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.
THE BIRTH OF THE ALL-AUSTRALIAN FORD FALCON
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.
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.
THE XA FALCON
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.
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.
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.