Ford Falcon is as synonymous with Australian motoring as its Holden Commodore nemesis. But how did the Blue Oval try and convince the buying public to go Ford instead of Holden?
17 July 2023
When Holden started designing and selling Australian-made cars in the 1940s and into the ’50s, Ford Australia was left floundering. Its local line-up included the British-sourced Zephyr, Zodiac and Consul models, imported into Australia and thus attracting higher tariffs.
That gave Holden’s range of locally-built models – FJ, FC and FE – a huge advantage, resulting in a dominance of the 1950s new car sales charts. Ford Australia needed a new locally-assembled model to take the fight to General Motors’ competitive price advantage.
Enter the Ford Falcon. The first Falcon, the XK, hit local dealerships in September, 1960 and while it may have been based on an American counterpart, it was built entirely here in Australia at Ford’s then brand-new Broadmeadows plant in Campbellfield, Melbourne.
It was the start of a legend that would last 56 years and cement the Falcon’s place in history. Not only is the Falcon Australia’s longest-running nameplate, its 56-year production run one of the longest in history anywhere in the world.
And it all started with the original gangster Falcon, the XK (below), which was hailed as having “the world’s newest advances in automotive design in Falcon, Ford’s all-new beauty for the Australian road” and “A new, better kind of motoring for Australians…”
The XL Falcon followed in 1962 incorporating local design changes inside and out, the gradual move away from its American genesis underway.
But while a beefed-up suspension tried to address some of the XK’s shortcomings, the XL still wasn’t regarded as suitable for Australian conditions and sales continued to trail that of Holden. Ford tried to take the fight to the Lion, with slogans like “Trim, taut, terrific”, and also introduced a station wagon into the range for the first time.
The XM Falcon, introduced in 1964, was even more Australian than the models that preceded it, with revised rear tail-lights and chrome wraparound grille. And excitingly for Ford, as the Blue Oval’s marketers were keen to spruik, the XM Falcon was “the car to put a new look and lift into your life! It’s a Ford exclusive – bringing to Australia the Hardtop styling that leads the car fashion parade overseas”.
Yep, meet the first Ford Falcon coupe, a sleek and stylish hardtop that still resonates today with its “styling which brings attention and admiration wherever you drive”.
Ford Australia was really starting to hit its straps by the time the XP Falcon rolled around in 1965. Available as a sedan, wagon and hardtop, the XP was the first Falcon to win Wheels magazine’s coveted Car of the Year, lauded for its “outstanding achievement in automotive design!”
Ford Australia had also addressed some of the previous Falcons’ handling issues, telling its potential customers that “underneath that beauty, a new rugged body construction. ‘Torque boxes’ – massive chassis-type frames – are welded the entire length of the body under the passenger compartment for tremendous strength and rigidity.”
The XR Falcon, introduced in 1966, was keen to trade on the Pony car boom in the United States. Promoted as the “Mustang-bred Falcon”, Ford’s local marketing department promised that “big things have happened under Falcon’s bonnet”, the headline act the new 200 horsepower ‘Mustang 289″ V8, sourced directly from the US and the yep, you guessed it, Ford Mustang.
“There’s more… more… Mustang… in Falcon!” screamed the advertising tagline for the new XT Falcon before adding “Two all-new ‘Sixes’ start at 3.1 litres big, thunder on up to 3.6 litres and, if that’s not enough, there’s the whiplash power of 5 litres of Mustang V8!”
In the background, silhouetted cowboy, a la Marlboro Man, watches over Ford Australia’s latest steed. You can never get enough Mustang it seems, not without buying an actual Mustang.
The Mustang fixation came to an end with the release of the XW Falcon. Instead, the Blue Oval trod a lifestyle path, featuring its new for 1969 model in a variety of settings. From horse racing (“Odds on favourite for luxury and performance), aero-gliding (“Let your spirits soar…”), to drag racing (“If you like ‘go’ let it show…”), there was no adventure the XW Falcon couldn’t handle. Apparently.
“New Falcon. Sleek. Smooth. Quiet” and “If you’re ready to step up from the ordinary, see your Ford dealer” read some of the more refined selling points for the XY Falcon. Unless Ford was selling its new GT halo car. Then it became “A look… a feel… a pulse-quickening anticipation of motoring at its finest”.
The third-generation Falcon was arguably the first all-Australian Falcon. It was certainly the first to come in the wake of the end of production for the US Falcon and as such, Ford’s local design team had greater input than ever before.
And with a broader range of cars than ever before, Ford Australia was keen to advertise the many and varied body styles of Falcons XA through to XC.
Hardtops, utilities, station wagons, panel vans and even a factory-spec camper van all graced the pages of our magazines between 1972-79. About the only thing we couldn’t find promotional material for was a good, old fashioned Falcon sedan.
To combat Holden’s game-changing Commodore, Ford Australia leant on its European counterparts for its next-generation Falcon. Dubbed ‘Project Blackwood’ the XD Falcon borrowed styling cues from Europe’s Ford Granada, its marketers promising, “If the new Ford Falcon doesn’t excite you, you’re probably over the hill.”
Despite the backhanded slogan, and thanks to lingering concerns about the world’s oil crises, the Australian public bought the smaller-sized Holden Commodores in droves.
Ford persisted with its larger Falcon and in 1983 that persistence brought dividends. With the world wondering “Oil crisis?! What oil crisis?”, buyers flocked back to large passenger cars and the new XE Falcon was the beneficiary, outselling the Holden Commodore for the first time to become Australia’s most popular car. It held on to that mantle until 1988, keeping the line-up fresh with special edition models like the Falcon S (“This is the car for the Falcon driver who likes the idea of looking a little different”).
Ford’s sales success continued with the XF which remains the nameplate’s best-ever selling model, the Blue Oval selling over 278,000 XF Falcons over its five-year lifecycle from 1984-88. It was also the first generation of Falcon since the XP to not be offered with the option of a V8 engine, promising instead “The size of a six for the price of a four”.
Ford spent $700 million developing the EA Falcon which marked the beginning of the model’s fifth generation. Externally, the EA borrowed styling elements from Ford of Europe’s Scorpio but under the skin, it was all Aussie engineering.
“Have you driven a Ford… lately?” asked the EA’s advertising campaign both in print and on TV, a slogan that still resonates today over 30 years later.
After ditching V8 power in the 1980s, Ford returned to big banger land with a big bang in 1991. Perhaps to combat Holden’s Commodore S and SS onslaught, a new line-up of performance focussed Falcons graced Ford dealerships – S-XR6 and S-XR8 – which eventually morphed into plain old XR6 and XR8.
“A large part of Falcon’s heritage has always been about high performance,” read the advertising material before continuing, “Since the first Falcon GT, the Falcon V8 has occupied a special place as Australia’s own performance car.”
Except for the years where Ford ignored the V8, it seems.
“The Futura is here.” Except of course, it wasn’t. Instead, 1993’s ED Falcon gained a new grille and quad-headlight treatment for XR6 and XR8 models but remained largely unchanged from the EB that preceded it.
The Futura model was new to the line-up, a family-oriented sedan with a smattering of niceties, like cruise control and body-coloured mirrors, alongside safety refinements like anti-lock brakes, fitted as standard.
“Have you driven a Ford… lately,” continued to fly the marketing banner for Falcon alongside such provocative tags as “How the XR Falcon gets its wings,” a reference to Tickford Vehicle Engineering’s involvement in creating the XR range of sporty Falcons.
“On every XR Falcon you’ll find a pair of wings. They’re not there for mere decoration” started the blurb, ending with an imploring call to test drive the new hi-po sedans, “because cars with wings don’t hang around for long”.
A sleeping child tugs at the heartstrings in Ford’s campaign for the EL Falcon. Safety comes first, Ford promising that “the new and very much improved Ford Falcon is undoubtedly the safest car we have ever built”.
While that’s nice and all, having “a driver’s airbag standard on every model in the range” won’t be doing much to help a sleeping kid in the back in the event of an accident. Or your fellow front=seat passenger.
Still, change comes in incremental steps, and the EL Falcon ushered in a new era of safety for Falcon.
The much-maligned AU Falcon enjoyed a short lifespan before Ford Australia rushed through some much-needed cosmetic changes. The marketing for the AU one-tonner read, “It’s unbelievable”. Those words could just as easily apply to the broader AU range, as in “It’s unbelievable someone signed off on the design of this.”
Today, of course, the AU Falcon has garnered a cult-like following, revered for its odd styling and quirky droopiness. A legend.
The result of Ford’a harried re-design of the AU was the BA Falcon, and in Ford Performance Vehicle GT trim was promoted as “Lion Tamer”, a nod to arch rivals Holden. In regular sedan mode, the BA Falcon remained the rep-mobile of choice for tens of thousands mid-level sales executives, a fact strangely absent from Ford’s advertising materials.
Ford was keen to trumpet the German-ness of the updated BF Falcon in 2005, telling potential buyers about the Deutsche details contained within.
“Some would say that the Germans’ eye for detail is a little excessive at times. We at Ford disagree,” before launching into a PhD thesis on the benefits of the German-sourced ZF six-speed automatic transmission found inside the new Falcon. Ja, wirklich!
The seventh-generation FG Falcon heralded the nameplate’s 50th anniversary, little knowing it would also end up being the second-last ever Falcon.
“Who’s most likely. Ford of course,” wasn’t the catchiest slogan ever created by the marketing department but things improved slightly with “Forget B. Go from A to A+” but it all felt a little laboured.
Perhaps, like local manufacturing, the marketing team had run out of steam and by 2016, the Falcon’s reign in Australia was over, the last model the FG X limping over the finish line after 56 years of Falcon production. Tellingly, we couldn’t find any advertising material for the FG X in our archives. Sad.