1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute: Aussie original

By: Joe Kenwright

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1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute 1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute 1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute
1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute 1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute 1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute
US Ranchero US Ranchero US Ranchero
1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute 1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute 1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute
1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute 1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute 1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute
1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute 1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute 1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute
1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute 1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute 1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute
1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute 1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute 1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute
1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute 1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute 1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute

Ford dropped the ball after late styling changes scuppered the XA Falcon, but its smart new utility was there to carry the load

1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute: Aussie original
Aussie original: 1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute

 

1972-74 Ford XA-XB 351 Ute

SAVING GRACE

You could almost sense the wave of disappointment as it rippled around Australia in March, 1972. Australians who postponed purchasing a new 1971 VH Valiant or HQ Holden until the first all-Australian Falcon arrived couldn’t believe it.

Ford seemed to have revived the discredited first Falcon series. Even the new Hardtop didn’t look right with its bulged rear quarters overwhelming the plain-looking front. The XA Falcon GT sedan and the striking new ute that arrived in October, 1972 were left to add credibility to the new range as Ford scrambled to get its XB facelift out early. It’s not entirely coincidental that HQ sales raced to new heights not long after.

The XA Falcon was never intended to look the way it did. Photos of signed-off final clays in 1969 showed Falcons with the P5 LTD centre grille and open headlights. For a Falcon, it was stunning. Then Bill Bourke suggested extending the Fairlane wheelbase even further for a local LTD that could replace the US models and a matching Landau version of the Hardtop. It was a brilliant idea – except it would take another year to execute and the new ZF Fairlanes and XA Falcons were already on their way to production. It sent the product planners and designers into a spin.

For the prominent centre grille to be an LTD/Landau exclusive, the Fairlane and Falcon grilles had to be downgraded on the run. Then the Hardtop had its rear quarters bulged at the last minute to keep the race teams happy which made it look even more like two different models joined together. Only the XA GT sedan looked anything like the designers intended with its extra vents, driving lights and blacked-out grille. Even then, losing the XY GT’s shaker was a bad move. Because the new ute was such an advance in other areas and could be specified to look like the GT, it was the only XA derivative worth waiting for.

The significance of the XA Falcon ute cannot be overstated. Along with its XB and XC facelifts, it remains the only ute produced in Australia since 1948 that fully qualified as an example of the original Aussie icon.

Ford Australia invented the coupé ute, not the ute. This is a clear distinction too often tossed aside by those who should know better. Lewis Bandt’s famous Ford Australia invention replaced the boot of the current Ford Coupe with a load bed leaving the Coupe’s style, stretching room and comfort intact. End of story. Integrating the load bed with the front was a neat way of extending load length below the rear window but it wasn’t the defining feature.

For 1946-48, the five-window rooflines of local Ford V8 utes looked close enough to US Ford coupés to qualify. After 1949, neither the local Ford nor Chevrolet utes looked remotely like their US coupé equivalents. Yet their five-window coupé rooflines and sloping rear windows replicated Bandt’s invention and at least qualified as coupé utes in function. At the end of the day, they were cut-down sedans.

The first Holden ute, based on the 48-215, wasn’t even close to a coupé ute with its tight cabin, short sedan doors and vertical rear glass. In function, it was no different to scores of pick-ups built around the world. The load bed was only joined to the cabin because there were no chassis rails to support it. After the first local Falcon ute joined Holden in this approach from 1960, every Australian ute until the XA Falcon was based on a chopped down sedan or wagon.

And that’s what made the XA Falcon ute so special. After the US Chevrolet El Caminos and Ford Rancheros kept the Aussie coupé ute idea alive at a time when it was dead in Australia, it took Ford until 1972 to revive it locally.

Even if the XA ute’s load bed was related to the wagon, it had genuine coupé doors and a rakish two door coupé roofline. Its wheelbase was extended to the full 116 inches (2946mm) of the Fairlane leaving stretching room inside the cabin without the huge rear overhangs of US designs to maintain load length. The long wheelbase also allowed 55 percent of the beefy 750kg load capacity to be positioned ahead of the rear axle.

It closely resembled the latest Ford Rancheros based on the second generation Torino as they were basically the same size but with extra clearance and shorter overhangs. The XA Falcon ute was even re-badged as the Ranchero to replace the US models on the South African market where it was hugely successful. It now supports a cult industry ready to build a V8 version of your dreams. Because it so successfully combined US Ranchero-style with the Aussie work ethic and bush clearances, it won several South African awards at the time including best tow vehicle.

As with Lewis Bandt’s first coupé ute, the XA Falcon Hardtop made the XA ute special. The XA Hardtop’s long fastback roofline could never translate to a ute but its long, pillarless doors generated a stunning open coupé roofline and a stylish upwards sweep into the load area. There was no hint of the ugly, fat side pillars and flat rear glass of previous Falcon, Holden and Valiant cabins trying to reconcile short sedan doors with the roof. As with Bandt’s first coupé ute, the XA Falcon didn’t jam the driver between the steering wheel and rear glass. There was also extra storage inside the cabin.

The XA’s wide bench seat and optional carpet enhanced Bandt’s original brief as defined by a farmer’s wife who wanted a vehicle to take the family to church on Sundays in style and comfort while carting the pigs to market on Monday. With the base six, the XA ute was pray on Sunday, cart on Monday. But Ford had slipped an alternative onto the market with the XY: Drag on Sunday, haul on Monday.

The XA ute styling took the XY’s GS Rally Pack and K-code 351 2V option to another level. The new local 351 V8 had been lifted to 260hp (187kW) with a choice of three-speed column manual, Top Loader four-speed manual or an auto. The XA’s optional high-back bucket seats and centre console fitted easily. The GT’s 12 slotters, fat 70-series radials and GS stripes gave it a quasi-GT look.

As a mechanical package, it had no rivals, nor would there be until HSV launched the VN wagon-based Maloo decades later. Ford retained the coupé ute styling until 1999, when it ended the pretence by adding chassis rails behind the extended AU Falcon five-window cabin – which replicated a coupé-ute in function – then separated the load bed for all models. The ignorant quickly declared that this disqualified the Falcon as an Aussie ute, pointing to Holden’s cut-down Commodore wagon as the real deal, but the Holden’s sedan doors and vertical rear glass gave it away. Holden had looked at using the new Monaro’s coupé doors for the VT Commodore-based ute until cost killed that idea.

Whether the square lines of the XB or XC fronts looked better is up for debate, but the XA’s short model life and sales confirm that the P5 LTD grille needed to be there. Extra LTD sales could never compensate for the lost Falcon sales. It was a tough lesson but not tough enough. The AU’s base level presentation would do it all over again.

 

*****

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