Curbside Classic: Australian Ford Falcon XC GT 351 Ute Found In Oregon – This Time For Real (Or So I Thought)

(first posted 9/11/2012)    True confession: I lied about the ZXGLQ-FU Australian Ford Fairlane I claimed to have found in Eugene. I was so desperate to impress you all with my car-finding prowess (and spike our page views) by bagging an Australian car in Oregon that I resorted to one of the cheapest (and most common) tricks in journalism: deception. What’s more, I might well have gotten away with it, if not for all those pesky readers we have down under (where did they all come from anyway?). I’m so ashamed; so much for my Pulitzer.

The very first comment exposed my fraud: The white car is NOT an Australian Fairlane! And I thought you were my friend, Bryce. Other comments laid into me too, including this harsh one by Troy: That car is a 1972 Torino. This article is very poorly researched. Ouch! Hey, I not only spent a lot of time on that article, but I invented a whole new class of engine, the FEMI (I’m still considering getting a patent on it). Well, I may be ashamed, but I refuse to be humiliated, especially with all those comments about me being stoned and such; perish the thought. Now I’m going to have the last laugh, having found a genuine Australian Ford in Oregon. And a GT 351 ute, no less. And no, it’s not a Torino Ranchero that I photoshopped with a Falcon XC front end. This is the real deal. So have I redeemed myself?  And all you doubters can go click on ten google ads to make amends.

And how exactly did this Falcon XC end up here? Beats me. We were whizzing up Hwy 101 near Newport to go deep-sea fishing when my peripheral vision caught a momentary flash of something red, sitting between some trailers in an RV storage lot. My first, conscious reaction?  “No, you didn’t just see what you think you saw”. Blame it on waking up way to early. Still, I thought I’d better confirm, lest I spend all day on a boat wondering if I’d let the really big catch of the day get away. So I made a crazy U-turn and went back into the lot; as I pulled in behind it, I knew I’d scored–and a GT351, no less. That did help make up for the fact that I only caught one barely-legal Chinook salmon all day.

It does have California tags, but then the coast of Oregon is teeming with retirees from the not-so-Golden State. That aside, what else can I say? Here it is, in full mid-seventies Australian styling splendor, bristling with a bulging hood, under which sits not a FEMI, but a genuine made-in-the-USA Cleveland 351 (5.8-liter)  V8 that pumped out 300 (gross) hp in its day. Wheelspin? Donuts? No wonder the term “hooning” was invented in Australia.

Now the Australian terminology can get a bit confusing, but I did my research (Troy!), and determined this is to be a Series XC Falcon ute, made sometime between July 1976 and March 1979. So much for model years. The XC was the last of the curvacious Fords, and was replaced by the very Euro-looking Falcon XD (above).

We can’t do a complete history of the Australian ute here today, but according to this entry at compareutes, this 1934 is the grandaddy of them all:

The story sounds like an urban legend: In 1932, a Gippsland farmer’s wife sent Ford a request for a revolutionary new car design: “Why don’t you build people like us a vehicle to go to church in on a Sunday, and which can carry our pigs to market on Mondays?” she asked. The job of designing a car of this versatility fell on the shoulders of 22 year old engineer Lewis Bandt, and two years later, the first Ford ute was released.

The original ute had a wheel base of 112 inches, a five foot five inch tray that could carry 1200 pounds (550kg). The car went on to become a huge success, and was exported to the US and dubbed ‘kangaroo chasers’.

I’m not so sure about that very last line. Obviously, pickups had been in production for some time in the U.S. (more on that subject soon) when the ute “was invented in Australia”.

The key difference between Australian utes and American pickups involved the design and engineering of their beds. American pickup beds (with very rare exceptions) have always been completely separate structures bolted to the frame, while utes have used an integral body from the beginning.  Of course, passenger-car-based “utes” with integrated bodies would appear in the U.S., starting with Ford’s 1957 Ranchero.

Why the integrated bed? Apparently there was concern about whether the bed (tray) would break off under a load of pigs, and thus it was integrated into the body pillar behind the door. Can’t have that. And so has it been ever since.

Or not. I thought it was so, and I know the current Holden is a “unibody”, but it seems that the current series Falcon ute is no longer. The American approach won out after all. But that’s how the Aussie Fords were too, until pretty recently.

Here’s the business end (or maybe not) of the Falcon ute. Not one continuous floor, I see. It looks like that forward floor section lifts up to reveal a storage compartment, likely. That might not fare so well in rainy Oregon; there’s probably a little pond in there. Oh, I can just hear the comments from down under already. Anyway, that would be where the footwells of the station wagon would be. Looks like another little storage compartment in the side. Our Rancheros were never so well thought out.

Yes, in this case, the business end is up here. Lesser versions started with the true Falcon engine (or should I say the Ozziefied version of it), the 3.3-liter (200 cu in) six. The long-block 250 (4.1-liter) six was the next step up, and most work-a day utes probably had one of those. But as the performance era bloomed in Australia,  4.9-liter and 5.8-liter Cleveland V8s found their way under the hood-scooped hot versions.

The interior is a bit…disturbed. I think those seats are out of a more recent-vintage American Ford product. Some kind of Fox body, I’d say.

That does look like a four-speed stick protruding from the floor, but what would you expect? Not an automatic, I hope.

OK, now I’m 100% sure this is the real thing. That dealer decal is so not from the US. The main part with the dealer name has worn off, but I can make out the outline of all the letters except the first one: _ASI VILLE. OK, you guys who gave me such a hard time, what city is this? I guess I could call the number and find out.

So are you all convinced this is the real deal?

Update: it turns out to be a clone GT351. But it is a real Australian Ford ute. It can pay to go fishing; you never know what you’ll catch.