Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Gene and Jeanne Buckarma’s 1963 ½ Ford Falcon Sprint convertible will never have as many top-down sunny days in Wisconsin as it had during its first life in California. But the car's latest owners certainly try their best to make the most out of “convertible” weather when they get it.
The New London, Wis., couple already had a 1978 Corvette at home when they decided to start looking around about 15 years ago for another collector car. Gene liked the idea of a drop-top, although he didn’t have a particular car in mind. In hindsight, keeping an open mind is certainly what led to the pair landing their wonderful Falcon Sprint — a true head-turner regardless of whether the top is up or down.
“We were kind of looking for a Galaxy 500 – a ’64 Ford. That was originally what I was looking for,” Gene recalled. “I found a couple of them, but wasn’t real happy with the condition they were in. I just kind of liked that style, basically it’s about the same as this only it’s bigger.
“I guess we just liked the idea of having a convertible. We had never had a convertible before. The Corvette has T-tops, so you can pull them off, but we never had a convertible before and she kind of liked that idea — although when we went to Michigan in it we had so much stuff in the trunk we couldn’t put the top down!”
The couple actually found the car at a local car show car corral. It was owned by a man in nearby Plover, Wis., had 85,000 miles on the odometer, and was simply too nice of a car to pass up. “He had it for a while, but he didn’t have it in his name,” Buckarma added. “It still had a California registration on it, but I wanted it in his name so there wouldn’t be any problems with anything. So when he finally got it transferred over he called me and we went over and picked it up. I’m assuming it belonged to some little old lady out there. It’s been taken care of really well, and it’s been a good car for us.”
Buckarma wouldn’t mind finding out a little bit more of the background of his Falcon, but it’s likely its early years will remain mostly a mystery. At some point it probably had a little restoration work done to it — at least paint. Beyond that, Buckarma can only guess.
“I am assuming it was painted sometime when it was in California,” he says. “The color is a little off from it’s supposed to be. It’s called Rose Beige and you open up the trunk lid and you can see it’s a little bit duller color than that. We don’t know when that was done. The car was shipped out there in ’63 from Loraine, Ohio, I guess that is where it was built. From what we could find it spent most of its life out there… and I’m not sure, but sometimes when I look at the back of it I think maybe it did get rear ended at some point in its life. I’m not sure but … it’s just the way some of the panels are put together in the back.”
A MID-YEAR ARRIVAL
The fledgling Falcon Sprints are often referred to as “1963 ½” models because of their mid-year arrival. Ford decided to pack some fun and more muscle into its already-successful Falcon when it added the Sprint package to its popular semi-compact model.
The Falcon had debuted as the company’s trend-setting downsized car in 1960 and was an immediate hit in showrooms. For 1963, the Falcon line continued to use the body shell introduced in 1960, but was updated with a new convex grille featuring a horizontal grid pattern, chrome side trim, and slightly revised taillight lenses, with additional chrome around the inside of the lens. The Deluxe models of 1962 were replaced by the Futura models for 1963 and included the addition of a two-door hardtop and a convertible.
Ford honcho Lee Iacocca wanted his thrifty compacts to get have some excitement and performance, too, so 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 ideal power plant to propel the Falcon’s sportier new body. In addition to a V-8, the Sprint package offered bucket seats upholstered in vinyl, a dashboard-mounted tachometer, sport steering wheel, chrome valve covers and air cleaners, knock-off wire wheels covers, shiny rocker panel trim, and special “Sprint” and V-8 badging.
To handle the V-8 weight and power, the suspension and body were stiffened, 10-inch drum brakes were mounted 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 “on the tree” was the standard transmission offered, but automatic was available, as was a Borg-Warner, floor-shifted four-speed.
A total of 10,479 Sprint hardtops were built for the 1963 model year, but only 4,602 convertibles. The following year saw 13,830 hardtops and 4,278 convertibles before the Sprint’s popularity began to wane in ’65 when only about 2,800 hardtops and 300 convertibles were built. The 1963 ½ Sprint wound up being very similar mechanically to the debut Mustang. Many of the drivetrain parts were identical. Once the Mustang had arrived and captured the public’s fancy, there seemed to be no room in the lineup for a sporty Falcon. Ford saw the handwriting on the wall and dumped the Sprint after ’65. The rest of the Falcon lineup made it until 1970 before the plug was pulled.
A LOOKER AND A DRIVER
The Buckarmas’ Sprint was equipped with the standard column-shifted three-speed and not much in the way of add-ons. The 260 under the hood is original to the car, as is the transmission. Together they have propelled the Ford for more than 98,000 miles.
The couple has averaged about 1,000 miles a year of road time in their convertible in the 14-plus years they have owned it, and they have done some work on it occasionally to keep it ready for a road trip. “The motor has been redone. A friend of mine re-did it and he basically went through the whole motor," Gene noted. "There must have been a bearing knock or something, and he went through the whole thing … The transmission I had looked at, but they didn’t do anything with it besides put a new seal in it.”
The couple eventually added highway gears in the back end to make it better suited to longer trips. “We can do 2300 rpm at 60 mph since we changed the rear end of it,” Gene says. “It’s also got different wheels and tires on it now. They were 13-inch, and those tires are kind of hard to come by these days. So I went to a 14-inch and those hubcabs are actually from a ’66 Ford. I do have stainless steel fender skirts, but I can’t put them on with those hubcaps on there because they stick out too far. It looks pretty nice with the fender skirts on there.”
The Buckarmas are currently restoring a 1957 Chevrolet pickup, so they will eventually have three hobby cars to occupy their free time. Gene says it won’t be easy to leave the Falcon convertible at home, though. It’s got a back seat, it rides great and it’s great for getting a suntan. “I really think it rides pretty decent even compared to the newer car that [my wife] has,” he says. “This rides a lot smoother than her car. It rides really nice, but I don’t like to abuse it and drive 70 going down the highway.”
Gene had trouble giving up the wheel a while back when the couple took the car ferry across Lake Michigan for their trip to Dearborn. “A lot of people trailer their cars. We don’t trailer this. We drive it … But when we went on the ferry, well, it’s a standard [transmission] and I didn’t want anybody who didn’t know anything about clutches and stuff driving it. So they let me drive it onto the boat. That was kind of fun.”
The lovely Falcon has also survived a long road trip to and from Bowling Green, Kent., although Gene jokes that he might have to take a Chevrolet next time. “We went and saw the Corvette Museum,” he laughs. “I’m not sure how they felt have a Ford roll in there!”
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