Ford Falcon XK-XL (1960-64) Buyer's Guide

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Early Falcons looked the goods and out-performed Holdens but were dogged by reliability issues from day one

Ford Falcon XK-XL (1960-64) Buyer's Guide
Buyer's Guide: Ford Falcon XK-XL (1960-64)

 

Ford Falcon XK-XL

COMPACT CHOICE

There can be no reason other than arrogance that allowed Ford to deliver its XK Falcon into the Australian market without any serious testing or modification to counter the developed world’s toughest driving conditions. 

The six-cylinder Falcon was Ford’s contribution to the US ‘compact’ car market where build cost was critical and five-year life expectancy the norm. Ford’s failure to understand the challenges Falcon would face when pounded over appalling Australian roads cost the company a fortune in warranty costs and even more in credibility.

The XK Falcon was launched in September 1960 as a serious and demonstrably modern alternative to Holden’s archaic FB model. Its styling was sleek and clean, with elements of ‘full-sized’ US Fords in its profile and not a fin or inch of excess chrome in sight.

Even the XK’s base 144ci engine was slightly bigger than Holden’s 2.3-litre ‘grey’ motor and produced 12kW more. Like the Holden, a three-speed manual transmission was standard but the Falcon was available from the outset with a two-speed auto and optional 2.8-litre, 77kW ‘Pursuit Six’.

Following hot on the sedan’s heels was a station wagon and, from 1961, a panel van and utility.

Wagons and vans came with a nifty wind-down tailgate window; however the low-roof design made the van less practical for some delivery tasks than the taller Holden.

So, the new Ford was more powerful, convenient, faster and better looking than an FB, so what could possibly have gone wrong?

Within weeks of the first cars being delivered to buyers, they were limping or being towed into dealership workshops. Broken front ball-joints were the major complaint – and you could snap those by bumping a gutter a little hard – to flattened rims, bent wishbones or shock absorbers. Further issues included overheated automatic transmissions – only the Pursuit-equipped cars came with water-cooled autos – brake failures and dodgy door hardware.

Ford’s claims of exhaustive Australian testing were turned to mush and a big effort would be required if the following model was going to keep the Falcon alive.

Appearing in March 1962, four months ahead of Holden’s restyled EJ, the XL Falcon was only marginally improved but accompanied by a marketing campaign centred on the slogan ‘Trim, Taut, Terrific’.

A vee-shaped grille and bigger bumpers provided a more purposeful look and there were Thunderbird-inspired rear pillars. However, very little under the glitz had changed.

The heavy-duty suspension introduced in response to XK front-end failures was standard, as was a modified brake design and water-cooling for all automatic transmissions. A new carburettor and intake system contributed to minor improvements to fuel economy.

Far more significant was introduction of an up-market Futura sedan and Country Squire station wagon – the latter with ‘woody’ effect side-panels made from patterned fibreglass.

Crimes against good taste aside, these up-spec Falcons were intended to threaten Holden’s EJ Premier (which lacked a wagon variant) and came with separate front seats, full carpeting, a heater/demister and lots of chrome inside and out.
Late in 1962, Harry Firth and Bob Jane pounded their XL around a disintegrating Phillip Island circuit, giving Ford its first Armstrong 500 race win and dispelling at least some fears that Falcons would still fall to bits at the first hint of a pothole. 

ON THE ROAD

First impressions helped sell plenty of early Falcons and, almost half a century later, these are still good-looking cars.
The Ford sat lower than its Holden rivals and had a modern dashboard and large, white plastic steering wheel completing the Thunderbird-etched imagery. These cars weren’t supplied with seatbelts (XLs have belt mounts) but it’s wise to find one with lap/sash restraints in the front at least. The seats are flat and slippery so unbelted drivers will end up hanging onto the steering wheel just to stay out of the passenger’s lap.

Cornering limits on skinny cross-ply tyres were easily exceeded but the lower stance helped Falcons negotiate bends a little faster and with less body roll than FB/EK Holdens.

The Pursuit 170 engine is noticeably superior to the 2.3-litre base version. Torque, thanks to 10mm of additional stroke, was up by 24Nm and delivered at 2400rpm compared to the smaller engine’s 2000 revs. Off the mark, the bigger-engined car with manual transmission reached 60mph (96km/h) in 15 seconds – two seconds quicker than its base-engined brother and a full five seconds ahead of the heavier FB Holden Special.

If you’re in no particular hurry, the Fordamatic two-speed demands less work than the somewhat finicky column manual, but there the advantage ends. Once the transmission runs out of puff in low gear, everything happens in slow motion. Tests of a new 170-engined XL Futura found 0-96 taking 21 seconds and the critical 80-110km/h overtaking increment an excruciating 11.5 seconds. Worse again was the 144-engined XK auto which would keep you on the wrong side of a semi for a terrifying 18.7 seconds.

Economy at a time when petrol was cheaper than chips was reasonable but don’t believe the 9L/100km achieved by manual cars in economy runs. Magazine tests which returned 11.5-13L/100 are more realistic.

Everybody bagged the Falcon’s steering and on skinny cross-ply tyres, the five turns lock-to-lock are very noticeable. Cars sitting on wider, radial rubber and with modern shock absorbers will react better to surface imperfections and demand less wheel twirling to keep the car on course. Reverse parking will still tie your wrists in knots though.

HOW MUCH?

Almost 145,000 XK-XL Falcons were built and probably 140,000 of those have gone into the ground or through Mr Sims’ metal muncher.

Survivors are therefore scarce, but the ones that do appear are usually in decent condition. In the face of significant declines being experienced by more fashionable Aussie Fords, XK-XL prices have remained fairly stable during the past couple of years.

Base or Deluxe sedans and wagons in good condition manage $5000 but the scarce panel van can be $3000 more and utilities marginally more expensive than passenger models.

Only 728 XL Squires were made and are now extremely scarce. Values for these in excellent original or restored condition are likely to exceed $20,000.  Futura sedans will cost 20-30 percent more than a Deluxe in comparable condition.

Pre-XM models with two-door bodywork will be US imports. Of these, only the V8-engined Sprint will be worth substantially more than Australian-produced cars.

I OWN ONE!

Wayne Dealy’s late father bought our featured XL automatic from its original owner 25 years ago and lavished more than $15,000 on an extensive rebuild, yet failed to solve a chronic overheating problem. "Over the years they had changed almost everything but it would still boil on hot days," said Wayne, who is selling the car to finalise his father’s estate. "Before putting it up for sale I took it to a mechanic who fully stripped the radiator and found a sock jammed in it – somebody’s amateur attempt at a filter, maybe."

That problem solved, the XL has run faultlessly and Wayne hopes it will go to an early Ford enthusiast who will preserve its current fine condition.

The car is located at Tatura, about two hours’ drive from Melbourne and Wayne can be contacted on 03 5854 8449.


BUYER’S CHECKLIST

Body

In the 1970s wrecking yards used to be littered with early Falcons that were entirely minus the lower third of their bodies, displaying rotted-out bonnets and lattice-work turrets. Most in today’s market won’t display this degree of rot but check mudguards, sills, door skins for bubbles or filler and floors and inner sills for structural rust. Rust-free tailgates for wagons and commercial models seem very scarce. Make sure the rear window on wagons and vans moves freely. Good quality chrome is difficult to find and plasti-wood Squire side panels virtually impossible. Some rust repair panels are commercially available but finding a sound car will be way more economical than trying to renovate a rusty one. Full sets of body rubbers cost around $1500 and good, second-hand panels have sold via on-line auction sites for less than $100 per piece.


Engine & Transmission

The best news about these US-designed engines is parts availability. Virtually everything you need to rebuild a tired engine is available and nothing seems to be exceptionally expensive. Unless you’re a stickler for authenticity, replacing a 2.3-litre engine with the larger 2.8 or even a ‘Super Pursuit’ 3.2-litre from a later Falcon is worth considering. Look for blue exhaust smoke denoting piston ring or cylinder wall wear, chattering tappets or timing chain and coolant leaks. The two-speed transmission can be jerky on the 1-2 upchange but if the shift takes longer than a second or is accompanied by vibration there are transmission problems. Upgrading to the later three-speed auto is less expensive than fixing a 2S.


Suspension & Brakes

These were the areas that generated most of the problems suffered by early Falcons. Early XKs should have been modified following a factory recall with stronger wishbone mounts and heavier ball joints but any XK-XL can still display problems due to wear and abuse. Ball joints, springs and shock absorbers are available and reasonably priced but replacement stub axles are difficult to find. Jacking up each front wheel to check for excessive wheel bearing movement is recommended. Standard drum brakes need to be in near-perfect condition to deliver adequate performance but can be replaced with discs from later models.


Interior & Electrical

Original seat trim is virtually impossible to find, so choosing a car with well preserved seats is a bonus. On the plus side, interior and door rubbers, dash knobs and instruments can be sourced secondhand or from suppliers of reproduction parts. Original vacuum operated wipers move slowest when the car is at full throttle, so are difficult to test. Conversion to electric operation is a bonus. Starter motors are a weak point – noisy even when working properly and prone to jamming if worn. If a car has the optional heater/demister, ensure it’s working as reconditioned units cost close to $800.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Ford Falcon XK-XL (1960-64)

 

Number built: 68,413 (XK), 75,705 (XL)

Body style: all steel, integrated body/chassis four-door sedan and station wagon, panel van and utility

Engine: in-line 2.4 or 2.8-litre Pursuit six-cylinder with overhead valves and single carburettor

Power & Torque: 75kW @ 4400rpm, 212Nm @ 2400rpm (170 Pursuit)

Performance: 0-96km/h – 14.8 seconds
0-400 metres – 20.2 seconds (170 manual)

Transmission: Three-speed manual or two-speed automatic

Suspension: Front – independent with wishbones, coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar. Rear – live axle with semi-elliptic springs and telescopic shock absorbers

Brakes: drum front, drum rear

Tyres: 6.00 x 13 or 6.50 x 13 cross-ply

Price range: $1500-20,000

Contact: Falcon Owners Clubs throughout Australia. 

 

 

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