Just rarely, a car is launched that is so revered that it creates a huge headache for its manufacturer. We examine 10 instances where car makers asked “how the hell do we replace this?”
Ford Falcon XA | 1972-1973
In unaltered form, it’s probably Australian motoring’s most famous photo. Shot over the shoulder of Mel Nichols’ left shoulder, tacho bang on 6700rpm, speedo a crack over 160mp/h, shaker bonnet scoop in the mid-ground, and an arrow-straight Hume Highway running to the horizon. You already know the car depicted; the Ford XY Falcon GT-HO Phase III.
Australian muscle cars don’t get any more iconic – or expensive – and for good reason. Not only was the Phase III a dominant force on the road with its (often under quoted) 224kW 351 Cleveland V8, but it was all-conquering at the track. At the 1971 Bathurst 500, Phase IIIs claimed the first seven spots on the grid, and eight of the top 10. It went on to sweep the podium, and claim six of the first 10 finishers.
The Phase III road car’s gob-smacking performance was directly related to that on-track domination, with Australian touring car racing running to Series Production rules at the time that resulted in hot rod homologation specials dreamt up in Ford and Holden’s back-lot workshops.
For 1972 Ford were planning to go bigger and better with the new XA, developing a Phase IV follow-up to take on the V8 LJ Torana being cooked up by the Holden Dealer Team. But then the Supercar Scare came along, intense government pressure killed the new homologation special, and touring car racing quickly moved to an Improve Production rulebook.
This left Ford in a predicament. It no longer needed to build a wicked-up XA, and doing so would be politically difficult. But it meant the XA was, well, a bit soft when compared to the Phase III. You could still fit GT variants with a 351 Cleveland bent-eight, but the XA was never going to live up to the XY, with so many factors conspiring against it.
Don’t count the XA out though, as a case can be made that it is arguably a more significant Falcon than the XY, being the first of its kind to be both designed and built in Australia. Yup, after two generations of second-hand US designs, Australia finally had a Falcon to call its own.
Designed by legendary Ford man Jack Telnack, the XA was produced for 17 months, starting production in March of 1972, before being replaced by September 1973. Engines carried over from the XY, but with the 302 and 315 V8s now also mostly being Aussie made.
Earning it extra kudos with the Ford faithful was the addition of a hardtop coupe, that simply oozed effortless ’70s cool. In order to save costs in development, Ford took the doors from the ute and panel-van variants, stretched the dimensions, and bolted them to the side of the XA coupe. This saved the team from having to design a completely new unit.
While the Phase IV racer was killed off, the XA enjoyed an impressive motorsport career, winning a pair of Bathurst 1000s in ’73 and ’74 – the first to be run over the longer 1000 kilometre distance instead of 500 miles. Of the three homologation specials that did escape Broadmeadows, one also made its way into competition as Bruce Hodgson’s rally car.
Away from the race track, the XA was also a commercial success, despite a short lifespan, building the foundation for Ford’s market dominance in the coming years. With the cards stacked against it, the XA Falcon has earned its hero status, and limited-run variants like the sleeper-spec RPO 83 are now highly sought after collector’s items.
The icon: 1971
The million dollar Falcon
A pristine Phase III once owned by ex-cricketer Jeff Thomson set auction records in 2018 when it sold for $1,030,000. A Phase IV shattered that later the same year with a $2,150,000 sale price.
Three things that make a GT-HO
1. The Phase II & III engine got a bigger carb and new cams compared to the boggo 351
2. Turning and stopping was helped by a Detroit locker nine-inch diff and uprated brakes
3. A big engine required plenty of fuel to drink, with the Phase III being fitted with a 164L tank
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