Ford Falcon XA
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2
The XA Falcon was a very important model to Ford. It was to be the car that would topple GM from the Number One position in Australia, and they believed the then new Falcon was the car that would do it. A different approach was taken with the XA, the Ford engineers not only looking at how they could improve their own previous model, but taking an even harder look at the General’s HQ Holden Kingswood model and working out its weaknesses. It was important that the XA provide more visual car for the money.
Where Holden went austere, Ford went fancy. Where the HQ is restrained, the Falcon was heavily styled. And most important, the price tags were similar on the showroom floor - with the Falcon generally offering more visible features. Of course the 6 cylinder Falcon 500 with optional 250 engine mated to an automatic transmission was always going to be the big seller. But, Ford had great faith in this model, and believed the 2nd volume seller from the range would be the Fairmont wagon. Remember that this was a time long before the advent of the “people mover”. The fleet special Falcon 500 powered by the 200 six, it was hoped, would be the 3rd biggest seller in the range. Ford were definitely targeting mum-and-dad Australia over Corporate Australia.
It was back in 1968 that Ford were forced to make a big decision. They had to decide between the Falcon and the European Granada for Australian buyers with their next model – due for release in 1972. They costed everything out, luckily for we Australians, the chose to continue the Falcons. After all, the Falcon was larger which afforded better adaptation to station-wagon development, and the Cortina had grown in size anyway. It wouldn’t be until the late 1970s before the car makers downsized vehicles, most notably with the VB Commodore.
The $50 Million Investment
Although Ford placed a $50 million price tag on the XA it would not be unrealistic to describe the car as a complete and huge face-lift of the XY. The body was new - all-new from the subframe up - but there were no basic engineering changes. The floor-pan was the same, the suspension continued as before and the engine options remained unchanged. The really big news was the interiors. They were totally different from opposition makers Holden and Chrysler, and were, at the time, by far the best ever produced in Australia.
By clever design and styling, the Falcon's interior had a big luxurious look about it. It seemed very roomy although some dimensions were actually down slightly on the XY Falcon
. The Ford designers started by fitting the dashboard as close to the firewall as possible. This created more knee-room for the front seat passenger and a better dash/steering wheel layout. The instruments (speedo
) were mounted in deeply recessed panels right in front of the driver. They were well separated and easy to read day or night. The optional Rallye (formerly GS) pack provided a circular rev counter to the left of the speedo and four minor gauges on the upper edge of the instrument console. Again they were easy to see and read. There were warning lights for all the regular functions - plus a seat belt warning "red" that would light-up for 10 seconds (remember, this was an era before the technology had advanced to the stage where seat belts could actually detect if they were bucked up or not.
With the dash so far forward Ford were able to angle the steering wheel slightly downward and keep it close to the dash. This made it possible to have a near-straight-arm driving position from virtually any setting of the seat. The steering wheel itself was slightly oval so even small drivers had little difficulty in seeing over it. Extra tall people could have their dealer remove some of the chocks on the seat mountings to lower the seats to their desired level - and they needed this modification because of the reduced headroom. But in the rear seat where headroom also tended to be restricted, there was no easy answer.
The seats themselves were excellent. The bench seat was by far the best of the Big Three and the bucket seats were among the best in the world. Cloth seat inserts were available as an option on the bench seat too, which put an end to burning your legs and getting them stuck to the vinyl on days over 30C. The bucket seats were really wrap-around. They supported you in all the correct places and gave excellent lateral support on corners. But without the cloth inserts they would, pretty much like any vinyl seat of the era, get too hot and you would end up drenched in your own sweat.
Seat belts were standard, but for an extra $20 these would be retractable. These were not inertia reels but simply belts which would keep pulling themselves into their reels. Once you buckled-up, the mechanism retracted the belt as far as it could go - ensuring a safe, tight fit at all times. Seat belt problems were encountered mainly on cars fitted with the bench seat. The belt buckle was on a fixed piece of webbing, which meant it had to be long enough to be accessible when the seat was in its most forward position. Unfortunately this meant it was too long
when the seat was fully back. When you belted-up, the buckle was right on your ribs - one good way to crack them in a prang.
There were a couple of other points that indicated the XA was not quite the clean sheet design Ford were leading people to believe. Most notably was the retention of a dashboard handbrake. Both Chrysler and GMH had moved theirs to the floor. The Ford position was inconvenient and possibly dangerous in a collision. Perhaps a design oversight, it was more likely a cost cutting measure in carrying over the XY’s arrangement. The positions of the wiper and light switches were not much better. The wiper switch (which controlled articulated blades) was on the left hand side of the dash and the light switch and rolling rheostat control were on the right. That meant that the wiper switch was further away from the driver. A puzzling decision by Ford engineers, as given you need the wiper switch more often, it seemed logical to swap positions with the light switch. Finally, Ford retained the dipswitch on the floor. While they were ahead on interiors, it would have been nice if they'd followed just about every other car manufacturer and switched this to the turn indicator stalk together with a headlight flasher on the steering column.
Flow Through Ventilation
When the General launched the HQ Holden with flow-through ventilation, Ford embarked on a crash program to do the same. The program was hasty and it showed. Their air entry vents were good but the extractors left a lot to be desired. Apparently when they fitted the extractors in early test vehicles, they found dust was finding its way in through the drain holes. The engineers took the easy way out and plugged the holes, which created a good catchment area under the extractors for water. Also, as a flow-through system it didn't work very well because the volume of air passed through wasn't very high. In simple physical terms, the input of air can only be as great as the exit. The seat arrangement didn’t give full air extraction on both rear vents and consequently air-flow volume is reduced. Many found the quarter vents still had a purpose then, but these could now only be found on the very cheapest models, as more upmarket models featured full sized power windows.
Fairmont’s and above were usually fitted with power windows, a $90 option. These came complete with driver's "master console" which provided a lock-out device to over-ride all other individual window controls – something we take for granted these days but rare at the time, particularly on an Australian built car. One annoying bit of cost-cutting on the power windows was the lack of conversion to right-hand-drive. Ford was worse than most in this respect because the driver's window control was second from the far end - a legacy of the left hand drive system that put the left hand front window control at the head of the line.
Irrespective of whether you had to raise the glass manually or electrically in your Falcon, the extra visibility from the large glass sheets was generally good. However, specifying the optional quarter vents cut down visibility quite a bit. The car also fell down badly in the rear three-quarter panel - a big slab of sheet-metal which was an unnecessary concession to styling at the expense of visibility. Wind and weather sealing with the enlarged glasswork was very good.
Falcon and Fairmont Wagon
Parking the XA Falcon was not particularly easy. The pronounced fall-line on the bonnet gave a great road view, but left about 12 in. unaccounted for. Reverse parking was a hit-and-miss affair (literally), but sensible and cautious driving overcame most of these problems. One of the strong points of the new Falcon was the boot. Although quite shallow, it carried an awful lot of baggage. But unlike the GM and other Ford automobiles, the spare was recessed in the fuel tank in the floor - leaving a completely clear boot area. Capacious as the sedan was, there was no questioning the king of the carriers was the XA Falcon wagon. It was huge. There was a nine foot platform with three and a half feet between the wheel-arches. It could tote a staggering 82.6 cubic feet of anything. The two-way tailgate was also a great help. This standard feature on the Fairmont allowed you to open the tailgate either as a door or as a normal wagon drop-down assembly.
Naturally, the suspension settings were adjusted to cope with such a capacity. This did have an odd by-product. The wagon was easily the best braked of the Falcon range – GT excluded of course. Strange then that all had the same brake setup – however unlike the sedan versions the wagon had a better weight transference from back to front – and we all know it’s the front wheels that do most of the braking. The rear suspension setting on wagons was firmer and higher than on sedans. Under braking, more weight was transferred to the front which is best equipped to do the work.
Along with the suspension, the 302 V8 was also redesigned. The engine
had been modified to bring it closer in design to the Cleveland 351. This meant more power and torque. But even the three-on-the-tree manual 200 six equipped Falcon’s were not a bad drive. Despite the big handicap of a three speed change on the column, many found it to still be a sporty drive. The shift was good enough for snap changes which made it fun rather than a chore – which was normally the case on the 3 speeders fitted to the Holden’s of the era.
Behind the Wheel
Unfortunately the handling
of the XA Falcon range wasn't all that it could be. Two factors came into play here - the suspension and the steering
. The suspension
was basically the same as in the XY Falcon - with revised spring and damper rates and some varied geometry. This gave the XA a firm ride with little roll. The ride was super-smooth on smooth surfaces although a lot of shock came through in rougher conditions. The back axle was relatively poorly located and tended to tramp in the dirt. Some drivers also complained of some tramp on the front wheels on harsh corrugations, which produced feedback through the steering wheel.
In tight cornering, especially in the rough or wet, the XA Falcon would lift an inside rear wheel wasting useful power in wheelspin. With five turns lock to lock on the manual steering, control of the rear-end under such conditions was not good. Instantaneous opposite-lock corrections were out of the question, and it was easy to over-correct. Ask someone who owned an XA now and we doubt they would be so critical of the suspension and steering – particularly if they had rarely driven under the conditions of adverse road surface or speed that showed-up the deficiencies.
Ford clearly calculated this when they decided to stick with completely conventional live rear axle treatment and avoid the expensive re-engineering of GM's part chassis/all-coil system. Instead, the company wooed buyers with a swish new body, sensational interiors and generous fitments at well-controlled prices. With the back-up of well-proved engines and some new innovations, the company had a sound basis for its challenge on GM's market supremacy.