Blue Oval Blues: The Demise Of An Icon.
October 7, 2016, just before 10 am in Melbourne, Victoria. We knew it was coming, we tried to deny it was coming but, inexorably, it arrived. The final Australian built Ford was rolled off the assembly line and the factory fell silent.
91 years. Three million, eight hundred and fifty three thousand, four hundred and thirty seven Falcons later, the last being an blue XR8 Sprint (an homage to the nameplate from the late 1960s), it’s over. Prior to the Sprint, there was a white Territory and a blue XR6. These cars were sold at an auction, raising money for charity. The FG-X Falcon XR6 sold for $81500, the ute XR6 went for $81000 and the Titanium Territory was passed to its new owner for $68500. However, there were three cars that Ford built without ID plates, making them unsaleable and will be kept by Ford for display in their museum.
But there’s much more to Ford in Australia that the events of October, 2016. It’s not commonly known that Ford Australia was founded as an outpost of Ford Canada, a then separate part of Ford USA, as Henry Ford had granted manufacturing rights to Commonwealth countries, except for the UK, to Canadian investors. The very first cars built were assembled from CKD (complete knocked down) kits imported from Canada. These were built in a disused factory from June of 1925, just three months after Ford USA announced that Geelong would be the home of the Australian outpost. The car? The famous “Model T”.
Australia’s Ford history can be tied into innovation; it’s widely accepted that the first coupe utility, or “ute” as it’s best known, originated in Australia and built on a Ford chassis. It’s said that a farmer or farmer’s wife needed a vehicle which could be used to church on Sunday and transport livestock the next. Released in 1934, the design of Louis Bandt, an engineer with Ford, was also born out of economic neccessity. Banks during the Great Depression would not lend money for cars but would for work related vehicles. The coupe utility fitted the bill.
Motorsport has played a huge part in Ford Australia’s history, although in the last couple of decades that gloss has faded. Such was the pride Aussies had in their largely homegrown cars, that a win on Sunday translated into a sell on Monday mentality. The brutal XY GTHO found itself a place in history when it became the fastest four door sedan (or saloon) in the world and had a moment in time frozen forever when Wheels magazine ran a story with the now infamous picture of the car’s speedometer showing 140 miles per hour in a blast on the Hume Highway, running between Sydney in the north, through to Melbourne in the south, in 1971. With Ford’s 5.8L Cleveland V8 sitting under the “shaker” air intake, feeding a four barrel carbie, a plastic chin spoiler and rear deck lid wing, the “Hoey” not only looked the part, the sounds it made when pushed in anger added to the presence.
In the late 1990s, Ford unveiled the R7, a concept car. A large SUV, with rounded and smooth body panels, it would be finalized into production as the Territory and has since bene regarded as one of the best of the Australian made cars. Ford Australia also utilised turbocharging, with their alloy blocked 4.0L six cylinder, which replaced the archaic 4.1L iron blocked engine, finding itself a home inside a range of sports themed cars with the XR nomenclature. The XR6-T and its Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) siblings would also create their own niche in history, as would the name, Tickford.
Although Australia has flirted with hard top two door cars in a mainstream selling environment, sometimes they’ve proved hard to shift and motorsport has helped out in the background.
Legend has it that some four hundred odd XC Falcon coupes were proving hard to shift and a marketing decision was made to repaint them. With a white body and blue striped look, the Cobra was born and it’s now history that two of them finished in a one two formation at Mt Panorama.
It’s fair to argue that some of Australia’s best looking locally manufactured cars were of the two door design. Chrysler had the Valiant Charger, with a distinctive advertising campaign involving two raised fingers. Holden had had the Monaro from the late 1960s and the two door LC/LJ Toranas before a body swap to the LH/LX and UC Torana.
Ford had had the XM and XP coupe, a beautifully balanced design before leaving that area and revisiting with the coke bottle flanked XA Falcon. The next model, the XB, had a slightly more muscular look with the redisgned front and tidied tail lights but the XC was destined for world wide fame, thanks to a cop in black leather…
Mad Max not only showcased the stark and barren beauty of the Outback, it allowed George Miller to share the evil and demonic black painted, supercharged, dual 44 gallon drum equipped monster that was the XB Falcon coupe and Max’s ride. Sadly, the next model, the XC Falcon would be the final Ford Australia factory produced “tudor”.
Ford’s also made decisions that have backfired in a sales sense; they cancelled off V8 engines in the early mid 1980s, leaving their primary opposition, General Motors Holden (at the time) to run away with the market when it came to these powerplants. It would be some years before Ford Australia once again slotted V8s into the cars, in 1991. They were also Canadian sourced, and somewhat different to the engines made and used in the United States.
Holden and Ford had also gone head to head when it came to luxury cars. Ford had the Fairlane and LTD, with Holden matching up with the Statesman and Caprice. In December 2007 Ford deleted the Fairlane and LTD, citing lack of sales as being unviable, again leaving the market door wide open for Holden to continue.
Depending on the Falcon car they were based on, the Fairlane and LTD were long, large, and imposing vehicles, all the way from their launch through to the BA Falcon, where that commanding and majestic look disappeared, along with their buyers.
Ford Australia also manufactured cars in other locations to Geelong; between 1981 and 1994, the Laser (one of many cars Ford shared as a platform with other makers such as Mazda) was built in Homebush, the site for the 2000 Olympics. The Ford Anglia, Cortina, and Escort, were built in Australia and based on the cars from the U.K. Mazda donated the 626 which would become the Telstar until Nissan’s Pintara became the Ford Corsair.
Perhaps, though, Ford Australia’s history can be seen by many as stemming from the Ford Falcon of 1960, effectively a right hand drive conversion of the American Falcon. Designated the XK, the range would see the introduction of utility and panel van bodies, however Australian roads, particularly in rural areas, soon proved to be the car’s undoing and subsequent engineering work saw the release of the XL. In 1964 the XM Falcon was unveiled, with the first fully Australian designed Falcon body. A year later the XP was released and introduced the Fairmont name. The XP was also the model that concreted teh Falcon into Australian sales, with then deputy manager, Bill Bourke, conceiving a plan to demonstrate the cars durability. A fleet of cars would drive for 110,000 kilometres at over 110 kmh at the You Yangs proving grounds, successfully showing the Australian engineering had improced thecar substanionally over its forebears.
In 1966 the car moved from a smooth and curvy look to a sharp edged, blocky design based on the third generation US Falcon. It was also the first model to have a V8, the 4.7 litre or 289 cubic inch powerplant. The long running 144 ci engine from previous models was deleted, leaving the once optionable 170 ci engine as the standard engine. The XR covered all bases, with Falcon, Falcon 500, and Fairmont sedans, Falcon, Falcon 500, and Fairmont wagons, Falcon and Falcon 500 utilities, and the Falcon Van all being made available.
As the American Falcon had strong ties with the Mustang that had been released in 1964, Ford Australia capitalised on that by unveiling the XR Falcon GT, packing a 225 horsepower or 168 kilowatt 4.7L V8. The XR was updated to the XT in 1968, offering a new V8 at 302 ci or 4.9 litres, plus a new 3.1 litre straight six or 3.6 litre six. A rework of the external design had the 1969 XW Falcon looking more muscular and hard edged, plus the soon to be legendary 5.8L 351ci was added. Again sourced from Canada, the engine offered, as standard, 291 horsepower or 217 kW, exiting through a dual exhaust and breathing in through a bonnet mounted airscoop for the GT variant. It also saw the introduction of the now iconic “Superoo” decals for the sides of the car.
August of 1969, just days after Armstrong and Aldrin had walked the moon, saw another memorable moment in time. Australia was given the GT-HO. Initially using the “Windsor” V8, it was soon changed to the “Cleveland” pumping out 300 horsepower or 221 kW. There was also an uprated suspenion, hence the HO or “Handling Option” part of the name.
That legend continued to grow with the introduction of the XY nameplate. With only minor styling changes it was the the “Shaker” air intake that many would identify the XY with. Top speed would be generally recognised as 141.5 miles per hour, or just under 228 kilometres per hour. The name “Phase 3” is also strongly identified with the XY GT-HO.
Ford America ceased production of their Falcon in the very early 1970s, with Ford Australia’s design and engineering team producing the XA. It’s the model that reintroduced the two door configuration and is also identified as one of the three cars associated with the “Supercar scare”, with the mooted Phase 4 seeing, allegedly, just three examples being produced.
The XB and XC updates saw some notable external changes and with the XC, a redesign of the dashboard, the “crossflow” head design for the six cylinder engine, and Australia’s first suspension built around using radial ply tyres, known as “Touring Suspension”. The XC is also the model that saw Ford utilise the last remaining two door bodyshells, as mentioned earlier, which gave the Australian motoring public the Cobra. They were individually numbered, rolled on 15 inch diameter wheels with a design intended to help brake cooling and motorvated by a mix of 302 ci and 351 ci engines, painted in that now iconic blue and white colour scheme.
Ford Au would move to a Ford Eu influenced design with the introduction of the XD. The 4.1L would gain an alloy head, increasing fuel economy and power slightly. The XE gave the Falcon a more angular front and the XF of the mid 1980s saw a softening of the design, with a rounded nose and more integrated tail lights. The XE would also be the first Falcon in over a decade to outsell its main opposition, the Holden Commodore, also a Euro based design. It was also the the last model to see the V8 for some time. The XG nameplate was applied to the two commercial derivations, the ute and panel van, and saw the introduction of a new powerplant, the slightly downsized 4.0L six, the loss of the archaic three speed automatic transmission associated with the Falcon for decades and a new five speed manual. The range was built on the XF platform whereas the Falcon had transitioned to the ovoid shaped EA and EB. Even the XR6 nameplate, seen in the EB, was brought in.
The Falcon had updated to the EF in the mid 1990s, with a slimline look to the front end, sleekly integrated headlights and a more curvaceous styling. The 4.0L engine was upgraded to an electronic ignition system and power saw an increase to 157 kW. The EL was a facelift, externally, however the standard six was refitted with the distributor ignition system previously deleted.
Ford Australia’s great hope, the AU Falcon, was released in 1998, utilising Ford’s “New Edge” styling. It was almost immediately condemned for its looks, and changes to the original look were implemented quickly with the April 200 series 2 and September 2001 series 3 updates. They included changes to the grille design, a raised bonnet and bigger wheels. September 2002 and a half billion dollars later, the BA Falcon was released. A flatter, less rounded and edge oriented design, inside and out, the BA went a long way to reversing the sales drop the AU had brought and won the Wheels magazine Car of the Year award. The BA’s interior was a more cohesive design and saw the introduction of the LCD screen Interior Command Screen. There was also the introduction of the “Barra” range of sixes, including the weapons grade potency of the turbocharged 4.0L. Throwing out 240 kilowatts and a massive 450 Newton metres of torque, it was just 22 Nm shy of the standard 5.4L US sourced alloy V8 also used.
2004 had Ford release the Territory, Ford’s entrant into the burgeoning SUV market and an immediate sales success. It was based on the BA’s floorplan, complete with the independent rear suspension that Falcon’s handling prowess had been lauded for in predeceding years. The BA would also be followed by the facelifted BF before a heavily revised external FG series was released in 2008. The range saw the dropping of the Fairmont and Futura name, the latter a name resurrected from the 1960s for the AU. Modifications to the turbo six saw torque reach an astounding 533 Nm.
The final Falcon, the FG X, was also the first Falcon with a three letter nomenclature and again saw a substantial external redesign. Criticism of the car centred aound the almost unchanged dash even though the abilities of the electronics had increased since the BA. But in a nod to history, the X refers to the history of Falcon, going all the way back to the 1960 XK.
Although Ford Australia has ceased to be a manufacturer, it will still be heavily involved with the world market. Research and Development, R&D, with the legendary You Yangs proving ground, will continue to be part of the global network. It also allows Ford Australia to source some of the world market cars; the Mustang has made a huge impact in the world market and especially in Australia, partly though, to the detriment of the final runs of the Falcon and derivative models.