The lonely black '63 Falcon sits on the starting grid at the SCCA 12-Hour Trans-American race at Marlboro Park Speedway in Marlboro, Maryland. Behind the wheel is independent racer Jim Taylor. He is an experienced rally driver and has decided to run his little Falcon against the big boys in a grueling race in which almost half the field of two-driver cars will not finish. Even more unlikely is the fact that there is no truck or trailer sitting in Jim's pit spot. Jim drove the Falcon halfway across the country from his hometown of Oklahoma City, hauling his spare parts and tools in the trunk.
This was nothing new for Jim or his iron maiden. By this time, they'd already competed in the 9th Annual 24-Hour Road Race/Rally sanctioned by the FIA de Mexico, where Jim piloted the first American car ever to complete the race. At Marlboro, Jim and codriver John Walker would finish 15th out of 36 cars, well behind winners Bob Tullius and Tony Adamowicz driving the Group 44 '66 Dodge Dart. Later, the Falcon would take on the Trans-Am pros at Green Valley Raceway in Texas, where it again finished 15th out of 34 cars behind John McComb's Mustang. While the finishing order may have been less than spectacular, the fact that the Falcon never failed to finish a race is the stuff of legend.
After the '66 season, Jim retired the Falcon and the black bandit was eventually passed over in favor of more relevant projects. It sat disused until 1990 when Jim sold the car to vintage racer Mike Durham for $10. Mike's plan was to race a '64 because the SCCA's homologated weight rule for a '64 was a shocking 580 pounds less than for a '63 at 2,160 pounds. The Falcon endured several more misguided owners until Alan Repashy acquired the car. After attending the Coronado Speed Festival at North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego, Alan met and eventually sold the Falcon to Michael Eisenberg, who owns Maeco Motorsport, a shop in Northridge, California. You may remember Maeco from This Guy's Garage in the May '05 issue, where many vintage Trans-Am racers go to be revived.
Michael immediately began a period-accurate race restoration in 2006 that started with a little sheetmetal work to bring the car around to its current condition. This involved more than just a cursory paint job, since the effort is certainly much more pleasing than what you would expect from a road-race-abused machine. It's also tough to shove 15x8-inch wheels and tires under a little Falcon, which is why if you look closely, there's a little subtle flaring action that's occurred on all four corners. The beauty is that it doesn't detract at all from the Falcon's image.
Michael races the Falcon in the Historic Trans-Am (HTA) series that will run at five events this year from Sebring to the final event in San Diego at the Coronado Speed Festival. Within this event, the little Falcon has to run against some pretty big dogs. The rules for the HTA require that each car must have actually participated in a Trans-Am race between 1966 and 1972 and that each car must be outfitted with the proper engine and drivetrain that replicates what it ran during its original outings. This means that even though the Trans-Am rules allowed up to 305 ci (5 liters), the Falcon ran during pre-302 days in 1966 with a much smaller 289 with heads that were far less sophisticated than what the later cars ran.
But don't think that Michael just bolted together some wimpy 289. Back in the early days of Ford's Le Mans push with the GT40s, Blue Oval engineers created a race-special block and cylinder head package that was identified with sacred casting numbers. With bigger valves and larger chambers, these heads were tip-of-the-race-spear stuff literally only two years after Ford introduced the small-block V-8 at 221 ci. The Falcon's current 289 also sports a factory Ford nonproduction twin four-barrel intake manifold that was used on many of the Holman Moody-built rally cars and Shelby Trans-Am cars.
Michael debuted the Falcon at the '07 Wine Country Classic Historic Trans-Am race at Infineon Raceway in Sears Point, California. Unfortunately, a loose fuel line cut short its day, and later, a sticking secondary throttle plate on the rear carburetor at its second event in Kent, Washington, prevented the car from taking the checkered flag. But by the final race of last year at the Coronado Speed Festival, the Falcon took flight, finishing Eighth out of 32 cars. At the awards banquet, Michael was bestowed the prestigious Coronado Speed Festival Founder's Cup for overall performance and presentation.
Beyond its pedigree and obvious strong race performance, it's clear why the Falcon has attracted attention. While most race cars quickly take on that shop-worn appearance, one glance at the interior tells you that Michael and the Maeco crew took their time with this resurrection. Like with any good effort, the details tell the story. With the exception of the red-painted floorpans devoid of carpet, this could easily have been a well-detailed street car. The 8,000-rpm factory-correct Rotunda tach is a cool touch, but so is the Falcon bucket seat upholstery emblem in the driver seat. And how many Trans-Am race cars have you seen with a fully upholstered back seat? While the famous-name cars will always take the spotlight with casual observers and historic note-takers, it's great to see little-guy racers having a chance to see their long-ago efforts recognized in such a spectacular fashion.
Back In The DayJim Taylor's Falcon became a race car almost from the day he bought it. Originally, he drag-raced it for a while and then sent it to Carter Maxwell Sports Car Service in Oklahoma City to convert the car to a road racer, complete with a raft of Shelby Mustang hardware. After a few regional SCCA races, he outfitted the car with the driving lights and went rally racing with some success. During Michael's Internet research into the history of the Falcon, he discovered a gentleman by the name of Don Gwynne from Arlington, Texas, who not only knew of the Falcon but also contributed a few action photos of it at an early Texas SCCA race-before the car was modified for rally racing. The event photos are from June 18 and 19, 1966, with the No. 71 on the door. This was before Jim went racing with the Trans-Am monsters. Michael has also been in contact with Jim Taylor, the car's original owner, who sent Michael the circa-1965 photo of Jim in his open-faced helmet when he was racing an Austin 850 (aka, the Mini), which was a popular rally car at the time.
Tech NotesWho: Michael EisenbergWhat: '63 1/2 Ford FalconWhere: Northridge, California, home of Maeco Motorsport and the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
Engine: In order for the car to race in the HTA, the engine has to be the same vintage casting as was previously raced in the car. That means no roller cam 5.0L motor. The original V-8 in the Falcon Sprint was a 260 ci, but by the time the Falcon raced in Trans-Am, it was fitted with a 289, so Maeco dredged up a vintage block and carefully machined it to Hi-Po 289 specs. All early 289s came with a cast crankshaft, which could be questionable for this kind of track abuse, so Maeco translated that into a 2.87-inch-stroke steel crank along with a set of forged connecting rods. Since this is purely a race car, compression jumped to 13:1 with a set of forged JE pistons fitted with Childs & Albert gapless rings, while the bearings are Polymer Dynamics-coated Clevites. Michael is reluctant to talk about the cam specs, but he did say the flat-tappet mechanical is an Engle custom grind running Crower 1.6:1 rocker arms with Manley pushrods. The very rare C6FE factory race heads on this small-block were used in several different Ford motorsport applications, including the early GT40 289 engine program. The heads were carefully ported by Maeco and fitted with Ferrea stainless 1.98/1.625-inch valves that are a bit bigger than the stock 1.78-inch intake and 1.45-inch exhaust valves that came in the early 289s. Isky valvesprings handle the 7,500-plus-rpm engine speeds where this little motor generally lives. ARP head bolts and Cometic gaskets glue it all together.
Intake: Trans-Am rules allowed multiple carbureted induction components if homologated by the SCCA. This meant Michael could run the factory over-the-counter 2x4 barrel intake (casting No. C6ZZ-6B068-A) with a pair of 415-cfm Holley carburetors. The 110-octane leaded race gas is pumped with a Carter mechanical fuel pump. Maeco fabricated the cold-air package for the twin carbs, since ducting cool air to a tight engine compartment is always worth a few extra horsepower. While everyone now uses an electronic ignition, rules still require a set of dual points in a stock Ford distributor along with an Echlin coil.
Exhaust: Maeco custom-fabricated the four-tube headers that merge into dual 3-inch exhaust pipes and dump just in front of the rear tires. Don't bother to look for mufflers.
Cooling: Race cars make a lot of heat, and it's hard to make horsepower when the engine temp spikes over 250 degrees. An oversize racing brass/copper radiator handles the engine cooling, while an Edelbrock aluminum water pump and Weaver Brothers engine pulleys control coolant movement through the engine. Fluidyne is responsible for keeping the oil temperature in line.
Transmission: Road racing is hard on parts, especially transmissions. While the Falcon would be much more fun to drive with a latest-generation G-Force G-101 box behind that 289, vintage rules calls for a period-correct '64 Ford Top Loader four-speed using a small-diameter Tilton flywheel and bellhousing that covers up a Quartermaster clutch and pressure plate assembly.
Rearend: Here's at least one place where the early Fords didn't have to compromise. Even back in the early '60s, a near-stock Ford 9-inch could easily take the abuse of this high-winding 289. Michael uses a '63-era 9-inch using a full-floater assembly that separates the axle from the hubs. That way, if the axle breaks, the tire and wheel assembly remains on the car. Speedway Engineering parts were used in the conversion, and Speedway also supplied the axles. Depending on which track the Falcon runs, gearing can be anything from 3.70s to as deep as 4.56:1.
Suspension: Unlike today's tube-chassied Trans-Am racers, these early cars were required to retain the stock front and rear suspension and chassis. As a subframe car, this required some serious attention. The front suspension uses Vogtland 620 lb/in front springs and Koni double-adjustable shocks along with a Maeco Motorsport 15/16-inch front sway bar and stock Ford spindles. Back in the '60s, nobody had rack-and-pinion steering, so a blueprinted Lee Manufacturing stock steering box is what is allowed. The rear leaf springs are custom-designed for Maeco by Aldan Springs at a 160 lb/in rate and are designed to minimize spring wrapup with the Falcon's excellent power-to-weight ratio. Roller bearings replace the original rubber spring bushings.
Brakes: State-of-the-art Ford brakes in 1966 called for Kelsey Hayes 11.5-inch-diameter rotors with four-piston calipers, and on the back, massive 11x21/4-inch drums make plenty of friction.]Wheels/Tires: Vintage racing means old-school wheels and rubber, so a set of PSE 15x8-inch Trans-Am aluminum wheels set the footprint mounted with an equally retro set of catalog-fresh Goodyear Sports Car Specials measuring what sounds like a spindly 6.00x15-inch size. Don't let the spec fool you; these tires measure 8.4 inches of tread width with a section width of more than 10 inches.
Body: Maeco performed all the restoration on the Falcon, including the bodywork. The aforementioned tires are the reason for the minor fender flaring; the work is tasteful and even adds to the Falcon's visual impact. The graphics are also a reproduction of how the car appeared in its limited Trans-Am exploits, right down to the original rally headlights.
Interior: The interior is Michael's testament to the Falcon's street/race heritage, and it appears the only thing missing is the carpet. He retained and restored the full rear seat along with the stock passenger-side bucket, using only the Shelby race bucket for the driver. The stock instruments have been replaced with vintage Stewart-Warner gauges and that very cool Rotunda tach on the dash. Even the stock headliner made the trip.