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Editorial: Ford Falcon – an emotional tribute

February 17, 2016

I was a strange child, more fascinated by mechanical items than sports or social activities. This extended to our family car, though to be fair, our family car was pretty sweet, even if nobody knew it back then.

1982 Ford XE Falcon

It was a vanilla yellow 1983 Ford Falcon GL sedan nicknamed ‘Falcy’. An XE, with a Super-slurping 3.3-litre tied to a four-speed manual. With its sad looking face and distinctive whining noise, it was more than a conveyance to me; it was alive. Even my mother cried when we traded it in. This endearing character kick-started a rich intrigue for all things automotive, with an intrinsic hunger of every fact and figure available to me.

My father often brought home Ford and Holden station wagon company cars, much to my delight, and when I first eyeballed an EF XR6 from the school bus, I freaked out. The menacing and mysterious EL GT occupied some space on my bedroom wall.

The first time I attended a motor show, I was positively dazzled by the golden 1998 EL Predator concept – possibly the most exotic-looking Falcon ever.

When the AU came out, I was 10 years old, and therefore impervious to the shock and controversy it generated to adults. What I saw was an unusual, imaginative-looking car, and enjoyed its triangles and ovals. The XRs in particular, with their H.R Geiger-inspired faces and bi-plane rear spoilers were just awesome. Getting to see them made in person at the Broadmeadows factory in 2000, I felt like Charlie in the chocolate factory.

Wheels magazine’s inaugural Young Designer of the Year competition, in which the goal was to design a Falcon for 2010, captured my imagination and I even sent in an entry. (By this stage I was drawing cars and even had my own model line). The winner, Nick Hogios, went on to design the BA XR front end, before moving on to Toyota Style Australia.

My first viewing of Bathurst was the 1-2 victory of 1998, with a l-o-n-g drought after that. Ford didn’t have the widespread fanship of Holden, and I copped heaps of flak for being a Ford fan. Little did I know at the time, this was due to Ford axing the V8 and withdrawing from racing in the 1980s, but that lent it an underdog status which, to me, is a genuinely Australian virtue.

Thankfully, reprieve came with the 2002 BA, both on the track and in the showroom. The BA was leaps and bounds ahead of the AU and VY Commodore of the day, with the XR6 Turbo becoming a new cult car. It was here, at the helm of Geoff Polites, Ford finally gave Holden an existential fright again.

Mitchell Jones-XE Falcon

When the time came to buy my first car, I approached it with an open mind, but as soon as I clocked on to a mint XF Ghia in a small used car lot, all rationality went out the window.

I certainly didn’t do that car justice, but it re-inforced my loyalty to Falcon. I managed to sell a few during another life as a car salesman, and even went to a meeting which included David Katic, the head of Ford marketing in 2012, where I tried to persuade him that a sports-themed Ecoboost Falcon was a good idea (which obviously fell on deaf ears).

On May 23, 2013, when the closure and cessation of Falcon and Territory production was announced, I was absolutely shattered. How can a machine elicit a reaction of human-like almost-grief?

The truth is, Falcon is more than a car to many Australians. It’s a part of our scenery and culture, and will remain so for some time before slowly diminishing into obscurity. To enthusiasts, modifiers, taxi passengers, it’s part of their lives. It has inspired the imaginations of many people, just as it did mine.

It is also a living, breathing expression of the hard work and passion from the factory workers who assemble it, the designers and engineers who develop it. Over 6 million examples are scattered throughout our landscape, in various states of vibrancy and decomposition.

That some versions have gone under the hammer for almost a million dollars is a testament to its broad-ranging appeal and desirability. The car will be missed due to its simplicity, comfort, ease-of-maintenance, abundance of parts, effortless power, and performance.

It is also prescient that as the world enters an exciting new chapter of electrification and autonomous driving, with even Apple tipped to launch a car before the end of the decade, Australia no longer has an industry to participate. Falcon may have adapted to this new paradigm but in the end it was head office in Dearborn, USA, that deliberately stifled it.

Its reluctance to integrate it into Ford’s global portfolio may cost them here, and it has arguably robbed them of some opportunities. The straight-six engine of the Falcon is arguably superior to the Duratec V6 available in the Mustang and F-150. A straight-six powered Mustang would be historically relevant to the original, while the torquey 4.0-litre Barra would have won many friends in the F-series truck, if it had the chance. As Lincoln launches a new Continental, we can’t help but think they had access to a rear-drive, inline six platform over a decade ago.

Just as Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz are tipped to revert back to straight sixes, Ford is shooting a real gem of an engine in the head.

But there is too much to be excited about to be butthurt. There’s a plethora of great and interesting cars in the pipeline and on sale today, and it was Falcon which opened me up to that world, so thanks, Falcon.

Have you got a Falcon story? Feel free to share it with us below.

Mitchell is a contributing journalist and features writer at PerformanceDrive. He has been a passionate petrol-head from a very young age. He is excited by the future of the industry, and considers himself as a bit of a fanatic when it comes to the technical aspects of cars. He is also fascinated by new cars that are popping up in developing markets.

  • Michael

    Great read. Rewind 10 years and jump camps and there I am.
    Dad taking us to the motor show in Adelaide and us boys getting all the HQ Holden and LJ Torana brochures we could lay our hands on to stick up on our wall and dream that we will be be able to drive one in our futures.
    Loved all things mechanical too, but instead of an apprenticeship with GM H in Elizabeth as all my school mates did I signed up for the airlines where I am still.
    Those mates now are looking down the barrel of that plant closure however they are of the age that retirement is a serious alternative, many hundreds haven’t that luxury.
    Today I take myself back to those days rebuilding my Torana hatchback.
    I have an intimate knowledge of every nut and bolt on that car.
    My piece of history lives in my garage.

    • Mitchell Jones

      Thank you for sharing! Ford and Holden are such an integral part of Australian life. I once sanded back a genuine A9X to bare metal, which was enjoyable. Good to see despite choosing a different career path you maintained your passion.

      I hope those in the industry who are too young to retire have more options come 2017, which would mean Dumarey’s, Ethan Motors or some other kind of advanced manufacturing needs to get off the ground. Fingers crossed.

  • Greg H

    Agreed – a very enjoyable read.

    As a kid, we were a Valiant family…explains a lot I guess. Bathurst really has a lot to answer for – whilst the E38 Chargers bore virtually no resemblance to the VH Ranger in the driveway, that’s when I first got bitten by the car bug.

    By the time I could drive, Valiants were no more, so I could drive red or blue without feeling like a traitor. My first car was a 5yo XD Falcon with 200 thou on the clock…to anyone else there would be nothing special about that car, but I loved it. Mechanically bullet-proof and easy to work on, and it went everywhere (including trails in the Snowy River National Park where no sedan had any place being). Plenty of great memories too…enough said. I eventually killed it, but not before it had over 400 thou on it, so nothing to complain about there.

    I replaced it with a really tidy XE ESP…familiar yet different, with a stack more grunt. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to bond with this one – it obviously appealed to someone else too, and one evening it was gone… 🙁

    My last Falcon was a BA Turbo…a fantastic car. Quick enough stock, but with a few basic mods was awesome. Yeah I know it’s not Euro V compliant, but what a sad excuse to drop what is probably the best engine ever developed in this country. But it wasn’t a one-trick pony, this was a car that was a complete package, as comfortable in the twisty stuff as it was in the straight…and proved to be very reliable into the bargain. Couldn’t ask for more. The BA is now 13yo, but at least in XR form still looks modern and has character that most new cars simply lack. Unfortunately for me I traded mine on a well-regarded import (under duress from someone who thought I should drive something more “appropriate and mature”, whatever that means), and totally regretted it – a mistake I’ve since rectified (albeit now in a car from the red corner!).

    I will genuinely miss Falcons (and Commodores) when they go…nothing like them for the money.

    • Mitchell Jones

      Hear, hear!