Once upon a time, there were car companies in Australia that made cars here. Chrysler/Mitsubishi, British Leyland, Lightburn, Toyota, Holden, and Ford, for example. The Sigma, the Zeta, the Torana, the Falcon. Amongst a distinguished list, Ford’s Falcon could very well be pointed at as being the longest lasting.
But there was a serious blip, one that an American Ford family member couldn’t help but....well, wonder, is the polite word, how it got signed off. Ladies and gentlemen, we present the AU falcon.
We’ve deliberately used the lowercase f, by the way, as the badging used the lower case f in Falcon during the AU’s short lifespan.
Ford Australia had been sourcing designs prior to the AU model from Europe. The coke-bottle hipped and American inspired XA to XC gave way to the squared off XD series. This meandered through to the EA series, a complete redesign and a smooth looker.
Come the early 1990s and Ford’s Australian arm was busy working away on a return to a purely Australian Falcon, a nod to the 1960s where an American Falcon was effectively Australianised. “Project Eagle” was the name and it was an important one for Ford Oz.
After considering and rejecting the Ford Taurus, the Ford Crown Victoria, and the Mazda 929 (remember, Ford and Mazda shared many platforms), the decision was made to continue with a locally designed and engineered Falcon.One key feature that study groups had noticed was no rear wheel drive. Another was no “ute” option, and nor did they offer a V8.
Ford globally in the 1990s had looked at a design ethos called “New Edge”. Ford Australia took that on board and delivered something that, it is fair to say, utterly polarised the Australian buying public.
An ovoid glasshouse and centre section was bracketed by a rounded front and rear that mixed in the ultimately out of place edge design for the head and tail lights. Up front, there was a fan shaped grille said to evoke the rays of a sunrise for the Forte and mid-range Falcon Se. Inside, a similar ovoid design was applied to the dashboard.
The design wasn’t seen as cohesive and in the space of four years would see the AU falcon made over and renamed to BA.
Ford Australia had settled on the AU nomenclature in an effort to relate the car to being a wholly Australian product. And in some areas, they delivered. There was a ute, a wagon, even some intriguing concept cars.
It featured Australian production firsts, such as Variable Cam Timing or VCT on some 6-cylinder models. There was an adaptive automatic transmission on the high-performance Tickford Vehicle Engineering series cars and these came with steering wheel gear shifting buttons.
It was slipperier through the air with a drag co-efficient of just 0.29, slightly lighter by 35kg, and just under ten percent more economical to drive. Some nameplates were changed: the entry level GLi became the Forte, a Futura name was resurrected and aimed at the opposition (Holden) in the form of Acclaim. The Futura was a family oriented package and came standard with ABS, cruise control, alloy wheels and, gasp, a digital clock. The price? Ten bucks under $35K.
The AU also ushered in a new name for Australia. Pick a six or eight cylinder and there was the XR6 and XR8, complete with “cannon” headlights. This would be highlighted by Ford in a silver and black body, with the headlights picked out in lurid green for their V8 Supercars entry at the time, piloted by one Craig Lowndes.
In the space of four years, Ford would have a Series 1, 2, and 3 AU falcon. Series 2 would bring a restyled grille for certain model variants, a restyled rear bumper, improvements to NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness), and airbags for the driver and passenger. The rear wings for the XR8 would go from a biplane or dual wing to a single layer.
Series 3 was a softer upgrade. Body coloured mirrors and side strips plus standard side skirts and different wheels on some models featured, and inside some changes such as 6 and 10 way powered seats for the Fairmont and Fairmont Ghia also became standard. ABS was offered as a standard fitment across the range however some upper models lost equipment as standard. The XR6 now had the Limited Slip Differential as an option, not standard, and both XR6 and XR8 went downmarket audio-wise to a simple four speaker sound setup with CD.
Such was the apathetic response to the AU falcon that just 237,701 vehicles from the Series 2 and Series 3 family were sold until the AU family was discontinued in September 2002, four years after the debut of the Series 1 AU.