The first Australian Falcon ute and van heralded not only the creation of Ford’s first locally designed and built compact sedan-based six cylinder commercial half-tonne truck range.
It also drew Ford Australia’s first symbolic line in the sand in terms of how the local Ford branch would manufacturer its ‘Australian’ Falcon, by starting with the basis of a US design and then modifying it to withstand the more robust demands of Australian drivers and car-busting roads.
It was unfortunate that the reputation of Australia’s first Falcon, which was fundamentally a good car, was so badly (and on reflection unfairly) tarnished by an engineering fault that soon emerged in the front suspension ball joints.
The imported UK components were being made using a manufacturing process that differed from that being used in the US. The problem was quickly solved by switching to the stronger ball joints shared with the compact Fairlane, but the Falcon’s reputation had been badly damaged by the problem.
There were other smaller quality control issues with those first cars that were typical of the times but the perception of weakness in the new Falcon soon spread far and wide, resulting in sliding showroom sales and fleet buyers turning their backs in droves.
All the problems were quickly solved of course and the Falcon was continually improved. And by paying a lot of attention to fleet buyers to win them back and through some brilliant marketing strategies, the public’s faith in the Falcon was eventually restored.
By the time this first generation of Aussie Falcon utes and vans was phased out in 1966, having evolved through four model changes (XK-XL-XM-XP) that were mild variants of the original, memories of those early failures had been replaced by widespread respect for a half-tonne ute and van range that was as rugged, stylish and confident as the wide brown land it was built for.
XK Falcon Ute & Van
Australia’s first Falcon ute and van range was launched in May 1961 which was about eight months after the XK sedan made its star-studded debut in September 1960 (the station wagon launch was delayed until November 1960).
Like the sedan and station wagon, the new ute and panel van shared a fresh and striking design based on the latest US Falcon-based Ford Ranchero pickup (ute) and Sedan Delivery (van).
Even so, the Australian Falcon range differed noticeably from the US version, with a more compact and practical design tailored to suit tough Australian conditions.
The key difference was that the US Ranchero and Sedan Delivery used the longer doors of the two-door Falcon model, which in turn pushed more of the load floor behind the rear wheels to create greater overall length and more rear overhang.
For a fully laden workhorse, this US design was too vulnerable to major damage while negotiating Australian work sites, creek crossings, spoon drains and other outback obstacles.
And because the US Falcon wagon shared the same shortcomings, Ford Australia presented a unique short-tailed version of the Falcon sedan, wagon, ute and panel van range all sharing the same 109.5-inch wheelbase and 181-inch overall length.
Unitary Body & Chassis
Even though all four XK Falcon models were the same forward of the B pillar, Ford Australia cleverly mixed and matched the rear panel sets to maximise the number of times a single panel could be shared across the four different models (see images above and below).
The ute and panel van shared the same side panels and tailgate (the van’s roof panel and tailgate with sliding glass window and external winder were shared with the wagon), heavy duty under-body frame and floor, spare wheel compartment located under the floor behind the rear axle, small spring-loaded rubber bumperettes and a 12.5 gallon fuel tank and filler neck located ahead of the rear axle.
Stylish extended B pillars and a rear parcel shelf also gave Aussie Falcon ute drivers some useful extra storage space inside and a little extra shade from the hot sun, while the sedan’s shorter front doors freed up more load space ahead of the rear axle.
Load floor length was just under 2.0 metres, but with its tailgate opened and laid flat the XK Falcon ute and van offered more than 2.4 metres of tray length.
Front suspension was the same as the sedan and wagon, with independent coil-sprung upper wishbones and lower control arms located by radius rods with an anti-sway bar.
The simple and rugged leaf-spring rear suspension though was beefed up to handle the ute/van’s 1196 lbs (542 Kg) payload with rugged two-stage springs. These consisted of three-leaf overload spring packs added to the standard four-leafs, which only came into operation when the vehicle was heavily loaded. This ensured a smoother ride when the vehicles were unladen.
New stronger five-stud wheel hubs were used along with an improvement in braking performance over the sedan and wagon with larger brake shoes in the four wheel drums.
Tyres were also slightly wider and stronger to cope with the increased loads, too, featuring 6.70 x 13 six-ply construction as against 6.00 x 13 four-ply on the sedan.
Engine & Drivetrain
The XK Falcon sedan was launched in November 1960 with a neat and simple 144 cid (2.4 litre) overhead valve inline six cylinder engine. This low maintenance US design featured an over-square 3.5-inch bore x 2.5-inch stroke, four-bearing crankshaft, intake manifold cast integral with the cylinder head, single barrel carburettor with manual choke and a 12 volt electrical system.
This engine was available in a choice of high compression or low compression specification, which was a common requirement for local manufacturers at the time.
The standard high compression version (8.7:1) produced a claimed 90 bhp (67.5 kW) at 4200 rpm and 138 ft/lbs (186Nm) of torque at 2000 rpm.
The low compression version (7.5:1) produced slightly less power (85 bhp) but was designed to suit Falcon owners living in remote rural areas where it was common for only one grade of low octane or ‘standard’ petrol to be available.
The low-comp version also targeted fleet buyers for whom lower fuel costs were more important than performance. There was also a belief amongst the fleets that lower compression engines were less stressed and tended to last longer, which certainly had merit.
Most importantly, at launch in 1960 the Falcon’s 144 cid/90 bhp was comfortably ahead of its then dominant competitor – the FB Holden – with its smaller and less powerful 138 cid/75 bhp inline six.
Even so, behind the scenes Ford was unhappy with the Falcon’s engine, feeling it still had inadequate power for Australian driving conditions; a problem that was amplified when ordered with the power-sapping Fordomatic two-speed automatic transmission.
Ford soon upped the ante in the power stakes with the introduction of a longer stroke 170 cid (2.8 litre) version in November 1961, which it named the 170 Pursuit.
Smooth and powerful, the still over-square design (3.5-inch bore x 2.94-inch stroke) featured the same 8.7:1 high compression for a much healthier 101 bhp (75.8 kW) at 4400 rpm. The longer stroke also helped boost torque to 156 ft/lbs at 2400 rpm.
Although the XK ute and van were launched in May 1961 with the 144 six, the more powerful 170 Pursuit was made available as an option for the commercial range when it came on line in November that year.
The 170 Pursuit resulted in a noticeable boost in load-lugging performance that was superior to the 144 cid six it replaced and way ahead of its FB Holden-based ute and van competitors which were still using GM’s venerable 138 cid six. It could also return 30 mpg (or less than 10 litres/100 kms).
A three-speed manual gearbox (synchromesh on second and third gears only) with column shift was the only transmission specified for the XK ute and van. When the Pursuit 170 became available in late 1961, a slightly lower second gear was introduced resulting in more spirited acceleration.
To better cope with load hauling, the rear axle ratio was also lowered from the sedan’s 3.56:1 to 3.89:1.
With its 2604 lb (1181 kg) kerb weight, the Falcon ute was 76 kgs heavier than the sedan with most of that being the heavier duty framing and seven-leaf springs under the load area to handle its half-tonne payload rating. And as we know, plenty of owners often exceeded that figure!
Motoring life was pretty simple back in the early 1960s. The XK Falcon ute or van driver sat on a bench seat facing a very basic metal dashboard featuring a glove box, basic ventilation controls and a single instrument panel.
This included a speedometer, odometer, fuel gauge, engine temperature gauge, oil and generator warning lights, high beam and turn signal indicator lights. The high beam dimmer switch was floor-mounted of course, as was the norm back then.
Interior options available included a padded dash panel and sun-visors, push-button transistor radio, a heater (such decadence) and even seat belts!
The XK Falcon range was sold from September 1960 to August 1962, when it was replaced by the face-lifted XL model. During that time Ford sold a total 68,465 XKs including sedans, wagons, utes and vans. TJ