Falcons Down Under: The Australian Ford Falcon, Part Two

THE XC FALCON AND THE AUSTRALIAN DESIGN RULES

The restyled XC Falcon debuted in July 1976. The final redesign of the third-generation body shell, the XC toned down the XB’s upswept beltline and bulged fenders, adding larger side windows and a squared-off front clip. The Fairmont now had fashionable rectangular headlights, further distinguishing it from lesser models; the mid-line Futura series was dropped. More notably, the XC was the first Falcon designed to meet Australia’s latest safety and exhaust emissions standards.

Ford XC Falcon sedan front 3q © 2009 Bidgee (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)
This rather tired specimen is an XC Falcon sedan; its single round headlights mark it as either a base model or a 500 while the fender badge indicates the presence of the optional 250 cu. in. (4,102 cc) engine. In the XC, the big six had new a cross-flow cylinder head and either 114 or 123 hp (85 or 92 kW) depending on compression ratio. Overall length of the XC sedans was now 191.5 inches (4,866 mm) while base curb weight swelled to 3,250 lb (1,475 kg). (Photo: “Ford XC Falcon” © 2009 Bidgee; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

Despite the Supercar crisis, Australia’s safety and environmental advocates lacked the political momentum of their American counterparts and Australia’s adoption of safety and emissions standards was comparatively gradual. The first Australian Design Rules for motor vehicles were drafted in the early sixties, but they did not start to become legally binding until January 1, 1969. Until 1989, they still were administered separately by each state and territory.

The earliest ADRs to take effect covered items like back-up lights, turn signals, and seat belts, followed in turn by requirements for energy-absorbing steering columns and shatter-resistant glass. Standards for side door protection went into effect in January 1977, but U.S.-style barrier crash standards and passive restraint rules were still years away.

The first standard for exhaust emissions, ADR26, effective January 1, 1972, was similarly modest, imposing a limit on carbon monoxide (CO) emissions as a percentage of total exhaust volume. ADR27, which took effect two years later, established maxima for both CO and unburned hydrocarbons (HC), measured over a 13-minute, 15-phase static test period. While both standards required some engine modifications, they had relatively little effect on performance. ADR27a, which took effect July 1, 1976, was more challenging, setting new grams-per-kilometer maxima for CO and HC emissions and adding new limits for oxides of nitrogen (NOx). Meeting those standards with carbureted engines was troublesome, and Australian drivers soon got their first taste of the drivability problems that plagued many contemporary American cars.

1976 Ford XC Fairmont rear 3q © 2008 Bidgee (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)
Unlike the XA and XB sedans, where the beltline sweeps up through the rear side windows into the sail panels, the XC sedan’s beltline is closer to horizontal, allowing larger side windows and answering persistent complaints about visibility. The redesigned doors now had side guard beams to comply with the side impact protection standards specified by ADR29, which took effect on January 1, 1977, about five months after the XC sedan’s introduction. In May 1978, all XCs became “XC 1/2s,” with revised suspension geometry and newly standard radial tires, Ford’s answer to Holden’s much-ballyhooed Radial Tuned Suspension the previous year. (Photo: “Ford Fairmont” © 2008 Bidgee; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

The XC Falcon, which debuted just as ADR27a went into effect, coped better than some. Ford developed new cylinder heads for most of its engines, allowing them to meet the new standards without completely undermining power drivability. Output of the redesigned sixes changed little, but the 302 cu. in. engine (now advertised as 4.9 liters) fell to 202 hp (151 kW) despite the addition of a four-barrel carburetor. The 351 (now advertised as 5.8 liters) dropped to 217 hp (162 kW).

Nonetheless, critics generally found the Falcon’s engines better sorted than those of the rival HX Holden, which relied on add-on emissions control devices. The difference probably contributed to the XC Falcon’s sales success; the XC outsold the HX Holden and did well against the facelifted HZ, introduced later in the year.

The XC hardtop did not arrive until December 1976, nearly five months after the sedans, perhaps to give dealers a chance to clear their stocks of XB hardtops, whose sales had been disappointing. The Falcon GT did not return at all. Former Ford stylist Wayne Draper later told Australian Muscle Car‘s Mark Oastler that Ford had wanted to continue the series, but insurance costs had become so prohibitive that there seemed little point. The sportiest XC model was now the Fairmont GXL, which was pitched as a luxury sports sedan in the mold of the upscale European brands then enjoying a newfound (and ultimately short-lived) popularity in Australia.

1977 Ford XC Falcon GS hardtop front © 2007 John Howell (used with permission)
While there was no XC GT, there was now a GS hardtop, which included most of the previous GT’s cosmetic touches, but not its mechanical features. (A similar GS Rally Pack option remained available for Fairmont sedans and wagons.) Affluent muscle car die-hards could essentially build their own GTs by specifying the optional four-wheel disc brakes, sport suspension, limited-slip differential, and GT Power Pak Option, which was similar to the old GT’s higher-output 351 (5,765 cc) V8. Most of these features were also either standard or optional on the top-of-the-line Fairmont GXL. (Photo © 2007 John Howell; used with permission)

1977 Ford XC Fairmont hardtop red front 3q © 2007 John Howell (used with permission)
Rectangular headlights mark this XC hardtop as a Fairmont. The busy-looking hood with GS/GT-style NACA ducts and a reversed cowl scoop, appears similar to the one offered on some 1978 XC Cobras for racing homologation purposes. Despite its plethora of scoops, the fender badge indicates that this car is powered by the mundane 250 cu. in. (4,102 cc) six, probably with automatic transmission — the standard powertrain for XC Fairmonts. (Photo © 2007 John Howell; used with permission)

FORM FINISH: MOFFAT FORD DEALERS AT BATHURST

With no XC GT and the XC coupe still two months away, Allan Moffat’s new semi-official Moffat Ford Dealers team was forced to rely on a trio of XB GTs driven by Moffat, John Goss, and Murray Carter, with co-drivers Vern Schuppan, Jim Richards, and Ray Winter. While Allan Moffat eventually drove his own and John Goss’s Falcons (the latter borrowed after Moffat’s own car was damaged by fire) to a 1976 Australian Touring Car Championship title, Bathurst was a disappointment. The Moffat Falcons posted strong lap times at Mount Panorama, but all three cars were felled by engine or driveline failures, although only the Moffat/Schuppan car was officially listed as DNF. The race was dominated by the Holden Torana L34, which took the first seven places. Victory went to Bob Morris and John Fitzpatrick, driving a Torana sponsored by Ron Hodgson Racing.

For 1977, John Goss and Murray Carter went their own way, and the Moffat Ford Dealers team fielded only two cars, one driven by Allan Moffat and new co-driver Jacky Ickx, the other by Colin Bond and Alan Hamilton, who had dismayed many Holden fans by defecting from HDT to the Ford camp. Since the new Falcon coupe had now been homologated, Moffat’s team, like many racers, traded its XBs for a pair of race-prepared XC GS hardtops. In all, there were seven XC Falcons and four XB GTs at the starting line of the Hardie-Ferodo 1000 on October 2, facing 19 Holden Torana LXs.

1977 Ford XC Falcon GS - Allan Moffat © 2010 Helen Sanders (used with permission)
One of the most famous of all Falcons: Allan Moffat’s Bathurst-winning 1977 XC GS hardtop, seen here at the 2010 Goodwood Festival of Speed. (Photo:
“Ford Falcon XC GS500 1977 5.8-litre V8”
© 2010 Helen Sanders; used with permission)

All the racing Toranas were the new A9X model, which Holden had introduced with little fanfare in August 1977. A throwback to the earlier Bathurst specials, the A9X was specifically designed for racing homologation, combining the Torana LX body shell with the rear floorpan of the forthcoming UC Torana, which allowed allowing room for a beefier rear axle with rear disc brakes. All A9Xs had a 308 cu. in. (5,044 cc) V8, but while the street cars had the detuned, emissions-compliant L31 engine, racers used the hotter L34 (which was already homologated, even though it was no longer available to civilians). Either way, the A9X was fast. Even the street cars were capable of 130 mph (210 km/h) while the taller-geared racers could top 165 mph (265 km/h).

1978 Holden Torana LX A9X - Peter Brock © 2007 Matt Baker (used with permission)
A Marlboro Holden Dealer Team Torana A9X hatchback. A total of 457 A9Xs were built, 405 for civilians and 52 for racers; of those, 141 were hatchbacks, the rest four-door sedans. This is the car Peter Brock and Jim Richards drove to victory at Bathurst in 1978, a year after Moffat and Bond’s 1-2 finish. Note its reversed hood scoop and prominent bolt-on fender flares, two of the A9X’s major exterior features. (Photo: “Holden Torana A9X” © 2007 Matt Baker; used with permission)

While the pole position went to Peter Brock, driving a Torana sponsored by Bill Patterson Holden, the Moffat Ford Dealers Falcons quickly took the lead and held it throughout the race. While only one non-Moffat XC and one XB made it to the end, Moffat and Bond’s cars suffered no problems until the final laps. Realizing that his brakes were almost gone, Moffat radioed the pit with instructions for Bond to drop behind him for a formation finish. The two cars came down the final straightaway side by side, with Moffat crossing the finish line a tenth of a second ahead — a spectacular finish that recalled Ford’s 1-2-3 victory at Le Mans in 1966. For Ford racing fans, it was the Falcon’s finest hour.

XC COBRA: THE LAST HURRAH

The Falcon’s dramatic 1-2 finish at Bathurst in 1977 failed to revive interest in the XC hardtop. Big coupes had never really caught on in the Australian market the way they had in the U.S.; the two-door Holden Monaro was already gone, phased out in 1976. While the rest of the XC Falcon line was doing quite well, sales of the hardtop had fallen to fewer than 1,000 units in 1977 and many dealers were loath to even order them.

While cancellation was the obvious solution, managing director Sir Brian Inglis was reluctant to write off Ford’s stockpile of unused components, which was sufficient to build more than 500 coupes. Faced with a similar problem two years earlier, GM-Holden had sold its final two-door HX Monaros as well-equipped special editions, the luxury-oriented LE. In a similar spirit, Ford Australia’s new deputy managing director, Edsel Ford II — son of company chairman Henry Ford II — proposed marketing the final XC hardtops as Cobras, a storied nameplate Ford had recently revived for the North American Mustang II.

1978 Ford XC Falcon Cobra front 3q © 2011 John Lloyd (CC BY 2.0 Generic)
One of 400 limited-edition XC Cobra hardtops. The slight bluish cast of the paint is not just a reflection; Cobras were actually painted blue, with the white sections applied over it rather than the other way around. (Photo: “1978 XC Falcon Cobra” © 2011 John Lloyd; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

The first of 400 XC Cobras went on sale in September 1978. While they were every bit as ostentatious as any of the earlier GTs or GTHOs, sporting big Cobra decals on the front fenders and a white-and-blue color scheme intended to evoke Ford’s GT40 racers of the mid-sixties, about half had the mild 302 (4,942 cc) engine; the rest had the 351C (5,765 cc). Thirty of the cars, however, had specials modifications for racing homologation, including rear-facing cowl scoops (in addition to the standard twin NACA ducts), extra chassis bracing, a transmission oil cooler, and a heavy-duty cooling system with an electric fan.

Despite those improvements, there would be no repetition of the previous year’s Bathurst triumph. Murray Carter and co-driver Graeme Lawrence managed third place, but both Moffat Ford Dealers cars were DNF, Colin Bond and Fred Gibson due to engine trouble, Allan Moffat and Jacky Ickx due to brake damage suffered in an earlier pit fire. The victory went to Peter and Phil Brock, who, like all the top finishers in 1978, drove a Torana A9X.

1978 Ford XC Falcon Cobra interior © 2011 John Cox (used with permission)
With blue-and-white inserts in the upholstery, the interior of the Cobra was almost as gaudy as the exterior. This car has the four-speed manual gearbox, although Cobras were available with either the four-speed or the three-speed FMX automatic. (Photo © 2011 John Cox; used with permission)

The loss at Bathurst capped a disappointing season for the Moffat Ford Dealers team and it left the sponsoring dealers somewhat disenchanted. The team was dissolved in early 1979, with Colin Bond departing to join the Ford Escort rally team, amid widespread — and, according to Moffat, entirely false — rumors that Moffat had sacked him. Moffat returned to Bathurst in October 1979 with the Camel Filters cigarette brand as his principal sponsor, but engine failure forced him and co-driver John Fitzpatrick to retire after 136 laps. By then, the XC was already extinct, production having ended earlier in the year.

29 Comments

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  1. A beautifully researched article as per usual! Looking forward to something similar on Holden. Thanks again…

  2. Great article and good research are you going to continue? Ford had already spent money in preperation to the XA being released by beefing up the suspension on the XY model the XA being really a reskin other than the gearbox tailshaft lengths mechanically the are the same. The first NEW floor pan is the EA and parts interchange all the way thru. Thank god Ford didnt go with the Torino.

    1. There was more to it than a reskin, as the suspension track width increased for one. A new ‘top hat’ would be a better way to describe it. Then there was a new rear floorpan for the Watts linkage on the XE which carried through with minor revisions in the E-series. The Falcon is certainly a ‘Grandpa’s axe’ car.

      Great article again Aaron.

      1. Also, because the Falcon has always been monocoque, a new body shell was an expensive undertaking (especially at Ford Australia’s smaller volume), even if the running gear and a lot of the suspension and brake hardware were more or less carryover.

  3. Wow, another great article. Any plans on doing the Valiant Charger Hemi (slant) 6-pack? Or are you Aussied out?

    1. It would definitely be an interesting story, although I don’t have plans to do it immediately, for purely practical reasons — this was a really daunting piece to do, and I think I’d have to work up to doing another quite so ambitious!

      1. It’s easy to see this was a lot of work from a site (which is just you) that does a lot of work. I guess it’s my love of Mopar and my lust to own one in California. I can’t afford to get one with my current travel plans (still need to ride across Europe and Russia) on my ’65 Ducati. They rank high on my list of cars to own. One day…

        1. Admittedly, the Chrysler Valiant would be less daunting to do now, because I have more context for the contemporary Australian market than I did when I embarked on this one. The tricky bit with cars that have never been sold in the U.S. at all is inevitably images. Any article where I don’t have at least a baseline of photos of my own to work with becomes exponentially more difficult, and where I have none — well, without the help of the folks mentioned in the Acknowledgments, this article would have been barren-looking indeed.

  4. Great write up, although you missed the Landau.
    I came here for the Kaiser-Frazer and Nash, but couldn’t stop reading this site, awesome work.

  5. i’ve got a 1974 gs ford falcon panel van no side back windows, gs stripe up both sides and two back doors opening outwards i can’t find any info on it. she’s original except for the motor. its been in the family for abt 27 yrs.
    can anyone help.

  6. Ford has just announced plans to cease production of cars in Australia in October 2016. Australian-market Fords after that will be imported.

    1. I saw that earlier this afternoon — a sad day for Australian enthusiasts.

  7. Awesome article, as always. I’ve always found the Australian cars of the 70s more attractive than the American cars of the 70s.

  8. Just one update. There were two Interceptors in Mad Max. The yellow XB sedan that Max drives and the yellow XA sedan named March Hare that Sarse and Scuttle drive. It eventually hits the Tardis and is rolled.

    1. Thanks for the clarification! It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen the film (which I must admit is not my cup of tea).

  9. Hi ! I would appreciate if anyone can help.
    I need exterior height measurement for the XB PANEL VAN.
    I can see the sedan & hardtop measurements in my searches, but not the panel van.
    Where can I look or ask?

    Thanks & regards
    Nuriye

    1. I don’t have any information that detailed, sorry!

    2. From the XB sales brochure… 63.5″

      cheers

      Bruce

  10. Awesome article. I’ve always liked Australian cars. I don’t know why, since I’m not from Australia, nor have I ever lived in Australia.

    1. Australian cars can be a fun subject for Americans because (to my view) the cars often seem familiar enough to be alternate-reality versions of U.S. cars. By contrast, a British or German car (much less a French or Japanese one) generally seems foreign to American eyes, a product designed for different conditions and different tastes. A Holden or Australian Ford or Chrysler is like the automotive equivalent of seeing a cousin you’ve never met, but who clearly looks like you.

      1. We briefly got the Holden Monaro in the States, badged as a Pontiac G8. The automotive equivalent of your cousin coming to the US and fitting right in.

      2. Aaron, Thanks for the great article. The similarities and differences between US and Australia can be fascinating and old cars are a great example.

        American cars of this period have a huge following in Australia, probably for similar reasons you find the Australian car interesting. For many Australians, old American cars are familiar but more flamboyant and unusual at the same time.

        Sadly the Australia car manufacturing industry is ending, in addition to Ford, GMH and Toyota planning to close their plants. The death of the Falcon and Commodore also means the death of big cheap rear wheel drive sedans. The differences that once characterised US, Australian and European cars are disappearing. Comparing cars is not going to be as interesting if we all end up driving Camrys!

        There are many reasons for the demise of the Australian car manufacturing industry. Australian made cars like the Falcons discussed here faced less competition in the past because of import protection policies but these have been gradually stripped away over the last 20 years. The need for locally developed models has also gone as Australians mostly now drive imported medium sedans, cross-overs and utes or pickups the same as many other countries.

        Australian motor sport will need to adapt. The Australian Touring car series was based on modified production cars like the GTHO Falcons. The current V8 Supercars have become a silhouette type formula, kind of Australian’s version of NASCAR. It will be interesting to see if this series can retain popularity as Ford vs Holden rivalry reduces with the V8 Falcon and Commodore road cars passing into history.

        1. The demise of the Australian native industry is regrettable, although considering that it was heavily dependent on protectionist trade policy, it’s not terribly surprising from a political standpoint. There are good reasons for protectionism, from an economic standpoint, but there are also a lot of powerful forces that find it inconvenient and troublesome, which in today’s world tends to paint a big bulls-eye on it.

  11. I recall seeing an article that had a xw or xy falcon factory prepared with a 428 or 429 big block. In essence it was for one of the big executives in Ford Australia. he may have been an American on secondment to Australia . For some reason i thought Lee Iacocca was involved. It was a factory assembled big block Australian falcon. I wonder if anyone else has seen or heard of this 1 off Falcon.

    1. It was an XW built for Bill Bourke, then Ford Australia’s managing director — it’s mentioned in Part One of this article. It had a 428 (presumably a 428CJ or something close to it), not the 429.

  12. Moffat’s 77 bathurst winning car is an XBGT with XC front panels and dash, you show a picture where it was running up the hill at Goodwood, i also saw it there confirmed JG66 vin number along with the Bathurst mechanic who said it was indeed a XBGT.

    cheers

    1. Thanks for the note — you’re likely right, but I will do some checking when I have a few minutes to spare so that I can correct the text and caption appropriately. (It’s not that I doubt you, I just want to make sure I don’t create new errors in the fixing.)

      1. The car is listed on the entry list as a Ford XC Falcon GS500 Hardtop, but it is quite common for race cars to be updated (where possible) to the latest model/specs and used for several seasons.

        There is a history of the car at this link: http://www.v8supercars.com.au/news/championship/saturday-sleuthing-moffat-s-1977-bathurst-1-2-winner

        1. Thanks, John! I will take a closer look at all this when I’m not running on three hours’ sleep.

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