Ford XA, XB, XC Coupe Buyers Guide

By: Cliff Chambers, Photography by: Stuart Grant

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The Oil Crisis and political correctness killed off Ford’s two-doors before their time...

Ford XA, XB, XC Coupe Buyers Guide
Ford XA, XB, XC coupe Buyer's Guide

 

Ford XA, XB, XC Coupe

During the five years that elapsed before Ford Australia responded to Holden's jaw-dropping Monaro, plenty had changed in the automotive world. North America's muscle-car era was drawing to a close and Australian equivalents had become early victims of political correctness.

Resembling the US-built Torino but built almost entirely from local components, Ford's XA-series Hardtop appeared in September 1972 and was available across the Falcon/Fairmont range. With the addition of an LTD-style nose, it also lent its shape to a short-lived Landau.

Ford's intention had been to produce an XA-based GTHO Phase IV sedan for Series Production race duties, doubtless with Hardtops to follow. Those massive rear mudguards easily accommodated 10inch-wide racing rims, giving two-doors a substantial edge on Holden's skinny-tyred Toranas. That plan, however, was kyboshed by media-fuelled furore over high-performance cars and it was 1973 before an XA Falcon gridded for an endurance event.

Despite their belated debut, Ford's big Hardtops had the measure of GM-H's XU-1 and V8 Toranas and the short-lived 'Six-Pack' Chargers. After recording a debut Bathurst 1000 win in 1973, the two-door GT went on to win again in 1974 before a swansong '1-2' finish in 1977. Along the way, Allan Moffat won the 1973 and 1976 Australian Touring Car Championships and confirmed the Hardtop as Ford Australia's most successful competition model.

Those Sunday wins translated into fairly disappointing Monday sales; 8689 XA two-doors sold during the model's introductory year and 9731 XBs from 1973-76.

Whether those numbers allowed Ford to recover its development costs is impossible to know, but these Fords differ quite significantly from four-door equivalents. The rear sheet metal was all-new, the roof lower and reshaped; requiring all-new glass and even shortened wiper blades.

Trim and equipment followed the strictures of four-door versions, with the G/S Pack (optional on 500 and Fairmont models) adding '12 slot' steel wheels, bonnet air intakes and external locks, extra instruments, sports steering wheel, driving lights and side striping.

XA Fairmonts with the 4.1-litre engine and automatic transmission hit the showroom floor at a basic price of $3925. Six years later when the final XCs were leaving the line, that figure had spiraled to $8450.

Early in 1973 and with two-door sales obviously underwhelming, Ford was already hitting the marketing panic button. The Superbird 'special edition' came with the 5.0-litre V8 and the four-speed 'box standard and priced at $3795. It was offered in three garish combinations of duo-tone paint but, with only 700 sold, the profits probably didn't even pay for the media launch.

The XB model that arrived in late-1973 brought carpeted floors and improved seat trim for the base model, a stalk to flash and dip the headlamps (instead of the archaic floor-mounted dipper), full-synchromesh for the three-speed gearbox and front disc brakes on all but the base model.

For a while it looked as if Ford might not field an XC Hardtop at all, but the cars arrived a few months after the rest of the range and sold in very limited quantities. Only 648 non-Cobra XCs (of which there were 400) were sold in 16 months, the majority being Fairmonts.

ON THE ROAD

Reverse-parking an XA-XC Hardtop or piloting one through heavy traffic demands a keen sense of foreboding or better peripheral vision than Louis The Fly. The huge rear pillars can conceal Kenworths and Ford's only answer was an optional and oddly-shaped left-hand door mirror.

The front seats are low-mounted and not particularly supportive; a situation that's exacerbated by the roof-anchored seat-belt sash that will rub annoyingly against the necks of shorter drivers. The doors are long, and difficult to keep open unless the car is parked on level ground.

Power steering was fitted from new to many cars - particularly V8s - and delivers vastly superior response to the slow (five turns lock-to-lock!) manual steering.

Occupying the Hardtop rear seat for any length of time is akin to being consigned to Harry Houdini's cabin trunk. In hot weather and without air-conditioning it can be stifling as well. The front seats with their integrated head-restraints obscure most of the view and fresh air struggles to worm its way through slit-like side windows.

Handling is very much dependent on how and whether a car has been modified and/or maintained during its lifetime. Standard Hardtops sat on five or six-inch steel rims; shod with fabric radials on upper-specification cars and crossply tyres on basic versions. Owners who can live without lots of sideways excitement, especially on damp roads, may have softened the spring rates a little, added some improved shock absorbers and gone a little wider and lower in the tyre department.

Base models and early 500s came with all-drum brakes, however it's unusual to find a pre-1974 car that wasn't optioned or been retro-fitted with front discs. GT, GS and Fairmonts had front discs from the outset, with XC Fairmonts having all-wheel discs.

Performance available from early six-cylinder cars was reasonable but fell away once emission-controlled engines were introduced during 1974. Five-litre V8s are usually found with three-speed automatic transmission and will reach 100km/h in around 10secs. The 5.8-litre V8 and four-speed manual transmission will send that figure plummeting to around 8.0secs.

Fuel consumption ranges from the 11.5L/100km available from carefully-driven six-cylinder manuals to around 18L/100km for 5.8-litre automatics. Owners recommend 98 Octane fuel with a lead-replacement additive to protect valve seats from premature wear.

HOW MUCH?

With almost 20,000 Hardtops of all types produced, finding a survivor shouldn't be difficult. Finding a good car at reasonable money is another issue. GT versions generally demand a six-figure outlay, yet 'quasi-GT' 351-engined GS Fairmonts in outstanding order can be found below $50,000. Three years ago, similar cars were selling at under $20,000.

Five-litre Fairmonts in very good original or restored condition are available at $20-25,000, '500' Hardtops with V8 or six-cylinder power at $15-20,000.

Model identification prefixes are JG65 for 500 versions and JG67 for Fairmonts. Some XCs were used as police pursuit cars, but close to 30 years in private hands should have ensured replacement at least once of any worn parts.

Buying a rusty of incomplete two-door is risky. Parts for these cars - especially the rust-prone rear quarter panels - can be difficult to find. Joining a club that caters to 1970s Australian Fords before even looking for a car will pay long-term dividends.

 

CHECK POINTS

Body & Chassis

Even well-presented Hardtops can be harbouring significant rust. Vinyl roof covering merits special examination for bubbling at the base of the rear pillars and discolouration adjacent to seams. Check rear wheel arches inside and out, the panel between the rear window and boot-lid, door bottoms, sills and front mudguard attachment points. External trim items such as wheel-arch mouldings are unique to Hardtops and difficult to replace. The heavy doors can be difficult to close but reconditioned hinge units are available at around $150 each. Wind whistle when on the move points to worn or torn window seals that will allow water into the cabin. A wide range of body rubbers is available from Ford restoration specialists.

Engine & Transmission

Ford six and eight-cylinder engines of this age are durable and easily replaced or reconditioned, so a tired motor shouldn't eliminate an otherwise sound car from consideration. Oil leaks around the cylinder heads on six and eight-cylinder engines are standard fare however oil dripping from main bearing seal leaks is more serious and costly to repair. Transmissions are equally durable - be cautious of four-speed manuals that crunch on 3-2 downshifts or of the automatic that takes more than a couple of seconds to select reverse gear. Reconditioned C4 autos and three-speed manuals are available for less than $1000, four-speeds more expensive and difficult to find.

Suspension & Brakes

Creaks and groans from tired ball-joints are endemic in Falcons of this era and not expensive to rectify. Springs and shock absorbers also suffer, however parts needed for a complete front-end rebuild should cost less than $1000. Rear springs crack and in extreme cases the axle housing can bend. Brakes on these heavy cars must be properly maintained to provide adequate stopping performance. A soft brake pedal, pulsing through the pedal, dirty or leaking fluid are all signs that a major brake overhaul is due. Parts, including uprated disc rotors, are freely available. If the car is, like many, fitted with larger than standard wheels, ensure the tyres aren't being damaged by contact with steering components or bodywork.

Interior & Electrical

Worn seat trim, carpets and headlining can all be replaced, so a car that's looking tatty on the inside isn't going to present major problems. Fuel gauges are unreliable and it's important to ensure that all warning lights are working. Damaged centre consoles will need to be replaced second-hand. Manual window winders are low-geared but should work without catching or sticking. Be suspicious of jerky or noisy power window operation as these are expensive to fix and parts are scarce. Ford starter motors are noisy by nature, however units that really clatter when engaged or work intermittently need replacement.


I OWN ONE

As is so often the case, Dave Ramsay had known of his XC Fairmont V8 Hardtop for years before he was able to buy it, by which time the ravages of neglect had become clearly obvious.

"It was owned by a lady I worked with and was used mostly for towing," Ramsay said. "By the time they decided to sell it, the car had sat in the open for a while and rust was attacking right through the rear section."

"Add to that the scrapes down the sides where the previous owner had misjudged a few manouvres and it was a candidate for full restoration."

Ramsay's car came with the 5.0-litre V8 engine, three-speed automatic transmission and a limited-slip differential. Among its options was a factory sunroof but the original vinyl roof was deleted when the car was resprayed.

"XC Fairmonts were rare even when new and I suspect that rust has claimed quite a few so it's certainly a rarity - probably more-so than the GTs that you'll see advertised quite regularly," Ramsay said.

"Mechanically they are a basic and easy car to maintain but the body panels and detail parts much harder to find. Getting a car with a sound body is very important," he warned.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Ford XA, XB, XC Coupe

 

NUMBER BUILT: 19,068 (including GTs)

BODY STYLE: all-steel integrated body/chassis two-door hardtop

ENGINES: 3.3 & 4.1-litre six-cylinder, 5.0 & 5.8-litre V8

POWER & TORQUE: 178kW @ 5000rpm, 412Nm @ 2600rpm (XA 5.0-litre V8)

PERFORMANCE: 0-96km/h - 9.7secs. 0-400m - 17.2secs (XA 5.0-litre V8 automatic)
TRANSMISSION: three or four-speed manual, three-speed automatic

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

BRAKES: drum/drum, disc/drum, disc/disc power assisted

TYRES: 6.95 x 14 crossply or ER70H14 radial

PRICE RANGE: $5000-50,000

CONTACT: fordcoupeclub.org

 

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