Falcons Down Under: The Australian Ford Falcon, Part Two

By 1971, the American Ford Falcon was dead, but the Australian Falcon was still going strong. This week, the second part of our history of the Falcon down under, including the birth of the first all-Australian Falcon, a classic one-two finish on Mount Panorama, and a shot at international movie stardom as we look at the Ford XA Falcon and the subsequent XB, XC, XC Cobra, XD, and XE.
1978 Ford XC Falcon Cobra engine © 2011 John Cox (used with permission)
The engine bay of a 1978 XC Cobra, spotted in Florida in 2011. (Photo © 2011 John Cox; used with permission)

See part one of this article


Around the time the Australian XT Falcon went on sale in March 1968, executives back in Dearborn were signing the death warrant of its North American counterpart. Sales of the American Falcon had dropped off sharply after the debut of the Mustang in April 1964 and never really recovered.

By 1968, the Falcon had become virtually invisible in the American market and Ford was already preparing a replacement, the Maverick, for a spring 1969 debut. Ford initially denied any plans to discontinue the Falcon, but it would disappear very early in 1970; for the remainder of the 1970 model year, the nameplate would be transferred to a de-contented version of the midsize Torino. After that, the American Falcon would be gone for good.

The Australian Falcon, however, was in good shape, having finally surmounted its early image problems. Two consecutive Car of the Year awards from Wheels, combined with the racing exploits of the XR GT, had contributed to a healthy increase in sales, while the Falcon-derived Australian Fairlane (only loosely related to its American counterpart) was good for an additional 10,000 or so units a year. In the U.S., the Falcon was a comparatively minor part of the Ford lineup, but it was the cornerstone of Ford Australia. Ford senior management in Dearborn and Oakville, Ontario, Canada, decided that after 1970, Australia would go it alone with an all-new Falcon platform.

1968 Ford ZB Fairlane front 3q © 2010 John Howell (used with permission)
While Ford Australia offered a locally assembled version of the midsize U.S. Fairlane from 1962—1964, the new ZA Fairlane, introduced in March 1967, was based on the Australian XR Falcon, although it had a longer, 116-inch (2,946mm) wheelbase and borrowed its rear fenders and decklid from the contemporary American Fairlane sedans. The ZA Fairlane was offered in base (later renamed Custom) or 500 trim with either the Super Pursuit 200 (3,280 cc) six or 289 cu. in. (4,728 cc) V8. This is the facelifted ZB, introduced in March 1968, sporting a new grille and headlights. (Photo © 2010 John Howell; used with permission)

While Ford had a small styling staff in Geelong in the mid-sixties, most major design work was still done in Dearborn, which had more stylists and far more extensive facilities. The contributions of Ford Australia’s local designers were generally limited to items like grilles or trim, although Geelong was responsible for ‘productionizing’ new designs. The third-generation Falcon would change all that.

In May 1968, Ford Australia chief stylist Jack Telnack and designers Brian Rossi and Allan Jackson flew to Michigan to work with their U.S. colleagues on the next-generation Falcon. According to automotive writer John Wright, the American designers envisioned the third-generation car as a sort of truncated version of Ford’s upcoming 1972 Torino line. (We don’t know if that would have meant abandoning the Falcon’s monocoque construction; Ford’s U.S. intermediates switched to body-on-frame for 1972.)

The cut-down Torino concept got as far as the full-size clay model stage, but the Australian team was not thrilled with its awkward proportions or sanguine about its likely prospects in the Australian market. Interestingly, those concerns echoed those of former Ford Australia managing director Charlie Smith, whose disdain for the proposed Zephyr Mark IIA a decade earlier had led directly to the birth of the original Australian XK Falcon.

Keen to demonstrate his designers’ abilities, Jack Telnack initiated a new design proposal, which his team worked many hours of overtime to complete before they flew home in October. Their work was amply rewarded: Not only did Telnack win management approval for his team’s design, its success allowed managing director Bill Bourke to secure permission to launch a full-fledged Australian design center. For his efforts, Jack Telnack was promoted to a more senior role in Ford’s European operations in 1970, becoming its styling vice president in 1974. Former Studebaker designer Duncan McRae succeeded him as chief stylist for Ford Australia.

1972 Ford XA Falcon GT hardtop side - Mallalla © 2010 John Howell (used with permission)
Although the U.S. designers’ original proposal for a cut-down Torino was eventually rejected, we still think the XA coupe, seen here at Mallalla Motor Sport Park in South Australia, bears more than a passing resemblance to the early-seventies “SportRoof” Torino hardtop. However, the Falcon was somewhat smaller than the contemporary Torino; the XA hardtop was 186.5 inches (4,737 mm) long on a 111-inch (2,819mm) wheelbase. (Photo © 2010 John Howell; used with permission)


The car that Telnack and his team designed in the summer of 1968 finally made its debut in late February 1972 as the XA Falcon, replacing the XY Falcon, whose platform had dated back to the 1966 U.S. model. Although the XA had no North American counterpart, it nonetheless bore a strong family resemblance to contemporary U.S. Ford models, particularly the Mustang and Torino. It also looked significantly bigger than the previous XY Falcon, although the actual increase in dimensions was modest.

Engines and running gear were much the same as before, with a choice of 200 cu. in. (3,280 cc) or 250 cu. in. (4,102 cc) sixes and 302 cu. in. (4,942 cc) or 351 cu. in. (5,765 cc) V8s. A heater was finally standard across the line and front disc brakes were standard on all but base and 500 models.

1972 Ford XA Fairmont GS sedan front 3q © 2009 Paul McCurley (used with permission)
Compared to the XY, the XA Falcon sedan’s overall length grew 1.9 inches (48 mm) to 186.5 inches (4,737 mm) while width grew 1.3 inches (33 mm) to 74.8 inches (1,900 mm) overall. Curb weight was little changed, starting at just over 3,000 lb (1,370 kg) for a basic six-cylinder model and rising to perhaps 3,600 lb (1,633 kg) for a well-equipped V8 Fairmont. This is a Fairmont V8 with the Gran Sport (GS) Rally Pack option. (Photo: “1972 Ford XA Fairmont GS” © 2009 Paul McCurley; used with permission)

To match the rival Holden Monaro and Chrysler Valiant Charger, a two-door hardtop coupe rejoined the Falcon line for the first time since the 1966 XP. Designed by Brian Rossi, the new hardtop was 2.0 inches (51 mm) lower and 2.7 inches (69 mm) wider than the sedan, with fat rear fenders and a racy, semi-fastback roofline. The coupe was identical to the sedan from the cowl forward, but the revised proportions made the hardtop look considerably sportier. Despite what you might expect, the coupe was actually about 35 lb (16 kg) heavier than a comparable sedan, presumably thanks to the extra structural reinforcement required by the pillarless roof.

1972 Ford XA Falcon GT hardtop at Mallalla rear 3q © 2010 John Howell (used with permission)
Another XA Falcon GT hardtop at the Mallalla Motor Sport Park. As this view suggests, the hardtop’s rear visibility left much to be desired and its rear seats were somewhat claustrophobic. This GT has the standard bonnet and fender scoops, but lacks the usual black hood stripes, which were a delete option. The rear-window louvers and rear spoiler were popular period accessories. (Photo © 2010 John Howell; used with permission)

The most muscular XA Falcon was the new Falcon GT, once again powered by an imported 351 cu. in. (5,765 cc) Cleveland V8 with 300 gross horsepower (224 kW). While all previous GTs had been four-door sedans, the XA GT was available as in either sedan or hardtop form, both sporting air intakes on each front fender, a pair of NACA hood scoops, and dramatic black bonnet stripes. The GT hardtop was arguably better-looking, but GT sedans actually outsold coupes by nearly 2 to 1.

Although it was potent enough by Australian standards, a stock XA GT was actually somewhat slower than the hotter Valiant Chargers with their Six Pack Hemi sixes and the Falcon GT’s performance was only slightly better than that of the smaller Holden LJ Torana GTR. Continuing the Falcon’s winning streak at the Hardie-Ferodo 500 at Bathurst would fall to a new homologation special: the XA GTHO Phase IV.

1972 Ford XA Falcon GT hardtop green front 3q © 2011 John Howell (used with permission)
With 300 gross horsepower (224 kW) to motivate more than 3,500 lb (1,587 kg) of curb weight, the GT’s performance qualified as brisk rather than blazing — at least compared to the hotter U.S. Supercars. Four-speed GTs could reach 60 mph (97 km/h) in around 8 seconds, running the quarter mile in the high 15-second range; top speed was about 120 mph (193 km/h). Overall, the XA GT was roughly comparable to the final 1973 Mustang 351 H.O., which was a bit heavier and had somewhat less power. (Photo © 2011 John Howell; used with permission)


Add a Comment
  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

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

    2. From the XB sales brochure… 63.5″



  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.


    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.

  13. Stumbled across this history in a link to a Jalopnik article. Fun stuff! Reads like “50 Years of Holden” I received when I was in Oz 20 years ago! I appreciate finally learning more about Ford Australia. Although I worked mainly with GMH at the time, I do have the diff from an XY under the back of my 39 Ford Roadster. Cheers

  14. I literally stumbled on this Australian Falcon article. How wonderful and it is a walk down memory lane. Can you believe that I still chat with Jack Telnack and Brian Rossi (Ross) . We’re all retired now, Jack in Michigan, Ross in Florida and i’m In Washington State in the small town of Poulsbo. Great nostalgia, thanks. Alan Jackson. Car Designer.

  15. The XD Falcon was based on the U.K Ford Granada

  16. The XD was not based on the Granada Leon, it was styled in the late 70s Ford design (like the Granada & Cortina) but apart from the headlights they are completely different mechanically.

    1. Are you referring to something specific in the text? The article doesn’t say the XD was based on the Granada, but rather on a made-over and weight-reduced XC platform.

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