Ford Falcon History AU, BA, BF Series, 1998-2008

By: John Wright, Dave Morley

Presented by

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Here's part 6 of our Falcon history - AU through to BF series. Historian, motoring author and avowed car tragic Dr John Wright unwraps the history of the Falcon, while workshop guru and ace road-tester Dave Morley give us a drive impression.

The AU Falcon, launched in October 1998 to mixed reactions, was a much better car than it looked with its global Ford ‘New Edge’ design. The car was the victim of poor marketing and confused design – marketers and engineers alike to blame. Beneath its controversial bodywork lay a car more uniquely suited to Australian conditions than any car since the HQ Holden.

A brilliant IRS was fitted to premium variants but the marketing people never got the message across. But the biggest problem was at the Forte/Futura level. In 1998 fleet buyers didn’t want the almost hose-out style interior with its nasty cheap plastics in assorted unmatched funereal greys and many gladly paid extra to get a VT Commodore. The 15-inch wheel/tyre combo left huge gaps between tyre and guard and made the car look clumsy. The choice of different six-cylinder engines on some models was confusing.

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Brilliant new Utes (styleside and cab/chassis) sold strongly but the marketing team’s attempts to use the commercial vehicle’s appeal to increase demand for AU sedans failed. The AU II ‘Grizzly’ facelift arrived not a moment early in July 2000, essentially the brainchild of new Ford Australia president Geoff Polites. Sixteen-inch wheels filled the guards better, richer trims, tidier front and rear detailing and much improved NVH were highlights. The XR8 offered 15 extra kW at 200. A dedicated LPG variant was introduced in September 2000.

In November 2001 the AU III had more improvements and features with a 220 kW hero XR8 but it was a stopgap car until Polites’ BA ‘Barra’ would be ready in 10 months time.

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The $500 million BA revamp brought much neater styling with only the door skins carried over from AU, a DOHC six producing 182 kW, a new four-speed automatic transmission with sequential manual mode and standard multi-link independent ‘Control Blade’ rear suspension. A turbocharged version of the twin cam six was introduced for the XR6. A 5.4-litre V8 replaced the venerable Windsor unit that had served since its reappearance in injected form in the EB. Falcon GT and GT-P variants became regular models.

The entry level Falcon was renamed XT to dim memories of the old AU Forte of the 1950s Allard-style ‘waterfall’ grille. Although it won the Wheels Car of the Year Award, the BA arrived too late to wrest market leadership from the Commodore.

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Ford Australia applied its Mark II and Mark III upgrades but the basic BA was already so accomplished little real change was needed. The BF, launched in October 2005, was also more of the same but with a six-speed automatic transmission on offer. Peak power from the six was now 190kW with greater refinement and lower emissions.

John Wright

DRIVING THEM...

The AU could be a real mixed bag to drive. The base-model on its skinny little tyres and too-high suspension was a bit of a boat, but the XR6 version with its lower, firmer suspension really made the most of what was actually a good basis underneath all that ugly. You could tell that the AU had gained a bit of weight over the EL, but it still steered nicely and that alloy front cross-member helped keep it responsive to the helm.

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The BA arrived early thanks to the market’s distaste for the AU and with it came a dumbed-down IRS that was cheaper but less effective than the double-wishbones in upspec versions of the AU. Something had changed up front, too, and the BA was a much duller thing to point with far less steering feel than the AU.

In V8s, the move to the DOHC 5.4 for the BA XR8 and a three-valve version of the same motor for the Fairmont Ghia was news, but didn’t seem the huge leap it should have been over the old Windsor in the AU. The DOHC cylinder head for the four-litre six smoothed it out and gave it some more bang, but it still felt and sounded like a taxi. Which meant the headlines were reserved for the XR6 Turbo which suddenly gave the BA the big boost it needed. The turbo-six remains the best locally designed, developed and built engine this country has ever seen. Don’t believe us? Go and drive one for yourself.

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The BF was more of the same (BA) to drive and while it was capable and comfortable, you just knew that the days of Falcons that felt light on their feet and responsive to steer were over.

Dave Morley 

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