Everyone has heard the old adage "You don't know what you've got, 'til it's gone." It's true that it's all too easy to overlook or neglect something that's already in your hands because the grass seems greener elsewhere. Like the saying says, usually the realization doesn't come until after the object has passed through your hands. Sometimes, you get lucky, though. Sometimes, you get a chance to go back and make the most of it.
That's exactly the route Craig Johnson took with his homebrewed '63 Falcon Futura; he owned it, but it took over a decade for him to realize it was the right car. Let us explain. This little hardtop coupe, the first of Ford's foray into more muscular styling with the Falcon, was actually Craig's first car. It wasn't his first automotive passion, though. Craig's original desire was for a V-8 '62-63 Nova, but his dad wasn't about to give his 16-year-old son they keys to a lightweight car with that many cylinders. Shortly thereafter, this Falcon turned up at a Turlock, California, swap meet. With a 170ci sixer and three-on-the-tree shifting in a clean, older restoration, it seemed like just the ticket to keep Craig from getting tickets.
Craig drove the Falcon as-is for a year before picking up a Datsun 510 project car, and the Falcon's life shifted mostly toward parts runner, as the boxy little Bluebirds took over his attention. After Craig left for California State University, Chico, to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering, the Falcon was parked at his parents' house. Over the next 10 years, 510s came and went, but the little Falcon was always there. Eventually Craig's dad had enough of it lingering around and demanded its relocation. Craig dropped a new battery in it, topped off the fluids, and started driving the Falcon again after a decade away. "It was scary," he told us. "Just enough power to go 70, brakes started to fade after one hard stop, steering had half a turn of slop. On and off amps were white-knuckle experiences." Wow, had it really always been that bad?
Yup, but all those years of driving nicely modified cars had drastically changed Craig's perspective and expectations of how a car should perform. The Falcon's age and wear stood out as unacceptable now. Rather than shove it aside again, Craig decided to give the Falcon a chance and rebuild the front suspension. Stock wasn't going to cut it though. At a Goodguys event in 2008, Craig wandered into the Maier Racing booth and perused the product line. He really liked what he saw, and the burgeoning Goodguys autocross series that allowed prepped vintage cars to show off their abilities sealed his plans.
This build wasn't going to involve a lot of big checks written for new parts, though. Craig needed to keep the budget well constrained, so he did a great deal of research to discover what vintage tricks paired with used modern OEM parts he could make work, and then watched Craigslist like a hawk. After rebuilding the suspension, a 5.0L H.O., engine, and T5 five-speed, along with an 8.8-inch rearend from an Explorer, replaced the driveline cheaply. That engineering education came in handy and allowed Craig to make parts that he couldn't find, or ones he felt he could improve on. For example, he turned up hub centric spacers on a lathe to fit 16x7 wheels with 225/50 tires from an '05 Mustang to fit a set of RX-7 brakes. Now that's creative hot rodding!
The Falcon was up and running again in February of 2012, just in time to make the March Goodguys show. "It was a cold damp weekend, my driving sucked—I finished toward the bottom of the field—and the transmission made more noise than the exhaust," Craig relates. "By the end of the weekend I could barely pick up a beer due to the lack of power steering, but I was hooked." He did put that 10 percent Summit Racing discount to good use right away, though, and had a new Z-spec T-5 ordered.
Since he and the Falcon were both behind the curve on autocrossing, Craig decided to attend a driving course at Evolution AutoX in preparation for the next Goodguys show in June. There was a sea change at that show. Johnson pulled into the paddock and saw Brian Hobaugh's immensely flared Camaro with race suspension and massive rubber, and the "Hell Boy" built by No Limit Engineering, which is basically a hybrid of a C10 and Craftsman series NASCAR truck, and knew he had to step his game up. He did manage a mid-pack finish, though, so there was improvement.