Ford’s Unloved Child: The AU Falcon

Welcome to MotoringBox. Today you join me here by the roadside in
the Australian outback. Because we’re looking at one of the most infamous
cars to have ever been designed and built in this great country. A car which polaried the Australian public’s
opinion quite unlike anything that came before it or since, and one that suffered from slow
sales as a result. Despite the fact that it was released over
20 years ago and was on sale for just four short years, somehow you still see them absolutely
everywhere on the roads today. If you’re an Australian, this car needs no
introduction. But for everyone else, it’s the Ford AU Falcon. It’s the mid-1990s in Australia, and local
car manufactures Ford and Holden are once again facing off against each other with their
large, locally-built rear-wheel drive sedans – the Falcon and the Commodore. The two were neck and neck, trading punches
with sales in the showrooms and swapping paint on the race tracks. For Australian car fans, it was an absolutely
epic time to be alive. But then Holden launched their new VT Commodore
in 1997, after more than 5 years and $600-million dollars worth of development. Australian car buyers fell in love with it
and sales took off, with everyone else awaiting Ford’s response. The very next year, they returned fire with
this. The Ford AU Falcon. Powering the AU was the latest iteration of
Ford Australia’s legendary 4-litre straight six engine, fitted to a car that was lighter,
stiffer, more aerodynamic and more economical than the model which preceded it, and for
the first time in the Falcon’s history, Independent Rear Suspension became available as standard
on some models and optional on others. But none of this mattered. Because it wasn’t the AU Falcon’s advanced
features which made the headlines, it was quite simply how it looked. Now of course the styling has mellowed out
a bit over the years, but imagine you’re a Ford man back in the late 1990s. You had the ED Falcon, the EF, the EL… and
then this thing came along. It really was like a slap in the face with
a wet fish. The AU Falcon used Ford’s “New Edge” design
language which we first saw on the Taurus – and while it has been used to better effect
here, it was still a radical departure from the Falcon we all knew and loved. I was finishing high school at the time and
I remember absolutely hating how this thing looked. Unfortunately for Ford, I wasn’t alone. The styling of the AU became a contentious
issue with the car buying public, and the problem was further exacerbated by some awkward
design choices throughout the model lineup. Speaking of models, let’s run through the
AU Falcon range. We begin with the Falcon Forte – which is
a bare bones model which had air-conditioning and an automatic gearbox as standard, but
not a lot else. It had a waterfall style front grille which
scared small children, and no-frills bodywork which sat high above 15″ steel wheels with
one of the worst plastic wheel cover designs you’ve ever seen in your life. The Forte is your snag, or sausage – basic
food but it does the job. Next up, you had the Falcon Futura – which
added a body coloured front grille, ABS brakes, cruise control and alloy wheels. It’s the bread – something you probably should
have received in the first place. From there you had the Falcon S – which added
alloy wheels, sports suspension and a rear spoiler. It’s the cheese – a bit of added substance. Next you had the Falcon XR6 – which was the
high performance version of the AU Falcon range. For ya money, you got a unique quad headlight
front clip and bodykit, a rear spoiler, sports suspension, and a higher power-output from
the engine. It’s the onion – added punch for those who
wanted it. There was also an even sportier XR6 VCT. Next up, you had the Fairmont – which was
the entry level luxury version of the AU range. It had a new honeycomb grille, 80-second headlight
off delay, a higher-spec dashboard with wood grain-look inserts, a nicer interior, unique
15″ alloy wheels, dual horns and Fairmont badging on the boot. It’s the sauce – it tops off the package and
helps brings everything else together. And lastly, you had your Fairmont Ghia. Which had its own unique alloy wheels, even
more wood grain, independent rear suspension as standard, and the same engine as the sporty
XR6 VCT. It’s the mustard. But we’re not done yet, and that’s because
the Forte and the Fairmont Ghia could also be optioned with Ford’s 5.0L V8. Or the same engine could be used to turn an
XR6 into an XR8. And then there were two even more powerful
versions created by Tickford Vehicle Engineering – the TE50 with 200kW, and the TS50 with 220kW. More sausage for power hungry customers. But the AU I’ve got here is a Fairmont Ghia
with the 6-cylinder VCT engine – the fancy as fuck version of the AU Falcon range – and
still with enough sausage to keep you satisfied. Mmmmm. But while the Fairmont Ghia may have indeed
been fancy, it certainly didn’t look that way. Now this particular Fairmont Ghia sold brand
new in 2001 for around $50,000 dollarydoos, but from where I’m sitting, the buyer ended
up receiving a car which looks very much like a base model. The Fairmont Ghia had it’s own unique alloy
wheels, but there’s very little else about it which screams “Premium”. And I guess a lot of that can be blamed on
the AU Falcon’s design. Without any of the body kits or rear spoilers
which were available at the time as optional extras, buyers found the styling to be both
offensive and dull at the same time. From certain angles I can see moments of inspiration
– like how the boot lid curve continues down past the tail lights in one smooth motion. There’s also this little flick that continues
up into the tail lights. The C-Pillars too, look kind of cool. And I like the door profile with this crease
which runs the entire length of the car. But none of this matters, because the best
part is under here. This is arguably the AU Falcon’s party piece
– Ford’s Australian developed 4.0L straight-six engine. Now let me just clear one thing up from the
get-go for our overseas viewers – this is not a “Barra”. What this is, is an engine which can trace
its roots all the way back to the 1960s, where it started life as Ford America’s 170ci (2.8L)
straight-six. Over the years, Ford Australia enlarged it
to 250ci or 4.1 litres, developed a cross-flow cylinder head in the 70s, before switching
to an aluminium head in the 80s and adding fuel-injection, and then redesigning the engine
in the 90s to make it a 4.0L with a single overhead cam. Then they added variable length intake runners
before finally introducing variable cam timing to create this – the 4.0L Intech VCT. A few years later in the BA Falcon, this engine
received dual-overhead cams to become the “Barra”. Which means this, is Barra’s old man. The 4.0L Intech VCT was a formidable engine
back in the day, developing 168kW (225hp) of power and 370Nm (272lb-ft) of torque in
the Fairmont Ghia, and slightly more in the sporty XR6 Falcon. To put those figures into perspective, Holden
had to supercharge their GM sourced 3.8L Ecotec V6 in the VT Commodore to simply match the
power and torque figures this thing put out as standard. In my mind, the Intech VCT and the Barra are
two of the best engines to have ever come out of Australia. And the fact that Ford only fitted this engine
to the Fairmont Ghia and the XR6 VCT makes this car a little bit special. So while it may look a little bit drab on
the outside, it goes like a shower of shit. Well let’s not beat around the bush here – the
AU Falcon is no sports car. I mean 0-100km/h takes around 8-seconds. But it’s the torque which the 4.0L engine
produces that helps it feel effortless. You don’t have to rev the tits off it in order
to make progress. I mean I’ve got a 5.0L V8 Fairlane at home
which came out just a couple of years before this car, but the engine in this makes more
power and more torque. I mean why would you go for the V8, when the
6 was this good!? But a bonzer engine can only be appreciated
by the driver. To everyone else, you’re just a bloke in an
AU. So the exterior styling may not have been
for everyone, but you’ve absolutely gotta have a Captain Cook at what’s going on in
here. And that’s because Ford’s “New Edge” oval
fetish really kicked into overdrive in the interior of this car. The air vents are ovals, the buttons are ovals. The clock, instrument cluster, shifter surround,
door handles and speakers……. They’re all ovals. Ovals, everywhere. The Fairmont Ghia came standard with these
leather and cloth combination seats. They’re comfortable, look good and thanks
to the cloth sections they’re breathable too – which in the sweaty Australian Summer is
actually very important. Now if you were a masochist you had the option
of speccing a full black-leather interior – and many people actually did. As I found out when I was on the hunt for
a Fairmont Ghia, the majority did have the black leather interior. And they were all shot to shit, bar none. I mean, the leather was old and cracking,
and the seat bolsters were also worn all the way through to the canvas. Somehow the leather sections in this interior
still look fantastic, so score 1 for me. So what else did the fancy as fuck Fairmont
Ghia come with? Well, you did get a leather steering wheel
with volume and cruise controls mounted around one of the stickiest horn pads you’ve ever
seen in your life. Because who wouldn’t want that, right? I don’t really know what Ford was going for
here, but I don’t think they expected it to age quite like this. Next up you have the dash cluster with it’s
oval gauges and oval warning light arrays. There’s not really much else going on up here,
but it does at least have a little LCD display at the bottom displaying the odometer, trip
computer, open door diagram and also what gear you’re in. Mine also came standard with a friendly little
fly who I named Barry. G’day mate, how’s it going in there? Barry? BARRY! Most of the other dash controls in the Fairmont
Ghia are handled by this thing, which Ford calls the Message Display Centre. You can check your average fuel usage, the
remaining range you’ve got left, instant fuel usage, average speed and you can even set
an overspeed alarm. There’s also a bunch of climate controls over
here so you can set the mood exactly how you’d like it, and then you have the analogue clock. But who really gives a shit? And at least you’ve got this nice bit of woodgrain
which runs all the way across to the other side of the dash. Below the MDC are four oval shaped buttons
which pretty much do what you’d expect. The first one locks the doors, so this is
the one you want to hit when you’re being chased by killer kangaroos or members of the
local population who are on ice. Seeing as that happens in rougher, more remote
areas, the second button should also prove helpful. This one gives the antenna shaft a hit of
viagra, so you can tune into those city radio stations a little bit longer before they fade
out of range. The third button here turns off the traction
control so you can go and do some single pegs, and the fourth button here turns on the rear
window demister. And down the bottom here you’ve got your factory
Ford premium sound head unit. Aside from looking like it’s been hit with
an ugly stick, this thing holds 6-CDs in dash and does a decent job of supplying the tunes. But it’ll also give you the shits, because
every time it turns on it seems to have a different idea of what any given volume number
should sound like. She’ll be right. Down in the centre console here you’ve got
your 4-speed shifter and there’s an economy button for when you’ve trying to stretch your
next servo visit until pay day. And a centre console provides storage for
your CD and coin collections. In the back there’s plenty of space for 3
of your mates, although they’ll have to amuse themselves because there’s not a lot else
going on back here. Perhaps they can go on Facebook and look up
“AU Falcons doing incredible things”. Because like I said at the start, despite
being 20 years old you still see AU Falcons in places they shouldn’t be. Moving things they weren’t designed for, and
usually being treated like shit in the process. Perhaps then, the AU Falcon is the cockroach
of the Australian car industry. It’s might not be much to look at, but it’ll
still be here long after we’re gone. As you may have noticed, my AU has received
similar treatment. I found it on Facebook Marketplace where it
was one of the cheapest AU Falcons available. It might look shiny on the outside, but it’s
service history is patchy at best, and the scars on its silver skin hint at the abuse
it has endured over the past 20 years. So you might imagine then that I’ve bought
a bucket of bolts which is nearing the end of its life. But you’d be wrong, because this car is just
getting started. So, first things first. I’ll admit that I’ve never actually driven
an AU Falcon prior to purchasing this one, and it has been quite a surprise. Now of course, a few things have gone wrong
with this car in the time that I’ve owned it, but I’ll cover those in a future video,
and really, none of them were very serious problems. Certainly no show-stoppers that’s for sure. So what can I say about the AU Falcon? If I had to sum it up in one word I would
probably say “smooth”. Because the steering is smooth, the engine
is even moreso, the gearbox has not put a foot wrong and the suspension is setup perfectly
for these fast country roads. It is far better then a car of this age or
monetry value has any right to be. But what I think about this car is something
else. From in here, I’m loving it. It feels like you could drive the entire length
of Australia, and both you and the car would be ready to turn around and do it all over
again. But to me this car is very much like a pair
of tracksuit pants, or tracky dacks as we call them here in Australia. Once you take looks out of the equation and
not give a damn about what anyone else thinks – it’s exactly what you want to be wearing. And that’s the Ford AU Falcon. An all round good car, but with a face that
many simply weren’t ready to accept – and I think that’s kind of sad. Because as human beings, we don’t have the
right to judge anything, or anyone by their covers. We judge others not by the best that they
could be, but instead by the worst thoughts in our own hearts. While some might look at the AU and dismiss
it as an ugly, oval shaped blob – I see solid, dependable family transport, developed by
a company with a proud history of building honest cars for hardworking Australian families
– and that’s something you just don’t get here anymore. To me, the AU Falcon is a car which deserves
far more praise than it ever received, and one that will no doubt be forgotten as time
rolls on. Goodbye old friend.