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Thursday, June 06, 2013

1961 Ford Falcon - My Second Car - "Keep You Eyes On The Falcons Going By"

1960 Ford Falcon

1960 Mercury Comet

Tennessee Ernie Ford used to sing - "Keep You Eyes On The Falcons Going By" He was plugging one of the Ford best sellers. 

In the summer of 1967 - after one year at Kutztown State Teachers College - my 1956 VW was pretty much dead. It was May and I was pretty happy having 1/4 of my college education over. 

I convinced my Dad that I needed a car to take a summer job. I was hired at the Lamp Factory in Slatington which was about 25 miles from home. Dad was driving a light blue 1963 Ford Falcon wagon - so when we passed Kovich Chevrolet on Route 309 - another little Ford caught my eye. It was a 1961 Ford Falcon two door with $295 written on the windshield in white shoe polish. 

In those days - cars did not last as long as today. At 6 years old - this Falcon was in sad shape. The body had cancer - rust holes coming through around the rear wheels and rocker panels. The cloth front bench seat was tattered on the driver's side. It had a 144 cubic inch engine that smoked when you started it up - not from the exhaust pipe - but from a small breather tube coming off the engine valve cover. That usually meant the engine had worn valve stems - and needed an overhaul. 

The salesman was Jake Mauer - and we talked him down to $250 cash. Looking back - I am sure he was just happy to get that sled off the lot. 

At the time gasoline was about 25 cents a gallon. I could buy recycled oil from Wally's Sunoco for less than a dime a quart when I bought it in 2 gallon cans. A common phrase of the time was - check the gas and fill the oil.

I loved the Falcon. I did a little work on it. I bought a pair of bucket seats at the junk yard - rare at the time. I bought a Hurst floor shifter and installed it myself. I did a little body work and had Hope paint it navy blue - it was medium blue before that.

The engine got worse and worse blowing oil. Hazle Auto Parts put a 200 cubic engine in it from a Mustang for like $175.00. It was a real terror. Ford made that 6 cylinder engine in 4 sizes - 144 - 170 - 200 - 240. I went from the 144 to the 200 and from 90 HP to 120 HP. I was flying - could get lots of rubber in first and second gear. Also the 200 engine had 7 main bearings versus the 144 only having 5. I loved that Falcon - took it everywhere - Philly - NYC - Washington. The interior was ratty toward the end - but I had buckets and a hurst shifter - I was the cat's ass.

Ford started making the Falcon in 1960 and made it until 1970. All of the Big 3 car companies made a little car to combat the VW that was selling like crazy in America. GM made the Corvair - Chrysler made the Valient - and Ford made the Falcon. Falcon took off like dynamite - selling 500,000 in the first year - then 1 million the second year. Things were going great until Ford brought out the Mustang causing the Falcon sales to nosedived. For just a few dollars more - hot rodders could have a Mustang with a V8 engine. But in the 60s - many American families were buying their first second car - and the Falcon fit the bill. Women did not like the giant full size cars - and the lightweight Falcons were bragging 30 miles per gallon. 

The Falcon had tiny tires by today's standard. they were 6.50 x 13. That mean 6.5 inches wide - and the inches wheel diameter. They were the cheapest size listed in Sears and American Auto. 

In July of 1969 - I was a college senior. I bought a brand new 1969 VW beetle - navy blue. It was about $1800 brand new. I am not sure of the price but I think I sold the Falcon then to Matt Welsh for $200. He drove it for a long time. In between there I owned a 1961 MGA Twin Cam - but that is another story.

In the summer of 1970 - I bought a junker at Rottet Motors - a 1960 Mercury Comet Wagon. It had the same 144 engine in it with an automatic 2 speed transmission. We got it for $20 - and it ran well. But it had a junk title so we could not take it on the road. We kept it up on the North Ward mountain. We used to beat the heck out of it up there - jumping humps - etc. There was a long stretch of roads up there we called Route 1. We knocked the muffler off and the car roared. One time we jumped a ramp and the gas tank fell out. We put it back in and strapped it up and kept going. Finally in September - we put a brick on the gas pedal and let the comet fly into a stripping pit. We got so much fun out of that $20 car - and Lulu learned to drive on the cheap. She went to take her driving test with hardly any road practice - passed the first time. 

When Matt and Timmy Uhrie heard what we did with the Comet - they rushed up the mountain to salvage it. They went down the pit - removed the engine - and somehow drug it up to the top of the cliff. They were really strong young men then - but it was a big task.  Matt later took the head from that engine over to the vo-tech school in Marlin and rebuilt it. He also got several other parts for his Falcon - that car would just not die. I do not know how long Matt had the car. But I did see it circling around Tamaqua for a long time. 

Next time I will write about the cruising circuits around town. One could sit on a park bench along the  Broad Street and watch the same cars go by again and again - all night long. I was making $1.00 an hour as a milkman - gas was 25 cents a gallon.

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