The Australian Falcon ute, launched in 1961, is the world’s longest-running unbroken nameplate on a car-based ute and second only to the Ford F-series as the longest-running commercial badge.

The Aussie icon’s unbroken 50 year sequence of models is particularly worthy of celebration. It was Ford and the local Falcon ute that kept the iconic Aussie ute alive during its darkest days, after both Holden and Chrysler abandoned the local ute market.

1961 XK Falcon ute looked similar to 1960 US Ranchero but was a unique Aussie design.

The first XK Falcon ute followed the passenger car range to market in May 1961. Although it looked similar to the 1960 US Ford Ranchero based on the same Falcon model it was always a very different vehicle, with a more compact and practical design tailored to tough Australian conditions.

The US Falcon-based Ranchero featured the longer two-door Falcon’s doors, which in turn pushed most of the load area behind the rear wheels for extra length and rear overhang.

For a fully laden workhorse, the US design was too vulnerable to major damage while negotiating Australian creek crossings, spoon drains and other outback obstacles.

Because the US Falcon wagon also shared the same shortcomings, Ford Australia presented a unique short-tailed local wagon, panel van and ute range.

Reduced overhang of XK's unique short-tail was designed with Australia's rugged conditions in mind.

Extended side pillars and a rear parcel shelf also gave Aussie Falcon ute drivers some useful extra storage space and some relief from the hot sun, while the sedan’s shorter front doors freed up load space ahead of the rear axle.

Suspension and ride height were also beefed up for the rugged off-road conditions that many Falcon utes would encounter.

As the first compact six cylinder ute with the power to match its load capacity, the new XK Falcon ute soon replaced Ford’s other local utes based on the US Ford Customline and the British Ford Zephyr.

It was also the sleekest-looking ute ever offered on the Australian market and looked every bit as modern as the sedan, sharing its styling and compact proportions front to rear.

With each facelift, the Falcon ute became more Australian as it was toughened up and styling upgrades were no longer tied to US models.

Release of the new XR Falcon range in 1966 heralded a bold new look for the popular half-ton ute.

The process started all over again in 1966 with another unique Falcon ute, this time based on the XR Falcon.  Compared to the US model, its shorter wheelbase and overhangs were far more suited to tough conditions and it wasn’t long before this body style replaced the US Ranchero in South Africa, which shares similar driving conditions to Australia.

Ford then became the first and only local manufacturer to offer its high performance V8 engine in a local ute with the 351cid/5.8-litre Cleveland V8 option from the early 1970s. Combined with the GS option, buyers could virtually specify a ‘Falcon GT ute’ in everything but name.

New for '72 XA Falcon ute featured smooth new body styling that was arguably the best of the breed.

The big news was in 1972. The new XA Falcon ute owed nothing to any overseas model with its long Fairlane wheelbase, coupe roofline and extended, frameless doors from the XA Falcon Hardtop. Despite a passing resemblance to the US Torino-based Ranchero pick-up, it was much tougher with far greater clearance.

After this popular ute series went through XB and XC facelifts, it was replaced by the XD with its classic European looks in 1979.

XD ute's sharp-edged European design heralded another bold styling change for the iconic workhorse.

This design was so ahead of its time that the same cab and style-side design remained current until 1999 with panel changes limited to those ahead of the windscreen.

In the early 1990s, this design was also badged as a Nissan to comply with local industry model rationalization requirements. It was this model that saved the Australian ute after Holden dropped its commercial range in 1985 and Chrysler’s Valiant ute was withdrawn in 1979.

By 1990, Ford was also ready to abandon the ute market after a flood of imported Japanese 4x4s and cab-chassis models exploited loopholes in local regulations that exempted them from key safety and duty requirements.

However, the 1993 demise of the Ford Capri export program to the US freed up a separate factory that allowed Ford to continue low volume production of the XG and later XH facelifts, based on the earlier XD series independent of the passenger car range.

XH ute was a marriage of EF sedan style front sheetmetal with the original XD rear.

The arrival of Holden’s first Commodore-based ute in 1990 helped bring the focus back to the locally-made models, boosting sales of both. As the Japanese economy went into meltdown, both Commodore and Falcon ute sales took off.

This prompted Ford Australia to launch the AU Falcon ute range in 1999 – the first all new Falcon ute since 1979. An immediate success, it was a radical departure from previous Aussie utes, usually built on a toughened unibody version of the wagon platform.

AU was the first Falcon ute to feature a cab-chassis design. Styleside box and cab were separated.

Because all AU utes shared the same cab-chassis design, the styleside versions – for the first time in local Ford and Holden ute history – featured a load bed totally separate from the cab similar to an F Series truck.

Extra storage space inside and retention of the live rear axle and its leaf springs reflected Ford’s intensive market research. Local Holden and Ford utes for the first time were no longer directly comparable, as Holden pursued the sports ute market with sleeker looks and coil spring independent rear suspension in later models.  

A special high performance AUII Falcon XR8 Pursuit 250 ute, powered by Tickford’s hand-built 250kW stroker version of the Windsor V8, marked a welcome return to the tough muscle ute market which continues with today’s FPV range.

BA's new front sheetmetal had a more muscular look, particularly in four-headlight XR specification.

Even though BA upgrades including nose section were later applied to the original AU cab and load bed, not all features were shared with the passenger cars.

The ute then had to wait until the FG launch in 2008 before it was again fully aligned with the current sedan range and its ongoing upgrades. (see MK II upgrades story at Truck Jungle).

*Look for the full Heritage section covering 50 years of Falcon ute models soon at Truck Jungle  



One Response to Falcon Ute: world’s oldest car-based utility turns 50

  • Pingback: Aussie Utes 1: 1979 Ford Faclon XD Ute | Doogies Diecast Models Stop

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