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The First Ford Falcon was a Chrysler

1955 Chrysler Falcon.

You see, back in the early 1950s, Chrysler executives were worried declining sales which market research had told them, very bluntly, was because the company's offerings were boring and stodgy.

Meanwhile, the head of design at Chrysler, Virgil Exner, had heard rumours about Chevrolet's Corvette and Ford's Thunderbird. He was determined not to be left out of this little party and decided to create a sports car which would demonstrate once and for all that Chrysler had shed its dowdy image. And so he commissioned the Chrysler Falcon.

Styled in Detroit and constructed by Ghia in Turin, Exner had three cars (some say only two were built) delivered for the 1955 auto-show circuit. All were operating automobiles. Exner kept one as his personal transport.

The Falcon was sleek, low and long. Slightly bigger all round than the Thunderbird and standing at a mere 1.3 meters high, it had a wrapped windscreen and huge tail fins. Its smooth flanks were devoid of chrome. Under the hood was Chrysler's new 4.5 litre Hemi V8 bolted to an automatic transmission. Two chrome exhaust swept along the side of the car, hot-rod style.

Inside it was luxury all the way, with power assistance on everything. Dealers and potential customers lobbied Chrysler to produce it. Yet despite the acclaim, Chrysler executives were reticent about its viability. While the Thunderbird was a sales success, the Corvette was struggling and rumours circulated Detroit that GM was about to drop it and the engineering and accounting folk didn't like it either.

"Too hard and too low volume to make for the price," they said. That was the kiss of death and the Falcon was shelved. Fast forward to mid-1959 and the Big Three are preparing their new compacts for the showrooms. Chrysler has two names for its "little" car, either Falcon or Valiant. Chevrolet has decided on Corvair. But Ford is still searching. And it's here that two legends emerge.

One story is that Henry Ford II liked Falcon, so he rang Chrysler boss Tex Colbert and asked if he could use it. Tex agreed because Exner preferred Valiant. The other story is that both companies sought to trademark the name and Ford beat Chrysler to it by, some say, just 20 minutes.

Of the Chrysler Falcons, one is on display at the Chrysler Museum and another is owned by concept car collector Joe Bortz. The third has long disappeared, assuming it was ever built.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos.com.au