potentially retaining the 144/170 if a 200 didn’t show up immediately and simply replacing the points in the Load-o-Matic with the hall-effect sensor of a Pertronix Ignitor and living with the original single Holley. I miss driving a four-speed, so I’d likely seek out a Ford “imposter” Toploader four-speed (like the muscle-car transmission, but with third gear replaced by an overdrive gear and the shifter linkage reversed to make direct drive the new third speed) or an SROD (a similar transmission, but with an integrated top shifter instead of the old levers on the side). The advantage to the imposter Toploader, in my mind, is that one could hook up the four forward gears to the old column shifter and utilize an overdrive-style T-handle under the dash to engage reverse—retaining the stock looks and simultaneously making the car harder to steal.

The Falcon chassis is perfectly adequate for what it was intended as: a commuter car. If you don’t go nuts with the power, it’s still well suited to hauling you to work, the grocery store, friends houses, etc.

Read on

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