The Maverick was originally conceived and marketed as a subcompact "import fighter", intended to do battle with the Volkswagen Beetle and newer Japanese rivals. The Falcon, Ford's compact offering since 1960, had seen its sales decimated by the introduction of the Mustang in 1964, and despite a redesign in 1966, was unable to meet forthcoming federal motor vehicle standards that would come into effect on January 1, 1970. Consequently, the Falcon was discontinued midway through the 1970 model year, and the Maverick repositioned as Ford's compact entry.
The Maverick's styling featured the long hood, fastback roof and short deck popularized by the Mustang, on a 103 in (2,600 mm) wheelbase — and featured simple and inexpensive to manufacture pop-out rear side windows rather than roll-down windows. Nearly 579,000 Mavericks were produced in its first year. This rivaled the record-setting first year of Mustang sales (nearly 619,000), and easily outpaced the Mustang's sales of less than 200,000 in 1970.
Initially available only as a "2-Door Coup", early models lacked a glove compartment, which was added in 1973. A 4-Door Sedan on a 109.9-inch wheelbase was introduced in 1971 with more rear room and roll-down rear door windows. A station wagon version of the Maverick was created in Brazil in 1978 by a local dealer who customized the four-door sedan.
At introduction, exterior paint carried distinctive names including Anti-Establish Mint, Hulla Blue, Original Cinnamon, Freudian Gilt, Thanks Vermillion — along with more pedestrian names, including Black Jade, Champagne Gold, Gulfstream Aqua, Meadowlark Yellow, Brittany Blue, Lime Gold, Dresden Blue, Raven Black, Wimbledon White, and Candyapple Red.
In the first half of production for the 1970 model, there were two available engine options, a 170 CID I6 and a 200 CID I6. A 250 CID I6 was added mid-year.
Commercials compared the Maverick to the smaller Volkswagen Beetle for $1,995, although the Ford Pinto would later be Ford's real subcompact competitor.
Early 1970 models built from the introduction in April until August 1969 had a few interior features that the later 1970 models built from September, 1969 onward did not. Those early Mavericks featured a two-spoke steering wheel with horn ring that was also found on other 1969 Fords while the cars built in the 1970 model year had a revised steering wheel with no horn ring. Also, the early models featured the ignition switch in the instrument panel while the cars built after September 1, 1969 had the ignition switch mounted on a locking steering column as did all other 1970 Fords in compliance with a new federal safety mandate that took effect with the 1970 model year.
The four-door model was introduced in 1971. Also available was a vinyl roof. Mercury also revived the Mercury Comet as a mechanical clone of the Maverick. A 210 hp (160 kW) 302 CID V8 was also introduced for both the Comet and the Maverick. The Comet featured a new grille, taillights borrowed from the Mercury Montego, trim, and hood.
The muscle car-themed Grabber trim package was introduced in mid-1970. The package included special graphics and trim, including a spoiler. It was offered from 1970-1975. In 1971 and 1972, the Grabber came with a special "Dual Dome" hood. A similar package for the Mercury Comet, the Comet GT, was also offered from 1971–1975 and had "muscle car" trim akin to the Maverick Grabber, plus its own distinctive hood scoop.
A Sprint package offered in 1972 featured a special red, white, and blue paint with matching interior. With similar packages offered on the Pinto and the Mustang, the trim package patrioticly acknowledged the 1972 Olympics and was available for only one year. U.S. versions were given a stylized U.S. flag made into a rear quarter panel decal. The badge was very much in the vein of Olympic symbols, but without being too close, to avoid copyright infringement. Sprints sold in Canada were also red, white, and blue, but had a quarter badge styled from the Canadian flag.
A "Luxury Decor Option" (LDO) trim level was introduced late in the 1972 model year including reclining bucket seats in a soft vinyl material, plush carpeting, woodgrained instrument panel trim, radial tires with body-color deluxe wheel covers and a vinyl roof. The Maverick LDO option (also offered on the Mercury Comet) was one of the first American compacts to be marketed as a lower-priced (and domestic) alternative to the more expensive European luxury/touring sedans from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and other makes.
Minor changes were made from 1973-1975. In 1973, the 170 CID engine was dropped, making the 200 CID I6 the standard engine. Additionally, improved brakes and a previously optional chrome grille became standard. An AM/FM stereo, aluminum wheels and a new front bumper were added (the latter to comply with new federal regulations). In 1974, the Maverick was unchanged except for rear federal bumpers and larger trunk with a higher deck. Jumping gas prices and increasing demand for smaller cars resulting from the Arab Oil embargo did cause the Maverick to grow in popularity, selling 10,000 more units than the year before. Production of the Maverick and Comet dropped in 1975 with the release of the Ford Granada and Mercury Monarch as true Euro-style luxury compacts.
The Maverick received minor trim changes for 1975 that included new grilles and the replacement of Maverick nameplates on the hood and trunklid with FORD nameplates spelled out in block letters. In 1976 the Grabber was dropped, and a Stallion package was introduced. The Stallion option came with special paint and trim. Like the Sprint package four years earlier, Ford offered the Stallion option on several models, this time including the Pinto and the new Mustang II. The Comet GT was also discontinued. Standard Mavericks received another new grille and gained front disc brakes as standard equipment along with a new foot-operated parking brake that replaced the old under-dash T-handle unit. Production continued to drop.
1977 was the final year for both the Maverick and Comet. Both cars remained unchanged except for a police package on the Maverick which was not sufficiently upgraded for police work and sold less than 400 units. The Maverick was produced in Brazil until 1979. Maverick's place in the North American Ford lineup was essentially taken by the 1978 Fairmont.
The Maverick and Comet saw no significant changes towards the end of their lifespan since they were originally meant to be replaced in 1975 by the Granada and Monarch. However, Ford decided to keep selling both sets of cars until the 1978 model year introduction of the Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr, which were built on an all-new "Fox" platform that would serve as the basic platform for many Ford/Mercury/Lincoln designs through the early 1990s.