50 YEARS OF FALCON V8
Watching Hayden’s XR Falcon rumble its way into the photo studio, you very quickly realise just how right the designers got this car back in the 60s.
Falcon’s first local generation – the predecessor to this car - met some real challenges, not least of which was a front end that sometimes found local conditions a little too testing. With a clean sheet of paper and the wildly successful Lee Iococca-inspired Mustang as a potential source of both inspiration and parts, the XR was aimed at turning the page in Ford Australia history. This year, 1966, was when we adopted decimal currency, while long-serving Prime Minister Robert Menzies retired in favour of the ill-fated Harold Holt. It was a year for big changes.
The styling was clearly from a new generation of car, with the long nose, stubby tail and accentuated ‘hip’ giving a passing nod to the American coupe. A very direct transfer was the powerplant, a variant of the 289ci (4.7 litre) pushrod V8 which, in this guise, produced a relatively modest 149kW – substantially less than the equivalent K-code Mustang would get from the same platform.
In the local market, having a V8 car was big news. Valiant had launched its bent eight AP6 just the year before, while Holden was yet to enter the fray. That task was left to the HK series, two years later.
In the case of the XR, a Fairmont V8 with what amounted to 200 horses in the snout meant you had a fair chance of owning the quickest car in your street, with a quarter mile time hovering around the 17 second mark. In any case, you clearly liked a bit of performance. Sitting behind the V8 was the Cruisomatic three-speed auto, also used in Thunderbird and Galaxie over the years.
They’re actually a bit thin on the ground these days, so a good one is worth rebuilding.
Safety features included power-assisted discs up front, plus optional radial-ply rubber.
Seat belts were fitted, though lap-sash units for the front were an upgrade.
On the road is where these things surprise.
Despite hitting the magic half century, they’re still a decent drive. Okay, so the handling and brakes aren’t particularly sharp, though you
1966-68 FAIRMONT V8
$40,000 (Note: concours cars may demand more.)
DESPITE A solid lead from GT versions that can achieve six figure sale prices, other XR V8s have plenty of growing left to do. Recent asking prices in excess of $50,000 indicate some vendors are recognising the significance of their cars. However, sales are still most likely to occur in the $25-35,000 value range.
Falcon 500s in excellent order with factory-fitted 289s are less common than the Fairmont but also less expensive.
Genuine V8 utilities and vans are seen so rarely it is impossible to accurately price them but they most likely will sell at or above Fairmont money.
Be cautious when considering a sixcylinder car that’s been repowered with a V8 or been modified in other ways. In the long-term, only a meticulously constructed and presented show car will hold value against an authentic example.
Web-sites and Fordoriented car shows are the places to see excellent XRs and perhaps entice one away from its owner.
If restoring an XR V8 appeals, choose welldocumented cars with the original engine and minimal rust.
can do a bit to tighten things up in both areas. The XR V8’s real talent is in being a big solid cruiser that has plenty of pace, while delivering a comfortable ride. That, combined with a look we reckon time has treated well, make it a compelling classic.
From a buyer point of view, you could do a whole lot worse as a starter classic.
Though valuable, these cars aren’t hitting the stratospheric prices of the GT-HO series or even the first GTs. So you won’t have to mortgage the house to buy one. Mechanically they’re very simple and robust and the go is to find one with the minimum mods. The 289 motor is a sweetheart, smooth and easy enough to power up without major mods.
Cliff Chambers has given us the full run-down on what to look for on these pages, while Dave Morley has picked the most important Falcon V8s of all time.
If the budget will stretch that far, you might also look at the GT version of the XR, which remains one of the most revered cars of the Ford Australia range. With its 168kW (225hp) tune, it quickly brought the company glory at Mount Panorama. As we revealed in an Aussie muscle car special a couple of years ago, Bathurst cars then ran under the much more tightly-controlled Group E Series Production regulations.
Modifications were extremely limited and homologation requirements for 1967 required 5000 cars to have been produced internationally or 500 to have been produced locally.
Ford’s new XR Falcon GT cleared that hurdle and seven examples lined up on the grid. Leading the charge were the three cars entered by Ford Australia, driven by Leo and Ian ‘Pete’ Geoghegan,
The XR, with more than 90,000 sold, was a popular model yet cars in usable condition are now scarce.
Rust-proofing was virtually non-existent during the 1960s and every section of steel presents a risk.
Some after-market repair sections are being made but the car-killer areas are sub-frame and rear suspension mounting points, the turret (especially window surrounds) and the firewall. Damage here is very costly to rectify. Second-hand panels are becoming scarce and expensive too, with $350 being asked recently for a pair of slightly rusty doors. Used bumpers with good chrome are available at $450-600 each. Be cautious of wagon tailgate windows (power or manually operated) that stick or shudder when attempting to lower the glass.
The 4.7-litre Ford engine is just about the easiest V8 in the world to maintain and upgrade. Multiple suppliers stock any part needed for a rebuild and, should yours be too far gone, used engines are easy and cheap to acquire.
Listen on start-up for a noisy valve train and once the engine is warm look for blue trails of exhaust smoke that denote burned oil. Upgrading is simple as well, with performance parts available everywhere.
Neglected cars often overheat but replacing old, soft water hoses can sometimes fix the problem. Make sure the heater works and the thermostat hasn’t been removed. V8s came standard with automatic transmission but be wary of an auto that takes more than a couple of seconds before engaging.
NUMBER MADE: 90,810 (all XR) BODY STYLES: steel integrated body/chassis four-door sedan & station wagon, two-door utility & van ENGINE: 4737cc V8 with overhead valves & single downdraft carburettor POWER & TORQUE: 149kW @ 4400rpm, 382Nm @ 2400rpm PERFORMANCE: 0-96km/h 10.2 seconds, 0-400 metres 17.0 seconds (Fairmont V8) TRANSMISSION: three-speed automatic SUSPENSION: independent with coil-spring struts, control arms, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar (f) Live axle with semi-elliptic springs and telescopic shock absorbers (r) BRAKES: disc (f) drum (r) with power assistance TYRES: 6.95 x 14 cross-ply
Rudimentary design makes for cheap, simple repairs and maintenance. Coil springs sag and rear semi-elliptics crack and lose their temper but replacements are easily found and, at around $500 per pair, are not too expensive.
Creaking and cracking sounds when the car is turned at low speed point to ball-joints that have had their day need replacement at around $60 each.
Sloppy steering is typical but more than 100mm of free play before the wheel encounters resistance means budgeting for a rebuilt steering box and some bushings.
Shuddering from warped front discs can be cured by replacing the rotors but be wary of rear brakes that lock on damp roads and non-functioning handbrakes.
Surprising numbers of Fairmont seats were available in the market when we went looking. Some prices were silly but $600 seemed fair for a clean pair of front buckets.
Carefully check indicator and tail-light lenses for fading and cracks as new ones are expensive. Windows that haven’t moved in a while can be difficult to wind and forcing them can break handles which cost $40-70 each. Reproduction door panels are available, as is seat vinyl and hood-lining material. Starter motor noise is typical of older Falcons but be wary if the starter takes more than one attempt to engage because the flywheel ring-gear may need replacement.
Harry Firth/Fred Gibson and Bob Jane/ Spencer Martin.
“I didn’t meet Harry until the Friday night before Bathurst,” recalls Gibson. “I met him at his hotel room and we discussed what we were going to do. One of the things I said was, ‘Harry, how are we going to go? Will we be competitive?’ He said, ‘We’ll win the race’ and I thought, ‘Hmmm, that’s pretty confident!’”
“Harry had done a lot of brake pad development,” recalls Gibson. “I think the brake pads and shoes were pretty special.
Even though the shock absorbers had to look stock, I’m sure Harry got shocks made by Monroe-Wylie at a lot heavier rate than anyone else would’ve had and I think the engines were blueprinted. They were very well prepared.”
Firth/Gibson were the winners from the Geoghegans, with the Alfa GTV of Chivas/ Stewart completing the podium.
But you know what? We reckon the Fairmont has an appeal all its own as the first of a long line of V8 family cars. If you see one at the right price, snap it up.
I’VE HAD my Falcon XR for about ten years. I got it as an unfinished project from a young fella who’d run out of money and lost his way. He’d rebuilt the engine and put it back in, but that was about it. I grabbed it and knew what had to be done. I pulled the engine back out and rebuilt it to unleaded fuel spec, did the engine bay the way it should be and detailed the engine. I then put it back as per factory but capable of running premium unleaded.
I’ve always been a Ford man. I’ve got myself a Ford tattoo and I had my midlife crisis a few years ago. My eldest brother, who’s in his mid-sixties, used to have one of these a few years ago and he used to take us in it to Calder to watch Alan Moffat race his Mustang.
I’ve still got pictures of it at Calder at Alan Moffat’s marquee, but he took it with him to Western Australia many years ago and we’ve never seen it since. I always said to myself that I’d get one the same colour and here it is.
It’s pretty much factory spec. Original interior, original hubcaps and under the bonnet almost everything is how it came out of the factory. It’s got twin exhausts but hey, you’ve got to have some noise! I gave it a quick wash and steam clean and drove it on the Western Highway out of Bacchus Marsh for a five kilometres or so and that was its dry. It’s come up really well for the shoot.
Grand Tourer put a new headlining in it and we rechromed the bezel on the dash. It’s had a new dash pad on the top but everything else is original.
I just want to keep it and enjoy it. You can hop in, drive it two or three hours up the Hume at 70mph and you can hardly hear it. It’s just a hum and it’s so comfortable. My wife doesn’t like big loud V8s but she likes this because it’s so quiet. It’s comfortable like a Caddy or something like that, just floating along.
EXPECT HAYDEN Ivers to be a little overwhelmed at the power of the Falcon XR8 Sprint and you might be disappointed. Owner of a’64 Thunderbolt Fairlane replica that makes 600hp from its 427ci V8 and which sets low 11s on the strip, he also circuit races to a respectable level. The 345kW Sprint wasn’t about to get him drymouthed.
“It’s a really lovely size of car, just about perfect for me,” he reckoned, getting his driving position correct. “I like the steering wheel too.
I like the fact that I can fit my hand on the bottom of the rim when I’m just rolling along the freeway,” he said.
It’s interesting to watch the way he positions the car through corners.
“My work vehicle is a truck,” he laughs, “but I still drive it as if I’m on a race track. Not fast, but I aim to get the clipping points of corners just right,” he explains, gently bumping the XR8’s tyres over the drop kerb of a roundabout.
“It sounds good for a modern car too,” he said, catching the Sprint crackling and banging on the overrun. “Plenty of torque,” he grins as he filters quickly into fastmoving traffic. “I can see why so many people want one of these and are prepared to pay a lot to get hold of one.”
SAY what you like about North American culture, because when it comes to building cars that people had an urgent need to own, Ford quickly worked out that the USA was where it was at. It’s why the new-for 1966 XR Falcon range had that coke-bottle hip and the Mustang-bred tagline on the adverts.
It’s also why the V8 – as much a fixture in the US by then as handguns and pancakes – made it between the XR’s frame rails as an option. The 289 cubic-inch (4.7 litre) V8 cranked out a claimed 200 horsepower which suddenly made the Holden red six look pretty crook. i lture
BATHURST 1971; The Australian Touring Car Championship in 1973. Both fell to the almighty Phase 3 GT-HO. But the big Phase 3 was more than just a successful race-car; it became the poster-child for the whole muscle-car movement, decades after it was dragging wide-eyed punters into Ford showrooms on a Saturday morning. And special it was. Even though HO officially stood for Handling Option, when you ordered a HO over an XY GT, you got a lot of hardware for the money. And serious hardware at that. The Phase 3 was designed to win races first and transport mum and dad second.
FORD took the ‘courageous’ decision to axe the V8 option for the XF Falcon model of 1984. The replacement was supposed to be the injected 4.1-litre six. It flopped. We didn’t see another V8 Falcon until the EB of 1991. When we did, the Cleveland V8 was gone and in its place was the Windsor five-litre, complete with EFi. By then, of course, Ford also had the SOHC four-litre six that was introduced with the EA – a much better gadget – but even so, the V8 was greeted with open arms, hearts and wallet. The V8 EB also ushered in the XR8 model, that ultimately sold an awful lot of cars for Ford.
THROWING a stroked crankshaft into an engine is a time-honoured way of making it grunt harder. Ford’s stroked Windsor of 2001 used an 86.4mm throw compared with the stock Windsor’s 76.2 to bulk capacity out to 5.6 litres and performance to 250kW at 5250rpm and 500Nm of torque at 4250rpm. The whole thing was hand-assembled and man, did the thing grunt. The only thing more remarkable than its twist was its thirst. As well as the TS50 we’ve nominated here, you could also have your 5.6 in a TE50, a TL50 (Fairlane) and the XR8 Pursuit ute.
AS Ford Australia’s US masters, the short-lived Abbott government and buyers of compact SUVs casually throw almost six decades of locally-made Fords and five decades of V8 Falcons on the scrap-heap, it’s interesting to see how Ford Oz has responded. The result is the current-model XR8 Sprint and if anything, it serves to demonstrate what we could have looked forward to had we not all been in such a hurry to drive a jacked-up hatchback.
Frankly, that supercharged five-litre V8 is a gem. It revs hard, runs smooth and can push the XR8 Sprint through the quarter mile in a grip-limited 13s.