Ford Falcon has come a long, long way

The last Ford Falcon to roll off the production line at the Broadmeadows plant put an end to 91 years of manufacturing history for Ford in Australia. It also ended the remarkable 56 year run of the Ford Falcon, which began with the American designed XK in 1960 and ended 3,578,689 Falcons later with the FG X Falcon XR6.

Falcon sedans and wagons were family favourites for generations of Australians, selling in huge numbers and locked in a battle with Holden for market dominance. For many of us the Falcon was a part of family life. Those days are long gone, our once fierce brand loyalty has largely been replaced with a longing for imported SUVs.

Falcon sales may have withered away to a shadow of their former glory, but that final Kinetic Blue XR6 is a pretty impressive vehicle nonetheless. Compared to the XR6, its 1960 “grandparent”, the XK, seems almost unbelievably primitive. Let’s take a look and see how they compare:

Ford Falcon

The XK started life as a four-door sedan and was at heart a right hand drive version of the American Falcon. A station wagon, utility and panel van followed. They were powered by either a 2.4L or 2.8L straight six cylinder, with the bigger engine putting out 75kw. That was much more than the comparable Holden at the time, which produced just 56kw from its 2.2L six. However, the Falcon’s 3 speed manual gearbox and its suspension soon gathered an unsavoury reputation for unreliability.

Today’s XR6 comes powered with a 4.0L Double Overhead Cam straight 6. It’s fuel injected with electronic ignition and produces 195kw – more than double its older relative. It also has an electronic engine management system, something that was unimaginable back in 1960, when a coil and generator was as sophisticated as it got.

For stopping power the XR6 gets disk brakes front and back with ABS (Anti-lock Braking System), EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution) and EBA (Emergency Brake Assist). With the XK it’s hydraulic drum brakes all round, hit the pedal, hang on for dear life and hope for the best.

The XK’s suspension could perhaps best be described as “agricultural”, with independent coil springs, shock absorbers and a stabiliser bar up front and a live rear axle with semi-elliptic springs and shock absorbers. The XR6 boasts Virtual Pivot Control Link front suspension with Control Blade rear suspension aided with Dynamic Stability Control.

So how does all that technology perform when the rubber hits the road? Well the XK could hit 0-100kmh in 18.7 seconds. The XR6 with its 5-speed auto hits that in just 7.5 seconds (the turbo version in just 5.2). Yet with all that dramatically improved performance the XR6 is noticeably more economical, with (“ahem”) published figures of 10.5L/100km compared to the XK, which did about 14.5L/100km on its much smaller engine, although that’s something of an estimate.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the XR6’s technology is how affordable it all is compared to the old XK. In 1960 the Falcon sold for $2274 for the manual sedan. That might sound laughably cheap today but in 1960 it took a man on the average male wage the equivalent of 60 weeks to buy it. Today’s XR6 retails for between $27,750 and $33,000 – that’s around 24 weeks to buy it.

The sun is setting on Ford’s Broadmeadows plant among some quite trenchant criticisms of Australia’s vehicle industry. Some of it’s undoubtedly warranted, but it’s worth reflecting on its considerable achievements, too. Because the last Falcon to roll off the line is more powerful, more economical, infinitely safer and better equipped, much more comfortable, goes further on a litre of fuel and is vastly better built and more reliable than its predecessor of 60 years ago. And in real terms it’s almost one-third the price. Now that’s something to celebrate!

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Categories: Ford, Australia
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