Ford Falcon XP
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4
Concealed Strength and Durability
The XP was the last facelift of the original Falcon and featured an aggressive, squared off look to the front end and more solid styling overall. But under the skin there were plenty of changes - as Ford were determined to finally produce a Falcon suited to Australian conditions. Al Sundberg was a product planner for Ford in the USA before taking up the role as engineering administrator at Ford Australia in 1962
. At the XP Falcons release, he explained to journalists that the car "...existed as an objective in 1959
Sundberg had worked on Falcon in the US before coming to Australia, and he admitted that the US Head Office knew that the all-American Falcon needed revisions to make it suitable for local conditions before the original was released here as the XK Falcon
. The XM Falcon
represented a stepping stone in the development of the car Ford knew would be perfect here in Australia. Some innovations were introduced on that model too, such as the torque frame boxes and self adjusting brakes.
The engineering effort for the XP had become so intensive that then Product Planning manager, Carl Mueller, insisted that the styling had to be masculine enough to suggest the concealed strength and durability of the product. Perhaps the person most responsible for the development of the “built for Australian conditions” Falcon went to Jim Martin, who headed up Ford Australia’s Product Engineering department.
Martin landed in Australia early in 1962
after a preliminary visit in 1961
. He pushed the engineers working under him relentlessly, leaving no stone unturned in an effort to create the best motor car that he could – and one that would win over the Australian buying public that had become wary of the Falcon’s suspension shortcomings. Jim Martin didn’t simply work behind the desk. At every opportunity he would take part in as much vehicle durability testing as he could.
While the XP prototypes were accumulating long-distance durability mileage between June, 1964
, and March, 1965
, - before the You-Yangs proving ground was ready - Jim Martin went outback with a car, driving around Australia, via Perth and Darwin, by himself, in 10 days – and all during his annual holidays. Upon his return he compiled an eight-page trip report – then only two days later he left for Port Augusta for another test run. By the time the XP was released Martin had returned to the USA, but he kept a close eye on things.
At the time, it was common not only for Ford, but for GMH too, to ship out engineers on secondment to Australia for a year or two so that the breadth of automotive talent could assist the local engineers. That meant that the XP was developed by a mix of the best talent from here and abroad. Apart from the aforementioned Al Sundberg and Jim Martin, other Americans involved on the XP Falcon included power train manager Dave Doman, and manager of test and development Dan Wertz. But alongside these there were equally talented Australians such as Jock Garwood (chassis design and electrics), Jack Taylor (body design and soft trim) and Don Dunoon (supervisor, laboratory test). All these engineers, and plenty more, were involved with the development of the XP – yet none would have claimed individual credit.
Getting the XP suspension
sorted was the problem. The engineers knew that if you set a car up nicely for ride with the right spring and damper rates you inevitably found that roll couples or axle location or weight transfer would make it a pig in corners. A compromise has to be found – and then you set the car up with the right balance of braking ratio taking into account the finalised suspension geometry. The brakes
were one area the engineers went to a lot of effort to perfect. The ride and handling qualities were eventually subject to a jury vote among the senior executives in Product Engineering, but the brakes
come down to a stringent requirement in terms of ability.
Ford knew only too well that, while handling can be a little subjective in the hands of motoring journalists, these same journalists would have their tape measures at the ready when putting the XP through its paces in the braking department – particularly given the previous Falcons had been often criticised in this area. Therefore the objective was to obtain satisfactory deceleration rates with right amount of pedal pressure, hydraulic line pressure, while resisting fade and, when fade did occur, ensuring reasonably fast recovery figures. And all of that had to be transmitted to the driver as much as possible via “pedal feel” , including as perfect as possible front/rear balance.
In the final stages of testing the XP brakes
the engineers recorded a peak retardation of 31 ft/sec/sec, which was just below 1g; and when you consider that this was on cross-ply tyres
that figure remains to this day an outstanding achievement. Ford tested no less than 20 different types of brake liner material before settling on Hardie-bestos. These days you would run a mile at the thought of having anything ending in “bestos” within a mile of you – but at the time the dangers of asbestos were not known, and they did at least prove up to the task during the 70,000 mile durability trials – no XP’s requiring a brake change. That same 70,000 mile exercise gave the engineers a good opportunity to garner extra test results on drive line performance under wide-open throttle and fast shift conditions. However, it did not turn up any major item on the car that called for correction.
But after the 70,000 mile durability trials there were two minor problems that emerged. The first was the location of the dipswitch - Ford chose the Borg-Warner Type 35 automatic transmission for the XP, partly because it lifted Australian content, and partly because it was a very good transmission – and this made it difficult to locate the dip switch. It had never been a problem until drivers were taking part in such a long distance trial - and there was no other place on the floor to locate it without spending perhaps £100,000 on tooling. Ford spent the money, and the dip-switch was moved. The other problem was the location of the spare wheel. Even US Ford was in two minds about it, and eventually the bill for reworking the floor pan of the boot, in both tooling and sheet metal, came to more than £40,000. Just to shift the spare wheel a few inches away.
As the money piled up, so did the miles. Between June, 1964, and March, 1965 the XP covered a total of 473,928 miles for Product Engineering. This was made up of 76,928 in prototype form, 214,000 in component (actual production) form and 183,000 for development. Most of this mileage was racked up around Port Lincoln and Port Augusta. Jim Martin liked some of the holes in the roads around there so much he had them measured and photographed and reproduced at the proving ground at the You Yangs. The theory, obviously, was that if the XP could take these holes then every subsequent model must also be able to.
A Much Tougher Falcon
Ford knew they had made a serious mistake with the first Falcon. They had witnessed Holden's success with the FC
, and the British Zephyr's were little competition. particularly because they cost more and seemingly provided less. Today we know the answer came from the localisation of the American Falcon range - but after initial success due more to novelty value than anything else, they proved to be a brutal failure. We have already covered in length the initial Falcons shortcomings here at Unique Cars and Parts
, so we will not cover old ground, suffice to say the first Falcon had severe front-end trouble, several types of transmission failure, and suffered badly from rust. The bad reputation of the Falcon took Ford five years to erase.
While these faults were to some extent addressed on the XL Falcon
, they were not completely eliminated. Ford knew they had to seriously get down to the task of rebuilding the car from inside out to make it both acceptable and durable. The XM Falcon
won back a lot of friends for its good looks and reliability, but it was the XP that turned the tide. In the sales charts the XP literally hauled itself up by the bootstraps. One of the first signs of its success was the acceptance of the model by taxi and fleet buyers. Adding to the durability theme was the grueling You Yangs 70,000 mile epic, which was beautifully-choreographed advertising promotion, but was still an outstanding achievement.
The company took the bold step in announcing its intentions for the 70,000 mile 70 mph+ durability trial beforehand, proving how confident Ford were that their changes had worked. Despite crashes, phenomenal tyre
wear early, some gross errors of organisation, and finally a refusal by CAMS to sanction the claimed records, the trial was heralded as a huge success. All over Australia people were suddenly talking Falcon
. Big fleet-owners started to switch to Falcons. People like Avis Car Rentals, Rothmans, James Hardie, the NSW Police and dozens of others put in replacement orders for fleets of up to 1000.
The XP Falcon Fairmont
The XP Falcon came in a wide range of models, from the now highly collectable two-door hardtops and Squire wagons to the four-door Futuras, 170 manuals, 200 automatics, and Fairmont. The Fairmont was the newest of the line, and featured reclining bucket seats, 14 in. wheels, disc brakes
and luxury trim, it was undoubtedly the best Falcon yet to have been made in Australia. For once the old Ford slogan of "Trim, Taut, Terrific" - which had become known as "Trim, Taut, Treacherous" - was on the money. The XP really was a substantially stronger car. How strong you may ask? Come engine replacement time, some owners were bolting in the 260 and 289 cubic inch V8 engines without any extra stiffening needed. Ford went on the front foot too, citing much lower warranty claims for the XP. Owners noted that there were no signs of rust
affliction, and the inherent torsional stiffness of the body made the Falcon incredibly free from rattles and creaks.
It XP Falcon was a sweet car to drive and use, and like that other successful Ford product, the Cortina
, represented the fruits of the careful refinement of the orthodox. It did nothing in a spectacular way, but everything it did it did well. It would cruise comfortably around 70mph, handled neatly with a minimum of body lean and tyre
noise, and stopped pretty well; even the drum-braked car was better than the other two sixes, and the disc-braked version was exceptionally good.
The Borg-Warner Type 35 Transmission
The XP Falcon also took an important step forward with the introduction of the three-speed Borg-Warner Type 35 automatic transmission
to replace the fairly unsatisfactory, if reliable, Fordomatic two-speed. At the time GM-H were switching to the two-speed Powerglide
- which by comparison seemed a step backward - even though it was incredibly reliable. The Borg-Warner transmission made the Falcon automatic into a different car, lively, more agile and more versatile. The build quality on the XP Falcon was also vastly improved. The body panels fitted infinitely better than ever before - mainly because of a new Product Engineering process called "cubing".
The paintwork was first class, the choice of materials much better and of much higher quality, and general overall finish markedly improved over previous Falcon's. The body design, while owing much to the first three Falcons, had strong individualistic touches, such as the grille and rear wings, that gave it a solid, masculine look. Ford's choice of colours - which was always good - had reached real maturity with the XP. Some of the colours, particularly the dark greens and blues and the metallics, made the XP look far richer and more lustrous than any other car then available in Australia at that price point.
A Sales Success
The development of the Falcon over the years since its introduction had paid off, and the XP was very well regarded by the press of the time, being more than capable of matching its competitors and winning Wheels magazines "Car of the Year" award for 1965
. Gone was the droopy nose design, the new front end treatment making the Falcon appear more agressive and even sleeker, with the sculptured side extending to form a brow over the lights and grille. As mentioned above, also introduced with the XP was the first Fairmont, the prestige model in the Falcon range, fitted out with all the latest luxury features (however the unpopular Squire wagon models were dropped).
In a first for an Australian built car, the XP Fairmont was fitted with power assisted brakes
and Girling front discs, and the front bucket seats could also be reclined. In every respect, it was a worthy competitor for the General's "Premier". To save re-tooling costs, both the utility and van carried over the XL Falcon
rear panels, something Holden buyers of such models had become quite used to. Of the three big-selling sixes, the Falcon conformed least to this American concept of the consumer car. It certainly had its share of Detroit in its makeup, as the outline was still closely related to the original XK series of 1960
, but so much Australian work and knowhow had been packed into it to make it competitive that it was really only distantly related to its American cousin.
Today the XP is regarded by many as the most collectable of the early Falcon's, particularly in Hardtop and Super Pursuit 200 guise.