(first posted 9/24/2015) Ford’s global restructuring program known as One Ford, coupled with unsustainable labor costs, have killed the Australian Falcon. In October 2016, Ford Australia will no longer manufacture cars. Although mortally wounded and close to death, the Falcon was almost shot out of the sky twenty years ago by a different global restructuring program. It took a group of passionate Ford Australia employees to make the case for another generation of distinctively Australian sedans, wagons and utes, although what the 1998 AU Falcon is most remembered for is its distinctive styling.
There were rumblings in the late 1980s that the Falcon should be replaced by a global model in the new decade, despite the immense success of the existing model throughout the eighties. The upcoming ’96 Taurus was at one point floated as a potential Falcon replacement, but Ford went ahead in 1995 with a heavy cosmetic revision of the existing Falcon after Ford Australia President and CEO John Ogden convinced Ford HQ that an Australianized Taurus wouldn’t cut it. Ogden, an American, had succeeded Jac Nasser in this role. The revised Falcon was known as the 1994 EF series, and rather neatly disguised the Falcon’s 1988-vintage body.
Ford’s full-size range had dominated the sales charts throughout the 1980s, reaching a total market share record in 1987 of 15.3%. A resurgent Commodore, both larger and with more modern styling than its predecessor, seized pole position in sales in 1988. It was an ominous sign, as the Falcon would only best the Commodore in four separate years after this, although it would remain in the top 2 each year until 2006. While the EF outsold the contemporary Commodore at first, the Holden quickly turned the tables.
For the EF Falcon’s replacement, “Project Eagle” was conceived, and it was an ironic choice of name given Ford Australia was again eschewing an American model. It was concluded that an indigenous Falcon could be developed and still be profitable, despite Ford’s “Ford 2000” global restructuring plan of 1994 having the aim of reducing Ford’s number of platforms and engines across the world.
The ’96 Taurus was still launched but as a more premium import-fighter, and flopped badly. 10,000 annual units had been projected, but the best it could muster was 2,078 in its first year, with sales slumping further each year until Ford mercifully terminated it. People still loved the Falcon, and the Taurus could not replace it, with Ford Australia seeing front-wheel-drive as a notable impediment particularly for consumers who towed (69% of Falcons had towbars fitted). Also proposed but ruled out was a Ford-fettled Mazda 929, as well as the European Ford Scorpio and American Crown Victoria.
Ford was working on a new rear-wheel-drive platform in North America known as DEW98, which would underpin the Jaguar S-Type and Lincoln LS. However, Ford Australia concluded it would be too expensive, especially to engineer it to take the Australian inline six that was a Falcon staple for decades. In America, DEW98 was also proposed then rejected for the Mustang.
It was decided the new Falcon – codenamed EA169 – would feature more extensive American involvement than before and ride atop a heavily revised version of the existing Falcon platform, which dated back to the 1988 EA (although even the EA retained components from its predecessor). A total investment of $AUD700 million was made, and the floorpan was all-new except for the cowl and the sedan’s rear rails. Curb weight was down very slightly, and the platform was 17.5% stiffer. There was a new double wishbone front suspension and an independent double wishbone rear suspension was available for the first time on select models. The latter was heavier than the conventional set-up, but provided more balanced handling. Wagons stuck with a rigid axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs.
The AU offered a startling amount of variety. Three body styles. Two different dashboards. An inline six in three different states of tune, as well as an available V8. Two different transmissions. Two different hood designs with five different grilles. Three different rear suspension set-ups.
Engines were an overhauled version of the inline Falcon six renamed “Intech” or a mildly revised 5.0 Windsor V8, with a choice of revised four-speed automatic or, on some models, a five-speed manual. The V8 option was deleted from the wagon: if you wanted a bent-eight family hauler, you had to buy a Holden. The base inline “Intech” six was good for 210 hp and 263 ft-lbs and had been modified for greater fuel economy and decreased NVH.
Ford Australia realized that it couldn’t depend on fleet buyers. Private buyers needed to be targeted, especially younger buyers and women. One way this could be accomplished was with a fresh design. AU chief designer Steve Park styled a new Falcon that would fit with Ford’s New Edge design philosophy. Ford’s global VP of design, Jack Telnack, described Ford’s new design ethos as “combining intersecting arcs to create surface tension by adding creases to soft aerodynamic shapes.”
The range opened with the controversially-styled Forte sedan and wagon. Ford didn’t want this base model to look like a poverty pack, and gave it a waterfall grille and distinctive plastic wheel covers as well as the sleeker of the two hood designs; air-conditioning was also standard. It received the base interior in either a drab, cheap gray (pictured) or a nicer charcoal. The Forte wasn’t exactly loaded with creature comforts, initially featuring manual windows all-round, but you could option the V8, a five-speed manual and IRS (although not all three together). There was also a similarly-specified Falcon S available with sportier trim.
The next step up was the Futura sedan and wagon, aimed at family buyers. Ford had dusted off the Futura nameplate in 1993 and applied it to its family-oriented Commodore Acclaim rival. The only engine was the I6 and standard equipment included ABS, cruise control and alloy wheels. Also, it received a more conservative grille treatment despite receiving the lower Forte hood.
The plusher Fairmont sedan and wagon and Fairmont Ghia sedan received the more conservative hood design and a handsome, chrome-framed honeycomb grille, and ditched the black mirrors and amber rear turn signals of the lesser Falcons. There was a different, nicer dashboard design with woodgrain trim and an analog clock, shared with the long-wheelbase Fairlane and LTD models. Fairmont Ghias had standard IRS.
The sporting variants were the bodykit-wearing, quad-headlight XR6, XR6 VCT and XR8 sedans. The XR6 received a tweaked version of the inline six with 219 hp and 269 ft-lbs while the XR6 VCT added standard IRS as well as variable cam timing to bring power and torque up to 230 hp and 275 ft-lbs. The IRS-equipped, Windsor V8-powered XR8 had 248 hp and 303 ft-lbs which didn’t represent a huge increase over the impressively torquey six. In 1999, Tickford Vehicle Engineering also created the tuned TE50 and TS50 sports models; these served as a precursor to the now defunct Ford Performance Vehicles range of models.
An entirely new Falcon Ute was also introduced in 1999, replacing the 1979-vintage XH utility. Three body variants were available: a chassis cab, a steel tray and a styleside body. The ute was available with a choice of manual or automatic transmissions and in base XL, mid-range XLS or sporty XR6 and XR8 trims; the base ute undercut the Forte sedan by around $6000, albeit with some feature omissions. Still, utes had the same interior as the sedan and wagon – but for the availability of a column-shifted automatic – and could be optioned similarly, making them much more modern and comfortable than their antediluvian predecessor. Payloads ranged from 1146 lbs to 2579 lbs, depending on the trim, tray style and suspension tune selected.
Against the Commodore, journalists found the Falcon satisfying. The Holden had sportier handling, but the Ford was seen as a better all-rounder with more steering feel, a smoother ride and a quieter cabin. The Falcon was also slightly lighter than the Commodore, and most importantly had a sizeable torque advantage: the naturally-aspirated I6 was closer to the Holden’s optional supercharged V6 in terms of pound feet, and made the base 3800 V6 look comparatively breathless. Still, some had their reservations about the standard live axle and its effect on handling when coupled with the slightly elevated ride height.
Whether it was the tepid reaction to the dramatic styling or the alteration of fleet pricing in anticipation of higher retail sales, AU Falcon sales were slow at first except for the hot-selling ute. Ford reacted quickly by lowering the ride height of most Falcons by an inch in 1999 and made some minor interior tweaks to improve the cabin ambience. A popular new model was the limited edition Classic, adding the ute’s eggcrate grille and a raft of standard features including ABS, alloy wheels and an upgraded sound system for the same price as the base Forte.
Many critics actually praised the AU’s design – echoes of the critical reception to the ’96 Taurus in the US – but some were less kind. Buyers were also scared off by the very different styling: despite keen pricing that undercut the Commodore and started under $AUD30k, the Holden widened the sales gap. The two rivals were neck-and-neck just three years earlier, but in 1998 the fresh and hot-selling VT Commodore outsold the Falcon by around 25k units.
Ford hurriedly ordered revisions. The 2000 AU Series II models – sporty XR trim levels aside – all adopted the front-end design of the upscale Fairmont and Fairmont Ghia. To further enhance the Forte’s appeal, it received standard automatic transmission, 16’’ wheels, front power windows and air-conditioning. Further specification changes were made for the late-2001 Series III, but sales had continued to slide each year and sunk to 53,534 units in 2001, a whopping 32k fewer units than the Commodore.
In February 1999, Ford US design boss J Mays flew to Melbourne to work on the BA redesign. The BA Falcon would be a more thorough revision, with more conservative and upscale exterior styling – only the door skins and mirrors were retained – and a higher-quality interior. But while there was a sales uptick, it didn’t reverse the downwards trend. Buyers were leaving the full-size family sedan segment, and even the mighty Commodore would see sales fall 50% between 2002 and 2009.
It’s tempting for many to pillory the AU Falcon as being an ugly duckling that drove people away from Ford dealerships. However, the styling that seemed so radical in 1998 has aged quite well given the arrival of various “four-door coupes” with similarly swoopy lines, and has arguably aged better than other New Edge Fords like the first Focus and Ka. Meanwhile, the VT Commodore may still look handsome but its jellybean lines seem very 1990s. Their more conventionally-styled interior has held up better, though. Holden was arguably influenced by the AU in one way: the facelifted VX Commodore of 2000 featured greater differentiation in appearance between trim levels, with the upscale Calais no longer mistakable for a base Executive.
For used car buyers, AU Falcons make for an excellent choice, generally being cheaper than contemporary Commodores, albeit more expensive than used Mitsubishi Magnas. They are also reliable and fairly well-built, although you’d best stay away from well-worn utes and ex-taxis with hundreds of thousands of miles on the odometer.
The AU may have been controversially styled and a poor seller, relative to other Falcons, but the basic car was well-engineered. It took the 2002 BA with its various aesthetic and mechanical revisions to really underscore how excellent an indigenous Australian Ford could be. Ford would go on to introduce a turbocharged inline six, a turbocharged four cylinder and a well-packaged Falcon-based crossover known as the Territory, but they were fighting a losing battle against perception, crossovers, labor costs, and flagging large car sales. Although Ford is closing down its factory in Australia, they are retaining engineering operations. As well those engineers should keep their jobs: they have done some marvellous work.
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Cars Of A Lifetime Number Two: 2004 Ford BA Falcon XR6
Distinctive styling? If distinctive equates to ugly and weird.
You could lose that jellybean in any parking lot, nowadays, with all the blob clones produced today.
Leave it to Ford, to produce unmemorable aero sedans, that lose their visual appeal, after 2-3 years on the market.
They become so mundane and boring, the only place they feel worthy, is on the front line of a rental fleet.
I actually prefer the older AU Falcons(Who wouldn’t with their RWD platforms), but that thing is awful… It looks like the body of a 96 Infiniti I30 with the nose of a 95 Chevy Cavalier.
I think the AU to BA facelift could be a candidate for BFOAT (Best Facelift Of All Time). It would be nice to see before and after photos from the same angles. I was thinking about doing it but….
oh and you could get an AU v8 wagon. There are a few out there in forte and fairmont trim.
They were awfull to look at when released and nobody bought them except govt departments, XR8s were used by NSW police and if you saw one you lifted off because it was guarenteed to be an undercover cop, the one assigned to Windsor Richmond area had numerous accesories fitted and removed to change its appearance but it took months for any private buyers to take the bait and the police mufti car to blend into traffic
The BA was a rushed facelift done long before Ford planned to update their baby but sales were bad and something urgent had to be done.
My next door neighbour bought a blue Classic, but he works for Ford so that probably doesn’t count! The retired neighbour over the road has a maroon Futura. I think everyone else on the block who had one upgraded to an BA or BF. The base grille was almost universally hated – maybe a sneaky bit of marketing to make people move up?
I remember reading in Wheels that the base grille was meant to be on the upper-spec models too, but that management hated it when they saw it and ordered it to be base model only.
The AU Ghia/XR6 VCT version had the first IRS set-up later referred to in the BA/BF as ‘control blade’ – there was a high wear rate of the in-board knuckle joints of these, leading to excess play and resulting in quite dangerous handling characteristics allowing the rear of the vehicle to jump sideways airborne over potholes during cornering ..replacing these joints was a truly major job of removing and dismantling the IRS sub frame ..the joints are so expensive to replace that there is a market for using second hand ones taken from low mileage wrecks …another thing is the design of the strap and hub parking brake which is solely for use as a stationary brake …using it as a regular secondary or emergency brake means wrapping the belt around the hub and having even more dismantling and repair work ..also the rear discs like their S-type Jaguar superior cousins’ tend to drag, creating heat, loss of performance/economy etc etc
The later Falcons are just a pretty big diss in a number of areas …not to mention the 5.4 modular V8 versions ..have you ever tried to get the spark plugs out of them lol
Craig the AU IRS is completely different from the BA, it is a double wishbone similar to the Mustang Cobra setup of the same era, designed to go into the live axle floorpan. The BA had a redesigned floorpan as the live axle was gone, and the control blade IRS has 3 lateral links and a large longitudinal link, it is similar to the Focus setup.
As stated above AU IRS is completely different setup to the Control Blade system fitted to Falcons BA onward. The AU IRS does not use ‘strap and hub parking brake’. It uses a PBR Banksia design which, while a pain to adjust, is quite effective when set right. The only real weakness in the design is the upper strut mounts.
My brother ran a AU for ten years but his had a grille from a ute it didnt look as bad and I see nobody has mentioned the early transmission failures these cars suffered, why? it wasnt a secret.
William thanks for this interesting writeup. Australian manufacturing must have been very efficient to be able to offer so many versions of a car that sold less than 100,000 units. It will make some Americans wonder why so many of our offerings are limited to sedan or CUV versions.
It also sheds a little light on the question I have often asked about what if Ford had stayed with the Falcon and Fox platform and not spent so much on the late to the game Taurus. The seventies problem of patheticly low output of Ford’s old inline 6s definitely was well addressed with Australian development. I believe you did have some level of pollution control.
A 80-90s American Falcon could have been a very cheap to manufacture but solid police/taxi and cheapskate car, The fox could have been allowed to mature into a more sophisticated offering underpinning Continental, Thunderbird, Mustang and perhaps a Mercury sport sedan and early CUV. IRS and access to BMW inline 6s could have allowed for much higher prices. Not constantly borrowing money to develop totally new platforrns would have left Ford with less or no debt to service and a cash horde to get through the inevitable bad times. It is much cheaper to gradually update than to be constantly throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
The Ford design team when describing the AU seems to be doing a lot of channeling of Chris Bangle from BMW with his flame surfacing schtick. The results seem the same.
Not knowing the exact exchange rates, it sounds like Ford spent almost as much money in the 90s re-designing the Falcon as it did the Taurus….with similar results from potential customers.
The interior shots of the Forte model bring to mind the mid-late 90s Escort, and to a lesser extent the Taurus, but are more rational looking. Too bad the U.S. stylists insisted on the more radical “interpretation”.
I agree about the myriad models and large numbers of special parts needed to differentiate the various models in such a small market. I don’t understand how Ford Australia managed to rationalize the expense but Ford U.S. would not.
BTW, it’s that the cheapest model in the lineup got a “waterfall” grille. I thought I was looking at a picture of at least a middle level trim until I read that far in the write-up.
Finally, to my eyes, this series of Falcon looks like a sort of “mash-up” of the Contour and Taurus….but on a RWD platform. Speaking of which, it’s interesting that Ford AU’s “bread and butter” car line got IRS but the top Ford U.S. model never did.
Ford AU spent a small hill of money in the late 80s redesigning the Falcon only to get beaten to the draw by GMH with their Buick powered Vauxhall Senator called the VN Commodore, Ford released its EA model only partially baked and the warranty claims cascaded in it was not a good car on top of that came the debacle of the restyled Mazda 323 ragtop called the Capri which took too long to do and the result was poorly executed, That is what caused the rumblings about closing Ford Australia, the red ink was flowing Broadmeadows scrambled about and improved the product as fast as they could and by the EF of 94 actually had a competitive car to sell at least it proved a better buy than the awfully ugly Taurus that Dearborn offered up.
Don’t forget the VN was widened from the original Opel design, like Mitsubishi did to make the Magna. The VN was little more than a Magna-ised Opel with a Buick motor, and an Oldsmobile roof if you checked the Statesman option.
They didnt widen it the VN sits on the VL floorpan it was a bigger car from Opel than the earlier models to begin with, they later widened the front track to improve handling, but in reality the VN was a turd but the EA was so much worse it made the VN seem good.
We rejected both and bought a Magna back in ’89. It felt so much more refined to drive – like it was in a higher price bracket entirely. That opened our eyes for us and really put the ‘Big two’ in perspective.
Might do a COAL on that.
Yes it’s on the VL floorpan, but the body was widened from the Opel design – Holden used wider sills to mate the wider body to the narrow floorpan.
How much did the 1995 Taurus cost? The AU Falcon included 4 separate bodies too, not 3 as William stated; normal sedan, wagon, ute and long-wheelbase sedan.
One of the sales obstacles was Ford drastically lowered the fleet discounts given, to reduce the price for private buyers. They later brought them back, but it was enough to drive business to Holden.
I think it would be safe to say that the cost of ownership of one of these Falcons would be lower than a Commodore, perhaps with the exception of depreciation being worse.
They cheekily extended transmission service intervals to match the beefed up tranny GMH were using but never did anything with the tranny and just out of warranty there were lots of failures REPCO had tooled up to supply rebuild kits already when my brother bought his AU used @80,000kms he triple flushed the tranny untill the oil stopped coming out black and did changes to the original schedule that trans had and managed ten years from the car, He worked for REPCO at the time but finished his time on tools at a Ford dealership, he knew what he was doing.
This certainly helps shed some light on the more recent history of the Falcon nameplate in Australia.
It’s interesting that so many manufacturers have had success in globalizing a design whereas in a few other instances (Taurus in Australia or Holden Monaro as a GTO in the US) have not been as successful. Most likely these are isolated instances, but it does make one pause and ponder.
That first picture of the ute, in rear 3/4 view, looks like a squished version of a 1997 to 2003 Ford F-150 – right down to the tail lights appearing the same.
They did use the same tail lights, at least to start with, sourced from Brazil I think along with the F-trucks that were imported here. The back-up light is on the right side below the Ford oval, and was later incorporated into the light unit itself and I am not sure if those were the same.
Well I never! That’s the sort of detail I love (I know, I know, I should get out more…)
I have to ask why Ford didn’t use this chassis to build a Crown Victoria/Town Car replacement? It was developed to be used in the outback so it should have been able to handle the concrete jungle.
Good question, Cloned.
Even though, it’s no longer used on the Falcon, it would be a shame to waste it.
Ford could use a RWD family sedan, to compete with the Charger/300, in police configuration that is bigger and longer than the Taurus… Which seems to be Ford’s only sedan option, with the departure of the sorely missed Crown Vic.
Where is this Ford Interceptor we’ve been promised for the past 10-15 years?
Correct, me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the new Lincoln Continental going to be built on this AU Falcon’s RWD platform?
Sure, there’ll be an AWD option, but for budget minded consumers, Ford will offer a lower priced RWD model, I’m sure.
* New Lincoln Continental concept
I hate to burst your bubble Sarcasmo, but I think full size sedans have been largely passed on by the american public for quite a while, and Ford opted not to continue the Panther platform because of this.
Look at the sales of the current Police Interceptors – heavily skewed towards the version based off the Explorer. This mirrors the overall CUV craze that has almost all sedans posting year over year declines.
As for the Continental, its going to be based on the FWD CD4 platform, which underpins the current Fusion, Edge, MkZ, and MKX.
Rumors point to a new Lincoln platform that will be extremely flexible and have FWD, AWD, or RWD, depending on the application. Who knows if it leads to a sedan larger than the Continental.
I dunno Edward, there still seems to be a market for larger sedans… The Lexus LS, Mercedes S-Class, and Toyota Avalon seem to be selling well.
As far as Americans buying full size domestics, the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and new Chevy Impala seem to find quite a few new homes.
Although, sadly yes, the CUV has been a more prominent fixture on American roads.
I don’t hate CUVs/SUVs… Just the people who think they are invincible with them, brag they have 4WD, BUT never take them(Jeeps, Explorers, Suburbans, Forerunners, Tahoes)off-road or don’t know how to handle them and spinout when it snows or rains. Idiots.
Also, don’t worry about bursting my bubble, Ed… Full size sedans aren’t really my demographic of car.
I’m more of a classic RWD Japanese sport coupe(Nissan Silvias, Datsuns, RX7s, RWD Toyotas), vintage Muscle Car and European exotic fan. 😉
Like this sexy Iso Grifo…
The picture caught my eye – and then I just had to read your post to figure out what on earth that lovely Iso Grifo had in common with an AU Falcon. Contrast – of course!
The Taurus/Explorer Interceptor thing is much less a sedan vs. CUV thing. Specifically, the Taurus Interceptor only has a cargo capacity of 400 pounds, compared to the 800 pounds of the Explorer Interceptor. Overall payload is only 1,220-1,340 pounds for the Taurus Interceptor (depending on engine), whereas it’s nearly 1,600 pounds for the Explorer.
Really, the Taurus is just low on capability compared to the Explorer for police use. Figure a couple of officers at 200 each, plus all the crap they carry on their belts, plus all the crap they perpetually carry in the trunk so they can address whatever situation they encounter, plus all the electronics and communications gear and extra wiring and light bar. Right there, you’re talking about the lion’s share of the stated capacity, and you’re using it in a packaging format that’s less efficient and easy to access. Throw a perp or two in the back, and the poor Taurus is pushed to its limits.
Really, when looking at the Sedan and Utility versions of the Interceptor, there’s really little reason to buy the Sedan outside of the improved mileage. Ford specifically advertises the fact that Taurus and Explorer (erm, Sedan and Utility) share components so that servicing either is easier. They both share the center console footprint of the Crown Victoria so that existing equipment can just be bolted in.
Also interesting: Ford apparently offers a police Transit and police F-150. http://www.fleet.ford.com/resources/ford/general/pdf/brochures/2015/15_PoliceInterceptor_Brochure_lr.pdf
I think there are 2 reasons why the Australian Falcon was not used as the basis for the Crown Vic:
1. The strong, NIH factor. Ford Australia could get Ford’s global castoffs, but only rarely would Ford Australia send it’s products overseas.
2. Ford U.S. couldn’t decide when, if, it wanted to extend the life of the Crown Vic.
Would love to import a late model Falcon wagon…I wouldn’t even care if it had a V8, though I’d prefer it did.
The way I read it in the local motoring press, Ford US wouldn’t allow Ford Australia to send the Falcon overseas. IIRC it was something to do with fearing it would cannibalise Crown Vic sales.
Do all of you realize how ancient this platform is? The Australian Falcon never got a clean-sheet new platform, ever!! The 1966 Falcon was a wider and longer version of the original 1960 Falcon. And every Australian Falcon generation had some further refinement and changes, but never a completely new platform.
So you think Ford US should have built an American car based on a platform with roots back to 1960!?
Don’t get me wrong: the later Australian Falcons are fine enough cars, for their intended mission, and enough changes happened with each generation to keep it reasonably competitive in Australia. But there was a very good reason Ford chose not to base any US products on it, because it is fundamentally a very obsolete platform.
Ford made this very clear some years back when they were thinking about a new RWD platform to be used both in Australia and the US. They acknowledged that the Falcon platform was obsolete, and a whole new platform would have to be developed from scratch. When the economics for that didn’t pan out, the project was scrapped, and the Falcon is riding out its last days with an ancient (if reasonably capable) platform, but one totally unsuited for any use in the US.
If you replace the head and the handle of a hammer is it the same hammer? The AU at best shares the footprint of the 66 wide platform (XR), but I don’t think there’s a single stamping or component design shared between the two, nor does it seem to bear any arcane reminders of it’s roots besides being RWD and using an inline 6(which are merits as far as I’m concerned).
It’s not. But if you first replace the head, then the handle, you can never end up with a totally newly-designed hammer; just one with improved parts.
The analogy may not hold up perfectly, but the bottom line is this: Ford knew/knows that this platform is at the end of its life. One can only keep changing aspects of it so far. They made it very clear that it would never be brought to the US because it is not viable, for being too old. I have to assume that involves packaging, safety, NVH, and possibly simply production efficiency. or other factors.
Bottom line: it’s out of date and not viable. Don’t shoot me; I’m just the messenger. Ford said it first.
It would have to be production efficiency because the Falcon surpassed the Commodore in NVH, and there was no tangible difference in safety, emissions or fuel economy, but the Commodore was exported to the U.S. And our standards for safety and emissions are about standard for a Western country.
While it’s true the Falcon never received a “clean-sheet” redesign, it’s amazing how Ford was able to so thoroughly revise it for each major generation change (eg EA, AU). I recall reading comparison tests in 2006 where the vaunted, all-new VE Commodore riding the brand new Zeta platform wasn’t seen to be that much better than the then four year old BA.
I think a lot of the reason the Falcon wasn’t exported was NIH syndrome. And it’s so frustrating that Ford didn’t develop an export program. For years, Holden’s main export market was the Middle East but Ford HQ apparently said the Falcon couldn’t be sold there because the Crown Vic was. I know there are panther fans out there but a BA Falcon, for example, was a vastly better car in every metric. The Crown’s major virtues were durability and cost to repair, and the Falcon has seen decades of use in taxi and police fleets so I don’t think the Panther platform even has that over the Falcon.
Will: maybe. I’ve had to go over this so many times….some years back, Alan Mulally suggested that Ford AU was going to lead the development of a new RWD platform that could be used both in the US and AUS. He went into specifics of how the Falcon platform was going to be adaptable to US standards, and that it was obsolete in a number of ways. Given its age, that’s hardly surprising. Obviously, thta program was cancelled.
It may seem competitive to you, but the automotive executives at Ford clearly felt that it had no future. As has turned out to be the case.
I’m not interested in debating the subjective qualities of the Falcon, as I’m in no position to. But the the folks who built it said it was obsolete, and that rather makes sense to me given its long history. There’s no other example of a platform this old having a viable future, especially in the US.
That’s the way I see it as well William, although the Monaro/GTO did require the fuel tank to be relocated to the trunk behind the rear seat from the old mounting below the spare tire well to be federalized, deeply cutting into luggage capacity. This too was a truly “ancient” holdover of the Falcon’s roots, I bet that detail alone did it in.
I’m not shooting you Paul, I don’t even have a gun lol. I think Ford missed the boat with it long ago, if it ever had a chance to be viable for North America, not that it would be suitable for 2015 or even 2010 for that matter. Had the AU been global though, used as a Panther replacement(a truly archaic platform), avoided the Five Hundred and the whole D3 platform for that matter it could have breathed fresh life into what was essentially dieing/abandoned segment.
More so though I was mainly defending it for updates done right, you peep under the hood or underneath one and look it over on a lift with a fine tooth comb, next to a XR, the only similarity you might find would be with a tape measure. It isn’t like the Argentinian Falcon where the only real difference in 30 years was square headlights. I have no doubt the Australian Falcon wouldn’t pass mustard today, but then again the platform has essentially withered on the vine for 15 years, another EA or AU grade update though? Given the leaps accomplished with them I doubt “take it only so far” even computes in minds of their engineers.
Somewhere on the Cohort are some shots I took of a 63 Falcon that had the entire powertrain, brakes and suspension from a V8 96 EF Falcon bolted yes bolted in, one hole has to be enlarged for the front suspension to be transposed, Paul is almost right despite the alledged redesigns the Falcon can trace its DNA back to the XP/XR of the mid 60s, Hey its great for upgrades on early models I have a friend doing a 68 wagon now and he has a 66 Falcon 600 waiting in his driveway ready for restomod with a 221 6 and late model under pinnings its like a giant size leggo set the Aussie Facons.
This makes me think that one of the late, DOHC turbo Falcon inline-6s might make an interesting swap into an early Mustang or US Falcon!
The NIH syndrome certainly is one of the big factors which did in the Ozzie Falcon. After all Ford North America had all these specialist injinairs and ex-yuckutives and specialist ex-parts and mucketing creatures and the like- pretty much mortgage workers and make work banalities. If the Ozzies could make a product more effectively than could they……. well then, as the man said, “what am I paying you for?”
While there are impressive engineers in the US automotive sector, they are quite the exception and not common. The experience we have had with US automotive engineers has often been along similar lines to that of the idiot from Ford Detroit who turned up during the development of a new model range and immediately demanded he be given one of the prototype cars for his personal evaluation.
Note that during the automotive new product development schedule time with such cars is extremely precious. They are booked up solid and deadlines are absolute (especially so for the chassis dynamics and NVH teams). Losing one of the cars for a week is disastrous and very bad news for the schedule (remember the deadlines will not be relaxed for something “minor” like not having the damper rates quite correct, nor for having the steering feel correct etc.,- when the deadline comes you are required to select and sign off on your production specs whether proven or best guess, correct or not).
Now our Detroit visitor was an “international engineering” manager who had the imprimatur of Head Office. He demanded the car even though he was informed of the issues that would cause to the dynamics and NVH programmes. So, he barks orders, flounces about the show bothering everyone, then takes the car away to stuff around in for a bit. Over the course of a week he says he measured the torque to turn the steering wheel, then returns to pronounce that the steering is “much too tight” (in reality it was fine). According to him the international standard for all company product demands less rim effort. When queried about this it turns out that he wrote the “international standard” (which turns out to have no actual measurable values stated within) and therefore he is the final authority. He got very angry when questioned and when it was explained to him the reasons why the steering had been developed to be as it was, well he decided to add an extra demand. He required that the number of turns lock to lock be increased by 3/4 of a turn. He was senior enough to be backed by HQ and so he got his way, ruining the car in the process (after launch customer feedback confirmed he was very wrong with his determinations). He departed prior to launch and so avoided encountering any of the feedback he really ought to have experienced.
I’d like to relate this sort of deal was an exceptional occurrence, but it wasn’t rare. One feels great sympathy for colleagues in the Australian automotive industry. They achieved a great deal in spite of often being maltreated by “technical management”.
As far as platform obsolescence goes, take a careful look under a contemporary US pick-up truck. The take-away point is that it just does not matter that much. Ask the customer how “old” the platform he is driving on may be. Most will not have a clue and couldn’t care less so. When senior managers state things like a platform is “obsolescent” that likely as not references back to a political situation.
Holdens spent several billion to update their offering for the 06 model year it wasnt viable as history has shown, Ford AU hasnt the depth of pockets to do the same.
Great write-up, William. I’ll be the contrarian and admit I like the AU’s styling (in 2015). Looks a little like a four-door Cougar, in a good way. Also, I hold Mr. Jack Telnack in high esteem. IMHO, he’s one of the greatest still-living car design legends of our time.
I have been told by people that knows them that mechanically they’re unkillable. When I was looking for our first car, the exterior look and the 90’s Explorer-grade interior sealed the deal. I didn’t know about the mechanics abck then. And yes, they were between AU$500 to 2K cheaper than an equivalent Commodore. The VT looks infinitely better, specially with the flush mounted windows.
Mechanically they are great except for the transmission, Ford pulled a fast one with service intervals, I found out quite by accident from my brother who bought a used AU with 80k on it he told me his first job was a double trans flush to save a rebuild, the oil came out looking like liquid coal
Backstory: GMH beefed up the Holden autos and increased the service intervals to 100,000kms, to match them on ownership cost Ford introduced the service intervals on the AU automatics to the same figuring correctly that the trans would go the distance, some did some didnt but the warranty was over at 100,000 kms so usually not their problem, my brother was working for REPCO at the time and stocks of transmission rebuild kits for AU Falcons wouldnt stay on the shelves, he got 10 years out of that car reliably and now has a used 07 XR8 with a FPV assembled 290 KW motor and a 351 XD Fairmont project car, likes his Falcons does my brother.
On the other hand, with proper servicing they would run over 1,000,000 km on the original driveline as a taxi. The taxi operators would have their own maintenance schedule including servicing the transmission and ignition components more frequently (running LPG is hard on the ignition).
They will run forever on LPG its very clean and preserves the engine and yeah the taxi companies know how to stretch the lifespan of components like transmissions sticking to previous service schedules would have been enough for that.
That plus taxis don’t see too many cold starts etc. Earlier cars would use 2 or 3 gearboxes, probably and engine change and maybe a diff to reach the same mileage, so it was a significant difference.
The AU also had a much better multi-layer steel head gasket. I don’t know why the OHC engine had head gasket issues when the older OHV engine didn’t, they got better over time but the AU got rid of the problem. The fail-safe cooling where it had the temp sender measuring the head temperature not the water temp, and could drop cylinders if it overheated so the car could still drive without coolant no doubt helped.
Who else sees the headlights off a final-gen Skylark?
+1 and looks just as goodl!!
I was thinking 95 Cavalier.
I like that 4 eyed red jelly bean roller.
For years heard “Bring the AU Falcon here, it will sell like gang-busters!”
See Pontiac G8, late model Chevy SS and last GTO sales, and reactions. Ford saved a bundle not trying.
Police agencies want SUV’s now, Taurus may die. And who is [was] willing to pay US$ 40K for one? GM learned that hard lesson. Biggest complaint about the last GTO was styling, and trying to sell Falcons to drivers of 25 year old Fox Mustangs would be a no sale.
Someone suggeted that Ford should have kept Fox and no Taurus, but we have CAFE vs. heavy gas taxes.
Be very careful about which trim level you choose the base model has been deleted from rental fleets in recent years in NZ, they are much too scary for average drivers, it was cheaper for Ford to supply XR6 trim models with wider tyres and better suspension tune to rental fleets than spend the money to upgrade the base models to make them steer better, they would be fine on nice straight smooth US freeways but on NZs twisty bumpy secondary highways they are accidents waiting to happen, so before importing one make sure you get the right car.
Just how do people drive in NZ? They’re not quite as bad as all that! But most private buyers around here went for the XR6; base models were mostly taxis.
The later BAs seem to understeer quite dramaticly Ive seen several taking up two lanes to get around tight bends usually rentals driven by people not accustomed to them eyes like dinner plates as they see a 50 tonner coming the other way,
Having my BIL working for the primary importer was why it was explained to me why they vanished from the rental fleets plus the fact Ford was pushing the XR6 harder in the market place here.
The BA/BF ute (with leaf spring rear end) has a VERY quick ‘let-go’ once the limit is reached – you need lightning quick reflexes to recover them, or head down the nearest bank backwards or sideways …for 6 years I drove a BF11 XLS in all weathers, town and country …sometimes heart in mouth if it ‘lost it’ on a wet road in the middle of a corner …even at slow speeds (such as the corners of the Akld Domain going down to Stanley St) it was a handful if one of those rubber centre-line ‘eyes’ elevated one of the rears off the road for a split second …it was instant fish-tailing with the throttle off …this way and that ..until traction was restored and you could start breathing again – it is not good to being going sideways up or down that Domain road, taking up the whole width of the road, and a truck is coming straight for you on it’s own side of the road. In the end it was a relief to get rid of it… and drive something intrinsically safe as houses (VW 4 Motion VR 3.6)
I have got a bunch of these older Fords, including a 5 speed EA MPFI with a cam and big exhaust and a 5 speed EF XR8 with same – from time to time blokes come-in off the street and ask to buy them, mainly gang dudes – the EA has a following with Black Power and MM
There is a bloke near me with four EA-EDs
and a bloke near him with 3 gen-1 Range Rovers.
must take a photo or two
The XR6 also had much better resale value, so it would end up costing less and be easier to sell when the rental companies were finished with them.
They are just not very safe cars …not far removed from the 1960 Ford Falcon basic recipe . .
The one I find most manageable is the Watts linkage and coil set-up in the EA sedan. It is much more progressive and controllable up to and in the slide than the horrid so-called ‘control blade’ IRS set-up in the later AU VCT and later models which is HEAVY and lethally quick to let go at the limit – very hard to recover from with just one twist of opposite lock
sure its not the tyres? I was having a terrible time in the wet with my chinese ‘rockstones’ – switched to Kumho and hey presto no fishtailing.
Oh for the sake of all that is good I want one of those wagons. I have to wait till when? 2023 at the earliest? Yeesh.
I am almost embarrassed to admit I drive a 2000 AU wagon on LPG as a daily driver. It has over 300 000 km and wallows like a whale but gives the equivalent of 6.5 l / 100 km on normal use.
These are commonly used by indigenous folk.
KJ in Oz
There are so many inaccuracies and assumptions being thrown around in this here comments section I don’t know what to say except don’t believe everthing you read on the internet.
I’m always on the lookout for a Fairmont wagon with the Windsor V8 – If I find one and also have the cash – it’s a keeper. Pay no heed to the sheep botherers.
I’ve driven quite a few of these over the years, yet again they are quite a bit different from the Commodore of the time, but quite a good car if you can ignore (or like) the styling.
The Commodore has a more attractive interior, plus more space around your head because of the excessive tumblehome (inwards angle of the side pillars and windows) and very steep windshield angle of the Falcon; the top of the A pillar is unnervingly close to your head in my opinion. The wagon was a lot smaller inside than the Commodore wagon, but the ute was a lot better with some useful storage space behind the seats instead of basically zero in the Commodore (and previous Falcons).
The Commodore feels a bit more ‘planted’ on the road but it also leans heavily on the outside front tyre in cornering. Falcon is 20% more torque than the Commodore V6, I remember a trip towing trailer (say 3000lb) with a Commodore where the transmission would unlock the torque converter at any hint of an uphill gradient, spinning the engine to over 3,000 rpm. The simple semi-trailing arm IRS was not adequate for the car’s size and power, I rode in a 400+ hp VX Commodore where even as a passenger you could feel the distortion of the rear suspension bushes under full-throttle gearchanges
The Series II update was pretty significant, the styling was more substantial-looking with the higher hood line and equipment was improved with things such as air conditioning, CD player and cruise control standard. I don’t expect there were too many Commodores built without the $2,000+ optional A/C that allowed a lower advertised price. The XR8 had its power increased to 270hp, and later to 295hp.
The Commodore had some pretty major updates too, in particular weight reduction as the VT was approx 150kg heavier than the VS it replaced, as well as introducing the new LS-series V8.
One interesting point was the XR cars had a standard rear wing with an optional second level that actually created downforce (the standard wing reduced the amount of lift to near-zero). (note that all of the XR Falcons pictured in the article are series 2 or 3, not series 1)
Thanks for a (belated) great lunchtime read William!
Gosh what a divisive car the AU was here in New Zealand. After the handsome EF I remember being gobsmacked when I saw the first scoop pics in Wheels of the AU. I thought Ford couldn’t possibly be serious – especially the waterfall grille! As a huge Aussie-Ford fan, I wanted to love the AU, and I tried very hard, but yeah, nah.
I didn’t especially like the base interior (especially after the carefully-styled and beautifully proportioned EF interior), although the Fairmont-up dash was quite interesting.
I found the exterior design of most variants to be odd – it looked both melted and bulbous at the same time. Having said that though, the way Ford managed to create such a variety of visual difference between the models was both clever and effective, and I do like the double-spoilered body-kitted XR8 looks.
To me the AU seemed to be a prime example of the stylists over-ruling everyone else. Despite the questionable results, the detail design is excellent. There are some very thoughtful (probably over-thoughtful!) touches too, like the wonderfully over-styled badge font, as per the pic below.
Overall though, I think the AU exterior styling has aged very well. In my eyes it fits today’s environment much better than 1998’s. It’s unique and distinctive. That Mercedes recycled the rear styling for the 2004 CLS says it all really!
Interesting styling…definitely has good and bad angles. I think I like it overall, though it depends on trim (the slotted grille on the mid-trim versions is particularly dull).
Also seems odd that they called the base I6 Intech, whereas in the US the InTech name got applied to the 32V DOHC version of the 4.6 mod V8.
A big problem with the AU and successive models that nobody’s mentioned is the awkward rear seat access in that body. There’s room once you get in there, but there’s something about the B pillar location with respect to the back seat and rear wheelarch intrusion that makes actually getting your feet in surprisingly awkward, more difficult than in the earlier EA-EL generation. Another inch or two of wheelbase would have made all the difference. Admittedly, I have large feet and leg problems, but it’s not usually an issue for me in other cars.
On the other hand, these cars seem unkillable. I reckon I see more AUs on the road still than equivalent age Commodores. Here’s one the neighbours over the road had, an early Futura with rare factory accessory bull bar.
Glad they’re still going in Australia; AU numbers have reduced hugely here over the past 6 years since the article was originally posted. Still a few XR6s and Fairlanes in town, but it’s been quite a while since I saw an AU Falcon, let alone Fairmont, Ghia or ute. Still plenty of BAs around though.