Birds of a feather

Fal­con’s 56-year blood­line may be about to end, but this is no wake. We’ve brought the fam­ily to­gether for a re­union, home­com­ing and fi­nal cel­e­bra­tion all rolled into one. The spirit of this bird isn’t about to be caged yet…

Wheels (Australia) - - Ford Falcon 1960 – 2016 - WORDS NATHAN PONCHARD PHO­TOS NATHAN JA­COBS & CRIS­TIAN BRUNELLI

THE LAST time we as­sem­bled this many Fal­cons at Ford’s You Yangs prov­ing ground in Vic­to­ria, it was to cel­e­brate 50 years of the ven­er­a­ble name­plate. A rais­ing of the glass, if you will, for a one-time best-seller and long-time fam­ily favourite, etched into the Aus­tralian psy­che over five decades of sales suc­cesses, rac­ing vic­to­ries and vary­ing for­tunes.

What we didn’t know in 2010 was that the Fal­con’s fate was ten­u­ously close to be­ing sealed. Ru­mours had been cir­cu­lat­ing since the late-’70s that all-aus­tralian cars were liv­ing on bor­rowed time, so the fact the Fal­con man­aged to hang on un­til 2016 de­serves a cel­e­bra­tion in it­self.

Per­haps there are Valiant par­al­lels here: it crept to a halt in 1981 but has never re­ally left us, and still com­mands good money in its most-prized forms. Sim­i­larly, the Fal­con might be about to exit Ford’s show­rooms but it’s a long way from end­ing its ten­ure as the epit­ome of work­ing­class cool. The ex­or­bi­tant prices peo­ple will pay for a 1971 XY Fal­con GT-HO Phase III, as well as any­thing vaguely sim­i­lar in cylin­der count and hip height, says the Fal­con’s en­dur­ing ap­peal is, for now, ev­er­last­ing.

Span­ning eight gen­er­a­tions and 24 model se­ries, from the 1960 XK to the 2014 FGX, the Fal­con has be­come part of the fab­ric of Aussie life. We’ve com­muted in them, hol­i­dayed in them, raced them, made love in them, hailed a fare in one, and a few of us have prob­a­bly even been born in one. From a drum-braked, bench-seated, three-on-the-tree base shit­ter to a su­per­charged, striped and spoil­ered sling­shot, the Fal­con has pretty much of­fered some­thing for ev­ery­one. And we have one of ev­ery model code right here (bar a 1988 EA that pulled out the morn­ing of our shoot). Bet­ter go ex­plor­ing.

While the XK orig­i­nal has its charm, it’s an XL Fal­con Squire wagon that I’m in­stantly drawn to. Along with the Fu­tura sedan, it in­tro­duced some Detroit raz­zle-daz­zle to Aussie drive­ways in 1962 and its con­tem­po­rary retro ap­peal is se­ri­ously off the charts. Thing is, Aussies had an in­tense dis­like for the Squire’s faux-wood pan­elling back in the day and hardly any­one bought it.

I’ve never ac­tu­ally driven a first-gen Fal­con, only rid­den in the back seat of a friend’s black XL Deluxe back in the ’90s, but all the hall­marks are there. Flat side win­dows, a deep-dished steer­ing wheel off­set to the right and un­usu­ally close to the driver’s chest, and an in­te­rior so over­whelm­ingly red it looks like a crime scene. It’s a re­minder of an era when you moulded (as best you could) to your car, rather than your car mould­ing to you.

But it’s this car’s com­bi­na­tion of a two-speed ‘For­do­matic’ col­umn auto and stan­dard 144 cu­bicinch (2.4-litre) six that in­trigues me. Plant your right foot on the move and it’s top gear or noth­ing. The Squire re­sponds with a quaint swelling of en­gine noise, rather than any gen­uine surge in mo­men­tum. These days, it’s a wagon for look­ing cool in, cruis­ing about town. It’s not a week­end get­away ma­chine, un­less you’re very pa­tient.

The Squire’s most ob­vi­ous suc­ces­sor from gen­er­a­tion two is a stun­ning 1969 XW Fair­mont 3.6 sedan – sim­i­larly luxe-fo­cused, also mod­estly pow­ered (rel­a­tive to the 4.9-litre V8 it could’ve been op­tioned with), and also owned by Danny Zuclich of Early Bird Fal­con Parts in Thomas­town – but it feels gen­er­a­tions newer than the faux woody.

Where the XL is clearly, de­sign-wise, a car from

WE’VE COM­MUTED IN THEM, HOL­I­DAYED IN THEM, RACED THEM, MADE LOVE IN THEM, HAILED A FARE IN ONE, AND A FEW OF US HAVE PROB­A­BLY EVEN BEEN BORN IN ONE

the ’50s, the XW is a car for the ’70s. Its broad stance, the ex­pan­sive rec­tan­gu­lar view across its big bon­net and the vast leap in every­thing from driv­e­train smooth­ness to seat com­fort and driv­ing po­si­tion make the XW a proper Aussie road car, able to eat up enor­mous dis­tances with­out rais­ing a sweat.

What has never re­ceived much press, how­ever, is the level of Aus­tralian de­sign con­tent in the ’69 XW Fal­con. While the ’66 XR’S Aussie in­flu­ence cen­tred on the wagon, which was com­pletely unique to us from the B-pil­lar back, the XW de­buted an all-aussie dash­board de­sign that’s so much cooler than that of the slabby ’69 US model.

Ad­mit­tedly, stuff like steer­ing wheels and door pulls were shared, but only the wheels car­ried over to the all-aussie 1972 XA. Fa­mously snubbed in Wheels Car of the Year test­ing back in the day for be­ing a sim­ple re-body of the Coty-win­ning 1966 XR, the XA may still have leaf springs un­der its slop­ing der­riere and re­cir­cu­lat­ing-ball steer­ing guid­ing the front, but it’s just soooo ’72.

That high win­dow line, driver-fo­cused ‘cock­pit’ dash de­sign, and the sedan’s space-ship tail-lights re­ally stand out on this XA Fair­mont 351 man­ual. Owned by Nick Ble­kic (who brought the same car here for Fal­con’s 50th in 2010), it’s re­splen­dent in that Cop­per Bronze paint colour so pop­u­lar in the mid-’70s. A beige vinyl roof (with sun­roof) is the ic­ing on the cake, though it’s the se­ri­ous mus­cle of this car’s 5.8-litre V8 that dom­i­nates its per­son­al­ity. Even in fourth gear, floor­ing the throt­tle sees the XA Fair­mont lift its long nose and fill the sur­round­ings with bent-eight thun­der.

It’s a sim­i­lar story in Chris van Gaans’ 1979 XD Fair­mont Ghia 5.8 man­ual, car­ry­ing over the XA’S mus­cu­lar driv­e­train (and its un­der­pin­nings) into a strik­ingly mod­ern bodystyle with a low belt-line and tonnes of glass. Right up to the ’90s, XDS were ev­ery­where, but these days they’re a rare sight. And it’s that lack of fa­mil­iar­ity that makes you ap­pre­ci­ate just how stylish the XD sedan is, es­pe­cially from the rear.

In­side, how­ever, it’s a dif­fer­ent story, with acres of black dash­board plas­tic at odds with the colour-coded class of older Fal­con in­te­ri­ors. And to the left of the steer­ing col­umn sits that one con­stant in Fal­cons that lasted un­til the 1994 EF – the ‘um­brella’ hand­brake.

De­rided at the time as a sym­bol of Fal­con’s con­ser­vatism, it’s part of the car’s char­ac­ter these days. Even the ’93 ED Fal­con XR8 Sprint – this red ex­am­ple owned by Nick Ble­kic’s brother Mark – has one, and as I park his un­der­stated, ele­gantly pow­er­ful ‘sleeper’, my brain knows ex­actly where to reach for the hand­brake.

The Ble­kic sib­lings are a great of ex­am­ple of how the Fal­con has crept un­der the na­tion’s col­lec­tive skin. A Blue Oval fam­ily through and through, call­ing newer su­per­charged V8s their own, as well as pe­riod clas­sics like Nick’s XA, the Fal­con is part of the nar­ra­tive of their lives.

And that’s the over­rid­ing feel­ing here at You Yangs. Man­u­fac­tur­ing may be about to cease, but the Fal­con’s in­trin­sic ap­peal en­dures in its many glo­ri­ous gen­er­a­tions, and all its var­ied forms, bring­ing peo­ple to­gether to cel­e­brate a love of cars and share sto­ries, short and tall. And they’re chuffed the FGX Sprints are go­ing out on a high note.

Fal­con’s sales may have slowly faded, but this bird’s spirit will keep soar­ing for­ever.

MAN­U­FAC­TUR­ING MAY BE ABOUT TO CEASE, BUT THE FAL­CON’S IN­TRIN­SIC AP­PEAL EN­DURES IN ITS MANY GLO­RI­OUS GEN­ER­A­TIONS

HIP-TASTIC SHAPE OF XA FAIR­MONT 351, SUB­TLY EN­HANCED WITH A SET OF SPOTTIES, STILL STIRS LOINS

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