1972-73 Ford XA Falcon: The Accidental Aussie Falcon
- 15 December 2014
Although the XA Falcon profile raised the bar in early 1972, the detailing on all XA Falcon levels was widely regarded as a step backwards over the beautifully detailed XY Falcon range. This top of the range Fairmont was up against the striking four headlight HQ Premier.
1972-73 Ford XA Falcon: The Accidental Aussie Falcon
There was a good reason why the XA Falcon was delayed until March 1972, arriving well after its equally new Holden and Valiant rivals of 1971. The same US mindset that delivered the puffed-up VH Valiant and Leyland P76 assumed the Fairlane-sized entry level Torino would replace the local Falcon just as it did in the US. The all new local Falcon program almost happened by accident after this Torino-derived Falcon was rejected.
The base XA Falcon 500 that Ford made sure buyers never saw in the brochures. Missing the side strip, detailed grille and rear end brightwork of the much-loved XY, the XA Falcon 500 looked like Ford had run out of time or money to finish the job, both of which were true. The XA Falcon 500 brochure cars usually featured the protection pack option, full wheel covers and a vinyl roof suggesting that even Ford was concerned about what was missing. Even this V8 example on its wider wheels and radials plus vinyl roof option was a big improvement over the Falcon 500 six on skinny cross-plies and standard rims. The rear view was arguably its best.
Because the Ford Australia team had greater influence over their Detroit colleagues, the XA Falcon emerged as the perfect middle-line between the Holden HQ which was styled to look smaller than it was, and the VH Valiant and later P76 which were artificially bloated to look bigger than they were. Although the Leyland P76
was finalised in the UK, it was a former US Ford manager employed by British Leyland during the XA Falcon development period who insisted on adding fake length and bulk to the P76 to out-gross its local rivals against the wishes of Australian management.
After mid-1970, the Falcon badge was applied to a basic Torino, the latest version of what Australians knew as the Fairlane but with a wheelbase boosted by another inch. Although a "cut and shut" version of this model was quickly rejected as the next Falcon, there was nothing in the Ford world to replace it after the XY.
Why was Detroit so insistent on making Australia’s next generation of family cars look so big?
There were two developments in 1970 that sealed the fate of the Aussie Falcon, one way or another. The US Falcon, as Australians knew it, was not replaced by a new model after mid-1970.
Exactly when Australian demand for the local Falcon took off, US Falcon sales evaporated. The Mustang was far more attractive as a budget runabout. Thrifty family and fleet buyers were busy progressing from the Falcon to the larger Fairlane and Chevrolet Chevelle. The final blow came as Ford’s smaller Maverick and Pinto emerged as Ford’s new budget import busters for the 1970s.
This 1970 ½ US Falcon brochure shot highlights the huge gulf between the US and Australian markets. This grim Falcon economy specification of the Torino is pitched here at frugal and older empty nesters. The US Torino-based Falcon wagon was pitched at a young family with one child, not cashed-up enough to worry about the 1966-70 Falcon/Fairlane wagon sheet metal attached to their 1970 Torino front.
Instead of a new Falcon, Ford offered US buyers a wild new standalone 1970 Torino series on a 117 inch wheelbase, one inch longer than the previous US Fairlane-Torino series and the local ZC Fairlane. Although Fairlane versions were still offered, they were a short-term poor relation. In mid-1970, Ford applied the homeless Falcon badge on a two door stripper-version of this Fairlane, another de-specced variation of the Torino.
As crazy as this seemed, it was a clever short term strategy. It guided traditional Falcon and Fairlane buyers into the Torino range which sold up a storm. By 1971, both Falcon and Fairlane badges were deleted, job done, as 1971 Torino sales exceeeded combined previous Falcon and Fairlane sales.
Any US Ford suit (or Chrysler or British Leyland manager from Ford US) who witnessed this process could be forgiven for thinking that Australia, traditionally behind US trends by up to four years, needed a Torino-led Falcon program as the logical next step. This provides an insight into why a VH Hardtop was forced onto Chrysler Australia based on the long wheelbase platform when the market wanted a short wheelbase Charger.
Would a Ford design studio based in Australia have allowed a brand new Aussie Falcon in 1972 to go out looking this close to the first XK Falcon still fresh in Aussie memories as fragile and disposable? So strong was the perception that the XA Falcon had become more like an early Falcon, and not as good as the one it had just replaced, a special proving ground comparison had to be quickly organised for dealers to experience how much better and tougher it was than the previous XY. Ford’s local designers meanwhile worked around the clock to get the local XB facelift ready. The Holden HQ’s poor handling and seating and the VH Valiant’s compromises ensured that XA shortfalls didn’t hurt sales as much as they could have. (XK Photo by Cristian Brunelli, XA Photo from aussiecoupes.com)
Hence the initial consideration for Australia beyond XY/ZD was a simple repeat of the 1966 US program: base it on the Torino and derive an Aussie SWB version of the 1970 Torino as the Falcon with the upper version continuing as a Fairlane based off the US Torino.
Except anyone based in Australia already knew this would have delivered a Falcon too big and costly for an entry fleet and family car while robbing the Fairlane version of the stand apart prestige positioning that had made it so successful. The poor selling Holden Brougham and Chrysler VIP provided compelling proof of what would happen if the Falcon and Fairlane were no longer differentiated enough in wheelbase or looks.
By 1968, the steady swing towards smaller and better engineered European, Japanese and British cars was also far more advanced in Australia than the US. Local sales of the big US cars were starting to dry up and future Aussie models could not afford to drift too far from these emerging alternatives in size or style. This also explains how US-based management not exposed to this trend could impose several ill-informed and costly decisions on local manufacturers during this period that ultimately proved terminal in Leyland’s and Chrysler’s case.
The huge success of the Ford Maverick, built on a shortened US Falcon platform so that it was only slightly bigger than a Cortina, spelt the end of any future US Falcons suitable for Australia. Released as a two door only, the four door version soon followed with a US Falcon six that was by 1970 quite different to the Australian engine.
After half-hearted attempts to cut and shut a Torino into a Falcon-sized model failed with its excessive overhangs and the long wheelbase Torino’s packaging was not good enough for a local Fairlane (or Falcon), the Torino strategy was quickly rejected by the Ford Australia team. Although Detroit listened, there was no default option.
As the Americans and Australians in Detroit agonised over how a new Australian Falcon should look for 1972, the Europeans got on with the job with the 1972 Granada. Australians were probably ready for a larger version of this body stretched over the Falcon platform in 1972, as the 1972 Granada was one of the prettiest mass market sedans of that era. Instead, Australians had to wait until 1976 before aspects of this car were incorporated in the XC facelift as a curtain raiser for the XD. (Photo from autoorb.com)
The XA Falcon Alternative
David Ford, an Australian unrelated to the Ford family, was better known for his more critical Advanced Model Planning Engineering roles in later Ford Australia models. Because he was already in Dearborn for training at Ford headquarters when the Torino strategy was rejected, he was quickly drafted into the Aussie Falcon program as an Australian already on site. He recalls he was soon operating above his then current station within the Australian Ford hierarchy as it was more about “all available hands on deck” to make up for lost time.
He recalls that the XA Falcon was “a fast track development”. This made it a nightmare for Ford Australia’s costing and finance people as it had to be developed on the run. He explains that until the program was approved by the top management and the US board, the development and acceptance of the program was at risk although local Ford management were confident they could achieve their objectives. The Detroit bean counters were the most critical people to get on board as the business side of the program had to be developed working in parallel with the design and engineering teams who were already preparing the physical models and definition of the new vehicles and features on advanced funding to get the new car over the line.
Although Ford of Europe was developing a new Granada to replace the British Zephyr and German Taunus, David Ford recalls it was never an option to go with a smaller car and notes that the close liaison between Ford of Europe and Ford Australia happened much later.
The big winner in the XA Falcon range was the wagon which featured all new sheet metal on the Fairlane’s 116 inch wheelbase which was longer than its local rivals and the US Torino equivalent. Based on the latest styling from Ford’s US LTD range, it was also the only wagon of its type locally to offer a two-way tail gate for easy third row seat access, perfectly timed for a market starved of people movers and eight-seater wagons.
The sole remaining option was to start with the proven XY platform and incorporate whatever was required to make the new model competitive. The floorpan was about all that could be salvaged.
Apart from all new styling, curved side glass and sides were essential to deliver the packaging improvements and extra shoulder room that the market required. This in turn, according to Ford, dictated some fairly intensive production and body engineering to reconcile the wider body with the outer flanges of the narrower XY floorpan.
The rocker panels and inner structure had to be extended to avoid the look of an oversized body hanging over an undersized structure which had exposed the design shortcuts so obvious in the 1965 Holden HD
. Both engineers and designers were adamant that the front and rear tracks had to increase significantly to match the wider body. As overall width was increased from 73.6 to 74.8 inches, the front track was boosted from 58.9 to 60.5 inches and the rear from 58.5 to 60.0 inches.
Ford defined a niche all of its own as a Falcon GT owner with a family or business in tow could buy an XA wagon close enough to a GT. The 12 slotter wheels and tyres, GS pack and 351 option delivered the most potent wagon package of the era with the added advantage of the longest wheelbase for towing. Because it also had one of the longest roofs on a local production car, carpet layers around the country kept this model alive decades after its use-by date.
Although the wider new body tucked under significantly in the sill area below the doors to meet up with the old XY floorpan, the wider front and rear tracks propped the wheels out far enough so they matched the wider panels above the sill line.
The cost of this process to the XA Falcon program was significant and not immediately obvious to the buyer. Yet it was critical as both Leyland P76 and VH Valiant sales suffered from shortfalls in this area.
Because Ford design work undertaken in Geelong up to that point involved little more than grilles and lights, the local design and development team had to be quickly despatched to the US in May 1968 for the XA project as there were no local Ford facilities big enough to develop a full-size clay. Jack Telnack, Brian Rossi and Allan Jackson were the key figures most often listed as those who determined the final look of the XA. Even if they were Ford Australia staff, their US backgrounds ensured that the XA would emerge with a strong US flavor including the mandatory semi-Coke bottle effect leading into the rear quarters.
The XA might have been unique to Australia as the first true Aussie Falcon, yet it was designed and developed in the US albeit by staff whose direction and loyalties were aligned with Ford Australia’s needs. David Ford recalls that the design of the new XA Falcon created such a buzz in Dearborn that Ford’s Chief Designer Gene Bordinat and Ford President Bunkie Knudsen were always in and out of the studios offering suggestions.
Imagine this front without the driving lights and black grille and this is how the XA Falcon front was intended to reach the market. The centre grille section was similar to a US 1969 LTD and would have given the base XA Falcon front the upmarket presence that the new shape deserved while lifting it well away from any unwelcome comparisons with the 1960 Falcon.
In an interview with the late Sir Brian Inglis, it emerged that Lee Iacocca also took a close interest in the development of the XA Hardtop. David Ford recalls that Jack Telnack was the main driving force behind the Hardtop styling with others including Brian Rossi contributing ideas.
This is how the XA Falcon Hardtop was supposed to look before this landmark design was ruined by the swollen rear quarters added for racing after it reached Australia. The Hardtop program cost $8.5 million on its own but because the XA Hardtop could no longer look this good on any factory XA Falcon wheel, sales were limited and possibly distorted the prospects of any future Falcon coupe forever.
One of the key differences between the US Torino and Mustang hardtops and Telnack’s striking proposal for the XA Falcon Hardtop was the XA’s concave rear screen that extended to the extremities of the rear pillars.
According to Inglis, Iacocca noted this wasn’t the approach he would take for the US market and that the convex rear glass of the US models was more in keeping with what the US market expected. Inglis recalls that the Australians backed Telnack on this difference as Telnack’s concave design maximized the width of the rear screen and generated a seamless transition into the bootlid then allowed the rear pillars to follow the profile of the bootlid. To this day, the rear styling of the XA-XB-XC Hardtops remains an inspired piece of design and a key point of difference from anything else of this era.
David Ford concurs that Telnack was so committed to this design that he built cardboard models offering ideas to the engineers on how the structure that made it all work could be concealed inside.
The side profile of how the XA Hardtop was meant to look. Note SuperRoo decal on the rear quarters. It was a stunning design that could never reach its full potential once in production.
This close interaction with US staff at the highest level is consistent with other reports that this generated such a positive view of Australian operations that establishing a Ford design centre in Australia became a corporate priority. As a Research Centre, the new facility built at Ford’s Broadmeadows site during this period qualified for government grants designed to keep this level of expertise in Australia. While it was not completed in time for the XA Falcon, it would play a critical role in defining two spin-off models from the XA program discussed below.
The other advantage of Telnack’s team working in the US was that the XA Falcon styling was consistent with the TC Cortina and the Escort Mark I which would all soon share Australian showrooms.
Another big expense generated by the XA program was the insistence of Ford Australia that flow-through ventilation would be engineered into the new model from the start. The local arm had no choice as every Cortina had offered this feature since 1965 and its ongoing absence in upper Falcon and Fairlane models was inconsistent and a growing embarrassment.
This was a complex process that not only involved the optimisation of the airflow system itself but the tooling of the myriad parts behind panel work and dash that made it work. David Ford recalls that the XA's flow through system was an Australian development that placed the new model ahead of similar US models.
Overall, the magnitude of this program and others was such a major stretch on resources that some of the specialized tooling and chunks of the engineering body design work had to be contracted out to US companies. David Ford acknowledges that some of these companies may well have been working on the VH Valiant at the same time lending credibility to claims by some local Chrysler staff also in Detroit at that time that this process prompted last minute extra differentiation for the VH Valiant.
This is the 1969 Galaxie LTD as sold in Australia that catered for a wide range of government VIP and limousine roles as well as private sales. The XA Falcon had a similar profile to this premium model and was also meant to arrive with a similar centre grille, which would have helped position it as a cut above the XY Falcon it replaced. Instead, a variation of this grille appeared later on a special local LTD based on the XA Falcon which seamlessly replaced the 1972 US model at the end of its Australian model year in mid-1973. The local LTD’s carry-over styling cues and presentation were so successful that many Australians thought it was a later, more disciplined version of the US model series and never picked its relationship with the XA Falcon.
Further costs not immediately visible included the changes to the front structure and front suspension that brought the XA closer to the Torino. The front rails and spring towers had to be spaced further apart for the wider track which also generated a bigger engine room. The upper control arms were heavier duty with a beefier three bolt upper ball joint. Larger front wheel bearings dictated different stub axles. One of the torque-box members was upgraded to the latest “isolated” torque box design.
This is how the XA Hardtop body went into production. Several limited editions like this SuperBird were needed to give the base model some much needed attitude including a blacked-out grille which hid the lack of detail, the GT’s 12 slot wheels and extra paint to break-up all that sheet metal. It worked well but even the GT wheels struggled to fill the rear wheel arches.
Budget Restrictions Change the XA/ZF at the 11th Hour
Why the XA Falcon and ZF Fairlane emerged looking so similar after all this expert attention was lavished on the new range can only be answered by a sequence of events never before revealed. David Ford explains: “The XA Falcon design and development process based in the US was only ever going to deliver the XA Falcon and ZF Fairlane ranges. The LTD and Landau range were not even conceived at this point and were developed entirely in Australia later.”
The earliest clays signed off for the XA Falcon show a more elaborate and separate centre grille style (similar to the 1969-70 US LTD) that would not surface until later on the production P5 LTD/Landau. It was always assumed, even by Ford staff, this was because XA Falcon and ZF Fairlane fronts were simplified and sacrificed at the last minute for LTD exclusivity.
Out of all the XA Falcon models, the GT looked the best with its extra body detail, extra lights and blacked-out grille. This example has the later wheel style with the open centre caps, earlier XA GT examples had the closed caps similar to the XY GT. Owners quickly filled the rear wheel arches of their GT Hardtops with wider wheels.
Not so, according to David Ford. Most global Ford designs during this period had to conform to what was known as the Knudsen nose, first seen in Knudsen’s Pontiac designs from 1961. Even the TC Cortina front had to be re-styled late in its development with a prominent centre section that generated considerable headache and expense at the production end.
The ZF Fairlane was always intended to have specific panels front and rear as for the outgoing ZD Fairlane, for a level of differentiation over the XA Falcon similar to that seen on the later ZH facelift.
After the ZF Fairlane lost the specific panels front and rear to differentiate it from the XA Falcon, much was made by some at the time that they looked too similar. As this photo shows, the differences were in fact quite pronounced thanks to some clever detailing and they were not easily confused on the road. The XA Falcon’s rear with three tail light sections like a Mustang was quite distinctive. (Photo from fordmusclecars.com.au)
The first XA Falcon clays reflected an elaborate Knudsen nose as the planned differentiation in ZF Fairlane front and rear panels left plenty of scope to distinguish the two ranges. As the XA Falcon’s various engineering programs quickly hit the budget rev-limiter, the pressure was on to cut costs where it wouldn’t affect the integrity of the base styling and platform for future models. By the end of 1969, Knudsen himself had been removed following the usual Ford behind the scenes machinations, only months after the clays for the XA Falcon had been finalized.
David Ford explains the thinking that followed: “Because the XA Falcon was new from every angle the focus could be more on the sheet metal and less so on the front. As the sheet metal becomes more familiar, the nose styling for the facelift assumes more importance.”
Although he now concedes that the XA Falcon front emerged looking blander and more characterless than desirable, a much simpler grille was one of the few areas where differentiation between Falcon and Fairlane could be achieved without significant additional investment in stand-alone panels. At the time, the Design Team did not perceive any problems with the Falcon grille. The production XA Falcon grille could thus emerge as a much simpler item with only a hint of a centre bulge, a theme it shared with the new Ford Granada.
The ZF Fairlane had the presence at the front missing from the XA Falcon and was quite well-received at launch when it had a modern, big car presence. On a bigger wheelbase than either the HQ Statesman or Chrysler by Chrysler, the ZF Fairlane could also be optioned up to almost GT level as seen here. The optional sports wheels, vinyl roof and side strip on this one sharpened the presentation.
The loss of the specific front guards for the ZF Fairlane was not desirable but getting the total program approved at an acceptable investment level with a Falcon, Fairlane, Hardtop, Wagon and Ute/Van was a higher priority. The grille, bonnet and bumper centre became the only distinguishing points at the front for the ZF Fairlane while sharing the same front guards as the XA Falcon. To help maximise the difference within these constraints, the Fairlane adopted a subdued version of the "Knudsen nose" with a different grille pattern from the Falcon, extended centre bonnet section and bulged front bumper. The separate centre grille deleted from the early XA proposals stayed on the shelf waiting for a far grander application.
From the day they hit the roads, you hardly ever saw an XA Falcon 500 Hardtop with standard wheels but this XB Hardtop shows how much the rear quarter panels were compromised for the race cars. The locally-designed XB front shows how much attitude was waiting in the XA sedan and hardtop bodies. (Photo from fordforums.com.au)
Ford takes up the story: “When budget and time would permit at the first facelift of the new bodyshell, the plan was to restore this differentiation between the Falcon and Fairlane as part of the XB/ZG program. At this point, the ZG Fairlane (and P5 LTD) would no longer share the Falcon’s front panels as their panels were carryover. Once the XB's "Mustang-related" image was successfully established, more focus could be given to maximizing the differentiation and unique positioning of the long wheelbase range at the next and more major mid-cycle facelift based on significant panel changes for the ZH Fairlane and P6 LTD with the XC facelift achieved with less sheet metal change (new front appearance and modified rear door with extra glass area and the deletion of the US-derived XA "coke-bottle" effect). Although it would have been better if we could have established this level of differentiation from the start, it was the best compromise given the XA Falcon program occurred on the run with a restricted budget and timing.”
It was in fact an inspired compromise. This sequence appeared as if it was planned that way despite the heavy but isolated criticism at the time that the XA Falcon and ZF Fairlane looked too close. Because the ZF Fairlane wheelbase was still longer than the new HQ Statesman, the ZF Fairlane generated a presence on the road that could never be mistaken for an XA Falcon. The ZF’s quad headlights, different grille, extra wheelbase and full width tail lights were no less distinctive than the ZA Fairlane’s on its 1967 release. Because both models were brand new and the XA looked so different from the XY before it, it didn’t seem to affect ZF Fairlane sales and probably helped the XA.
The late Bill Bourke, then Ford Australia President, demanded and got his Thunderbird-type coupe based on the XA Falcon by combining it with the P5 LTD program. Even Bourke’s Landau didn’t escape the impact of the XA Hardtop’s bulbous rear quarter panels which may have contributed to its relatively poor sales. (Photo from en.wikipedia.org)
The Real Aussie XA Derivatives
The XA range was not yet done as the best was yet to come. Again, David Ford fills in the gaps never before revealed: “Bill Bourke (Ford Australia President at the time) was adamant that he wanted a Thunderbird-style vehicle or luxury hardtop to extend Ford's market share without taking volume from other vehicles in the range. The local planning team was just as insistent that Australia was not a two-door market and Australian buyers were not interested in an expensive local coupe. However, they would be interested in an extended wheelbase replacement for the US LTD which could generate far more profit than the imported full-size Ford or a low volume luxury hardtop.”
David Ford remembers this battle of wills quite well as he was the one who had to represent the Australian view to Bill Bourke. After a stalemate lasting some months, it was Bourke who came up with the solution: “I will give you your local LTD if you can give me my Thunderbird Hardtop (Landau) in the same program.” It was an opportunity too good to pass up by both sides and explains why this unusual pairing went to market sharing front styling, vital luxury features and appointments based on totally different wheelbases.
Because a new LTD could allow Ford to disband the specific production line to build the local US Ford models (the Homebush line would become home for a long line of successful small Aussie Fords that ended with the Laser), this proved an extremely profitable move. David Ford explains why: “When you are building a car on an assembly line, it’s not just about a shared floorpan. There is a master assembly hole that positions each floorpan on a dowel. This becomes the reference point for all the welds and all other parts in the bodyshell. If this can be commonised, a range of vehicles can be built using common assembly fixtures and enable them to flow smoothly though the plant, sharing much of the tooling and existing equipment and therefore minimising the disruption which would result from trying to build different vehicle lines in the same plant.”
The P5 LTD sedan built on the same wheelbase as the full-sized US models was the only vehicle of its type developed and built in Australia. Aimed at absorbing the sales left by the withdrawal of all big US models from the Australian market, the LTD provided the presence of the big US cars with extra agility and cabin space. It was also the first of its type with all wheel disc brakes and decent rubber as standard.
The new local LTD gained another 5 inches in wheelbase over the Fairlane for a total of 121inches/3074mm, the same as the US model sold here as the Galaxie LTD which it replaced. As long as the LTD assembly hole matched other XA derivatives it could be built on the same assembly line by the same workforce.
Until the LTD reached volumes that could justify more extensive tooling, and also to reduce the timing to get the vehicle onto the market, its long roof was produced by welding together three sections cut from three standard roof panels. It was easier and cheaper in the short term to cover this with a padded vinyl roof to conceal any ripples or joins. The Landau’s roof was also covered in the same padded vinyl to hide the joins between the extensions added to the Falcon Hardtop pillars.
The P5 LTD and its P6 facelift were very successful given the relatively low set-up costs. The LTD with its full-sized US wheelbase was the only vehicle of its type ever developed and built in Australia. At the time, tests revealed it offered an extra 6 inches/152mm in rear legroom over the 1972 US LTD it replaced yet it was over a foot (308mm) shorter. Handling, ride and performance compared to similar US models were rated as outstanding. The new Geelong-built 4V version of the Cleveland 351 seemed to be made for this range but more of that shortly.
The way that the base XA Falcon was massaged into a range-topping limousine with clever detailed changes was what the Australian industry was best at. The padded vinyl roof wasn’t just there for looks – it hid the joins between the three standard roof sections that made up one LTD roof.
On their July 1973 release, the P5 LTD and Landau were the first all-Australian models to feature disc brakes on all four wheels, a feature that would soon trickle down to other models. The 15 inch wheels and low profile radials were also a first for a local production car after this new wheel size was homologated for the GT-HO Phase III in 1972.
Another local industry breakthrough was how the P5 front styling was created around the metal center-grille (which was lifted from the 1969-70 LTD originally but was flatter in the P5 application) dusted off from the early XA clays. In collaboration with ACI Fibreglass, Ford replaced the three piece metal mouldings normally required for the retractable headlights by a single fibre-reinforced plastic moulding that was 75 per cent cheaper to tool and didn’t require extra assembly. The colour-matching of these side-grille mouldings to the body was also new to the local industry and added to the more exotic look of the P5 range.
The LTD dash and seats highlighted the potential in the cockpit layout and full width buckets available across the XA Falcon range. Although the P5 LTD was a good earner for Ford when it could be built on the same line as the Falcon, its price undercut the heavy hitters in the prestige sedan market by a good 30-40 per cent.
Fortunately it was Ford’s Aussie planners who had the last laugh on this project and again it highlighted how important a local perspective was to the survival of the local industry. Just 1385 P5 Landaus were sold compared to 7003 LTD equivalents! Needless to say, the Landau proposal with a P6 front never saw the light of day.
This Ranchero based on the 1970 Torino highlights how much work local Ford engineers faced turning a show pony like this one into a work truck that could match or better the F-series light truck. Australia was still several decades away from treating utes as a coupe with very long boots.(Photo from gtcarlot.com)
Other XA Changes and Advances
Ford’s local 200 and 250 sixes developed for the XY were proven and ready for the XA. They were quite different from the US sixes of the same capacity as Australian engineers elected to move the crankshaft further down to lengthen the block whereas the Americans chose to increase the deck height for extra block length. This development will be covered in a future XY story.
The special Australian 250 2V engine that appeared later in the XY series carried over into the XA series and worked well with the XA’s improved driveability as it offered V8 levels of performance without the weight. It was the first Falcon six to have the cast-with-head log manifolds replaced by a free-flowing exhaust header system and a special inlet manifold for the twin throat carburettor similar to that fitted to Holden’s 253/4.2 litre V8. Claimed power was 170bhp/127kW compared to 155bhp for the standard 250 however fuel economy did suffer. These engines were quite rare and are now sought-after.
Unlike local rivals, the XA Falcon 500 ute could be optioned up to almost GT specification with the GT dash, wheels, driving lights, a slightly softer 351 engine and GS stripe. As awesome as it looks, local Ford engineers didn’t dare compromise on the ride height, rear tub height and load capacity as even a ute like this one in 1972 was usually bought to work hard.
As emissions and other market changes caught up with the Clevelend 351 in the US, Ford Australia went it alone and developed two unique Geelong versions of the Cleveland for local production. This included a special 302/4.9-litre version based on the 351 Cleveland block that replaced the imported Windsor 302 which despite its extra weight was highly praised in the Fairlane. After ongoing complaints from XY Falcon GT owners that their 4V Cleveland 351 engines were not as smooth and torquey as the 2V version and fuelled-up in stop-start traffic, Ford Australia elected not to produce the Cleveland 4V heads. Instead the local 2V heads were combined with a four barrel carburettor to create the local 351 4V for a much smoother, more frugal and torquier engine at lower engine speeds. Initially, this Geelong 351 4V specification was exclusive to XA Falcon GT auto and the LTD/Landau range while the previous Cleveland 351 4V big port engine was fitted to XA and XB Falcon GT manuals until stocks ran out during the XB model run.
The unique Australian 351 4V proved to be a sound move as it allowed Ford Australia to offer tractable 351/5.8-litre 2V and 4V engines uncompromised by US emissions regs across the Falcon, Fairlane, LTD and Landau ranges in all body styles. It also boosted the local content of the F-series and Bronco ranges assembled in Australia. The decision to stay with the 2V heads on all local Geelong-built Cleveland engines then allowed Ford to conform to later emissions requirements with a single 351 4V engine that the US 4V heads could never meet.
The detailing around the cabin and load tub in the XA ute highlights how hard the engineers and designers worked to keep the XA’s benchmark “coupe” styling intact while retaining the strength and load depth expected in a work vehicle. The XA-XB-XC utes with their extended Hardtop doors were the only “coupe” utes produced after 1948 that remained faithful to the original Ford invention as they combined a two-door coupe cabin with an integrated load bed.
The XA wagon was the first to be built on the Fairlane’s 116 inch wheelbase which left it with the longest wheelbase of any local wagon yet it was still 2.3 inches/58.42mm shorter than the VH Valiant wagon. Although cargo length and capacity increased significantly, the big advantage was that more of the payload could be carried inside the wheelbase. It was also the only wagon to offer a two-way tail gate opening that allowed the tail gate to drop down or open sideways which was popular with families who needed the third row seat. The extra wheelbase and rear leaf springs also made the XA wagon a much better towing platform than its HQ rival.
The XA ute and panel vans were also Ford’s first on the Fairlane’s 116inch wheelbase, the longest in its class. Ford had been concerned for some time that the stated payload for earlier Falcon utes could soon exceed the rear axle’s capacity if it wasn’t carefully spread throughout the rear cargo area. Such a big boost in wheelbase allowed more of the load to be placed ahead of the rear axle, a no-brainer according to David Ford. What wasn’t so readily accepted was using the Hardtop’s longer frameless front doors in the commercials, the only time this ever happened on a local model. David Ford recalls this was dictated totally by styling. Although it created the most stylish local utes and vans of its era, it caused major problems for the engineers.
Creating a panel van out of a body with sides as curved as the XA was a real achievement. Because the door glass and upper body sides would have almost come to a point if their profile was extended to the van’s roof, the stylists had to progressively square up the van body before the sides reached the roof without the eye noticing. It was a clever piece of design for it to look this good. The barn doors were new to XA.
Because the Falcon ute and van were still primarily bought by Australians in 1972 as workhorses, not show ponies, this was very different from the US where the comparable Torino ute was the show pony and the F-series was the work truck. Reconciling the low waistline of the Hardtop doors with a deep enough and wide enough load bed for the XA ute was a nightmare as the XA’s side profile narrowed the body quite dramatically as soon as the panels were extended upwards. Building in the required workhorse strength in the area between the sloping single pillar cab and the load area was also a challenge. Sealing the frameless door windows against the cab and catering for the extra loads on the door hinges created further headaches.
Another view on how the designers achieved an unusually high roofline with adequate load width at the top, on a body that tapered inwards quite significantly above the waist line.
The ute problems paled against the challenges with the panel van. Apart from reconciling the Hardtop doors with the high sides of a van from a side perspective, the designers had to find a way of preventing the van from looking like a witch’s hat if the panel van sides simply continued the lower body’s side profile upwards. How the designers disguised the required width in the XA’s upper van section was an inspired piece of design. Although the XA van also introduced barn doors, there was another access problem. In tight work situations, the longer side doors could make accessing or leaving the ute and van cabins difficult. David Ford recalls the decision was made there and then for it to never happen again.
The XA Hardtop was never meant to have the rear guards and quarter panels bulged outwards and never left the US that way. What happened next really annoyed many inside Ford who had fought for the big increases in XA track to make sure that the wheel to wheel arch relationship was correct on all models. As David Ford observes: “Not one factory wheel specification looked right with the XA Hardtop’s rear wheel arches.” How did it happen? In a classic case of the tail wagging the dog, Ford’s former competitions chief Al Turner insisted on and got the whole rear section of every Falcon Hardtop bulged outwards so that Bathurst race teams could fit wider rubber to their race cars. The entire Falcon Hardtop range from XA to XC and Landau was thus sacrificed to allow this to happen, a bizarre move that caused major ongoing headaches for the marketing team who had to constantly create limited editions of the lesser models to clear the hardtop bodies. Exactly why Turner wasn’t forced to create a special homologation version with extended wheel arches similar to the A9X hatchback is not clear. In the long term, this move also killed off any chance of another Falcon coupe as the extra volume anticipated from Falcon 500 and Fairmont Hardtop sales never happened as they were compromised even further on standard wheels. As the photos of the early clay highlight, this landmark Hardtop design, which is finally getting the recognition it deserves, was ruined by this short term move even if the racing Hardtops did play a vital role in selling later Falcon ranges.
Some never before seen work by Brian Rossi while developing the XA Hardtop. Although Ford Australia design chief Jack Telnack is credited with the Hardtop, other team members were involved in finessing it.
The vent windows on the XA Falcon range were eliminated with the arrival of the new flow-through ventilation and the Falcon’s first integrated air-conditioning option but you could put them back for $20. Why? There was nothing better for a quick dump of fresh air from the open vent windows in hot rural areas to cool the car down after it been parked. Also in the days of high smoking rates, an open vent window was a highly effective way of keeping the cabin free of smoke. Ford expected a 20 per cent take-up rate, give or take 10 per cent, but the actual figure seemed much less than that.
The XA Falcon marked the first streamlined exterior mirror at base level in its class, the first wraparound cockpit dash that attempted to place all controls within easy reach of the driver, a bigger fuel tank that was still short of the Valiant benchmark, the Falcon’s first power window option and a new cloth trim option.
Despite the short term compromises imposed on the styling, the XA Falcon re-established the Falcon as the car you would want to drive as its Holden and Chrysler rivals became more conservative. The GS package allowed a wide range of owners to experience some or most of what the GT offered in every body style.
The XA Falcon Legacy
No less obvious today, the XA Falcon felt like a generation ahead of its rivals except on rough roads where the HQ reigned as king. It was consistently praised for its improved driveability and the “warmth” of its interior even at base level.
On release, it featured the widest boot opening, the tallest door height, the most shoulder room by a significant margin, the widest glovebox and the widest windscreen at roof level, an indicator of space around occupants’ heads.
Externally, it was only slightly wider than the HQ Kingswood and VH Valiant but significantly shorter than both of them as it basically continued the short overhangs of the XY series. Slightly lighter than the Valiant, slightly heavier than the Kingswood, the XA soon became the work vehicle of choice for many.
Optioned with the bigger 250 six, the XA was significantly quicker than an HQ 202 and line ball with the Valiant 245 depending on transmission. As Holden wound down the HQ GTS 350 to an auto only with the detoxed US engine, the XA Falcon GT 351 was left with little opposition. The GS package which allowed buyers to tailor any Falcon body style almost to GT spec without the crippling insurance was also a popular choice.
Its biggest legacy was to provide a platform good enough to keep the big Aussie family car alive long after the Leyland P76, Valiant and Kingswood disappeared. On that basis, it could be argued that without the XA’s “almost accidental” development, the entire Australian industry could have disappeared decades earlier.