Sadness rules today as we hear of the forthcoming demise, 53 years after its launch, of the Australian-built Ford Falcon, an icon Down Under since its launch in 1960.
As a direct result of Alan Mulally’s One Ford strategy, the Blue Oval has decided not to manufacture cars in Australia beyond 2016, and to “retire the Falcon name” when that time comes, after one more facelift next year. Future Aussie Fords will be world cars made elsewhere.
The Falcon was launched in a blaze of glory in 1960, when the post-war Aussie economy was booming, and when local taste ran almost exclusively for 'family-sized' saloons, wagons and 'utes' powered by tough, torquey but none-too-economical straight-six pushrod engines driving the rear wheels via live rear axles suspended on semi-elliptic springs. Transmissions were three-speed column shifts – 'three on the tree' in local parlance, as opposed to 'four on the floor'.
These were crude cars, built mainly to cope with long distances on Australia’s difficult, dusty back roads. Ford’s plan – which turned out to be successful – was to steal sales from the super-successful GM-built Holden, then labelled 'Australia’s Own' because it was largely locally engineered. The Falcon had a relationship with a US Falcon (though it was highly modified) but became a uniquely engineered Australian product after about 10 years because it was easier.
The tussle between Ford and Holden was the main event in Australia for the next 20 years, although Chrysler chimed in for a time with a car of its own: the Valiant. At its height, the battle brought more luxurious versions (Ford Futura and Fairmont, Holden Premier and Statesman) and big V8 performance (Holden Monaro GTS 350, Ford Falcon GT 351). But it never really brought sophistication, although the Falcon did eventually have four-wheel disc brakes and an independent rear end.
Today, Ford is outsold in Australia by Hyundai. Holden continues with a big four-door car, the Commodore, assisted by the desirability of its Corvette-engined HSV versions (sold here as Vauxhall VXR8s). You could argue – many in Australia are doing it already – that Holden has finally beaten Ford in a 53-year battle. But the truth is that other cars are now far more relevant and the outcome hardly matters.