|Manufacturer Ford Australia||Class Full-size car|
|Also called Ford Fairmont (AU)
Production September 1998 – September 2002
Assembly Australia: Campbellfield, Victoria
Body style 4-door sedan 5-door station wagon
The Ford Falcon (AU) is a full-size car that was produced by Ford Australia from 1998 to 2002. It was the first iteration of the sixth generation Ford Falcon and also included the Ford Fairmont (AU)—the luxury-oriented model range. The AU series replaced the EL Falcon constructed on the previous generation architecture, and was replaced by the updated BA series.
Development and design
The AU series was conceived under "Project Eagle" that begun in February 1993, and gained the official codename "EA169" in October 1994. It was developed and brought to market in 1998 only after Ford Australia had given consideration to a revamped fifth generation Falcon and a fully imported replacement such as the American front-wheel drive Ford Taurus or rear-wheel drive Ford Crown Victoria, the European rear wheel-drive Scorpio and, reportedly, even the Japanese rear-wheel drive Mazda 929 (then part of the Ford conglomerate).
The above alternatives were eliminated in favour of a substantial redesign of the indigenous platform, due to concerns about the Australian market preference for high towing capacity, large interior size and local employment. Specific factors included, for example: research at the time indicated that 69% of Falcons were fitted with towbars and the perception that rear-wheel drive cars were better at towing; the fact that the import models had limited body style options (sedan only or sedan and wagon) and no capability to use a V8 engine.
Stylistically, this new generation Falcon sported Ford's radically new global design language, labelled "New Edge". The aim of this design was to attract a younger generation of buyers with avant-garde looks, however, in Australia it polarized public opinion to the benefit of the more organically designed rival, the 1997 Holden Commodore (VT). The AU series had a very efficient drag coefficient of Cd=0.29 for the sedan (an 11% improvement over the preceding EL series) and 0.34 for the wagon.
For the first time in Falcon's history, Independent Rear Suspension (IRS) became available as standard on some models and optional on others. It also featured Australian production firsts, such as Variable Cam Timing (VCT) on some 6-cylinder models and an adaptive automatic transmission on the high-performance T series with steering wheel gear shifting buttons.
Key changes from the fifth generation Falcon included a 35 kg (77 lb) reduction in weight for the base car, 17.5 per cent stiffer bodyshell, and an eight per cent improvement in fuel consumption. Peculiarly, Ford Australia decided to use the original 1950's font for the new "Falcon" and "Futura" badges.
As stated previously, the AU was the first Falcon to offer IRS (a double wishbone design on an isolated subframe) and its 6-cylinder engines in particular, incorporated advanced features such as VCT on some models and a temperature sensor in the cylinder head, which detected coolant loss and allowed the car to "limp home" safely by cutting cylinders. The engine range comprised: the base Intech model producing 157 kW (which was carried over from the EL series but now with the above advanced electronic features); an "HP" version reserved to the XR6 producing 164 kW (thanks to: unique cylinder head; reshaped inlet port; redesigned exhaust port; ‘open’ combustion chamber shape to restrict pre-detonation from hot spot areas; unique camshaft; higher fuel pressure; recalibrated EEC V engine management system); the VCT version producing 172 kW for the XR6 VCT; a "Windsor" V8 producing 185 kW (also carried over from the EL series but without major upgrades).
Transmissions were improved for better shift feel and the auto was recalibrated to better suit the upgraded engines. The six and eight cylinder models had a 4-speed BTR M93LE and M97LE automatic transmissions, respectively for the six and eight cylinder models, respectively. The automatic XR series models had an "adaptive shift" with five shifting strategies depending on driving conditions. The manual transmission, were available, was a 5-speed BTR T5 model.
The program cost A$700 million before product launch and key staff included chief designer, Steve Park, and Marcus Hotblack, Manager of Interior Design.
Series I (AU)
The first series of the AU Falcon was launched in September 1998 and remained on sale until a major upgrade in April 2000. It was marketed under the new slogan "You've come a long way baby".
The standard AU range included:
Tickford Vehicle Engineering, was responsible for the XR models that carried the "Tickford" wings badge. From July 1999, the newly formed Ford Tickford Experience (FTE) launched the following higher-specification and performance T series (T1) models:
The new Forté model was the replacement of the old GLi designation. It was designed and marketed to attract to fleet buyers as well as young drivers. When new, the car was competitively priced at A$30,690 with automatic transmission and air conditioning (at the time an option on the other Australian-made rivals) fitted as standard.
The more 'up-spec' model was called the Falcon Futura, which was marketed as a family-oriented safety package in the same vogue as the rival Holden Commodore Acclaim. The Futura differed from the Forté in having a body coloured grille, standard ABS, cruise control, alloy wheels and a digital clock fitted in the centre console (series I only). The price of the car when new was A$34,990.
The Ford Falcon S (for Sports) sedan was also based on the Forté but designed as an entry-level sports edition. It achieved this through additional features such as body-coloured grille, alloy wheels, S decals on the rear quarters and bootlid, non-IRS sports suspension and a high level spoiler. The colour choices were limited to Hot Chilli Red, Liquid Silver, Dynamic White, Galaxy (Metallic Blue) and Silhouette (Black).
The Fairmont was the entry level luxury model of the AU range to face-off its main rival, the Holden Berlina. It had all of the fittings of the Futura but included extras such as a honeycomb grille, an 80-second headlamp off delay, wood grain-look dash inserts, unique 15" wheels, dual horns, Fairmont badging on the boot lid and an analogue clock. The Fairmont was offered in sedan and station wagon bodystyles. Above the Fairmont was the Fairmont Ghia, which was the highest non-performance specification model in the range and sedan only. It had additional features that included unique wheels and more wood grain-look dash inserts. Fairmont & Fairmont Ghia models were not badged as Falcons.
The XR series was the high performance end of the range. It originally comprised the XR6 HP, XR6 VCT, and XR8 models all sharing a unique quad-lamp front bumper bar and non-high end bonnet. All series I XR's could have the option of a full Tickford bodykit and unique bi-wing rear spoiler.
In terms of safety equipment, the Futura, XR and Fairmont models all had ABS brakes in addition to a driver's side airbag, which was the only main safety feature on the Falcon S and Forté. The brakes featured 287x24 mm vented front discs and 287x10.5 mm solid rear discs.
External model differentiation was achieved via the use of different grilles and bonnets (low bonnet and vertical "waterfall" grille on Forté, horizontal single bar on Futura, integrated quad-lamp bumper bar and grille on the XR sports range; high bonnet and large grille on Fairmont range) and more basic fittings such as different alloy wheel design, rear light clusters (clear turn signals on Fairmont), body colour-coordination and chrome fittings. The wagons featured a new rear-end relative to the previous generation Falcons. Inside, the Fairmont and XR model featured full instrumentation (oil and battery meters) and the Fairmont twins also adopted a different dashboard. As opposed to the standard Falcon featuring a large oval pod incorporating air conditioning and stereo, the luxury twin featured a 2-level shared with the long-wheelbase AU Fairlane/LTD, with a separate upper level featuring a woodgrain-like trim across to the passenger side that incorporated an analogue clock, trip computer and climate control.
Only the Fairmont Ghia and Falcon XR6 VCT featured "Intech" engines produced by Tickford Vehicle Engineering with variable valve timing. IRS was fitted as standard on the Falcon XR6 VCT, XR8 and Fairmont Ghia, and optional on most other sedan models; the XR models being the only ones that could also be fitted with a limited slip differential.
Despite competitive pricing and high standard equipment relative to its rivals, especially for the new entry Forté, sales of the AU did not match those of the previous model, the EL Falcon. This was partly due to a lack of enthusiasm by customers for the "New Edge" styling, alteration of fleet sale pricing as well as the long-term decline in the market for large cars.
In May 1999, the AU range received a minor update, introducing a bigger brake booster, front power windows for the Forté and XR6 and lowering the rear suspension of non-XR variants by 24 mm. To heighten its interior quality, the Forté was offered with 'medium graphite' interior trim (slightly darker than originally) and the patterned seat material was changed from the bolsters to the seat centres. Buyers were also able to order the darker 'warm charcoal' colour scheme of other Falcon variants.
The only limited edition launched with this initial series, was the Falcon Classic of June 1999 marketed till October 1999 to boost sales. It inherited an egg-crate grille from the non-XR Utility range, dual airbags, ABS brakes, cruise control, upgraded sound system, a "warm charcoal" interior, power aerial, special trim, 15-inch alloys, low profile rear spoiler, bumper inserts and prestige paint. Its recommended retail price was A$30,690.
The range of AU Falcon Utility vehicles was launched in June 1999. It offered Falcon XL, XLS, XR6 and XR8 style side utility models, a cab-chassis model and a cab-chassis with factory fitted drop-side tray. The latter was the first tray utility vehicle that Ford Australia had produced for several years.
The body of the AU Falcon utility differed in design from the competing Holden Ute in that the cargo tray was separate from the cab, whereas the tray was an integral part of the body shell in the Holden. As a result, this allowed the rear to accept different after market body types, including tray decks, service bodies, and camper van shells. Unlike the sedan, the AU Falcon utility vehicles were very popular.
Series II (AU II)
Many of these issues were addressed with the AU Series II (April 2000). They included:
Body strength increases, aimed at improving occupant safety and the Falcon's rating in the independent NCAP crash test program, were also achieved. In the said tests, it received a three star adult occupant protection rating with a score of 24.2 and in the offset crash test, it was found that there was a low risk of injury to all body regions (including the driver’s foot and lower leg due to excessive brake pedal movement). New safety features included a passenger airbag and seatbelt pretensioners and load limiters on the front seats across the range. Wagons were fitted with a three-point lap-sash rear centre seatbelt, with the retractor integrated into the seat back.
The braking system now featured thicker front and rear discs, twin-piston aluminium-headed front calipers, bigger non-asbestos brake pads, larger master cylinder and a higher capacity booster. The discs were now ventilated 287x28 mm at the front and solid 287x16 mm at the back. The XR6 VCT and XR8 were also available with an optional Tickford Premium Brake setup that brought 329 mm grooved front brake discs with twin-piston C4 calipers.
Additional features included the introduction of a 100 watt stereo with single-slot CD player, variable intermittent wipers and door lock/unlock button on the instrument panel and the equipment upgrade (such as standard air conditioning, front power windows and automatic transmission) on the entry Forté model, to shrug off initial impressions the low budget perception associated with the first AU series. Also across the range, Ford now offered 3-years or 60,000 km worth of scheduled servicing included in the purchase price.
The standard series II range included:
As listed above, the engine range remained largely initially, except for increased output for the XR8 and the introduction, from July 2000, of a dedicated LPG engine, marketed as the "Intech E-Gas". It had a single-point, venturi-style carburetor rather than sequential injection as per the petrol engines. Other differences included: different spark plugs, inductive high tension leads and a unique engine management processor. The sedans were fitted with a 92-litre LPG cylinder, while wagons had 115 litre cylinders.
Sedan-based limited editions included the: X-Pack (a Forté upgrade with a choice of two ROH alloy wheel designs from the Ford accessory line as standard and original XR rear wing), SR (Forté-based S successor now with ABS), Futura Classic, Futura & Fairmont Ghia 75th Anniversary sedans (to commemorate Ford Australia's birth in 1925), XR8 Rebel (featuring a limited edition Ford Racing bodykit, 18-inch wheels, MOMO steering wheel and gear shift and a Sony Playstation2).
Augmenting the X-Pack, in late 2000 Stillwell Ford dealers in South Australia launched a Sportryder variant, which added an upgraded and lowered sport suspension using Pedders components plus locally sourced CSA alloy wheels for A$29,990.
The Falcon Utility Series II range included the XL, XLS, XR and XR8 with limited editions including (by respective base model): Tradesman (XL); Sports Edition and Marlin (XLS); Pursuit (XR).
The FTE T2 range comprised:
Series III (AU III)
This final AU-based Falcon was presented at the Sydney Motorshow in November 2001, by surprise
The Falcon's Series III range reflected that of the AU II, except for:
FTE additionally introduced more powerful T3 models as follows:
Externally, the Series III, featured body-coloured mirrors and side strips plus standard side skirts and different wheels on some models. Headlights became a shade darker, side indicators clear and a dot matrix windscreen was added to reduce sun glare. In terms of interiors, additional features were added as standard: Futura – rear power windows and velour trim; Fairmont – 6-way power-adjustable driver's seat; Fairmont Ghia – 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and leather trim. Though ABS became standard across the range, the XR models lost equipment: XR6 – limited-slip differential (LSD) now optional; all XR's – stereo downgrade to a 4-speaker single-CD unit. A bodykit marketed as "Havoc" (with new front and rear bumpers featuring stainless mesh inserts; fog lights; side skirts and an optional rear spoiler) became optional on all Falcons with XR8 buyers also having the choice of a Tickford bodykit or the Ford Racing bodykit (originally featured on the AU II Falcon XR8 Rebel). Fairmont and XR could also optioned with the "REX" (Rear Entertainment XTreme) package, allowing rear passenger to play DVD movies or connect game consoles.
The combined production of Falcon Series II and III to September 2002 totaled 237,701 units.
FTE T series
Due to inadequate sales of Ford performance sedans and Holdens success with its 5.7-litre GM produced V8 on its Commodore range, Ford were forced to up the ante with a run of Falcon-derived higher performance sedans that could give buyers a comparable between the two brands and aid the sales largely the fault of the ailing XR series.
Accordingly, Ford Tickford Experience (FTE) was established as a joint venture between Ford Australia and Tickford Vehicle Engineering (TVE). As listed above, the resulting T series range comprised the short wheelbase TE50 and TS50 plus the long-wheelbase TL50 (based on the Fairlane). In addition to higher mechanical specifications and performance, this range also benefitted from a "FTE Premium Assist" service with enhanced ownership benefits.
Between 1999 and 2002, there were three T series (based on the respective Falcon series): T1 (AU), T2 (AU II) and T3 (AU III). Their powerplant was a modified "Windsor" V8 renamed "Synergy 5000" that were hand-built and featured an engraved plaque bearing the name of its builder. Over the AU II and AU III period, the production of the "Windsor" was phased out, with remaining units shipped to FTE becoming the most powerful naturally aspirated electronically fuel injected (EFI) "Windsor" engines in the world used to make the Ford Falcon XR8 Pursuit 250 utility.
The TE50 was available with a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. The TS50 and TL50, which were not available in manual, only had the automatic transmission with "Electronic Sport Shift" (ESS). This feature was an Australian-production first in that, it was the first locally made car to have steering-wheel mounted buttons that permitted manual gear shifting.
Inside, all models featured a MOMO steering wheels and could be optioned with an upgraded Brembo braking system. Externally, FTE aimed for a more sophisticated look compared to its wilder styled rival, Holden Special Vehicles. The cars had distinctive front and rear styling highlighted by a chrome-mesh grille, 17-inch and 18-inch alloy wheels on the TE50 and TS50 models respectively, and discreet low-profile rear spoilers for the T1 series. The T2 saw the TE50 feature the XR-style rear wing, whereas the TS50 retained the low-profile version. All T3 models featured 18-inch wheels and louder V8 Racing-inspired bodykits with high-profile rear wings.
In the UK, AU utilities were imported by Verte Automotive (then a subsidiary of AC Cars) as the Verte Tempest from March 2002. Sold in XL and XLS trim levels, it was powered by the 4.0-litre inline-six on LPG only. From the last quarter of 2002, plans included powering the AC Green and Black coupes with the same engine (LPG and petrol, respectively) and eventually selling a range of Tempest XR6 and XR8 utes and sedans, ahead of the Tempest T-Series and the long-wheelbase Fairlane/LTD duo. These plans, however, never eventuated.
Eager to improve Falcon's reception, Ford Australia and other companies presented a number of concept cars that were based on this sixth-generation Falcon over time. These included:
Paul Radisich and Glenn Seton, each driving a racing-modified XR8, came 4th and 5th in the 2000 V8 Supercar Championship Series. The car was runner up in the 2000 FAI 1000. Marcos Ambrose finished 3rd in the 2002 V8 Supercar Championship Series.
Privateer racer Trevor Haines raced a TE50 to 13th place in the 2002 Australian GT Production Car Championship, and later the team finished 9th outright and a Class 5 win in the 2002 Bathurst 24 Hour.