Falcons Down Under: The Australian Ford Falcon, Part One

THE FALCON SHAPES UP: XL AND XM

The second Australian Falcon, the XL, arrived in August 1962. Externally, the most obvious change was a new convex grille, but under the skin, various components were beefed up in response to the earlier complaints. Since the plusher Falcon Futura had been a big hit in the States, a similar model was added to the XL line, featuring a more formal roofline and bucket seats.

1961 Ford Falcon front
1962 Ford XL Falcon front 3q Ferenghi (Anthony Wilcox) PD
The grille of the XL Falcon (bottom) was similar but not identical to that of the 1961 North American model (top). Both were styled in Dearborn, although by the mid-sixties, Ford stylists in Geelong were responsible for ‘productionizing’ the local version. (Top photo © 2008 Aaron Severson; bottom photo: “1962 Ford Falcon XL” © 2010 Ferenghi (Anthony Wilcox), released to the public domain by the photographer, resized by Aaron Severson)

Thanks to an improved economy — and the fact that Broadmeadows was now supplying Falcons for right-hand-drive export markets like Hong Kong, Malaya, Fiji, and Japan — XL sales were up about 10% from those of the XK. However, Ford of Canada remained dissatisfied with its Australian subsidiary’s financial performance.

In mid-1963, Ford dispatched a new managing director, Wallace Booth, and a new deputy marketing director, American-born William O. Bourke, to bolster Ford Australia’s profit margins. At the same time, Ford sought to make its Australian-built cars more suitable for local conditions, investing AU£750,000 (about US$1.67 million) in a new 1,730-acre (700-hectare) proving grounds in You Yangs, west of Melbourne.

1962 Ford Falcon wagon side
1962 Ford XL Falcon Squire wagon side Bruce Anderson/Ford - Ford Motor Company
While the North American Falcon wagon (top) and Ranchero were 7.8 inches (198 mm) longer than the sedan for extra cargo space, the Australian versions were about the same overall length as the sedan, allowing greater rear departure angles — one of the few substantial changes made to the early Falcon to suit Australian roads. This XL wagon (bottom) is a Squire, Ford Australia’s short-lived attempt at an American-style pseudo-woody wagon. It was not well received by Australian buyers and it was dropped in 1965. (Top photo © 2007 Aaron Severson; bottom photo: Ford Motor Company)

The XM Falcon, introduced in February 1964, diverged more from its North American counterparts than either of its predecessors had. While the U.S. Falcon had an all-new body for the 1964 model year, the XM carried over the original body shell with revised trim, a new grille (based on that of the 1964 Mercury Comet), and a raised decklid with higher taillights (improving cargo space).

Despite its resemblance to the XL, Ford boasted that the XM Falcon had AU£1 million (US$2.2 million) worth of mechanical upgrades, mostly derived from extensive road testing on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula. The suspension was extensively revised, borrowing pieces from the midsize Fairlane and the big Galaxie, while a new seven-bearing “Super Pursuit 200” (3,280 cc) six joined the options list, offering 121 gross horsepower (90 kW). There was also an attractive new pillarless hardtop coupe, a body style common in the States, but rare in Australia.

1964 Ford XM Falcon hardtop side - Ford Motor Company
Although it benefited from the structural improvements developed for the North American market’s V8-powered Falcon Sprint, the biggest engine offered in the XM Falcon hardtop — at least from the factory — was the Super Pursuit 200 cu. in. (3,280 cc) six. The four-speed gearbox optional on U.S. cars was not yet available. With Fordomatic, reaching 60 mph (97 km/h) took around 15 seconds, with a top speed in the 96-97 mph (154-156 km/h) range; manual-shift cars were slightly quicker. (Photo: Ford Motor Company)

The new hardtop was the first beneficiary of the structural makeover the XM Falcon received over the course of its short run, which lasted less than 12 months. Like the V8-powered Falcon Sprint, introduced in the U.S. in mid-1963, the hardtop’s monocoque structure was reinforced with heavier-gauge steel in the rocker panels, engine compartment, and floorpan. The latter had extended side rails with torque boxes at each end that would flex slightly in response to impacts — a trick originally developed for the intermediate Fairlane in 1962. While early-production XM sedans, wagons, and utes were structurally similar to the previous XL, by the end of the model run, most XM Falcons had received the same changes as the hardtop.

Since Ford did not publicize those structural improvements, they did little to alleviate the Falcon’s negative reputation and buyers remained wary. Moreover, there was strong new competition from Chrysler’s AP6 Valiant, which offered an optional V8 engine and a three-speed automatic, neither of which was available on the Falcon. XM sales were once again disappointing and Ford Australia posted a AU£4.9 million (US$10.9 million) loss for the 1964 fiscal year, surrendering some of its recently acquired market share to Chrysler. According to some sources, Ford actually considered dropping the Falcon name, hoping to give future models a fresh start.

1964 Ford Falcon Sprint hardtop rear 3q
1964 Ford XM Falcon sedan rear 3q - Ford Motor Company
Unlike the North American Falcon, which was all new for 1964 (top), the XM was still based on the original 1960-1963 body shell, although its overall length grew to 183.1 inches (4,651 mm). Note the XM’s distinctive taillight pods; while they maintain the “dog-dish” theme Ford had used since the mid-fifties, they don’t resemble any iteration of the U.S. Falcon. (Top photo © 2010 Aaron Severson; bottom photo: Ford Motor Company)

THE XP DURABILITY RUN

When the XP Falcon arrived in early February 1965, Ford advertising trumpeted its extensive structural improvements (many of which had actually been introduced on late-model XMs) and “road-hugging strength.” Nonetheless, marketing director Bill Bourke recognized that convincing a skeptical public would require more radical steps.

1965 Ford XP Falcon sedan front 3q - Ford Motor Company
1962 Mercury Comet front 3q © 2008 John Lloyd (CC BY 2.0 Generic)
The 1965 XP Falcon (top) was about the same size as the XM, but it now borrowed some of its front sheet metal from the 1962–63 Mercury Comet (bottom); the new grille and rear clip were inspired by those of previous full-size Ford Galaxies. A new luxury-oriented Fairmont model, which replaced the Futura and Squire in September 1965, came standard with the Super Pursuit 200 engine, 14-inch (356mm) wheels, front disc brakes, and a three-speed “Fordomatic 3S” automatic transmission (actually a Borg-Warner 35). Available only as a sedan or wagon, the Fairmont cost a whopping AU£450 (about US$1,000) more than a base model. (Top photo: Ford Motor Company; bottom photo: “1962 Mercury Comet” © 2008 John Lloyd; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

In April, Bourke organized a much-publicized “XP Durability Run” at the new proving grounds in You Yangs. The plan was to run five XP Falcons a total of 70,000 miles (112,700 km) around the rugged test track at an average speed of 70 mph (113 km/h), finally laying to rest any doubts about the Falcon’s robustness.

The nine-day event was a rough-and-tumble affair in every sense. Four of the five cars rolled over at least once, only to be righted and sent on their way. After a few days, Ford ran short of qualified drivers, eventually putting out a frantic call for anyone with a competition license. Nevertheless, all five cars survived the brutal treatment, maintaining an average speed of 71.3 mph (144.8 km/h).

1965 Ford XP Falcon hardtop Durability Run - Ford Motor Company
Four of the XP Durability Run cars were sedans, but the fifth was a hardtop coupe, perhaps as a way of demonstrating that the XP Falcon’s ruggedness was not limited to the four-door models. If you look closely, you can see the chrome trim strip at the base of each sail panel, a feature found on earlier pillared Futuras, but not the 1964–1965 North American Falcon hardtops. (Photo: Ford Motor Company)

As intended, the Durability Run attracted a great deal of attention, including a brief visit from corporate chairman Henry Ford II. It won the Falcon newfound respect from Australia’s motoring press, including a 1965 Car of the Year Award from Wheels magazine. Sales rose encouragingly, bolstered by the addition later in the year of the upscale Fairmont model with front disc brakes and a three-speed automatic. The XP’s fortunes probably also benefited from public disdain for the awkward-looking HD Holden, although the HD still outsold the Falcon by 2½ to one. The final tally for XP production was just under 71,000 units in 17 months.

20 Comments

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  1. I am a Holden man, but it is wonderful that the Australian Falcon story is shared. I just hope that the next Falcon will not be a Taurus, the Aussie Falcon just always needs to be rear wheel drive. By the way I absolutely adore your articles!

  2. Nice work on the Australian Falcon piece so far. It’s unusual and refreshing to read about the topic from the perspective of someone from outside of the Australian car culture who can take an informed look through a non-partisan lens, and not have their impressions gradually influenced by some 40 plus years of marketing, to say nothing of the schoolyard and BBQ mythologizing.

    1. all about falcons but what about furtura We have a 1962 2door and can’t find out anything please help

      1. The Futura was a Falcon trim series. It was introduced in the U.S. midway through the 1961 model year, initially priced $248 above than the base model. The Futura included bucket seats, vinyl upholstery, and a center console with a storage bin. It had a slightly different roofline and different wheel covers than other two-door Falcon sedans, but it was otherwise mechanically identical.

        In 1961 and 1962, the Futura was available only as a two-door sedan. In 1963, the Falcon Futura became a model, available in several different body styles.

        A Futura model was added to the Australian line with the XL Falcon. It was similar but not quite identical to the U.S. version; the initial XL Falcon Futura was available only as a four-door sedan, although a two-door hardtop was added with the XM line.

        I have a decent set of photos of a ’62 North American Futura, which you can see on the Ate Up With Motor Flickr page.

  3. So great to have you back! Just a quick trouble note, the end of page 5 after the Amazon ads is cut off on the right, including the commenting application (in Firefox 3.6.13), 1680×1050.

    1. Oops, a big block of text in the bibliography was messing with the border. It’s fixed for Firefox; IE and Opera are proving more difficult.

  4. Excellent article, Aaron… as a Falcon lover in the US I’ve always been curious about the Aussie Falcons (as well as those built and sold by Ford in other markets around the world) and your article has answered a number of questions that I had about them. Looking forward to the next installment!

  5. Thank you for the many excellent articles you have here! This is far and away my favorite automotive website, your writing and research are exceptional!

    Keep up the great work!

  6. Very good article and for someone not conversant with Aussie cars well researched Did anyone show you a pic of what Ford OZ wanted to do to the Zephyr god it was awful no surprise they got turned down. Having had experience of both the Zephyr was a better car. Looking forward to the next instalment.

    1. Alas, I was not able to get a picture of the stillborn Zephyr Mark IIA (I did ask Ford Archives).

      1. Someone published some drawings in a hotrod mag once puporting to be Ford OZs ideas not a pretty car and Ford England wasnt changing their car to suit anyone even a tiny market like Aussie, they took the Falcon NZ got both but the Zephyr was much more popular especially the MK3 which was English motor way capable the Zodiac could hit 100mph yer needed a long downhill run in a Falcon to do that Ford solved that problem in OZ by turning the Zcar line off.

  7. Truly enjoyed reading stories of your Falcon. We in Argentina had similar development issues for the first 60s models since our roads were very rugged too. In the 70s we parted ways when local designers coyed with specific preferences dictated by the respective markets. My only Australian Falcon experience happened when I saw an 80s Aussie Falcon roaming the streets of Buenos Aires quite a few times. It very much looked like an early european Ford Granada.
    The car had local plates and was obviously RHD. I presume it was brought in by a member of the Australian Embassy, thus circumventing local laws. In Argentina we miss our Falcon but there is no market yet for a Segment D car.
    These days we build the Focus instead and Argentinians still hold the Ford brand very dear for the successful subsequent Falcon models built and for the fact that they built the first automotive plant in the country back in 1913.

  8. I would like to add a small but significant tidbit.

    Australian Design Rules mandated the taillamps to contain amber-coloured turn signal and red-coloured brake signal and night illumination. That requirement was introduced on the 1963 model year.

    That required some design changes to the taillamps on the Australian models thereafter.

    1. I don’t know what dates ADRs 1 (reversing lamps) and 6 (turn signals) were first drafted, but one of the interesting tidbits I found in the Department of Infrastructure and Transport’s website was that they were initially just guidelines (however seriously manufacturers may have regarded them) — they didn’t start to become legal requirements until 1969. ADR1 didn’t become mandatory until 1 January 1972, ADR6 until 1 January 1973. However, Australia was a signatory of the 1958 United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Vehicle Regulations agreement, which imposed its own international standards for headlamps, taillights, and signaling. (I must admit I’ve only glanced at the UNECE regulations, which are lengthy and very complex, and comparing them to the ADRs would be quite a project.)

  9. Just a note about the ford 351cu V8 engines. The 351 cleveland engine has a shorter deck height (9.2inch) than the 351 windsor engine (9.5inch) it replaced. Its slightly wider and heavier than a windsor, but not as tall. All the XW/XY GT motors were imported from the US, local engine production didn’t occur until the early to mid 1970s.

  10. Yup — the information I found says that the locally manufactured (H block) Cleveland was phased in on non-GT Falcons in mid-1972, and replaced the imported D block engines in GTs from the end of 1973.

  11. Great research and a really interesting read. Can anyone confirm the story that Ford Australia sold off their XK, XP dies to Ford Argentina? The Falcon was produced there till 1992, and it was basically an XK shell that was updated. The Ranchero (ute) uses short doors like the Aussie version, and the Rural (wagon) seems to have the short rear overhang of the Aussie wagon, but I stumbled on this great article looking to answer this question, so maybe one of the many Ford Falcon readers will know. Thanks, Scott.

    1. Dear Scott, XK dies were brought from the USA in 1963 for import substitution. However, I don’t know the case for the Ranchero and Rural (SW or Estate) versions.

  12. Hi,

    Great work on the site, the depth of the content is impressive.

    Just a quick correction. Page 3 of this article refers to “Chrysler’s AP5 Valiant, which offered an optional V8 engine”. The AP5 only had the slant six engine. The V8 was first made available in the AP6.

    1. Thanks, Stuart! That was a typo — I fixed it in the text.

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