By Jeff Smith/ Photos by Mike Eddy Collection and Jeff Smith
Every car has a story. A few special cars carefully and so mysteriously intertwine close friends, family, and companies through decades that time seems to have stopped and then started again. Mike Eddy tells the story that his mom has a photo of him as a young kid in the mid ’60s sitting behind the wheel of this road race Falcon his dad helped build. The car belonged to a neighbor, Pete Cordts. Mike wanted to borrow the photo to make a copy. Mom said, “No”.
“You can have it after I’m gone,” she continued. Clearly, that photo is special.
The story started, literally, in a neighbor’s driveway. Cordts had purchased a brand new 1963½ Falcon Sprint from his employer, Downey Ford. Within eight months, Cordts transformed this little commuter into a race car — destined to burn up tires and brake pads negotiating road race circuits instead of the quarter-mile. Mike and his family lived down the street from Cordts, and Mike’s father, Doug, worked for Carroll Shelby, so the connection between the Eddys and the Cordts was destined to be fortuitous for all. It became a life-long connection for the younger Eddy.
The Falcon seemed an improbable choice for a road racer. It was Ford’s shot at economy transportation — a 6-cylinder toaster on wheels. But, Total Performance even projected influence into this little uni-body, as the option list emboldened the Sprint body style with a 260c.i. V8 and a Top Loader four-speed. That combination turned out to fit perfectly into the SCCA’s United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC) over 2.0L GT class.
What pushed Cordts into this car might have telegraphed from across the Atlantic when news carried of Ford’s successful debut, using ’63 Falcons, into European rally racing in Monte Carlo. The Falcons never won, but finished second in both 1963 and 1964, which led Ford to push development.
So, Doug Eddy helped Cordts transform Ford’s littlest predator into a racer. USRRC and SCCA rules allowed removal of the carpeting and a single bucket seat, but the door panels, dash, and headliner had to remain. In his quest to reduce weight, Mike says Cordts removed the headliner, but it failed in tech inspection when scrutineers noticed its absence. Rather than admit defeat, Cordts found a local upholstery shop, bought a section of material and glued it to the bare inside roof. That was enough to get him through tech, finishing his first race in a respectable sixth place in 1964.
For the 1965 season, Shelby American driver Don Pike began enjoying great success with a 1964 Falcon fitted with numerous modifications allowed through the FIA homologation. Cordts won SCCA’s Southern California A Sedan championship, but it was clear the changes allowed to the 1964 model Falcons gave Pike an overwhelming advantage. Pike’s Falcon was used that year as a development tool for Carroll Shelby to dial in the improvements he would apply to the Shelby Mustangs he was preparing to release for sale.
The modifications in the FIA Monte Carlo package included a fiberglass hood, front fenders, and deck lid, along with other upgrades from Holman-Moody, including Thunderbird front disc brakes on Lincoln spindles, and a 9-inch limited slip rear axle with its larger drum brakes. Mike says the biggest advantage was a ’64 Falcon could run 400 pounds lighter, which not only improved acceleration, but also extended the life of the tires and brakes.
Mike says Pike was so good with the Falcon that he preferred to race it instead of the slightly heavier Mustangs. “But Shelby made it clear — ‘We’re selling Mustangs, not Falcons.’” Pike’s success with the Falcon made an impression on Cordts, but it also presented a problem.
The homologation only applied to the 1964 and later Falcons. Purchasing a brand new car just to go racing exceeded his privateer’s resources, so Cordts did the next best thing. With help from friends including Doug Eddy, the team converted the round-body ’63 to emulate a ’64. The greenhouse and the door frames remained, but the subterfuge demanded new front fenders, door skins, quarter panels, and a deck lid. The dramatic sheet metal transformation survives to this day. The evidence is blatant. Mike revealed the tell-tale welds attaching the new quarter panel to the ’63’s doorjamb, with multiple other clues residing in the trunk and under the hood.
While modern Trans Am fans rarely take note, Mike recently attended the big Ford show at Knott’s Berry Farm in nearby Anaheim, California. He says it’s great fun watching the consternation among true Falcon fans who immediately notice the early 1960-’63 dash sitting in what appears to be a ’64 car. Many leave the car more than a bit confused.
Cordts’ clever conversion also required a bit of VIN sleight-of-hand work. Mike says SCCA officials always referenced the VIN, which on early Falcons is located at the left front corner of the inner fender panel. On Ford’s VIN, the year of the car is the first digit, which made the initial digit on the Falcon’s VIN a “3.” That would conflict with the visual statement Cordts had to portray, so he installed a meaningless body brace on the left inner fender that conveniently attached with a bolt — directly through the first digit of the VIN.
Mike says the subterfuge worked and the SCCA never tumbled to the deceit. From then on, the round Falcon was reborn a svelte ’64 and in 1966, became instantly competitive. This culminated with the Falcon’s singular appearance in SCCA Trans-Am against the professionals. With 34 cars entered in two classes in the four-hour race at Riverside, the Falcon finished an amazing 6th in class.
Early in the race, Cordts had been running second until the alternator pulley disintegrated, necessitating a lengthy pit stop. This was a two-driver race with Cordts sharing cockpit time with Jim Dittemore, who coincidentally was also an Eddy family friend. Jerry Titus eventually took the win, and the pair’s excellent finish contributed points toward Ford winning the Manufacturer’s Trans Am championship that year.
This became the Falcon’s zenith year when Cordts went on to win the SCCA Southern Pacific A/Sedan championship. At the conclusion of the season, he sold the car to Jack Griffin of Texaswith Ray Dees as part-time. Griffin went on to win the A Sedan Southwest SCCA Championship in 1968, and then the mighty Falcon endured a string of owners as it traversed from Texas and into Indiana, where it was converted to a street car and attended the 1981 Car Craft Street Machine Nationals in Indianapolis.
In the early ’90s, subsequent owners raced it in several different variations on the road racing theme: road rallies; multiple road races in England, including stints at Silverstone and Brands Hatch; a marathon in Europe; and finally a Vintage Trans Am race at Sears Point in 1994, driven by automotive journalist Len Frank.
Southern California attorney Mark Dees had purchased the Falcon around this time, and it went up for sale after Dees’ untimely death in a highway accident with a drunk driver. It was through help from Mike’s long-time friend, Bob Joehnck, with Dees’ daughter, Abby, that Mike was able to purchase the Falcon and literally complete the circle to both his neighborhood and family.
Vintage road race cars, and especially ones with a lineage that can be traced back to the early years of Trans Am, are not for the financially faint hearted. But certain watershed events in life are meant to happen. Mike made the considerable investment in his past and soon found the Falcon sitting in the prime spot in his small garage, surrounded by other heirloom Falcons. Pete Cordts was among the first to see the car again in Mike’s garage.
The Falcon came “home” in 1997, but it wasn’t until 2014 that the littlest warrior was again ready for the track. Unfortunately, Mike says, Cordts had passed away and didn’t get a chance to see the car back on the track. But even amid cars of much greater notoriety, the Falcon attracts its share of admirers.
For years, Mike has been the keeper and maintainer of Vic Edelbrock’s stable of vintage road race cars, and it was amidst Edelbrock’s impressive collection in the pits at Monterrey that we first saw Mike’s fabled Falcon. Mike is the first to admit that even with its light weight, his conservative 300c.i. small-block and single four-barrel has trouble pulling high speeds at the fast tracks.
“It’s like taking a knife to a gunfight against those bigger engines,” he says. “Vic’s car (the Follmer Mustang) has 100 more horsepower.”
But with this car, just making laps is a victory of significance. Mike’s win in bringing this little racer home is far more personal — and perhaps just that much more meaningful.
Major races where the Falcon competed:
April, 1964 USRRC Riverside GT over 2.0L 6th
May, 1965 USRRC Riverside GT over 2.0L 4th
Nov., 1965 Stardust GP Las Vegas A Sedan 2nd
May, 1966 USRRC Riverside GT over 2.0L 6th
May, 1966 Mission Bell Riverside A Sedan 2nd
May, 1966 Wiebel Trophy Laguna Seca A Sedan 2nd
Sept., 1966 Trans Am Riverside A Sedan 6th
Oct., 1966 LA Times GP Riverside A Sedan 2nd
Nov., 1966 ARRC Riverside A Sedan DNF
Nov., 1968 ARRC Riverside A Sedan 10th