Ford’s Unloved Child: The AU Falcon

Ford’s Unloved Child: The AU Falcon


Welcome to MotoringBox.
Today you join me here by the roadside in
the Australian outback.
Because we’re looking at one of the most infamous
cars to have ever been designed and built
in this great country.
A car which polarised the Australian public’s
opinion quite unlike anything that came before
it or since, and one that suffered from slow
sales as a result.
Despite the fact that it was released over
20 years ago and was on sale for just four
short years, somehow you still see them absolutely
everywhere on the roads today.
If you’re an Australian, this car needs no
introduction.
But for everyone else, it’s the Ford AU Falcon.
It’s the mid-1990s in Australia, and local
car manufactures Ford and Holden are once
again facing off against each other with their
large, locally-built rear-wheel drive sedans
– the Falcon and the Commodore.
The two were neck and neck, trading punches
with sales in the showrooms and swapping paint
on the race tracks.
For Australian car fans, it was an absolutely
epic time to be alive.
But then Holden launched their new VT Commodore
in 1997, after more than 5 years and $600-million
dollars worth of development.
Australian car buyers fell in love with it
and sales took off, with everyone else awaiting
Ford’s response.
The very next year, they returned fire with
this.
The Ford AU Falcon.
Powering the AU was the latest iteration of
Ford Australia’s legendary 4-litre straight
six engine, fitted to a car that was lighter,
stiffer, more aerodynamic and more economical
than the model which preceded it, and for
the first time in the Falcon’s history, Independent
Rear Suspension became available as standard
on some models and optional on others.
But none of this mattered.
Because it wasn’t the AU Falcon’s advanced
features which made the headlines, it was
quite simply how it looked.
Now of course the styling has mellowed out
a bit over the years, but imagine you’re a
Ford man back in the late 1990s.
You had the ED Falcon, the EF, the EL… and
then this thing came along.
It really was like a slap in the face with
a wet fish.
The AU Falcon used Ford’s “New Edge” design
language which we first saw on the Taurus
– and while it has been used to better effect
here, it was still a radical departure from
the Falcon we all knew and loved.
I was finishing high school at the time and
I remember absolutely hating how this thing
looked.
Unfortunately for Ford, I wasn’t alone.
The styling of the AU became a contentious
issue with the car buying public, and the
problem was further exacerbated by some awkward
design choices throughout the model lineup.
Speaking of models, let’s run through the
AU Falcon range.
We begin with the Falcon Forte – which is
a bare bones model which had air-conditioning
and an automatic gearbox as standard, but
not a lot else.
It had a waterfall style front grille which
scared small children, and no-frills bodywork
which sat high above 15″ steel wheels with
one of the worst plastic wheel cover designs
you’ve ever seen in your life.
The Forte is your snag, or sausage – basic
food but it does the job.
Next up, you had the Falcon Futura – which
added a body coloured front grille, ABS brakes,
cruise control and alloy wheels.
It’s the bread – something you probably should
have received in the first place.
From there you had the Falcon S – which added
alloy wheels, sports suspension and a rear
spoiler.
It’s the cheese – a bit of added substance.
Next you had the Falcon XR6 – which was the
high performance version of the AU Falcon
range.
For ya money, you got a unique quad headlight
front clip and bodykit, a rear spoiler, sports
suspension, and a higher power-output from
the engine.
It’s the onion – added punch for those who
wanted it.
There was also an even sportier XR6 VCT.
Next up, you had the Fairmont – which was
the entry level luxury version of the AU range.
It had a new honeycomb grille, 80-second headlight
off delay, a higher-spec dashboard with wood
grain-look inserts, a nicer interior, unique
15″ alloy wheels, dual horns and Fairmont
badging on the boot.
It’s the sauce – it tops off the package and
helps brings everything else together.
And lastly, you had your Fairmont Ghia.
Which had its own unique alloy wheels, even
more wood grain, independent rear suspension
as standard, and the same engine as the sporty
XR6 VCT.
It’s the mustard.
But we’re not done yet, and that’s because
the Forte and the Fairmont Ghia could also
be optioned with Ford’s 5.0L V8.
Or the same engine could be used to turn an
XR6 into an XR8.
And then there were two even more powerful
versions created by Tickford Vehicle Engineering
– the TE50 with 200kW, and the TS50 with 220kW.
More sausage for power hungry customers.
But the AU I’ve got here is a Fairmont Ghia
with the 6-cylinder VCT engine – the fancy
as fuck version of the AU Falcon range – and
still with enough sausage to keep you satisfied.
Mmmmm.
But while the Fairmont Ghia may have indeed
been fancy, it certainly didn’t look that
way.
Now this particular Fairmont Ghia sold brand
new in 2001 for around $50,000 dollarydoos,
but from where I’m sitting, the buyer ended
up receiving a car which looks very much like
a base model.
The Fairmont Ghia had it’s own unique alloy
wheels, but there’s very little else about
it which screams “Premium”.
And I guess a lot of that can be blamed on
the AU Falcon’s design.
Without any of the body kits or rear spoilers
which were available at the time as optional
extras, buyers found the styling to be both
offensive and dull at the same time.
From certain angles I can see moments of inspiration
– like how the boot lid curve continues down
past the tail lights in one smooth motion.
There’s also this little flick that continues
up into the tail lights.
The C-Pillars too, look kind of cool.
And I like the door profile with this crease
which runs the entire length of the car.
But none of this matters, because the best
part is under here.
This is arguably the AU Falcon’s party piece
– Ford’s Australian developed 4.0L straight-six
engine.
Now let me just clear one thing up from the
get-go for our overseas viewers – this is
not a “Barra”.
What this is, is an engine which can trace
its roots all the way back to the 1960s, where
it started life as Ford America’s 170ci (2.8L)
straight-six.
Over the years, Ford Australia enlarged it
to 250ci or 4.1 litres, developed a cross-flow
cylinder head in the 70s, before switching
to an aluminium head in the 80s and adding
fuel-injection, and then redesigning the engine
in the 90s to make it a 4.0L with a single
overhead cam.
Then they added variable length intake runners
before finally introducing variable cam timing
to create this – the 4.0L Intech VCT.
A few years later in the BA Falcon, this engine
received dual-overhead cams to become the
“Barra”.
Which means this, is Barra’s old man.
The 4.0L Intech VCT was a formidable engine
back in the day, developing 168kW (225hp)
of power and 370Nm (272lb-ft) of torque in
the Fairmont Ghia, and slightly more in the
sporty XR6 Falcon.
To put those figures into perspective, Holden
had to supercharge their GM sourced 3.8L Ecotec
V6 in the VT Commodore to simply match the
power and torque figures this thing put out
as standard.
In my mind, the Intech VCT and the Barra are
two of the best engines to have ever come
out of Australia.
And the fact that Ford only fitted this engine
to the Fairmont Ghia and the XR6 VCT makes
this car a little bit special.
So while it may look a little bit drab on
the outside, it goes like a shower of shit.
Well let’s not beat around the bush here – the
AU Falcon is no sports car.
I mean 0-100km/h takes around 8-seconds.
But it’s the torque which the 4.0L engine
produces that helps it feel effortless.
You don’t have to rev the tits off it in order
to make progress.
I mean I’ve got a 5.0L V8 Fairlane at home
which came out just a couple of years before
this car, but the engine in this makes more
power and more torque.
I mean why would you go for the V8, when the
6 was this good!?
But a bonzer engine can only be appreciated
by the driver.
To everyone else, you’re just a bloke in an
AU.
So the exterior styling may not have been
for everyone, but you’ve absolutely gotta
have a Captain Cook at what’s going on in
here.
And that’s because Ford’s “New Edge” oval
fetish really kicked into overdrive in the
interior of this car.
The air vents are ovals, the buttons are ovals.
The clock, instrument cluster, shifter surround,
door handles and speakers…….
They’re all ovals.
Ovals, everywhere.
The Fairmont Ghia came standard with these
leather and cloth combination seats.
They’re comfortable, look good and thanks
to the cloth sections they’re breathable too
– which in the sweaty Australian Summer is
actually very important.
Now if you were a masochist you had the option
of speccing a full black-leather interior
– and many people actually did.
As I found out when I was on the hunt for
a Fairmont Ghia, the majority did have the
black leather interior.
And they were all shot to shit, bar none.
I mean, the leather was old and cracking,
and the seat bolsters were also worn all the
way through to the canvas.
Somehow the leather sections in this interior
still look fantastic, so score 1 for me.
So what else did the fancy as fuck Fairmont
Ghia come with?
Well, you did get a leather steering wheel
with volume and cruise controls mounted around
one of the stickiest horn pads you’ve ever
seen in your life.
Because who wouldn’t want that, right?
I don’t really know what Ford was going for
here, but I don’t think they expected it to
age quite like this.
Next up you have the dash cluster with it’s
oval gauges and oval warning light arrays.
There’s not really much else going on up here,
but it does at least have a little LCD display
at the bottom displaying the odometer, trip
computer, open door diagram and also what
gear you’re in.
Mine also came standard with a friendly little
fly who I named Barry.
G’day mate, how’s it going in there?
Barry?
BARRY!
Most of the other dash controls in the Fairmont
Ghia are handled by this thing, which Ford
calls the Message Display Centre.
You can check your average fuel usage, the
remaining range you’ve got left, instant fuel
usage, average speed and you can even set
an overspeed alarm.
There’s also a bunch of climate controls over
here so you can set the mood exactly how you’d
like it, and then you have the analogue clock.
But who really gives a shit?
And at least you’ve got this nice bit of woodgrain
which runs all the way across to the other
side of the dash.
Below the MDC are four oval shaped buttons
which pretty much do what you’d expect.
The first one locks the doors, so this is
the one you want to hit when you’re being
chased by killer kangaroos or members of the
local population who are on ice.
Seeing as that happens in rougher, more remote
areas, the second button should also prove
helpful.
This one gives the antenna shaft a hit of
viagra, so you can tune into those city radio
stations a little bit longer before they fade
out of range.
The third button here turns off the traction
control so you can go and do some single pegs,
and the fourth button here turns on the rear
window demister.
And down the bottom here you’ve got your factory
Ford premium sound head unit.
Aside from looking like it’s been hit with
an ugly stick, this thing holds 6-CDs in dash
and does a decent job of supplying the tunes.
But it’ll also give you the shits, because
every time it turns on it seems to have a
different idea of what any given volume number
should sound like.
She’ll be right.
Down in the centre console here you’ve got
your 4-speed shifter and there’s an economy
button for when you’ve trying to stretch your
next servo visit until pay day.
And a centre console provides storage for
your CD and coin collections.
In the back there’s plenty of space for 3
of your mates, although they’ll have to amuse
themselves because there’s not a lot else
going on back here.
Perhaps they can go on Facebook and look up
“AU Falcons doing incredible things”.
Because like I said at the start, despite
being 20 years old you still see AU Falcons
in places they shouldn’t be.
Moving things they weren’t designed for, and
usually being treated like shit in the process.
Perhaps then, the AU Falcon is the cockroach
of the Australian car industry.
It’s might not be much to look at, but it’ll
still be here long after we’re gone.
As you may have noticed, my AU has received
similar treatment.
I found it on Facebook Marketplace where it
was one of the cheapest AU Falcons available.
It might look shiny on the outside, but it’s
service history is patchy at best, and the
scars on its silver skin hint at the abuse
it has endured over the past 20 years.
So you might imagine then that I’ve bought
a bucket of bolts which is nearing the end
of its life.
But you’d be wrong, because this car is just
getting started.
So, first things first.
I’ll admit that I’ve never actually driven
an AU Falcon prior to purchasing this one,
and it has been quite a surprise.
Now of course, a few things have gone wrong
with this car in the time that I’ve owned
it, but I’ll cover those in a future video,
and really, none of them were very serious
problems.
Certainly no show-stoppers that’s for sure.
So what can I say about the AU Falcon?
If I had to sum it up in one word I would
probably say “smooth”.
Because the steering is smooth, the engine
is even moreso, the gearbox has not put a
foot wrong and the suspension is setup perfectly
for these fast country roads.
It is far better then a car of this age or
monetry value has any right to be.
But what I think about this car is something
else.
From in here, I’m loving it.
It feels like you could drive the entire length
of Australia, and both you and the car would
be ready to turn around and do it all over
again.
But to me this car is very much like a pair
of tracksuit pants, or tracky dacks as we
call them here in Australia.
Once you take looks out of the equation and
not give a damn about what anyone else thinks
– it’s exactly what you want to be wearing.
And that’s the Ford AU Falcon.
An all round good car, but with a face that
many simply weren’t ready to accept – and
I think that’s kind of sad.
Because as human beings, we don’t have the
right to judge anything, or anyone by their
covers.
We judge others not by the best that they
could be, but instead by the worst thoughts
in our own hearts.
While some might look at the AU and dismiss
it as an ugly, oval shaped blob – I see solid,
dependable family transport, developed by
a company with a proud history of building
honest cars for hardworking Australian families
– and that’s something you just don’t get
here anymore.
To me, the AU Falcon is a car which deserves
far more praise than it ever received, and
one that will no doubt be forgotten as time
rolls on.
Goodbye old friend.

100 Replies to “Ford’s Unloved Child: The AU Falcon”

  1. I went to Australia in 2017 and the cars there all look like the cars from GTA. I saw a car with the front end of a Chrysler 300 and then from the A-pillar and back it was a Dodge Magnum. Shit was wild lol.

  2. Jaguar also had the droopy arse much like the AU but I'm not sure if the Ford takeover of Jag had any influence on that.

  3. Mr kangaroo digarido people, are the falcon and commodore your average car in Australia? Like over here in the UK the ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra are your run of the mill family cars.

  4. 3rd owner 390, thousand KLM forte wagon other than pulley replacements for $1500 dollars 100,000 Kay's cheap motoring for my book.

  5. What an annoying motoring journalist who is he? If you’re going to judge a car 20 years down the line and it was like you said, and cheap and plenty of them around then surely Australian carmakers should get a pat on the back. Most European and American cars of the same age have long since gone to god. Only the Japanese ones are better made

  6. Some mens magazine, Ralph maybe, described the AU as falling out of the ugly tree and hitting every branch on the way down. They weren't wrong.

  7. It's wierd how the BA/BF Falcon XR6/XR8s look really cool (with a bit of love i.e. black rims and lowered suspension), even though the shape is near identical to the AU Falcon. All you non-Aussies Google "BA/BF XR6 falcon Black Rims" and you'll see what I mean. Just don't get them confused with the newer FG Falcons…

  8. The styling of the AU was too far ahead of its time. In my opinion, they should've launched with the more conservatively styled BA and later refreshed to the AU.

  9. The AU is long know as being the best looking falcon in the post XE model era, but they are becoming even more popular and sought after that the XW/XY range. Loyds just had a pristine AUII XR8 Tickford come through and sold for $980,000.00 AUD, who would of thought only 2 years ago these cars where ridiculed and mocked. An original al numbers matching TE50 sold for $1.7m AUD… thats just nuts, that was a $20k car only a few years earlier.

  10. It seems that in the mid 90's Ford decided to make cars as ugly as possible. Here in Europe we had the Scorpio. It was the last Ford in that market segment. Judge by yourself: https://youtu.be/h3O4Ru207MM

  11. The 96 Taurus in the states was a major let down to a good looking car. The AU looks like the US Taurus had a baby with the Chevy Cavalier. Disappointing

  12. This was the worst Falcon of all time, not due to the looks, but the numerous problems it had, including head gasket problems and electrical faults. The EA was not much better.

  13. Great car awesome engines biggest issue was the transmission due to the drain/fill bolt being under the car they were not serviced on schedule so the majority of trannys slip in reverse by 200.000ks plus very expensive repair considering you can by an au for approximately $500 but I think if looked after properly this car being built after 1997 is as close to bulletproof as you can get.

  14. Not near as weird looking as the American Taurus and Ford sold a ga-zillion of those. I'm surprised the Australian inline 6 has not found it's way into Mustangs and American Falcons.

  15. Easily one of the best engines ever built by FoMoCo. It's nothing for them to do a 1,000,000+ km. Many years ago I had an AU taxi come into the shop with over 1.4 million on the clock still going strong on the original donk. Let's see an alloytec do that😂

  16. 2:17 That car looks like a wet fish. It reminds me as much of Ford's wimpy Tempo/Topaz compacts as of the 1996 Taurus, which, for better or worse, had at least some character. The AU Falcon screams "Rent me!"

  17. It's interesting that Ford used names like "Falcon", "Fairmont", and "Futura", all names that were long associated with dull, basic transportation in the USA, on $50,000 cars, but what's in a name? Nothing, other than the fact that Ford seems to have stuck with a similar double-wishbone and coil-over front suspension to the one used in the 1960 Falcon, a layout which is fairly unusual in most parts of the world (though Honda Accords had it until about 10 years ago). I've read that Ford went through hell getting the original Falcon, which had been such a hit in N. America, toughened up enough to hold up in Australia, so maybe they didn't want to risk going to a cheaper Mcpherson strut type suspension. One other irony is that the 1960 Falcon's front suspension was designed by none other than the Mcpherson after whom the now ubiquitous strut was named; after using them in the 1950s English Consul, Ford decided to avoid them until the friction problems that made for a harsh ride were resolved. The first USA Ford to use struts was the 1978 Fairmont.

  18. So in the late 90’s Ford had a V6 engine that can actually rev mated to a RWD drivetrain? Bwoah, that’s something new.

  19. I have a AUII Falcon ,I've had my car for 16yrs it had 83,000Klm on the clock when I bought it and now 355,000Klm & get it serviced every 10,000Klm, it also is running on LPG & it's still going strong.Apart from a few small problems & general wear & tear it's been quit a reliable car. I've been looking at buying another car but I'ts so hard to part from a car that has not given me any real problems over the years .

  20. Bit of an 'offbeat' video review – quite interesting. Very good job actually. I like the AU for the reviewers same reasons! The editing he's done is nothing short of spectacularly clever, especially with the scene changes on the car and motor. Thank you. Some more vids would be nice. I leaned a lot from this one!

  21. WHAT IN GODS NAME IS THIS MAN DOING TO THAT POOR (HOT DOG?)
    I AM AS DISGUSTED AS A CHICAGOAN COULD BE

    other than that, wonderful review!

  22. the AU will never be forgotten, its shapely figure is seared into the nations eyesockets from countless hours spent on the m1 between stepmums hosue in darlinghurst and dad's house in cessnock.

  23. It's like Chrysler raped a Ford and Ford was forced to have the baby because it was unlucky enough to live in the Bible belt. Hate the father for being a rapist, but love the child because it wasn't his fault.

  24. It's fantastic to learn about cars from other nations. Thanks for sharing the story of this….um, very unique looking….Ford! Now excuse me, I'm going to get a sausage and subscribe!

  25. And it's completely Australian designed….. headlight to tail light except the wheel studs and nuts. not like some other brands (looking at you holden)

  26. Nice effort. Well narrated and produced. But…..

    No matter how much you talk up the AU, it’s still ugly as fuck. Just sayin. That’s all

  27. Every true Falcon fan will attest to this: despite it initially looking a bit crook, with the AU release, Ford Australia finally made a Falcon with exterior door handles that didn't need replacing every time the oil needed a change!

  28. A Tickford body kit and Tickford mag wheels improves its looks a 100 fold they will be the next collectable ford as they are scrapped by so many The Fairmont Ghia series 3 has all the bells and whistles you need ABS, Traction control, cruise control, leather seats power windows electric drivers seat fully adjustable steering column Momo steering wheel Momo shifter 4 speed auto 4 wheel independent suspension good sound unit with sub woofer and amp standard with 7 speakers Air Con to the rear seats The Tickford engine with VCT is quick and reliable and when on LPG is so cheap to run Mine is a 99 model 278,000 ks and still goes strong with very little maintenance had the car 10 years and spent less than $2000($200 a year cant complain about that) on maintaining it in RWC at all times I know i can hop into it at anytime and drive 4000 Klms (Sunshine coast and return to Geelong) without a worry.only thing Ive added is a reversing cam with Bluetooth rear view mirror for $130 no mobile phone fines for me 🙂

  29. I had the Fairlane Ghia and I must say it was the most reliable and comfortable car I've ever owned. 15:17 This series also has the best looking dash of any Ford.

  30. I hired an AU for a central Queensland trip in 1998. It did the job very well, the best hire car I've ever had.

    Interestingly this car repeatedly turned heads, almost every person we visited asked what it was like to drive.

    To me it was just a further refinement of the already good Falcon range. They had come a long way from the first EA and in my opinion they had overtaken most other contemporary cars in terms of driving on Australian roads. You had to go for high end European cars to get something better.

  31. If you paid $50,000 for an AU Falcon back in the day, that must surely be among that person’s worst financial decisions of their life!

  32. I personally always really liked the look of this car. I was in High school when it came out also. Eventually a few of my friends owned them and I got to drive them. Loved it! Now I want an AU Falcon haha!

  33. AU TS50 /TE50 T3 were beasts on the race track, here's a AU TE50 T3 running at wakefield park, basically factory stock , only mod was an exhaust mod.Totally destroyes a subby WRX, two falcon xr6 turbo's (red one very modified) a later model GT Falcon and more. https://youtu.be/GZN7VJA1ht4

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