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Gone but not forgotten: Ford’s Maverick turns 50

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1972 Ford Maverick Grabber. Photos by Jeff Koch, unless otherwise noted.

On April 17, 1969, Ford introduced a new compact two-door sedan with sleek fastback styling, designed to counter the sales threat posed by the Volkswagen “Beetle” and other fuel-efficient imports. In its first (partial) year on the market, the Maverick sold 127,833 copies, besting the Mustang’s 126,538 unit sales from April-December 1964. Though the Mustang lives on today, the Maverick — which marks its 50th birthday in 2019 — left the U.S. market after the 1977 model year.

By the late 1960s, the threat from imports to domestic sales was growing too large to ignore. In 1968 alone, Volkswagen sold 563,522 vehicles to U.S buyers, while Toyota and Datsun (combined) accounted for another 109,000 sales. In total, Ford’s research showed the size of the 1968 import market (including all manufacturers) to be 985,767 units — large enough for the right car from a domestic automaker to make inroads and enjoy reasonable sales.

To reduce the time to market, Ford built the Maverick atop an existing platform, once again turning to the Falcon to underpin a new model. The Falcon’s wheelbase was reduced from 110.9 inches to 103 inches, making the overall length of the Maverick 179.4 inches, compared to 184.3 inches on the Falcon. Ford believed that U.S. buyers would prefer a model smaller than its existing compact Falcon, yet not as small as the subcompact imports.

Power for the Maverick came from the same inline six-cylinder used in the Falcon, rated at 105 horsepower and reportedly capable of a combined 22.5 mpg when mated to the standard three-speed manual transmission. That fell short of the fuel economy offered by imports, but Ford believed that American buyers would be willing to sacrifice a few miles per gallon in exchange for more shoulder room and an easier-to-maintain vehicle. In its literature, Ford even touted the Maverick’s 52 additional horsepower compared to the Volkswagen Beetle’s flat-four, boasting that the Maverick, “…covers 417 feet in ten seconds from a standing start.”

1972 Maverick Grabber

The Maverick was designed to appeal to a younger audience, so available colors for the 1970 model year included Anti-Establish Mint, Hulla Blue, Original Cinnamon, and Freudian Gilt (gold), in addition to the more conventional Red, Dark Ivy Green Metallic, Medium Gold Metallic, Dark Aqua Metallic, Bright Yellow, Medium Blue Metallic, Medium Ivy Green Metallic, Pastel Blue, Black, White, and Vermillion. Inside, buyers could liven things up a bit by ordering “Blazer Stripe Seat Trim,” and other possible options included a SelectShift Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission, a semi-automatic Transmission, SelectAire air conditioning, a consolette with electric clock, deluxe seat belts, tinted glass, an AM radio, dual outside mirrors, a variety of accent and luxury groups, and a vinyl roof.

1972 Maverick Grabber

The 302 V-8 became an available option in 1971.

Those seeking a bit more go could initially opt for a six, rated at 120 hp and mated to either a three-speed column shift manual transmission or the SelectShift automatic. Ford later offered the six from the Mustang, but this 155-hp option was available only with the C-4 automatic transmission. In 1971, the V-8 became available in the Maverick but was fed by a two-barrel carburetor and exhaled through a single exhaust, for a claimed 210 horsepower.  Buyers opting for the 302 could choose between the three-speed manual and three-speed automatic transmissions.

1971 Ford Maverick

1971 Ford Maverick magazine ad. Remaining images courtesy

A four-door model arrived in 1971, built upon a 109.9-inch wheelbase for added rear-seat passenger legroom. The sporty Grabber package became a distinct model in 1971 as well, offering buyers dual sport mirrors, 14-inch wheels with trim rings and center caps, side tape stripes, a dual-vent hood with black graphic (in 1971-’72), a trunk spoiler, a black grille and tail panel, and an upgraded steering wheel. In 1972, the Grabber was available with more stripe and trim colors, but it wasn’t until 1973 that the contents included anything to increase performance. Even then, it was in the form of a slightly firmer suspension with available slotted mag wheels and radial tires, which may have upped cornering speed but did little to make the Maverick faster in a straight line. The Grabber remained in production through 1975, and in 1976 — the Maverick’s penultimate year — was replaced by the Stallion, which was also an appearance package but with the addition of a “competition suspension.”

1976 Ford Maverick Stallion

1976 Ford Maverick Stallion.

Initially, the Maverick was slated to go out of production in 1975, replaced by the more luxurious Granada, but concerns about another fuel crisis kept the Maverick in production through 1977 (and through 1979 in Brazil). Over nine years of production, buyers in North America snapped up nearly 2.1-million Mavericks, and the car’s best sales year was 1974, when 301,048 left Ford showrooms with new owners. These numbers don’t even include the Mercury-equivalent Comet, which hit dealerships in 1971 and remained on sale through 1977.

1977 Ford Maverick four-door

1977 Ford Maverick four-door.

The Maverick’s 50th birthday will be celebrated at the 2019 Carlisle Ford Nationals, taking place from May 31-June 2, 2019, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. For additional details, visit