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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.