XP Falcon: The crazy 70,000-mile gamble that saved Ford Australia

06 June 2014
One of the six XP Falcons used in the 1965 Falcon-Mobil 70,000-mile Durability Trial is captured in full flight at 80 mph (130 km/h) as it charges up the 1-in-4 climb at Ford’s challenging vehicle proving ground at You Yangs. The black No.6 was one of two hardtops used. Both copped a fearful hammering. Image: Ford Motor Company of Australia

In 1965 Ford Australia was in big trouble. Falcon sales had tanked due to durability problems with the early models and dominant rival GM-H was closing in for the kill. The blue oval’s audacious solution was as desperate as it was inspired. Launching its new make-or-break XP Falcon with a highly publicised nine-day torture test saved Falcon and ensured Ford Australia’s future.

What was officially known as the Falcon-Mobil 70,000-mile Durability Run was the brainchild of the brilliant Bill Bourke who arrived in Australia in February 1965 to take up his role as Ford Australia’s new marketing and sales manager. He would later become managing director.

Bourke, who was working as Ford Canada’s sales manager at the time, was hand-picked by Ford Australia boss Wallace Booth; a pragmatic Detroit numbers man sent to Australia two years earlier with a clear directive from US head office to either turn around the struggling fortunes of the company’s Australian operations or shut them down.

Bourke was a rising star in the Ford empire, with a reputation for getting things done. Booth knew that if he was going to turn around entrenched negative perceptions of the Falcon he needed a guy capable of creating bold marketing concepts that challenged convention.

Bourke was the right man for the job and kicked off his career in Australia with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The launch of the new XP Falcon range was due in March 1965. Bourke knew Ford needed to lay it all on the line with a bold marketing concept that would get people talking positively about Falcons and erase any doubts about the car’s ruggedness and durability.

Ford certainly made plenty of noise about its historic achievement, as no Aussie car maker had subjected its products to such a public torture test. This was one of several advertisements that appeared in newspapers and magazines across the nation. Image: Ford Motor Company of Australia

He devised a gruelling 70,000 mile (112,000 km) Durability Run that would require a fleet of brand new, showroom stock XP Falcons to maintain an average speed of more than 70 mph (112 km/h).

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