The Ford Falcon XP and its Place in Australian Car History

Ford ceased production of their vehicles on Australian shores in 2016, and for many Australians, it still feels surreal. Ford vehicles were first sold in Australia from 1904, with a Melbourne sales office (setup by Ford Canada) opening in 1909. Before 1909 was over, a Ford manufacturing plant had been set up in Geelong, Victoria. Fifty years later, an assembly plant was opened in Broadmeadows, Victoria, with an engine machine shop built soon after. This allowed the production of Ford vehicles in Australia to almost in 1961.

The first Ford Falcon built in Australia, the XK, began in 1960 and within 2 years, over 100,000 Falcon vehicles had been built. The Falcon XK and the Falcon XL (its successor), were a modified version of one of Ford’s Canadian designs. The Falcon XM soon followed in 1964, with which the car’s design focused on creating a vehicle that would suit Australian driving conditions. This culminated with the XP, featuring a torque box chassis running the length of the vehicle’s body, optimised suspension as well as shock absorbers. In 1964, Bill Bourke, a marketer for Ford Australia, organised a race to bring attention to the XP. The race would see five stock model XP Falcons race non-stop over a nine day period on a 4km test track, covering over 110,000km at an average speed of 110km/h.

Given the duration of the race, and the significant speed the cars maintained, multiple cars ended up rolling or leaving the track. Despite this, the publicity stunt was a huge success. Henry Ford II flew to Australia for the event, and the race beat 49 endurance records in Australia, establishing a reputation for the XP in Australia as a tough family car. Soon after Bill Bourke’s event, the XP was ordered for police and taxi fleets around Australia. The 1965 Ford XP Falcon was chosen as ‘Car of the Year’ for Wheels Magazine, becoming the first car manufactured in Australia to receive the award. This accolade and the subsequent public response were a turning point for Ford’s presence in Australia, turning the company into a viable competitor to Holden in the country.

In a 19 month period between 1965 and 1966, 70,998 Ford XP’s were manufactured. There was a range of features that made the XP an appealing option for dealers, these included:

  • Three engine choices (“144”, “Pursuit 170” and “Pursuit 200”
  • Three transmission choices (manual, 2-speed automatic and 3-speed automatic)
  • 8-inch chromed steel wraparound bumper
  • Under bonnet engine insulation
  • Large chassis reinforcement members known as ‘torque-boxes’
  • A range of modern colours
  • Safety grooves installed in wheel rims
  • Iconic Falcon tail lights
  • Vinyl seats and trim
  • Self-adjusting brakes
  • Interior insulation
  • Electric windscreen wipers

The XP also included a range of accessories, such as:

  • Transistor radio system
  • Fresh air heating and ventilation system
  • Chrome fuel tank caps
  • Stainless-steel wheel discs and covers
  • Deluxe rear vision mirrors
  • Windshield washers

Though they were manufactured before air-conditioning could be installed in cars, XP vehicles featured a range of fittings that helped to counter the high temperatures experienced in Australia. These included sun visors for the car’s windscreen, Venetian blinds on the rear window, as well as a weather shield for the driver-side window.

The Ford Falcon XP served as a catalyst for change in the way Australians thought about cars. Not only did it make Ford a genuine competitor to Holden in the market of family cars, it also solidified cars as consumer items, rather than treasured family heirlooms.

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