The first Aussie Falcon will always hold a special place in the hearts of Ford fans. And now, with Australian manufacture of the Falcon at an end, "early birds" like this 1961 model XK Deluxe sedan will become even more cherished and highly collectable.
Barely a year after the Falcon made its American market debut as an "import fighter", it reached Australian shores as a last-minute replacement for the British Ford Zephyr.
Ford folklore has it that the Zephyr (MkIII) was all set to be Ford Australia's challenger to the dominant Holden until a Ford Australia team, led by the then Managing Director, Charles A. Smith, visited Ford HQ in Dearborn in late-1958, where they were shown the new Falcon, then in its final development stage.
Dearborn felt the Falcon may suit Australian conditions - without being aware of actual Australian conditions! The Falcon certainly looked more modern and stylish than both the current (FC) Holden and the planned Zephyr. But one of the major factors that swayed Smith's thinking was the economies of scale that could be achieved with the Falcon. With the right manufacturing processes in pace, Dearborn said, a Falcon could be produced in almost half the time of a Zephyr. Being cheaper to build meant the Falcon could be offered at a price more directly competitive with the Holden; something that couldn't be done with the Zephyr.
Signing off on the Falcon for Australia lead to a frantic period setting up the new Broadmeadows plant (then still under construction) for Falcon manufacture, organising the tooling and outside suppliers (while cancelling hundreds of thousands of pounds of already ordered Zephyr tooling) and training up a new workforce.
Broadmeadows saw its first car of the line (a Fairlane 500) in August, 1959, but the first Falcon didn't appear until the following June. In September, 1960, when the Falcon made its official debut, Ford's local manufacturing operations had existed for 35 years, but Ford had been trading here for 56 years; a spooky parallel to 2016's end of Australian Falcon production, also after 56 years.
While the arrival of the Falcon didn't come with the same Prime Ministerial approval that saw the arrival of the 48/215 Holden twelve years earlier, it still came with a lot of fanfare and hoopla. There was abundant press coverage and elaborate dealer team introductions, while some dealerships were mobbed by people wanting to see the new Ford for themselves.
Compared to Holden's FB (which had replaced the FC in 1960), the Falcon was the embodiment of the new decade, with sleek looks, a lower profile, less chrome and new treatment of elements like the lights, grille and glass area. Overall, it was a much more modern package than the FB, which looked like the truncated 1957 Chevrolet it was.
The Falcon also offered an automatic transmission option from the outset; a feature unavailable on a Holden until a year later.
While only marginally more expensive than the FB, the Falcon's 144ci (2.4 litre) six-cylinder engine outpointed the Holden in most of the usual measures like acceleration, top speed and fuel economy, but the differences were marginal.
In those early months after the Falcon's release, it seemed that Ford Australia had picked a winner, but the fall was about to come, and when it did, it came hard.
By the time the car featured here - a 1961 Deluxe sedan - was built, the Falcon had started to gain an odious reputation for being too fragile for Australian conditions, especially the poor quality roads that existed outside the major cities.
Given that little-to-no Australian testing was done before the Falcon was released, this is hardly surprising, and with the benefit of hindsight, these problems manifested themselves early.
Modern Motor magazine published one of the first comprehensive Australian tests of the XK Falcon in their October, 1960, issue - less than a month after the car had been introduced.
Over 3,000 miles of testing through four states, the magazine was generally praiseworthy, but identified a leaking front shock absorber and added that the front suspension units looked "rather light" and should be modified.
Early advice like this wasn't heeded and it wasn't until front suspension failures - mainly attributable to undersize and understrength ball joints - started to multiply, that heavier duty units were fitted.
Quality control problems manifested themselves early, too; a reflection of the Falcon's rush to production.
On-the-run improvements to build quality seemed to stem the tide (the XL actually sold more units than the XK), but many Aussie buyers started to desert the Falcon, switching back to the tougher, more reliable and "proven" Holden.
Ford finally shook off the Falcon's stigma of unreliability five years after the XK's release, but it took even longer for the Falcon to become a genuine Aussie favourite.
Signs of '61
When the car featured here was built in March, 1961, the Falcon range had expanded from the standard and deluxe sedans initially offered to include a station wagon (in November, 1960), while utility and panel van versions followed in May, 1961; the range built at both Broadmeadows and Eagle Farm, near Brisbane.
A Deluxe model was the better option in the XK range, while the feature car typified the top of the Falcon tree in 1961 - a Deluxe fitted with an optional automatic transmission.
The two-speed 'Fordamatic' auto was still a novelty for Australian motorists in 1961, but one that was embraced over time.
The Deluxe spec got you more chrome, including a strip that followed the upper edge of the bodyside scalloping, and a better grade of interior trim. Deluxe models usually, but not always, came with two-tone paint, too. In the case of this car, its VIN tag shows it was delivered with a Merino White roof over a Palomino (tan/beige) body; a colour combo it still wears today.
Make It Your Own
Tapping into demand from owners to personalise their cars, factory and aftermarket accessories were available on the Falcon almost as soon as it was released, and this car wears a number of them.
The rear venetian blind is an almost mandatory inclusion for Aussie cars of this vintage, but an external sunvisor is a surprising omission.
Amongst the non-standard additions are the small Falcon 'bird' emblems on the front guards and the much larger bonnet bird, which was a popular aftermarket item.
A previous owner of this car has also upped the brightwork by adding a second chrome trim line on the lower body, while whitewalls are a non-standard, but popular modern addition.
55 Years Young
Overall, this Falcon presents very well for a car in its sixth decade of life, thanks to obvious care and refurbishment, as well as a respray at some point in its history, which appears to have been a full bare metal job.
There are minor signs of rust in a couple of the doors and wheels, but that's all that's apparent.
Inside, the car is remarkably original. The seats and dash haven't been messed with by adding new material trim or modern sound equipment. Actually, this car doesn't even have a factory-fitted radio, but back in '61, "luxuries" like this, as well as a heater, padded dash and even seatbelts, were still extra-cost options.
The dash area presents very well, with only minor ageing apparent on the Deluxe-spec steering wheel with its identifying 'Falcon' boss and chrome horn ring.
Similarly, there is some minor wear on the front upholstery, but door trims, handles and armrests are all in impressive condition.
Consignors, Collectable Classic Cars in South Australia, say that this car has been enjoyed by the seller for a number of years, but has spent too much time in the shed of late, so is being offered for sale (see breakout).
As mentioned at the top of this article, early Falcons like this are already collector's items, but don't be surprised if they become more desirable now, especially amongst FG X Falcon owners looking to "bookend" their last Aussie Falcon with the first one.
Barrister's Block Wines (Woodstock, South Australia) for the location. barristersblock.com.au
Motorbook World (Canterbury, Victoria) for research material. Ph: (03) 9830 2644, <a href="http://www,motorbookworld.com.au">Motorbookworld.com.au</a>
This Falcon is currently for sale through Collectable Classic Cars in Woodside, SA.
Well maintained during its long tenure in South Australia by the seller, this car was recently treated to a brake system overhaul, new plugs and a new battery in Collectable Classic's workshop and is ready for the new owner to enjoy.
Finding a more original example of the first Falcon on the market would be a tough task at the moment, so this one may be your best chance to find a good, solid XK for some time.
It's not concours spec, but being a good, complete car, it would certainly be possible to turn this XK into a trophy winner.
As Collectable Classic's Ben Finnis pointed out, this car would make for an ideal entrant for the Bay to Birdwood Classic, too.
This XK is currently being offered for $15,990.
For more details, contact Ben Finnis at Collectable Classic Cars on 0411 744 190