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A Year of Commuting in a 1964 Ford Falcon, Part One

Tim Odell May 24, 2011 In General 38 Comments

Roughly a year and a half ago, I picked up my 1964 Ford Falcon with the intention of using it as a daily driver. It sports a 260c.i. V8 (a baby 289, if you will), a four speed manual transmission, and power nothing. I figured it might be worth an update to see how commuting over 80 miles a day in a 46 year old car worked out for me.

The intent was not to have another project car, but it did need some love right away: new shocks, a new clutch, rebuilt shifter and a new shifter boot to keep the fumes out. I added a tach and upgraded the brakes to 4-piston Kelsey-Hayes vented discs driven by a dual-bore master cylinder (still manual, though). While all straightforward tasks, the arrival of Mad_Science Junior delayed their completion until some time in April.

With that to-do list completed, I was on the highway in regular use. The rear axle has super high 2.80:1 gearing, so 75ish (the speedo’s a bit off) comes just under 3000rpm and yields roughly 20mpg. Thanks to the low compression (8.6:1) of the 260, I’m doing that on cheap 87 octane.

How’s it drive? Quite pleasantly. While not actually fast (the 260 was rated for about 165hp, gross), it feels sporty and sounds great. Slamming through all four gears in the T10 on my way up an onramp is very rewarding. Once up to speed, the ride is nicely controlled, neither stiff nor wallowing. The steering box needs some love (more on that later), as it tends to wander about a little due to a 90 degree dead spot in the middle.

While long, my commute is entirely against traffic, meaning there’s no shortage of fast moving air. As such, the lack of air conditioning is hardly an issue. Even up into the low 90s, it’s tolerable with the windows down and the vent windows cracked.

Unfortunately, things can get unbearable quickly if I make any detours off the freeway. The simple task of rolling by the ATM on the way to make an all-cash craigslist purchase left me a cranky, sweaty mess after lousy directions had me wandering all over Sylmar, CA looking for an address that didn’t exist. While I don’t condone using a cell phone while driving in the first place, I can point out it’s a mechanical impossibility while rowing four gears and navigating without power steering with the windows down. Getting revised directions required me to pull into a lot and park.

It’s also still clear that the intervening 47 years of chassis design accomplished a great deal. Sharp bumps like potholes jar the chassis, resonating through the whole of the primitive unibody. The steering leaves much to be desired. The recirculating ball steering box has tons of slop, and the tires love to track with the grooves in the pavement. I’ve learned the art of sawing the oversize steering wheel back and forth juuuust enough to keep it pointed straight, but not veer side to side. Introducing guest drivers to the system has been stressful.

Speaking of stress and steering, having a front tire bite the dust on the freeway is a tricky affair with manual steering. It turns out I should’ve added “new tires” to that first to-do list, as not long after entering regular service the aged, cracked sidewall of the right front gave out on me on the way to work. As I rapidly made my way to the shoulder (aided by the newfound drag from said front right), I realized hazard blinkers weren’t available in 1964.

Once settled on the shoulder, I set to work with the click-clack bumper jack. Remember those front disc brakes I swapped on? One reason I picked them was because they fit under the 14″ wheels I have. Unfortunately, the factory wheels (and thus, the spare) are 13″. Profanity ensued. Luckily, right around this time a member of the Metro Freeway Service Patrol showed up. Arguably the best thing to happen to LA since the catalytic converter, the Metro Freeway Service Patrol cruises LA’s freeways helping stranded motorists, free of charge. They do a great job of keeping the roadways clear and preventing people from pulling stupid stunts like pushing their cars in traffic. In my case, they jacked up the right-rear of my car so I could put the spare on the rear (where it still fit over the drum brake) and then swap the rear wheel to the front. Victory! …and I was only 30 minutes late for a meeting.

Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the only time a Falcon Mishap left me tardy for Change Control Board meetings. A couple of months later, while pulling away from a stop sign a quarter mile from my office, my clutch take-up was interrupted by a loud BANG! followed by a clutch pedal stuck halfway down. No amount of pressing could get the car free from first gear, so I quickly pulled into the nearest parking lot and used the brakes to stall it in a parking space.

Old Falcons use what’s called a “Z-bar” linkage to actuate the clutch. It’s basically a rod that runs horizontally across the car, with one arm attached to the clutch pedal push rod and the other pushing on the clutch fork. In my case, the frame-side mount for the bar had failed, rendering the pivoting linkage useless.

Of course, now I was now stranded down the street from my office, taking up a spot in some random company’s lot. Luckily the car wasn’t towed or otherwise harmed over night, and I rented a tow dolly from some dude on craigslist to get it home. After pulling the driveshaft in the parking lot, I was on the road with my ’00 Wrangler towing 2700lbs of Falcon. While the dynamics of tow dollies are terrible, my lifted, short-wheelbase Wrangler did better than expected with its task, keeping up with truck-lane traffic at 55-60mph.

Things were cruising along just fine until about 2/3 of the way home when a new, loud noise developed. WhirrwhirrWHURRRRRRRRTHUMPTHUMPTHUMP…the dolly’s left tire was shot. The dolly had no spare and it was about 8:00pm on Friday night, meaning all the tire shops were closed. I called the dolly’s owner, who was out to dinner with his family, but managed to scramble to the local hardware store to and pick up a complete wheel + tire assembly and meet me at the bottom of an off ramp around 10:30. I spent the time eating the burrito The Missus brought and chatting with Rick, an unemployed mechanic who was living out of his car. He gave off a vibe that was both earnestly friendly and a little pathetic, with just a little bit of “could snap and kill you at any second” thrown in for good measure.

So after all this hassle, why even continue to bother with this aged, failure-prone POS? Why not get something more efficient, safer and air conditioned? Turns out there are some perks as well. For one, It took about as long to fix the busted clutch linkage as the round-trip to return the trailer (2 hours in each case). For as serious as it sounded and felt, the parts to completely rebuild the z-bar’s attachment points were only $45.

For more, tune in tomorrow.

  • Awesome. I was wondering how the Falcon was faring.

    It does take some cojones to commute something that old regularly.

  • Deartháir

    LIKE, LIKE, LIKE.

    I used the Rambler as my daily-driver for two years, and still miss it at least once a day. I noticed, whenever it caused me to be late for anything, about half the people gave me the, "Well, that's what you get for daily-driving a car from 1964", and the other half gave me the "Well that's perfectly understandable when you daily-drive a car from 1964". And ironically, although the car got a lot more attention, I was not stranded and/or late appreciably more than any of my compatriots driving much newer vehicles.

  • dukeisduke

    Is there a diagram somewhere of how that z-bar setup works? I'm trying to visualize it, but it ain't working.

    • Alff

      Here's an image for a Mopar version… Z-bar rocks back and forth on two ball studs, one on frame and one on engine.

      <DIV style="OVERFLOW: auto"><img src="; width=500>

      It seems the culprit may have been a failed ball stud. That's never happened to me.

      • Mine was actually the frame-side mount, the purple thing that the ball stud is connected to: …
        ^^^The stud went through that, and you can see where there's an obvious chunk missing.

  • I've driven my '66 F100 pretty much every day for years. It's never stranded me, nothing major anyway. I have had to crawl under it once or twice to pop the linkage back on the transmission and replace the cotter pin (I have replacements in the glove box), and with the sharp rocks here in the desert, I'm always having trouble with flat tires. There's a lot to be said for having a vehicle that's easy to work on yourself. Hell, I can have the carburetor off of the straight six, in pieces, cleaned and assembled and reinstalled in less than an hour.

  • It's (shockingly) felt.

    Decently high density, but definitely not something I'd spec for a part that sees that kind of use.

    I'm debating if I want to spend time/money putting together a better Z-bar linkage (heim joints and bearings and the like) or kill it in favor of a cable or hydraulic setup.

    • So, from the photos, the bearings are nylon and the bushings are…? Does it even have separate bushings? On the z-bar linkages with which I'm familiar, the fixed end bearings are steel and surrounding bushings are bronze. The z-bar itself then has either one or two grease fittings to keep everything lubricated, but it looks like yours is set up to run dry. Huh.

      Still, I'm glad to see you're keeping it on the road.

      • The Z-bar itself is a tube.

        The posts that stick out of the frame-side mount and block are both just typical fastener steel, with a nylon ball on top. The washers/bushings are felt.

        Dunno it it's meant to run dry, but I filled each end of the z-bar tube with grease. Just couldn't bring myself to assemble something like that without some kind of lubrication.

        Definitely from a different engineering era: not particularly durable in the long term, but cheap and easy to refurb.

        • The felt pieces aren't meant to be more than dust seals. The bushings are the things shown in blue in Alff's image and, if present, should be placed around each ball before sliding the tube in place. The outer surface of the two-piece bushing is cylindrical to ride against the inside of the tube and the inner surface is a hollow sphere to fit around the ball. If yours doesn't have these, perhaps either the end of the tube itself is shaped to receive the nylon balls or the bushings are missing. If the crosspiece on the z-bar really is just a simple tube, you're probably missing the bushings.

          I'm just not that familiar with Falcons to say, but that's how it is on full-sized '59 Fords, for example.

        • Alff

          How does it feel, relative to a hydraulic system? Having dealt with numerous leaking cylinders and systems that defied bleeding, I'm drawn to this. I particularly like your bearing + heim joint concept.

          • Hydraulic is my norm, as that's what I learned and spent most of my time with in my Wranglers. My WRX has a hydraulic setup and the slave cylinder creaks when it's cold. The effort there is pretty heavy, but I like it that way.

            Compared the hydraulic, the effort is very, very high and also nonlinear (thanks to various straight VS arc mechanical transformations though the linkage), but you definitely get a more direct feel for what's going on in the bellhousing. That's how I was able to figure out the throwout bearing was shot when I bought it.

            Pretty sure the majority of my experience with cable systems is in FWD compacts, and they tend to be very very light…too light for my taste. Dunno if that's FWD Honda/VW specific or what.

            Properly set up, a hydraulic clutch is probably the best way to go, as you can route lines all over…but done improperly (or by Italians), they can be problematic. Also very hard to kludge a failed/failing hydraulic system to get you home, compared to a mechanical setup.

  • Happy to see you keeping that car on the road. Can the steering rack from a Fox body (or other donor) be adapted to the Falcon?

    • Unisteer makes a rack that'll swap in for about $1k.
      A replacement manual box is about $500.
      A manual box rebuild kit is $50.

      Guess which one I did?

    • west_coaster

      A lot of the first-gen Mustang guys have gone with Mustang II rack-and-pinion set-ups, to the point where the boneyard parts have dried up and entire kits are offered new by aftermarket companies.

  • crinklesmith

    I can relate, this is my commuter. I have learned that time does strange things to machines.

    <img src=";

    A 260, 4speed and 2.80 rear end is one hell of a combo, that was a good find! Megasquirt the 260, and swap in a T-5, and your all set.

    • MS or just a whole Fox body EFI is tempting, but I prefer to keep things a little more period-correct. Actually, I just (like, today)ordered a reman 500cfm Edelbrock AVS carb and got a used performer intake off eBay.

      Down the road a bit it'll get a T5 and 3.80:1 TruTrac rearend.

      If I suddenly come into a pile of cash, I'm getting Webers
      …drooooool…

      • crinklesmith

        That's a sexy setup, and those sidedrafts work great once their tuned properly.

  • I'll be tuning in tomorrow.

    Great stuff, Tim. This weekend marks the beginning of my epic Rover Sterling cambelt change attempt, so hopefully I can begin commuting in an unreliable POS as soon as possible.

    • Alff

      You might be a good one to ask …

      Currently toying with acquiring a mid-60's Austin A35 Panel. Any idea what they're worth in your neck of the woods? As you can imagine, they're a bit thin on the ground in the American midwest.

      • Good grief! I don't relish the thought of taking on Kenworths and Peterbilts in one of those! Fun, though. I'd guess that a running restoration project is probably worth about £1500, and a show-worthy example probably about £7/8,000. I may be hopelessly wrong, though.

    • Van Sarockin

      A Sterling? Now that is a lustworthy Piece of Crap! Should have been a perfect car – first gen Acura Legend engineering perfection and reliability with a healthy dollop of British posh interior bits of wood and leather, and such. Instead it was the worst of all possible worlds.

      • And to make it worse, this is towards the end of the production run, a '97. So it has hundreds of electrical items all daisy-chained onto the unreliable original!

        Fun fun fun!

  • Cretony38

    I drive a '64 Chevy truck almost everyday. You have my sympathy. But I did buy a new exhaust flange gasket at the Autozone for $1. Try to buy any part for a newer car for One Dollar!? And the part covered 4's 6's & 8's from 1935 to 1985 Ford Chevy & Dodge. It has some benefits to driving '60's

  • BЯдΖǐL-ЯЄРΘЯΤЄЯ

    <img src="; width="550">
    My daily ride is a whopping 10 years younger, but has faced similar problems. First thing I did was put on 4 new tires, then changed the rear axle with a less howling differential and which had as bonus the brakes complete and working. As the engine did not had good throttle response, I dissassembled it and discovered it had a very strange homemade jet and all screwed up threads for ajusting needles. So I changed it for a "new" one from my junkyard shop. Now the Opala's 151 Iron duke was running smooth and doing 23 MPG average until after 3500 miles the valves became noisy. It showed that the plastic gear that drives the camshaft had some serious wear, changed the part and it's running great again (we are almost 5000 miles on the road together)

    • Alff

      I love your car.

  • pkor

    I commuted in a stripper '65 falcon for 3 years. Straight 6, 3 on the tree. Only upgrades I did was JB weld on the cracked manifold, a mustang front sway bar, and a cassette deck under the seat (i liked the radio delete plate). Never left me stranded, loved that car.
    Be careful, a fool in a '85 Caprice showed me my cars lack of structural integrity. The Caprice had a dented door, the Falcon was totaled.

  • FuzzyPlushroom

    I may have the oldest daily-driver in my circle of friends (or may not, one guy has a Mk2 Jetta of unknown vintage), but this humbles me.

    While I'd be loath to give up fuel injection and disc brakes, I've learned that power steering is pointless except while parallel-parking, electric windows are okay until your battery's dead, cupholders are primarily useful for holding nuts, bolts, and other small bits, and oil filters are meant to be easy to change, damn it.

    EDIT: And I'll say this – fuck how IntenseDebate handles certain types of HTML. Embedded videos get eaten if you edit a comment – the HTML is unrecoverably broken (replaced, permanently, with & lt ; and & gt ; instead of < and >) and you can't re-embed a video. It's now in my response to this comment.

    • FuzzyPlushroom

      [ 4LqRbFIppyY ]

  • Van Sarockin

    Good work Tim! I miss my '65 Econoline something fierce. If I could have kept getting parts for it, I'd run it as a daily driver without a second thought.

    I lost my steering box when the kingpins seized up. Only fix was to get one shipped out of a junkyard across the country, and the first one was broken too. However, you can make some adjustments to the play in the steering box. There's an adjustment screw on there, I think with a retaining nut. Tighten it down a bit and test drive it, then adjust a bit more. Too tight and you'll up steering effort and accelerate wear. I drove one van to its final resting place and it was all I could do to keep it between the lanes on the interstate. It was something like a half turn of free play, and I could have sawed through a forest on that run.

    As for your Z-bar setup, sounds like it's done pretty well for the last 45 years. A simple fix and it should be good for the next fifty or so. I'd far prefer the simplicity and direct connection of the mechanical linkage than the complicated and expensive slave cylinder setup.

  • scoutdude

    I use my 72 Scout as a daily commuter in the Winter, every spring something happens right around the time the license expires, and I'm supposed to get it fixed over the summer but never seem to until fall. 2 years ago it was the pivot ball for the Z-bar on the frame side. Unfortunately on those it's welded to the frame bracket from the side of the bracket that is only about 1/2" from the body. So the truck was jacked way up, extra tall jack stands placed under the rockers and I dropped the frame down. There was just enough room to see where I was welding. I took the opportunity to replace the body mount bushings and do the front disc brake conversion that I had collected the non wear parts for which made for a much improved driving experience. So much so that I don't like driving the summer commuter 73 with it's non assisted drums nearly as much as I used to. Hopefully I'll find the time to do the power front disc conversion on it too next winter.

  • west_coaster

    For some unexplained reason lately (probably my version of counting sheep when trying to get to sleep), I've been lamenting vehicles that I "just missed buying" in my life. Way back in high school, I was late by about an hour to buy a Falcon Sprint that belonged to a fellow resident of my grandparents' senior community. It was similar to this one, with a 4-speed and all the non-technology of a '64-65 Ford compact (I never got close enough to the car to determine the year or whether it was a 260 or 289).

    But reading this account made me realize it wouldn't have worked out, as a year into college I got a job that entailed a whole lot of driving in my own car (for mileage reimbursement), often in dicey neighborhoods. I don't think that Falcon would have been long for my ownership. Oddly, I ended up with a later-year Vega GT with air conditioning and modern-for-the-time suspension, steering and disc brakes. (They were mocked for being awful, but decent rust-free examples actually made pretty good used cars at the time, provided they hadn't been abused by the first owners.)

    Yeah, the Falcon would have only been 15 at the time and not 45, but it was still a somewhat used-up example at $700. And the brakes, steering and chassis were probably just as lousy even at a younger vintage.

  • salguod

    Love this.

    I've mentally toyed with the idea of ditching my 2005 Mazda3 for something at least 30 years old. the idea being that I pick up something drivable for someplace south of $5K, do minimal work to make it a daily, drive it for a year or two and then sell it for essentially what i had in it. Tada, zero costs aside from gas and oil.

    Side benefit – I get to drive a different, interesting old car with character every year or two and I probably get to meet all kinds of new folks.

    The desire to not have to work on my daily driver on a regular basis keeps me from doing it. My daughter is 16 and needs a car, maybe I'll hand over the 3 to her and give this a shot.

  • TossedPissed Alaways

    Frequent reader, first time commenter…

    Pretty damn amazing to get that done at that time.
    The things ya can do on craigslist… rent a trailer to yank ya Falcon home.

    Chulk that up to things to do before I die… own a decent hatch, a older jeep, know how to fix it and a car thats respectful.

    • Deartháir

      Welcome aboard! Glad you finally chose to comment!

      If you decide you'd like to comment again (please do!) then head to IntenseDebate.com and create a free account there. Once that's done, come back and log in here with that account, and you can begin to earn valuable points, which can be redeemed for fabulous prizes*!

      *Points cannot actually be redeemed for prizes, either fabulous or otherwise.

  • Peter

    After 15 years of 80+ miles of daily commute, I finally work 4 miles from home, which prompted my most impractical daily driver ever: a Vintage Speedster 356 replica – No locks, no heat, no radio, no defroster, really, no top – at least not useful when driving. Love it. A lot. My commute is 10 miles since I now take the ridge road. I know it's not technically a classic car, but it's built on a 69 bug pan, and drives like a 56 porsche (or so I've been told – never having had the pleasure). Rainy days it's my 79 Landcruiser FJ55, the labor of love. While I miss my R32 deeply (killed a few months ago), but that speedster is a blast at half the velocity.

  • I3e

    Hello fellow Falcon owner. Well dad drove up with this pretty white car, "Dad did you get the pretty white car for me?" I asked excitedly. Yes she's pretty also looks kinda sporty only the keys have been passed to me and I'm just a girl not a mechanic and I know more about car brake down and repair diagnosis then I really want to or plant to. So Once again she's been fixed and I've been given the "Ol go ahead it's good to drive" and to find myself with my 6 year old child broke down on the side of the road and me trying to push it with all the straighten I have and shouldn't. Well she's pretty to look at. …

  • Woody Fran

    Tim, I stumbled on your write up on the commuting with the Falcon and enjoyed it very much. I am in the process of purchasing one which needs much more work then yours, but my intent is to make it a daily driver as well. You suggested that there was a follow up to this article for more back from further use of the falcon, but I can’t find any further posts. Can you provide me a link to that? Thanks, Woody

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