Ford Falcon XB
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2
The XB featured a slight restyle of the previous model, featuring a cleaner but more aggressive front end with a forward sloping bonnet complete with power bulge, and a wide set, 'egg-crate' split grille. The design was very reminiscent of the 1971-73 US Mustangs
, and by re-working the XA's sleek lines and fitting different bumpers the car presented with a far more masculine style.
In fact, the three Australian engineers who had travelled to the US to develop the XA, claimed that it had found its ultimate expression with the XB - high praise indeed. Many mechanical enhancements were made including the introduction of optional four wheel disk brakes, and the fitting of locally manufactured 302ci (4.9 litre) and 351ci (5.8 litre) Cleveland V8's.
The XB gained immense popularity, and would out-sell the XA by some 68,156 units. No surpirse then that it was with this model that Ford notched up the two-millionth car manufactured in Australia, however this milestone came with no fanfare, it occuring on Remberance Day, and if that wasn't enough, then Governor General John Kerr would sack Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (see: Chronicles 1975
Value For Money
Ford would introduce the "Value For Money" program, which offered as standard on all models (excluding the GT) a range of items which would normally be offered as extra's. There was of course a small rise in price, however this was offset by the list of now standard options on the XB, such as reclining front bucket seats, heated rear window, carpets and protective body mouldings.
From the base model, there were some options that most buyers would opt for, such as the 250 cubic inch (4.1-litre) six-cylinder engine in place of the base 200 (3.3-litre) powerplant ($79); carpets instead of rubber ($27); tinted laminated windscreen ($53); ER70H14 radial tyres
instead of skinny crossplies ($132); heated rear window ($42); push-button radio ($129); electric aerial ($32) and wheel trims ($28). These were the more common, but by no means the only options available, and would add $522 to the base price of $3236.
At the time, it could have been debated that, with a real entry price closer to $3758, the "basic" Falcon was not quite the value for money proposition that Ford marketed, but then you were buying a quality car that really did suit the tough Australian conditions and was a reasonable drive. The competition were the usual suspects, from Holden
(where you could buy an automatic XL Charger for the same money) and Leylands
then new P76
, but if you looked to Europe for something as comparable you would find yourself at the Renault
dealer, who had the similarily equipped Renault 16TS
, or if you thought Nippon was the way to go, there was the RX4 rotary Mazda for the same money.
The $3.8 Million Facelift
Ford spent $3.8 million on the XB facelift, and there were plenty of improvements over the XA model. The most obvious was the standard fitment of front disc brakes
to all models - including the basic "Falcon" taxi-trim version. There was an improved collapsible steering column, inertia reel seat belts for the driver and front passenger, and the adoption of a multi-purpose steering column stalk to operate turn indicators, horn and headlight flasher and dipper. Ford also claimed they had spent a lot of money on improved quality control and detailed engineering improvements in the XB Falcon range. Amoung the improvements, Ford boasted of better dust and weather sealing, a 15 percent improvement in heater capacity with better air distribution and a quicker warm-up plus minor details like a better ashtray and an inner metric scale for the speedometer. Of course none of these things were easy to confirm, and having been behind the wheel of both models, we would never be able to detect the difference.
The XB Taxi Special
If you were around in the 1970s, you would be well aware of how popular the XB was as a Taxi, and perhaps there is no other recommendation for a car than one chosen for its strength and durability. Ford went some ways to making the taxi special a little better all round, for the first time fitting it with arm-rests, coat hooks, bright metal door locks and syncromesh
on first gear. Not enough to get terribly excited about, but imagine if you were a taxi driver in the XA, without synchro
on 1st, driving 8+ hours every day. The boot was large on paper and fine if your baggage is flat, however was it was relatively shallow and the fuel filler pipe intruded. The spare wheel was located under the boot floor mat.
The 250 Six
It is difficult to judge the build quality of a car that has been out of production for nearly 30+ years, but
there are enough car reviews around, and some happy previous owners, that will attest to the Falcon's top notch fit and finish. The paint on 1970s Fords was always very good, the interior was reasonably rattle free and it was generally well bolted togther. The bench seat was reasonably sprung and acceptably comfortable for everyday urban driving but, like all bench seats, didn't provide sufficient support for long trips. The 250 six was a strong performer right through the range, and would propel the XB from 30 km/h (20 mph) to more than 160 km/h (100 mph) in top gear, yet was reasonably economical.
Inside the Falcon 500 was a rather utalitarian affair. You got plain vinyl and a rubber floor mat, but the dashboard was a stand-out on the XB and while the GTs were brilliant, even the poverty pack 500 looked pretty good, and much better than most Japanese and European cars, at least in our eyes. The driving position was a little compromised when fitted with a bench seat, as it seemed you needed to be too close to the steering wheel to enable effective operation of the clutch and accelerator, but maybe we have short legs. Strangely, on a few XB's we have driven, the brake pedal seems to be inches higher than the accelerator - near perfect.
The Multi Purpose Stalk
One of the major changes on the XB Falcon was the adoption of the multi-purpose stalk, which protruded from the right-hand side of the steering column and operated turn indicators, headlight flasher, high and low beam selection and the horn (by pushing the end). The lever was well engineered, with a smooth, positive action and the horn was easy to find and use in an emergency. The Europeans had started to use a similar stalk for the washer/wiper controls, but Ford stuck with a button on the instrument panel.
There was strong syncromesh
on first gear, and with a 250ci engine the XB would pull smoothly and rapidly from 30 km/h (20 mph) in top gear, which meant that, unlike most Japanese cars of the era, you did not need to work the gear box too hard - which made for a more leisurely drive if that was what you were looking for. Unfortunately the strength built into the three-speed manual box meant that it was a little harsh and noisy in the first two ratios. And generally the power-train was not as smooth in operation as you would expect from a large, lumping six-cylinder. This was most noticeable on acceleration but once in top gear and highway-bound, the Falcon settled into its gait and fekt like the a big car it was meant to.
A Little Agricultural - But Still A Very Good Drive
Some road testers said the XB, at least in Falcon 500 guise, was agricultural. That may have been true, but it was also an easy car to drive. The clutch was relatively light for a large car, the steering was light (albeit slow), even if you opted for the ER70 rubber, and the unassisted disc front brakes
operated smoothly and responsively. The 4.1 litre engine developed 115.5 kW (155 bhp), enough to enable you to corner quickly and neatly. The XB handled predictably on all smooth surfaces, initially there would be understeer, depending on the tightness of the corner. On bitumen, the roadholding on the radials very good, dare we say almost to GT standards. No - we didn't say that. But it was good. On gravel roads and uneven surfaces the Falcon was less impressive. The simple nature of its suspension allowed it to hop and skip on rutted corners - at the tail when unladen and at the front with a full complement of passengers or luggage. It was not dangerous, but limiting, and no worse than what you would experience in a Holden, Valiant or P76.
Even the most die-hard Ford aficionados will admit the XA, XB and XC Fords would start to "float" and "wallow" at speed. Not at normal cruising speed though, just when pushed closer to its top speed, which in the case of the 250ci equipped versions was around 105 miles per hour - perhaps downhill with a slight tail wind - but in a large open country blessed with roads and law enforcement that conspire to keep you at 60 miles per hour, this problem is merely academic. The disc-drum brakes
provided low-effort, smooth and progressive retardation, although it was always easy to lock-up the rear brakes
in the wet, which could lead to some unintended and unsafe slewing.
History would show the XB to be a hard-wearing car. The seats and trim were bullet proof, perfectly suited to the punishment meted out by the typical Aussie family. It seems unfair to call the XB crude but effective, but that is exactly what it was. The six cylinder engines offered ample power, were unstressed and had amazing longevity, it had reasonable handling and was very well put togther. To us, it seems the XC model seemed to rust a lot more than the XA and XB, so these are the models we would choose from the three. And the improvements on the XB made it a much better day to day proposition - a car that could still hold its own in today's traffic.
The XB Surfsider
The hardtop was continued, but sales were disappointing. This was offset by the increase in popularity of the XB commercials. Young Ford fans that couldn't bring themselves to buy a Sandman could instead opt for an XB ute and slide-on camper unit. Better still was the "Surfsider", fitted with a hinged roof and nylon sleeve to provide plenty of additonal headroom. For the image conscious, the "Surferoo" had as much street cred as the Sandman - in reality it was a simple 500 Panel Van, fitted with a moulded fibreglass storage compartments, foam matress, ice-box and flourescent interior lighting. And there lies the challenge - what car today (not motorhome) comes with a matress as standard kit?