56 Years of Ford Falcon
The last Ford Falcon rolled off the Broadmeadows production line on friday, ending 91 years Australian-built Fords. The Falcon enjoyed a 56 year production run making it the longest running automotive nameplate on an Australian car. This long lifespan and stints at the top of the sales charts in the 1980s and 90s mean that 3.8 million Falcons have been produced. The Falcon spans eight generations, has been offered in six body styles, seven if you include the Fairlane, held a world record and finished on the podium of the London to Sydney marathon. The Falcon has achieved so much more than any other family sedan.
The Falcon was introduced to Australia in 1960 as a replacement for the Zephyr. The Zephyr was too expensive to build and Ford couldn't sell it for the same price as a Holden. When Ford Australia MD Charles Smith went to Dearborn to inspect the new Zephyr, he saw a Falcon design proposal and told the Americans "that's the car I want for Australia". A telegram was sent back to Geelong that simply read "Cancel Zephyr", A new plant was built in Broadmeadows that produced Falcons from 1960 to 2016. The Falcon got off to a poor start though. It's hard to believe today, given the Falcon's reputation for durability, but the XK couldn't withstand the punishing Australian roads. It was rushed to the market without making changes to the American design to cope with Australian conditions and had frequent problems with ball joints and suspension towers.. Improvements were made over the life of the first generation in the XL and XM, culminating in the Wheels Car of the Year winning XP. To prove that the XP was durable enough for Australian conditions, Ford subjected five XPs to five days and 70,000 miles of non stop driving around the You Yangs proving ground. Despite four of them rolling over due to driver fatigue, all five were still running at the end. Ford took a massive gable with the durability run. If the cars didn't last, the run would have simply reinforced the notion that the Falcon wasn't tough enough for Australia. Without the XP, the Falcon would not have made it to a second generation.
The second generation Falcon started with the “Mustang bred” XR, which introduced affordable V8 power to Australia. Chrylser was already offering a V8 Valiant, but only on top spec models, Ford offered a 289 Windsor in every Falcon. What the XR was remembered for though, was the first Falcon GT, the first Australian muscle car and the car that set the template for every Australian muscle car since. The GT was a civilian version of the police pursuit special, introduced as a response to a Mini winning Bathurst. The XR GT won Bathurst and kicked off a horsepower war that culminated in the XY GTHO Phase 3. With a top speed of 141 mph, the Phase 3 held the title of fastest sedan in the world. Jaguar also claimed to have the "fastest full four-seater available in the world today" with the XJ12. They said it was capable of "around 140 mph", but this was never verified. The Phase 3 was dominant at Bathurst, with Allan Moffat single-handedly taking his second Bathurst victory in 1971. His first was in a Phase 2 the year before. An often forgotten motorsport achievement of the second generation Falcon is third, sixth and place and the teams prize for the XT GT in the London to Sydney Marathon in 1968.
During the time of the second generation, Ford killed off the US Falcon. They tried to convince their Australian arm to adopt the Torino, but that was too big. The only thing they could do was develop a uniquely Australian Falcon, the XA. While the XA GTHO Phase 4 never reached production, a dramatically styled new coupe was introduced to take it's place on the track. The leftover parts from the Phase 4 were used in the GT RPO83 coupe. The XA was succeeded by the XB. The XB was the car that allowed the third generation Falcon to reach its full potential, briefly outselling the Holden HJ. The XB also put the Falcon on the world stage, appearing in Mad Max. The XC was the final third generation model, and it demonstrated Ford's engineering capability by introducing new engines designed to meet stringent new emissions standards while producing more power. The XC also gave us the famous one-two finish at Bathurst with Allan Moffat and Colin Bond. There was no XC GT, the GT had been replaced by the softer GXL
The 1970s oil crisis prompted Holden to replace the Kingswood with the smaller Commodore in 1978. Ford couldn't afford to do an all new model. One option, known as Project Capricorn was to replace the Falcon with a long wheelbase version of the Ford Telstar/Mazda 626. This would have been a front wheel drive car with no V8 and probably no six either. It was also a long and skinny car. Thankfully they went with the other option of carrying over parts from the XC. This created a car that felt outdated compared with the Commodore, but sticking with a big car worked out quite well for them later in the third generation's model cycle. Buyers wanted space and the big Falcon delivered that better than the Commodore. The XE replaced the leaf springs with coils, making it a much better car. It was the car the XD should have been. With the oil crisis over and continual improvements to the engine to make it more fuel efficient, it was a more appealing car than the Commodore and became Australia's top selling car. The Falcon would hold this title until 1988, and again in the mid 90s. The The V8 engine was dropped during the XE's production run in 1982, replaced by a fuel injected version of the 4.1L six.
The XE was was replaced by the faceifted XF in 1984. A lack of a V8 proved no issue to the XF, which became the highest selling Falcon all time. The XF, however, was only a placeholder car built because Ford had nothing planned yet for the fourth generation car. Time and money wasted on Capricorn and then the resources that went into the XE had held them back. If Holden hadn't found themselves in financial trouble in the late 1980s, the XF might not have done so well.
Thanks to the hugely popular XF, Ford was able to ignore pressure from Dearborn to adopt the front wheel drive Taurus, the too narrow Scorpio or enter a joint development program with Mazda for the 929/Falcon. The EA was a very good looking car, buit it was rushed to the market too quickly, badly made with a three speed automatic. What followed though was the vastly improved EB. The EB meant the return of the V8, an imported 5.0L Windsor and the four speed auto that the Falcon desperately needed. It was also safer and more secure, introducing optional ABS brakes and a new 'Smartlock' immobiliser. Later E series Falcons and Fairmonts undid the EA’s damage and took back the number one in the sales charts. The EL Fairmont Ghia also fended off a challenge from the imported Taurus Ghia and secured another generation of Falcon. This was a big achievement, because in the 90s, Dearborn was desperate to kill off the Falcon. The GT made two appearances during the E series' life. A run of 250 EBIIs in 1992 marked the 25th anniversary of the Falcon GT, and 267 ELs were produced for the 30th anniversary in 1997.
Perhaps the most important thing the EB did was introduce the XR6. The impact of the XR6 cannot be understated. It was the first car from Tickford, the company that became FPV. It was faster than the Falcon XR8 and Commodore SS of the day. The EB and subsequent EF and EL XR6s were fantastic sports sedans and great value for money.
Unfortunately, the sixth generation AU, launched in 1998, was not well received. Ford had got permission to do a new Falcon instead of importing the Taurus and Crown Victoria, but they were forced to adopt the 'New Edge' styling. The styling was well received by critics, but buyers didn't like it. The basic AU Forte was underdone. It was a car that obviously pandered to fleets, featuring a cheap live rear axle carried over from the EL, when the optional double A arm rear suspension should have been standard. The only good things about the AU Forte when it was new were that it was lighter and stiffer than the EL, and incredibly cheap. They have however proven to be very tough. Moving up the AU range to the models aimed at private buyers, things improved dramatically. The double A arm rear suspension in the Fairmont and XRs was technically superior to the semi trailing arms used in the Commodore, and the handling of IRS AUs were a big step up from the EL. The unappealing styling of the Forte and Futura resulted in more people opting for the XR6 than before. The XR model structure also moved closer to what we saw with the BA and FG, with a base XR6 with the standard Falcon engine, the more powerful XR6 VCT and the V8 XR8. The AU also marked the first time that the XR8 was faster than the fastest XR6. At the top of the AU range was the Tickford T series. The T series was available as an entry level TE50 or premium TS50, as well as a Fairlane based TL50. Earlier versions were considered inferior to offerings from HSV at the time, due to the power deficit of the 5.0L Windsor V8. The final T3 model, with it's 250kW 5.6L, was much improved, and easily a match for, or even better than a VX Clubsport.
The BA was more than enough to make up for the AU. The styling was more appealing to more people, it was vastly more comfortable, well made and refined than a VX Commodore, and it introduced the XR6 Turbo. There was a new control blade rear suspension, and the SOHC Intech inline 6 had been heavily overhauled to create the DOHC Barra. The Barra would remain in use until the very end. With the BA, Ford had finally built a car good enough to break the Falcon's 36 year Car of the Year drought. Following its COTY win, Wheels drove an XR6 Turbo from Italy to the UK via Germany, Switzerland and France. The European journalists’ opinions were mixed, but they all agreed that it was fast, spacious and comfortable but thirsty. Chris Harris, then writing for Autocar, described it as "an E39 5 Series for 20,000 quid". Ahead of the BA Falcon launch, Tickford was sold to Prodrive and became Ford Performance Vehicles. The first car from FPV was a new GT to replace the TE50. Naturally when the XR6 Turbo was unveiled alongside the GT in 2002, speculation of a turbo six FPV began . In 2004, they delivered the F6 Typhoon sedan and F6 Tornado ute.
The BA though represents a missed opportunity. Initially the BA was supposed to share its rear suspension with the 2005 Mustang, but Australian and American engineers couldn't agree on the design. The Americans wanted a fully isolated IRS because that would have meant lower NVH, but the Australians didn't want an isolated system because the Falcon needed to fit three adults in the back seat. The Falcon ended up using a RWD version of control blade rear suspension, and the Mustang a live axle. Sharing front suspension was prevented by the Falcon's use of an inline six and the Mustang's V6. Ford Australia couldn't afford to adopt the V6. The reason for the Americans not adopting the Barra 182 or 240T inline six is unknown. It had more power and torque than the old 4.0L Duratec they were using at the time. The inline six is also a superior layout to the V6, with both primary and secondary balance. The V6 has neither.
The BA was replaced by the BF in 2005, which picked up the same ZF six speed automatic found in the E60 BMW 5 Series and Land Rover Discovery 3, among others. The BF also delivered minor power gains for the sixes. The V8s power outputs remained unchanged at 260kW for the XR8 and 290kW in the GT, but tightening emissions standards meant that their rev limits were cut and performance was reduced. In the BA, the turbo sixes were a bit faster than their V8 counterparts, in the BF, they were a lot faster. This remained the case until the supercharged Miami V8 was introduced in 2010
Another opportunity was lost in 2005, when Ford’s global RWD platform was cancelled. This was supposed to replace the EA169, Panther, D-2C and DEW98 platforms. It was killed off by Bill Ford because he believed Ford could not afford the new platform. This decision, along with One Ford, put the Falcon on borrowed time.
This lead to the FG not being an all new model. Instead it took a version of the Territory’s virtual pivot double A-arm front suspension and a revised version of the control blade rear suspension to create the E8 platform. The BA’s floorpan was carried over, but the rest of the body was changed. Ford achieved a lot with what they had. The new G6E Turbo was the standout model, winning the minor car of the year awards from Australia's various newspapers. The turbo versions of the Barra six also picked up the Silver Automotive Engineering Excellence award from the Australian arm of the Society of Automotive Engineers. The FG missed out on the Wheels Car of the Year award however, let down by the XT and XR8. It's often forgotten that the FG was the first and so far only car in Australia to be offered with a factory fitted liquid injection LPG system. The EcoLPI replaced the long running and low-tech E-Gas and produced more power than the petrol model. In 2012, a 2.0L Ecoboost version of the FG was released. The Ecoboost was available as an XT, G6 and G6E, but disappointingly there was no XR4 Turbo. The Ecoboost was highly regarded by the critics. Its performance, handling and efficiency, were all an improvement over the six and far superior to the wheezy 3.0L Commodore. Sadly it was ignored by buyers, with most being sold to Ford employees and fleets.
The FG was a very good car, but it wasn't enough to save the Australian RWD Falcon. If it were to survive Alan Mulally's One Ford plan, it would need to find a place in Ford's global line-up. Ford Australia wanted to build a LHD Falcon and Territory, but the Americans wouldn't allow it. It seemed that the FG-X Falcon would be the last RWD Falcon, and that it's successor would be an Australian made version of the Taurus. Then in 2014, Ford announced that they would end Australian manufacturing in late 2016. The Falcon name was to be retired as a sign of respect to the Australian car. Since that announcement, it had emerged that if Ford had continued to build cars in Australia, the Falcon and Territory would have been replaced by the Ranger and Everest. The free trade agreement with Thailand killed that plan however.
The FG-X was released after Ford announced it was closing it's Australian factories and retiring the Falcon in 2016. They didn't have the budget that Holden had for the VF Commodore, but it was still a good car and allowed the Falcon to go out on a high. Prior to the launch of the FG-X, Ford bought FPV from Prodrive, but elected not to continue with the brand beyond the FG. Instead the XR8 was revived with the GT's Miami 5.0L suoercharged V8 and the R-Spec suspension. Earlier this year Ford released Sprint versions of the XR6 Turbo and XR8, reviving a name that had previously been used on the XM and ED XR8. Having promised never to build a more powerful car than the 351kW GT-F, the XR8 Sprint ran a 340kW version of the supercharged V8. Meanwhile the XR6 Sprint's Barra 325T turbocharged inline six most powerful all-Australian passenger car engine ever produced. A record it took off the FG F6's Barra 310T and will almost certainly hold forever. Both utilised the R-Spec suspension and Pirelli P-Zero tyres. The XR8 Sprint was available as a manual or auto, but the XR6 Sprint was auto-only. Possibly because Ford had overestimated how popular the auto FG-X XR6 Turbo and XR8 would be and had to shift the excess automatic transmissions. Still the XR6 Sprint is possibly the better of the two.
The last Falcon was produced on Friday, 7th December 2016. It was a blue XR6 sedan. It was accompanied by a silver Territory Titanium TDCI AWD. In the week leading up to this sad day, people started looking for someone to blame. Many people blamed the government for not doing enough to save the Australian car industry. A valid point considering how much more other countries do for theirs. Others blamed Ford for not building cars that people wanted. That's easy to say but rather difficult to do. Ford Australia tried building more relevant cars like the Focus and Ranger, but the free trade agreement with Thailand prevented the business case from stacking up. They tried exporting Falcons and Territorys, but they were stopped by an irrational and nationalistic parent company who wouldn't allow it. The Australian government was willing to foot the bill to develop a left hand drive Falcon for export as a US police car. Think about that for a moment. Ford was offered the chance to develop a car that delivered exactly what American police wanted, for free, but turned it down. In the end, anyone who drives a modern imported car has to take some of the blame.
The passing of the Falcon and Commodore will leave a hole in the new car market. Over the years the Falcon has been all things to all people. Most cars only serve one purpose, but Falcon has been a family car, sports car, taxi, luxury car, police car, ute and panel van. And that's just what they've been straight out of the factory. Falcons and Fairlanes have also served as hearses and limos, even in the UK. There is a Falcon for just about every automotive purpose. The XY was even offered as a Jeep-chassised 4WD ute. This combination of requirements has lead to a very unique offering. The taxi driver demands an affordable and spacious car that can do over a million kilometres with only routine maintenance, despite running on LPG in crowded and polluted cities. The highway patrol officer needs a fast, four door car that withstand aggressive driving. Combine these attributes and you have a sports sedan that you can use every day and won't send you broke. Equivalent German and British cars will set you back three times what an XR6 Turbo costs and are expensive to service. The Americans can sell you the same performance for the same price, but only as an impractical coupe. When they do make a sedan it's enormous, heavy and badly made. Ford is hoping that the Mustang and Mondeo will keep Falcon owners buying Fords, but you'd need both to replace a Falcon. If you're a car enthusiast in Australia, can only have one car and need a large one, the Falcon is perfect.
The Falcon has done something that very few cars have achieved. It has become a cultural icon. With 3.5 million produced over the years, everyone has experienced a Falcon at some point in their lives. The 20-something year old Australians reading this would know the Falcon as the car that takes them home after a night out, or their parents might had one as the family car or company car in the days before the SUV boom. Or maybe. they had one as their first car. Some people have been born in Falcons, and quite a few would have been conceived in them too. It even featured in a Paul Kelly song. A big deal in Australian culture. The second verse in Under the Sun begins with the line "leaving South Fremantle, in a Falcon panel van". An XE taxi also featured in the video for Before too Long. As the dominant car in the taxi industry, the Falcon is often the first car people ride in when they arrive in Australia. The Falcon is to Australia what the black cab is to London or the Crown Victoria is to America. The most iconic car in Australian cinema is a Falcon, the Pursuit Special from Mad Max. Its because of Mad Max that people around the world know the Falcon. Americans and Brits will be familiar with the Commodore, and may know Holden, but will they know the name Commodore? Thanks to Mad Max, they will know the Ford Falcon.
Motorsport has also been key to Falcon's icon status. Despite Ford's in and out approach to motorsport, the Falcon has had a constant presence in Australian racing since 1967. Aside from during the Group A years from 1985 to 1992 when the XF and EA were ineligible. Falcon has won Bathurst 14 times, a record only beaten by the Holden Commodore. The only generation of V8 Falcon that didn't win Bathurst was the AU. The XT, XB and EF didn't win Bathurst either, but others in their respective generations did. The Falcon also has a record 16 Australian Touring Car Championships. Names like Geoghegan, Moffat, Johnson, Bond, Goss, Bowe, Seton, Ambrose, Winterbottom and Mostert are synonymous with the Falcon and Ford. Although known more as Holden drivers, Jamie Whincup, James Courtney and Russell Ingall all won championships in Falcons. Craig Lowndes has had half his Bathurst victories in a Ford. The cars they drove are just as well known. 53D, the Super Falcon, Moffat's GTHOs, Tru Blu, Greens Tuf, the Green Eyed Monster, Ambrose's Pirtek BA. The Falcon might not have the most Bathurst victories, but it did win the greatest Bathurst ever, Chaz Mostert and Paul Morris's unlikely last to first win in 2014. The Falcon will compete in Supercars for at least one more year before being replaced by another Ford. 2016 has not been a good year for Ford drivers in Supercars, with only one race win and no realistic championship contenders left following Bathurst. Hopefully the Falcon can win one more Bathurst and championship next year. The Mustang, Mondeo and Focus are being investigated by Prodrive Racing Australia as potential replacements.
There will be no more new Falcons, but the existing cars and the memories live on. They serve as a reminder of what we as a nation are capable of doing against the odds with limited resources. Ford Australia fought hard to keep the Falcon going, but after more than 30 years of trying the Americans finally got their way. If you own a Falcon, or any other Australian Ford, you're driving a collectors item. With nothing else anywhere in the world to replace it, the Falcon will be sorely missed.