February 1961 is when Ford Falcon Ute production started in Australia and 439,742 examples later it finished at 3pm on July 29, 2016.
The Ute has long been part of Ford’s three-tier Broadmeadows-built range, but the Falcon sedan and Territory SUV will continue until October 7 this year. A white FG X XR6 was the final Falcon Ute produced and will be retained by Ford Australia.
However, this year it was the $38,710 XR6 Turbo ute, complete with live-axle leaf spring rear suspension and 270kW/533Nm 4.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder, that was Ford’s fastest load hauler.
It wasn’t always that way, so let’s press rewind and farewell Ford’s own concept – a Gippsland farmer’s wife in 1933 wrote to Ford with the request for a car to go to church in on Sunday and take the pigs to market on Monday and so Ford’s 1934 Coupe Utility was born – with five of the Falcon ute’s finest moments.
1. Genesis, with V8s hot on its heels
The original 1961 XK ute was priced from $2070 and featured a 2360cc pushrod six-cylinder engine and three-speed manual. It wouldn’t be until the 1968 XT that a V8 engine would debut, with a 4949cc swept capacity.
The 1971 XY added the now famous ‘351’ or 5750cc V8 engine, but less than a decade later big cubes went with the 1978 XC as a new generation of Falcon Ute emerged in 1979 XD guise, which topped out at 4.9-litre V8 guise.
2. Return of the V8
Ford Australia would soon infamously pull the V8 engine entirely from its stocks, leaving the 1982 XD topping out at $11,048 with the just-under-five-litre engine.
While the Blue Oval re-fired with V8 power in 1991 under the bonnet of the Falcon sedan, it would take until 1997 for the Falcon Ute to again be motivated by eight cylinders. Astonishingly, the XH II was still based on the XD of 15 years prior, sharing its chassis/body/interior architecture.
In the decade-and-a-half between the two V8-powered utes, the freshly minted XR8 more than tripled the last flagship ute’s price – at $37,305 – with a 185kW/402Nm 5.0-litre V8 under the bonnet.
3. Potent performance, perfect practicality
3. It was game on for performance versions of the Falcon Ute, which moved to 200kW/420Nm by the 2001 AUII to a 220kW/470Nm 5.4-litre V8 for the 2002 BA. A six-speed manual debuted in the 2005 BA MkII and a ZF six-speed automatic in the 2005 BF update.
The Barra 4.0-litre six-cylinder turbo was always hot on the V8’s heels, with today’s XR6 Turbo outputs (270kW/533Nm) unchanged since the 2008 FG, which back then challenged the 290kW/520Nm V8.
Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) debuted in 2003 and by the 2008 FG you could get 310kW/565Nm of Barra grunt or a 315kW/551Nm V8 – the latter remaining the most powerful production regular model grade of Falcon Ute ever.
For 2010 the 5.4-litre saw its demise, with the Miami 5.0-litre supercharged V8 its replacement. The last V8 ute produced, the GS, topped out at 315kW/545Nm, a match for power but not torque.
4. Beating the opposition
The AU Falcon was a dismal failure against VT Commodore – 68,758 versus 94,642 sales in 1998! – but the AU Ute was actually successful. After just 6769 sales in 1998, versus 8532 Commodore Utes, the tables turned after the introduction of AU Ute the following year.
A full 13,698 Falcon Utes were shifted in 2000 compared with 6361 Commodore Utes. Even Holden’s VT-based VU of 2001 barely turned the tide, with Falcon Ute’s best ever sales year of 20,212 ahead of Commodore Ute’s 17,211 that year.
The last time Ford Ute outsold Holden Ute was in 2007 – 13,758 plays 11,511 – which was the same year the BF MkII XR8 Craig Lowndes edition lobbed. Last year 4936 Commodore Utes and 2654 Falcon Utes were sold.
5. Expanding the breed
The Falcon Ute was touted as a proper ‘one tonne’ load lugger, and at various stages was available in cab-chassis, van and, until the BA, three-across column shift configuration.
It forced Holden’s hand to make Commodore Ute a ‘one tonner’ for the VY, which also borrowed the Adventra’s all-wheel-drive system to (briefly) steal a sales lead in 2005 and 2006.
Ford’s clever RTV – Rugged Terrain Vehicle – lobbed in 2003 as a jacked-up Falcon Ute with bush-friendly tyres, raised ride height and (although it lacked AWD) a locking rear differential.