There was a time before SUVs took over sales at car companies when families would look to station wagons as the way to get their stuff and crew to an event. Back in the olden days - before we synched play dates with Google Calendar - people would pack their belongings and offspring into a wagon and head out for a Sunday drive. While wagons represent practicality I still don’t understand the point of a two-door wagon. But they existed.
Among many car makers, Ford made two-door wagons including this week’s “Street Seen” 1960 Ford Falcon wagon. In fact, this Falcon was a member of the most popular family of small cars that arrived on the scene in 1960.
With the growing popularity of imported cars after WWII and the realization that there was actually a profitable demand for smaller vehicles, Detroit’s automakers seemed to get their heads wrapped around the idea of building smaller cars at almost the same moment so, following a pretty hefty downturn in the economy in 1958, GM, Ford, Chrysler, Studebaker and American Motors all came on the scene with smaller cars for 1960. Studebaker actually came first with the Lark, a shrunken version of their larger cars, and did quite well until the Corvair, Falcon and Valiant came on the scene.
Chevrolet’s Corvair was absolutely the most advanced of the trio with its air cooled aluminum rear engine and independent suspension but Ford’s Falcon proved to be the most popular with it’s very typical front engine, rear drive layout in a very frugal package that your neighborhood mechanic could work on without any additional training.
The heart of the Falcon line was the “Thriftpower” six-cylinder engine. Weighing in at just 385 pounds, the short-stroke in-line six was just 144 cubic inches (2.36 liters) and produced an advertised 90 horsepower which was a lot more than the 36 advertised horses under the hood of the contemporary VW. Plus, the Falcon was available with a two-speed Fordomatic transmission, an alternative to the standard three-on-the-tree transmission.
Following the disastrous Edsel episode of 1958 Ford had just the opposite experience with the Falcon, moving over 430,000 in the first year alone. Of those, the two-door wagon accounted for only about 27,552 units. It wasn’t the least popular Falcon with the Ranchero pickup holding that honor for the first year of production at just 21,027 units.
In those days your two-door Falcon wagon had a lot of features that you won’t find today such as rear windows that actually open and even a window on the tailgate that opens with the external manual crank. Oh, and you couldn’t open the tailgate without manually cranking down that window which made grocery shopping in the rain a less than outstanding experience.
Accessing the rear seat obviously had to be done through one of the two front doors but many kids found that riding in the “way back” - the cargo area - was the place to be. That’s where you could make faces at vehicles following behind and, on nicer days, your parents would drive around with the tailgate window open.
Those were the days where there were no seatbelt in the car whatsoever anyway so riding in the cargo area was just part of the experience. The worst that could happen to you back there was angering someone in a vehicle behind you such that your dad became part of the equation. The it wasn’t the seat belt that was the belt you had any concern over.
Over the years the Falcon line added more horsepower with larger six-cylinder engines and even a V8 in typical 1960s fashion. It also grew a bit and added a two-door hardtop. Funny thing, Chevrolet found gold when the Monza edition of the Corvair hit the streets such that people were seeing the Corvair more as an upscale sporty car rather than the inexpensive compact it was originally designed to be.
Ford responded with the Futura version featuring things like bucket seats and a four-speed manual transmission that were generally unheard of in American cars, especially those at the lower end of the price structure. And, ultimately, the Faclon gave up its DNA for the Ford Mustang in 1964.
One of the best things about going to so many car shows is seeing cars that bring back memories like this 1960 Ford Falcon two-door wagon. Today two-door cars are few and far between and nobody has built a two-door wagon in almost 40 years (wow!) for the US market. But in 1960 Ford’s two-door Falcon wagon was one of many on the market and proved to be a popular choice for the family who needed to haul around their kids and stuff but didn’t want to pop for convenient access to the back seats.
And, after all, who cares? The kids really wanted to ride in the “way back” anyway and make funny faces at the drivers behind them.