By Brian Earnest
Ford Motor Company built only 4,602 of its fun, frisky little Falcon Sprint convertibles for the 1963 model year. The Falcon Sprints flew in late that year as a mid-year arrival, and you might have had a hard time finding one at a dealer even if you were looking for one.
John Rossi was one of the guys who got on the Sprint bandwagon very early. He was only in high school at the time and too young, and too poor, to buy one for himself, but that just made the new Sprints even more appealing.
“My cousin bought one brand new when I was 16, and just thought it was the coolest thing,” recalled the Westchester, Pa., resident. “A few years later I finally bought a used one … I think I had it from 1970 to about ’77, but I wound up selling it eventually. You know, the family came along and I needed another car. I didn’t think too much about it at the time. I didn’t realize it was anything special.
“I was actually going to take it to a junkyard, but a guy at work who was into classic cars said, ‘No, you don’t want to do that. Put it in the paper. You’ll get more for it. Someone will want this car.’ And he was right, but I didn’t get a lot for it.”
Once Rossi did a little homework and learned a little more about the Sprints, the short-lived and probably sportiest members of the Falcon family tree, the more determined he was to have one as a hobby car one day.
About five years ago, Rossi started getting serious about tracking down another Sprint, preferably a 1963 model like the one he had originally. He soon found one just like his original car — in fact, it might have been his old Sprint — but he was too late to make the deal. “My original car was baby blue with a white top, and I found one just like it. I called on it, but it had already been sold. I’m not sure, but that may have been my old car. That was in, like, 2007.”
Rossi’s luck changed drastically for the better, however, in 2010 when he found an amazing 30,000-mile all-original car — red with a white top and near-perfect red vinyl upholstery — that hadn’t really been driven since 1969. It might be the most original 1963 Sprint left on the planet, and he had to have it.
“I came across this one in Pinehurst, N.C. The guy had bought it from the original owner,” he said. “I flew down there and bought it on the spot. The guy who owned it originally also owned a Ford dealership. He had it from ’63 to ’69, and the guy drove it in his wedding in 1969 and that was the last time the car was driven… It was so original that Ford actually used it in 2003 for their centennial celebration. I got a letter from Ford thanking him for the car and all that.”
Clearly, both previous owners pampered the convertible Ford, and neither wanted to put any miles on it, but Rossi isn’t sure why. For some reason, both men kept the Sprint in the garage.
“The original owner put 27-28,000 miles on it, and he was getting up in years and probably decided it was time to sell it,” he said. “After he got it out of storage and let Ford use it in 2003, he had it on display at his Ford dealership in a little town in Indiana. He had it right there in his showroom.
“Then the [second] guy kept it for a couple of years and he decided to sell it… I never thought I was gonna find one that was a survivor like this. People see this car and think I’ve had it restored. I wasn’t looking for a basket case. I didn’t want to have to totally restore one. I figured I might find one like the other one I missed on that was like mine — a car that had been restored. Never in a million years did I think I’d find one that had been in storage for 35 years!”
Ford added to an already good thing when it decided to pack some muscle into the Falcon in 1963. The Falcon had debuted as the company’s first compact car in 1960 and was an immediate winner in showrooms. Lee Iacocca was plotting the company’s direction at the time, however, and he had more in mind than thrifty compacts. He wanted more horsepower, performance and fun available at every price point in the Ford lineup. A racier hardtop Falcon body style was added in January of 1963, and for the first time V-8 power was available in the Falcon lineup.
The 260-cid, two-barrel V-8 made 164 hp and had plenty of torque — the perfect engine to drop in the Falcon’s sportier new body. That pairing became the basis of the Sprint package, which also offered bucket seats upholstered in vinyl, a dashboard-mounted tachometer, sport steering wheel, chrome valve covers and air cleaners, knock-off wire wheels covers and shiny rocker panel trim. “Sprint” and V-8 emblems are found on the front fenders.
To accommodate the V-8 power, the suspension and body were stiffened, 10-inch drum brakes were swapped in on all four wheels, and five-lug rims replaced the four-lug wheels used on the six-cylinder models.
A fully synchronized three-speed manual was the standard transmission offered, but automatic was available, as was a Borg-Warner, floor-shifted four-speed.
A non-synchronized four-speed apparently also made it into some Sprints, as Rossi found out after he got his car home. “It took it in to a guy because I needed to have a rear axle seal replaced,” he said. “Well, these cars are supposed to have a four-speed transmission all synchronized, but this was not. First gear is not synchronized. The guy said, ‘This car has the Drag Pack. I never even knew Ford had anything like that for these cars.’ He had never seen one before on a car like that, and it’s a Borg-Warner T-10, not the top-loader.”
A total of 10,479 Sprint hardtops were built for the 1963 model year, more than double the number of ragtops. Those totals jumped to 13,830 hardtops and 4,278 convertibles in 1964 before demand started to fade in 1965. Only about 2,800 hardtops and 300 convertibles were built for ’65. The drop in popularity for the Sprint, not coincidentally, came with the onset of Mustang fever. With the arrival of the iconic 1964 ½ pony car, the Sprint was quickly relegated to a small supporting role. Ford saw the handwriting on the wall and dumped the Sprint after ’65. The rest of the Falcon lineup made it five more years before finally being retired in 1970.
So far, Rossi has had to do only a few minor things to his Sprint to keep it looking and running like a brand new car. He installed an original factory accessory clock “that I found brand new still in the box,” and he’s not ruling out adding a few more factory-correct goodies. Mostly, though, he’s planning to keep the car looking as good as he can and do some occasional cruising with it. The car is just as much fun as he remembered from his days with his first Sprint back in the 1970s.
“I haven’t had a lot of time to drive it the last two years,” Rossi said. “I’ve probably only put maybe 150 miles on it. This summer that’s one of the things I want to do, take it to more shows and cruise nights and drive it more. I do drive it, but not a lot… and I want to be careful with it. The guy I bought it from said it’s never been driven in the rain, and I believe him.
“It’s like a lot of those other early 1960s cars. It’s great in a straight line, but it’s not something you really want to take out on a road course or anything. It’s got manual steering, for one thing, and from that standpoint you’ve gotta recognize it’s not a sports car, but it’s got a tremendous amount of acceleration because it’s a small car, and with the Drag Pack it’s got a fairly high gear line … And another thing I like about it, it’s got a real throaty sound that I remember when my cousin bought his car. That’s the first thing that impressed me about it was that sound.”
When he does take it out on the road, a few people figure out how unique and rare the car is. Others aren’t quite so sure. “A lot of people think it’s a Futura. Some people, car guys, they know it,” he said. “One guy pulled up next to me at a stoplight and said, ‘That’s got a 260, right?’ Some guys know. But for a ’63, it’s a pretty obscure car.”
Rossi jokes that since the day he sold his first one he has still never seen another Falcon Sprint on the road. He’s not expecting to meet too many others anytime soon, and he’s not going to risk a second bout of seller’s remorse, either.
“I absolutely have no plans to sell this one. No way,” he says. “To find one in this kind of condition is just amazing.”
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