Falcons Down Under: The Australian Ford Falcon, Part One

THE XR FALCON AND THE FIRST FALCON GT

As the Australian Falcon gained credibility, its North American counterpart was losing ground. Demand for American compacts, which had been strong at the beginning of the decade, was fast evaporating, as buyers turned to larger, more powerful intermediates or compact sporty cars like the Ford Mustang, which soon left the humble Falcon for dead.

Bowing to those trends, when Ford redesigned the U.S. Falcon for 1966, it gained greater stylistic kinship with the Mustang and substantial structural commonality with the midsize Fairlane. In some respects, the new Falcon was a cut-down Fairlane; it was 1.9 inches (48 mm) wider, 2.7 inches (69 mm) longer, and 165 lb (45 kg) heavier than the 1965 Falcon and now shared the same 58-inch (1,473mm) tread width as its midsize cousin. The Falcon’s new look, meanwhile, aspired to Mustang-like long-hood, short-deck proportions, with a distinct rear fender kick-up. Ironically, however, the two sportiest body styles, the two-door hardtop and the convertible, were both dropped, victims of poor sales.

1966 Ford XR Falcon 500 front 3q Ford Motor Company
1966 Ford Falcon Sport Coupe front 3q Bryan Costin
Overall dimensions of the XR Falcon (top) were similar but not identical to those of its U.S. counterpart (bottom); it was 184.6 inches (4,689 mm) long and 73.8 inches (1,875 mm) wide, riding a 110.9-inch (2,817mm) wheelbase and weighing a little over 2,900 lb (about 1,330 kg). This 1966 North American Falcon is a two-door Futura Sport Coupe, a body style not offered in Australia. Its grille was subsequently borrowed for the 1968 XT Falcon. (Top photo: Ford Motor Company; bottom photo: “Ford Falcon Futura” © 2007 Bryan Costin, used with permission)

The Australian XR Falcon, launched in September 1966, once again followed the template of the North American version, but it sported unique front and rear clips. The Pursuit 170 (2,780 cc) engine and 14-inch (356mm) wheels were now standard across the board, but, as with the U.S. Falcon, the hardtop coupe was discontinued. The big news was the arrival of an optional V8, Ford’s familiar 289 cu. in. (4,728 cc) small block. The 289, with a two-barrel carburetor and 200 gross horsepower (149 kW), was actually the mildest of Ford’s U.S. V8s, but it made quite an impression on the Australian market. Even with the optional three-speed Cruise-O-Matic, a V8 Falcon was capable of reaching 60 mph (97 km/h) in less than 12 seconds, brisk performance by Australian standards. The new engine quickly won enthusiastic fans among local police forces and attracted considerable interest from race builders.

It was not lost on Bill Bourke, now Ford Australia’s deputy managing director, that performance-oriented image cars were becoming big business in the U.S. Thanks to the burgeoning youth market, the Mustang had been a huge success, as were the new breed of high-powered intermediates, typified by the Pontiac GTO. Most Australian cars of the time were rather bland porridge, but Bourke thought Australia was ready for a similar performance boom.

1967 Ford XR Falcon GT front 3q © 2007 John Howell (used with permission)
To make it more recognizable, the XR Falcon GT was nominally available only in “GT Gold,” although 12 or 13 were special-ordered in other colors. Note the Mustang-like kick-up of the rear fender, common to all XR Falcons, and the black-out grille, side stripes, and special wheel covers, which were specific to the GT. (Photo © 2007 John Howell; used with permission)

At the time, Ford Australia’s Product Engineering Department was working a specially tuned XR Falcon for the Victoria Police, featuring a heavy-duty suspension, front disc brakes, four-speed manual transmission, and the hotter four-barrel 289 offered on U.S. Mustangs. Bourke saw it as a natural starting point, so he proposed offering it as a production model.

Bourke said later that his idea was greeted with considerable skepticism in Dearborn. Ford’s last attempt to make a sporty car out of the Falcon, the V8-powered Sprint, had been a commercial flop despite respectable performance in European rally competition. The idea of making a credible performance car out of the four-door Falcon sedan — the XR Falcon line no longer included a two-door hardtop, a convertible, or even a pillared two-door sedan — seemed more than faintly ludicrous. Undeterred, Bourke went ahead with what became the first Falcon GT.

1967 Ford XR Falcon GT grille badge © 2011 John Howell (used with permission)
1967 Ford XR Falcon GT dash © 2011 John Howell (used with permission)
Mechanically, the XR GT was very similar to the Victoria Police car, featuring a 225 horsepower (168 kW) 289 cu. in. (4,728 cc) V8, Ford’s four-speed “Toploader” gearbox, front disc brakes, and heavy-duty suspension. The interior, available only in black with vinyl upholstery and bucket seats, was similar to that of the XR Fairmont, but added a simulated wood steering wheel and a full set of Stewart-Warner gauges. (Both photos © 2011 John Howell; used with permission)

The Falcon GT went on sale in March 1967 with a hefty list price of AU$3,890 (about US$4,330), compared to AU$2,226 (around US$2,500) for a basic six-cylinder Falcon sedan. Although it was not a big seller, the GT was nonetheless a great image builder and a statement of intent. Ford eventually sold around 600 of them; the most commonly quoted figure is 596. An equally important sales milestone was 260, the total required to homologate the GT for Australia’s most important motorsport event — the Gallaher 500 at Bathurst.

THE FALCON AND THE GREAT RACE

The event that became Australia’s “Great Race” was first held at Phillip Island, Victoria, in November 1960, a 500-mile (805-km) race sponsored by the Armstrong shock absorber company. The Armstrong 500 remained at Phillip Island through 1962, when track damage led the race to be relocated to the Mount Panorama Motor Racing Circuit in Bathurst, New South Wales. Mount Panorama was a challenging 3.9-mile (6.2-km) circuit, rising more than 570 feet (174 meters) from lowest to highest elevation. There was little run-off space and there were no barriers other than barbed-wire fences; even seasoned racing drivers like Stirling Moss expressed alarm at the circuit’s lack of safety features.

Privately run XL Falcons had made a good showing at the 1962 Armstrong 500, but Ford’s locally made Cortina had won the Bathurst race from 1963 to 1965. Rules changes subsequently put the Cortina out of the running and the 1966 race, now sponsored by the Irish cigarette company Gallaher, had been won by Rauno Aaltonen and Bob Holden, driving a Morris Mini Cooper S. The arrival of the Falcon GT gave Ford Australia a chance to reclaim the crown and build its nascent performance image.

1967 Ford XR Falcon GT side Ford Motor Company
By American Supercar standards, the first Falcon GT was not an especially fast car. With a tall 2.93 axle and a curb weight of about 3,150 lb (1,430 kg) — somewhat heavier than a Mustang with the same engine — 60 mph (97 km/h) took about 10 seconds and top speed was around 120 mph (193 km/h). Some late XR GTs traded the 289 cu. in. (4,728 cc) engine for the newer 302 cu. in. (4,942 cc) V8 with 230 hp (172 kW), although their performance was not significantly different. (Photo: Ford Motor Company)

Although conventional wisdom still maintained that cars the size of the Falcon or the big Holdens were too large for the tight Mount Panorama circuit, the Falcon XR GT dominated the 1967 Gallaher 500 with average lap times more than 7 seconds shorter than those of the previous year’s winning Mini. Unfortunately for Ford works drivers Harry Firth and Fred Gibson, a scoring snafu initially awarded the victory to privateers Ian and Leo Geoghegan, an error that was not rectified until weeks after the event. For Ford marketing, it was a win either way: the Geoghegan brothers were also driving a Falcon GT.

Although GM-Holden was bound by the same anti-racing policy as the rest of General Motors, GM-H was not oblivious to the considerable publicity value of the GT and its Bathurst victory. The new HK Holden, introduced in January 1968, offered its own V8, a Chevrolet-designed 307 cu. in. (5,035 cc) engine with 210 horsepower (157 kW). Not to be outdone, Ford’s facelifted XT Falcon, launched in March, countered with a stroked 302 cu. in. (4,942 cc) V8 with 230 horsepower (186 kW). GM-Holden then trumped the Falcon XT that July with the addition of a sleek hardtop coupe, the Monaro, which could be ordered with a 250 hp (186 kW) Chevy 327 (5,354 cc) V8.

1968 Ford XT Falcon GT fender badge © 2011 John Howell (used with permission)
The XT Falcon GT had Ford’s new 302 cu. in. (4,942 cc) V8, which had been phased in on U.S. Fords during the 1968 model year. The 302’s architecture was similar to the previous 289 (4,728 cc) with a longer 3.00-inch (76.2mm) stroke. With a four-barrel carburetor, the 302 produced 230 gross horsepower (172 kW) and 310 lb-ft (420 N-m) of torque. Note the paint color of this XT; unlike the XR, the XT GT was offered in white, Candy Apple Red, and Zircon Green in addition to GT Gold. (Photo © 2011 John Howell; used with permission)

Inevitably, Holden’s sporty Monaro GTS 327 found its way to the racetrack, both in private hands and with David McKay’s new Holden Dealer Racing Team, which fielded three cars at the Bathurst event — now called Hardie-Ferodo 500 — in October 1968. On the Mount Panorama circuit, the Holden’s superior power-to-weight ratio translated into consistently better lap times and GTS 327s took first, second, and third place. The XT GTs of the Ford works team could do no better than ninth, falling behind a private XR GT driven by Ken Stacey and Bruce McIntyre, which managed seventh.

In 1969, the short-lived Holden Dealer Racing Team was replaced by the quasi-official Holden Dealer Team, now led by former Ford driver Harry Firth. Although not technically a works team, HDT would benefit from considerable factory support. The stage had been set for a dramatic racing rivalry.

1968 Holden HK Monaro GTS front 3q © 2009 Adam.J.W.C. (CC BY-SA 2.5 Generic)
The Holden Monaro GTS was the Falcon GT’s most direct rival, very similar in both overall size and target audience. Unlike the GT, which was offered only with a V8 and four-speed, the HK Monaro GTS could be ordered with a 186S (3,048 cc) six, a Chevrolet 307 (5,035 cc), or the Chevy 327 (5,354 cc) with a choice of four-speed stick or two-speed Powerglide automatic. (Photo: “Holden GTS manaro” © 2009 Adam.J.W.C.; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic license)

BATHURST BOUND: THE XW FALCON GTHO

While a third-generation Falcon was in development by the summer of 1968, it was not slated to debut for another three years. In the interim, Ford Australia made do with several successive makeovers of the existing Falcon platform. The XW, which replaced the XT in June 1969, had an extensive facelift and and a new interior, making it look almost like an all-new car. To capitalize on the image value of the GT, the XW was available with a new GS option package, which added some of the GT’s cosmetic features without its mechanical upgrades. The Futura series also returned, positioned between the mid-level Falcon 500 and the plusher Fairmont.

1968 Ford XT Falcon 500 front 3q Bryan V. Ruffin
1969 Ford XW Fairmont GS front 3q © 2011 John Howell (used with permission)
While the 1969 XW Falcon (bottom) shares the same basic body shell as the XT Falcon (top), new exterior sheet metal and a bluffer nose give it a substantially different look. This XW sedan is a Fairmont with the GS Option Pack and a number of GT options, including wheel covers, chrome trim on the wheel arches, and auxiliary driving lamps. (Top photo: Ford Motor Company; bottom photo © 2011 John Howell, used with permission)

The XW Falcon still didn’t offer a two-door hardtop body style to rival the Monaro, but the new GT, now sporting ostentatious racing stripes and “Super Roo” decals, had Ford’s 351 Windsor (5,765 cc) V8 with a four-barrel carburetor and 290 gross horsepower (217 kW). The fitment of an oversize fuel tank made it clear the new GT was intended as much for the track as the street.

About a month after the GT’s introduction, Ford added an even hotter version, the GTHO, developed by engineers Peter Thorne and Barry Nelson with the help of new works team driver Allan Moffat. Intended specifically for Bathurst, the GTHO had a retuned suspension, upgraded brakes, stouter driveline components, and an even 300 gross horsepower (224 kW), courtesy of a hotter camshaft, bigger carburetor, and other engine modifications. “HO” ostensibly stood for “Handling Option,” but it might just as well been short for “homologation,” which was its real raison d’être.

1969 Ford XW Falcon GT nose © 2011 John Howell (used with permission)
1969 Ford XW Falcon GT Super Roo © 2011 John Howell (used with permission)
Although the XW Falcon GT was still available only as a four-door sedan, it was rapidly acquiring the full complement of Supercar accoutrements, including a hood scoop, matte-black hood stripes, and hood pins (top) as well a cartoon mascot like that of Plymouth’s Road Runner (bottom). A special Super Roo edition of the XW ute was also offered briefly in 1969. (Both photos © 2011 John Howell; used with permission)

While the Falcon GTHO now had the power to challenge the Holden Monaro at the 1969 Hardie-Ferodo 500, its chances of victory were undone by the last-minute addition of specialized racing tires, which proved a serious tactical error. Two of the three factory cars suffered blowouts that Allan Moffat attributed to the drivers over-stressing the unfamiliar tires. While Moffat had no such problems, team manager Al Turner, understandably concerned after the previous tire failures, ordered him to pit for a preemptive change, a delay that may have cost Moffat and co-driver Alan Hamilton the race. The final victory went to a Monaro GTS 350 driven by HDT’s Colin Bond and Tony Roberts, although Ford drivers Bruce McPhee and Barry Mulholland managed a close second.

1969 Ford XW Falcon GTHO rear 3q Ford Motor Company
This 1969 XW Falcon GTHO shows off the recessed rear window found on all XW sedans. All XW GTs had oversize fuel tanks — 36 Imperial gallons (43.3 U.S. gallons, 163.8 liters) compared to 16.4 Imperial gallons (19.7 U.S. gallons, 74.6 liters) for other Falcons — in order to homologate the big tank for racing. (Photo: Ford Motor Company)

In June 1970, Ford unveiled an even hotter race-bound GTHO, dubbed “Phase II.” Its engine, actually introduced on some of the previous GTHO cars (known retroactively as “Phase I”), was now an imported 351 Cleveland V8, featuring taller decks and bigger ports for better breathing. The Phase II engine, developed by former Repco Brabham engineer Ian Stockings, added a wilder solid-lifter cam and a bigger Holley four-barrel carburetor. Although its rated output was unchanged at 300 horsepower (224 kW), it was significantly more powerful than the standard GT.

Formidable as it was, the GT-HO Phase II was not the hottest XW Falcon. Bill Bourke, now managing director, had his personal XW sedan fitted with the big 428 cu. in. (6,997 cc) FE-series engine offered in U.S. Mustangs. According to stylist Wayne Draper, who borrowed the car for a short but memorable drive in 1970, it had enough torque to spin its wheels at 100 mph (161 km/h), but Draper found its handling was rather alarming. Around the same time, Ford Special Vehicles also built two lightweight, fuel-injected GTHO Super Falcons for Australian Touring Car Championship competition, producing 620 hp (462 kW) at a screaming 9,600 rpm. Unfortunately, reliability problems and cost overruns soon curtailed the Super Falcons’ racing career.

1970 Ford XW Falcon GTHO Phase 2 side Ford Motor Company
In addition to a more powerful engine, the GTHO Phase II also benefited from a close-ratio gearbox and a shorter (higher numerical) 3.25 axle ratio, allowing it to reach 60 mph (97 km/h) in around 6.5 seconds and a top speed of nearly 135 mph (217 km/h). (Photo: Ford Motor Company)

Fans hoping for a rematch between the XW Falcon GTHO and the Holden Monaro at Bathurst that October were in for a disappointment. While the Monaro GTS 350 remained available for civilians, the Holden Dealer Team switched to the smaller six-cylinder Torana LC GTR, trading the V8’s raw power for tidier dimensions and better handling. Another rival was Chrysler’s Pacer, a sporty version of the VG Valiant powered by a high-performance version of Chrysler’s new Hemi six, making 235 horsepower (175 kW) from 245 cu. in. (4,018 cc). Neither the Chrysler nor the Torana was a match for the GTHO Phase II. Even after suffering mechanical problems, works Falcons took both first and second place, giving driver Allan Moffat his first Bathurst victory.

Holden LC Torana GTR front © 2008 Richard Lewis (CC BY 3.0)
GM-Holden’s Torana was significantly smaller — and cheaper — than either the Monaro or the Falcon. The six-cylinder version of the Torana LC, introduced in October 1969, was 172.7 inches (4,387 mm) long on a 100-inch (2,540mm) wheelbase, weighing around 2,250 lb (1,021 kg). The sporty GTR, offered only in two-door form, had front disc brakes, full instrumentation, a heavy-duty suspension, and a 161 cu. in. (2,640 cc) engine with 114 hp (85 kW). The GTR XU-1, added in August 1970 for racing homologation, had a four-speed gearbox (optional on lesser GTRs) and a bigger 186 cu. in. (3,050 cc) six with three Zenith carburetors and 160 hp (119 kW). The big-engine car was capable of around 125 mph (201 km/h) all out. (Photo: “1969-1972 Holden LC Torana GTR sedan 04” © 2008 Richard Lewis; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)

While the GT and GTHO accounted for only a fraction of total Falcon sales — the totals were 2,287 GTs and 662 GTHOs — the GTHO’s performance on the racetrack undoubtedly added luster to the workaday cars. The XW set another sales record for the Falcon line, selling nearly 106,000 units in all and helping to boost Ford’s Australian market share to more than 21%.

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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