Ford Falcon wagon (1966 - 72) Review

By: Joe Kenwright

Presented by

Aussie Original: Ford Falcon wagon. The 1966-72 Falcon wagon was arguably the best ever in the looks department and really was something special.

Ford Falcon wagon (1966 - 72) Review
1966-72 Ford Falcon wagon

 

1966-72 Ford Falcon wagon

After Ford Australia adapted the 1966 US Falcon sedan for local conditions and production with only minor tweaks to the styling, why then tool up for a local wagon that looked similar, yet was totally different from its US equivalent from the centre pillar back?

The local Falcon wagon from 1966 until 1972 was not only widely judged to be the most stylish of its time, it was totally unique to Australia. Its sporty, rakish looks gobsmacked Australians on its 1966 release as an XR and promptly invited comparisons with the rare Aston Martin Shooting Brakes of the era.

Any explanation as to why the 1966-72 Aussie wagon bore only passing resemblance to its US equivalent (even if the '66 US front appeared on the local '68 XT series) must start with the 201,153 Galaxie wagons Ford sold in 1966 compared to just 30,227 Falcon wagons in the US.

The missing link was the Fairlane wagon that Australians had not seen since the last Ranch wagon in 1961, yet had been revived in the US based on the 1963 compact Fairlane. Because this compact Fairlane wagon accounted for over 60,000 sales in its first year, Ford was faced with annual facelifts of three popular family wagons in the US that were merging ever closer in size and style by 1966.

Adding to the complication was Ford's US Ranchero ute which had been switched from a full-sized tank Fairlane derivative in 1959 to a Falcon-based model in 1960. The Falcon-based Ranchero featured the longer doors of the US Falcon Tudor sedans with extra storage behind the front seats which in turn pushed most of the load area behind the rear wheels. Because this early Falcon-based Ranchero and US Falcon wagon shared excessive rear overhang, neither could be considered as serious work vehicles and had already forced Ford Australia to go it alone from 1960.

For 1966, it appeared that Ford US had addressed this issue, at least on paper. By attaching the same wagon sheet metal to the 1966 Falcon and Fairlane fronts on a 113-inch (2870mm) wheelbase that was midway between the Falcon sedan's 111-inch (2819mm) and Fairlane sedan's 116-inch (2946mm) wheelbases, Ford US could take a bet each way. For the all-new 1966 Falcon-based Ranchero, the wagon's 113-inch wheelbase and rear styling also brought some of the load space back inside the wheelbase while retaining the longer doors of the two-door models.

This should have been the perfect starting point for a super-sized XR Falcon wagon, ute and panel van for Australia, except that the rear overhang was so long, the US Falcon wagon and Ranchero ended up being longer than a Fairlane sedan, despite their smaller wheelbase.

Apart from body-strength issues, excessive leverage on the rear suspension under load, and the appalling departure clearance that this generated, there was also the slight matter of how the wagon looked.

Ford US had cleverly established a styling theme for its hugely popular 1965 Galaxie wagon by making the sedan's large tail lights look like they had been compressed in a vice to create the space for the wagon's full-width tailgate. This allowed Ford to continue the Galaxie sedan's prestigious squared-off rear quarters into the wagons.

The new wagon rear section intended for both the 1966 Falcon and Fairlane was a scaled-down version of the Galaxie's squared-off rear, with taillights that looked like squeezed versions of the taillights Aussies saw on ZA Fairlanes. The droopy rear proportions that this gave the Falcon version bore no resemblance to the sporty long-bonnet, short-tail looks of the sedan.

Mated to the stacked headlight front of the 1966 US Fairlane, this shared wagon back delivered a slightly smaller but nicely proportioned version of the Galaxie wagon. But the Falcon version with its basic single headlight front, looked as out of proportion as the ZA Fairlane would have looked with the same Falcon front. To Australian eyes, even today, the 1966 US Falcon wagon's tail looks like a hearse-stretch - one that bears no relation to the sedan's.

Clues that prove the 1966 US Falcon wagon was a Fairlane first, Falcon second, were not limited to the compressed Fairlane taillights and long overhang. The lower rear wheelarch, full-length horizontal crease line and the extended vertical shut line of the Fairlane rear doors as applied to the wagon were designed to present the Fairlane wagon at its best, not the Falcon version.

Full marks to Ford Australia for steering away from this US approach that was geared to selling loads of Fairlane wagons while picking-up incremental Falcon wagon sales on price. Ford US then completed the process and applied the stacked-headlight Fairlane front to the 1967 Ranchero.

Like the 1966-67 US Fairlane wagons, the 1967 Ranchero remains one of the most coherent Rancheros ever when the taillights and rear proportions were always more Fairlane than Falcon. Yet by 1968, this shared Falcon/Torino wagon and Ranchero rear became the poor relation in the US Ford range when it didn't change and lost all styling links with both the Falcon and Torino sedans.

The alternative required some lateral thinking. Unlike the 1960 XK Falcon sedan, which had enough overhang to allow all local body styles to be built around the same dimensions, the XR Falcon sedan's short tail simply couldn't generate enough load length for local Falcon wagons, utes and vans. This was despite a 111-inch wheelbase that was up to four inches longer than any of its rivals.

By 1966, Australia's big-selling wagons were some of the best-looking and most practical in the world. Both the VC Valiant Regal and HR Premier wagons were formidable prestige rivals for Ford's heavily upgraded XP Fairmont wagon. Yet at entry level, local wagons were the equivalent to today's twin-cabs, doubling up as a hard-working tradesman's work horse and weekend family getaway.

At Premier, Fairmont and Regal level, they were equivalent to a fully-optioned Toyota Prado or Ford Territory and were expected to transport families to the same places in luxury and tow accordingly. These wagons were the ultimate in local prestige in 1966, not a disposable, bottom-end US model. They were also expected to survive a lifetime of hard work as they weren't cheap.

Ford Australia's Falcon response for 1966 and beyond set a new benchmark in styling, load length and wide-track stability when fully loaded. Standard tyres were boosted to V8 width across the range. Ford needed to. Because the new Aussie wagon had to supplement British Fords in RHD export markets, it was a plus that its proportions and styling details reminded the British of the striking Abbott conversions of the MkIII Zephyr/Zodiac and the Aston DB5 Shooting Brake.

These specialist wagons carefully wove the original rear styling into the wagon section. The series of steps below the XR-XY Falcon wagon's rear window that integrated the wagon section into the sedan's taillights and boot section were similar to coach-built models. There has been no local wagon (or van and ute) since that has done this better than the XR Falcon and its XT, XW and XY facelifts.

Although this Falcon wagon series was almost six inches (150mm) longer than the sedan - entirely in the rear overhang - the large rear wheelarches and the upwards slope to the rear bumper replicated the sedan's. As a result, the local wagon's appearance was almost as sporty as the sedan. There has been no local model before or since where the styling details of the hero sedans could be so easily transferred to the wagons, vans and utes and still look as if they were built by the factory.

By comparison, the US Falcon wagon looked tail-heavy and lumbering. It was another seven inches (175mm) longer than the Aussie wagon, giving a total rear overhang a full 10-inches (250mm) longer than the Falcon sedan's! Shared with the US Ranchero, this monster overhang would have also crippled local utes and vans if Ford Australia hadn't gone it alone.

Although Holden occasionally achieved rear styling parity across all body-styles, including FE, EJ and HD, and Chrysler once with its VE series, only Ford Australia achieved this over four consecutive Falcon models.

 

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