The Australian motoring landscape changed forever in 1960 when Ford launched the first Falcon.
Motoring in Australia wouldn't be the same without the Falcon. Prior to the Falcon, Holden dominated the local market. Now 50 years on, the Falcon is the longest running car name on our roads, even older than Ford's other famous badge, the Mustang. The Falcon has been the mainstay of Ford Australia and most Australians have driven or been driven in a Falcon at some time.
The Falcon was Ford Australia's 'line in the sand'. Prior to 1960, Ford Australia was basically an assembler rather than a manufacturer of cars. From its very first Model T it had been building cars from imported kits.
By the mid-1950s, Holden was dominating sales with its locally made FJ model. Ford was pitching the locally assembled Zephyr against the Holden and was rapidly losing market share; something drastic was needed to revive the blue oval brand.
While we look to the XK Falcon as that 'something drastic', the decision to launch an Australian-built Ford was made in 1955, when it was decided that Ford Australia would build the Zephyr locally from the ground up, rather than simply assemble kits that arrived from the UK. But in 1958, after a trip to the USA
to view the Zephyr that was being redesigned for Australia, Ford Australia managing director Charles Smith decided that the car was not right for the local market. He was shown a mock-up of the revised Zephyr Mark II and was disappointed with it. As fate would have it, the Australian team were then shown the clay model of the new Falcon to be introduced into the Canadian and US markets in 1959. Smith immediately proclaimed it the car he wanted for Australia.
The Falcon sedan was launched on September 14th 1960, followed by the wagon in November and May 1961 for the commercials. Known as the XK, two models were initially offered - a Standard priced at £1,119 and a Deluxe model at £1,137. Automatic transmission was an additional £119.
The Falcon had not been specifically designed for local conditions, and in fact no Australian testing was even undertaken, although Ford went to great lengths to promote its suitability for Australian conditions!
Fords advertising of the day proclaimed, "The Falcon is Australian with a world of difference. It is built entirely in Australia for Australian conditions". This was far from the truth. The Falcon was actually built to American specifications with minor changes.
The major changes were made to the wagon, which was reduced in length, and a local Borg Warner rear axle was used.
The Falcon looked good and cost £30 more than the Holden FB. Initial reviews had the Falcon rated as the superior vehicle. The Falcon was lower and 90kg less than the Holden. Its styling was smoother and more modern, with the 2.36-litre engine well ahead on performance. Plus Ford offered an automatic, which Holden didn't until the following year.
A total of 68,413 XKs were built before the arrival of the facelifted XL model. The Falcon family began with the XK and continued through XL, XM, XP, XR, XT, XW, XY, XA, XB, XC, XD, XE, XF, EA, EB, ED, EF, EL, AU, BA, BF and FG. The body changes came with the arrival of the XK, XR, XA, XD, EA, AU and FG. The XL introduced the Futura to the range along with the Squire station wagon. Ford also tackled some of the XK's reliability problems, by fitting a ball joint front suspension, a stabiliser bar and improved braking.
The XM arrived in February 1964 and was touted as being a 'stronger car in all respects'. It was in fact, with improved body/chassis rust proofing, stronger ball joints. Bigger axle shafts, and sturdier engine mounts. Three 6 cylinder engines were available and a three-speed manual or two-speed auto. Despite the improvements the Falcon still trailed Holden by a large margin, so as an act of either insanity or brilliance, Ford Australia's Deputy Managing Director, Bill Bourke came up with the idea of a durability run to launch the XP in 1965. A team of five cars had to cover 70,000 miles in seven days at an average speed of 70mph. The run took place at Ford's You Yangs Proving Ground. Despite four out of the five cars rolling, Ford achieved the target and in so doing set a string of endurance and speed records. The event was a major success and the media coverage was priceless! Ford had shown the XP was tough enough for Australia and finally set the Falcon on an upward path to market leadership.
Success followed with the 1966 'Mustang bred' XR and optional 289 V8 engine. The following year the long wheelbase Fairlane and the Falcon GT were introduced. One year later the XT Falcon was introduced and marked the beginning of Holden-Ford rivalry at Bathurst. The 1969 XW Falcon introduced the now legendary 351 cubic inch V8, and for racers there was an optional 'handling pack' which transformed the GT into the fastest thing on wheels.
The 1972 XA was the first truly Australian Falcon. Prior to this model, Ford Australia engineers re-worked the US Falcons to make them more suitable for local conditions. The result was a classic Falcon much sought after today by Ford connoisseurs.
The updated XB followed in November 1973 and the XC in July 1976. The XD introduced new styling and was very successful against Holden's Commodore. It paved the way for the XE and XF, which went on to be the best selling cars in Australia.
The new EA series commenced in 1988, with teething problems fixed for the arrival in 1991 of the revised EB. The ED and EF followed with Ford surrendering its leadership in the local market with the AU, which had numerous problems. In comparison the 2002 BA was an outstanding car, as is the latest FG, but both have failed to topple the Commodore from its market domination. It is perhaps ironic that Ford have announced that there will not be another locally designed and built Falcon, instead expect to see the famous Falcon badge on another vehicle from the huge Ford worldwide stable.
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