Ford Falcon XD

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Ford Falcon XD

1979 - 1982
6 cyl. & V8
3.3 & 4.1 liter 6 cyl. / 4.9 & 5.8 liter V8
3/4 spd. man / 3 spd. auto
Top Speed:
Number Built:
1 star
Ford took a huge gamble when it invested more than $100 million on the XD Falcon – but fortunately for the blue oval the investment would quickly pay off.

The XD Falcon marked the start of Ford's determined push to become market leader in Australia, a goal they ultimately achieved, but one that, at the release of the XD, was beyond their grasp.

The perceived fault lay in the size of the XD in comparison with its competitors. After its initial launch, the XD enjoyed great popularity, outselling the Holden Commodore.

Launched towards the end of March 1979, it came close to toppling the Commodore from its best-selling pedestal before a sudden, unexpected buying swing to four-cylinder cars in the early months of 1980, which had executives of both GM-H and Ford wringing their hands in anguish.

A determined sales drive with liberal price discounts saw the Falcon make a comeback and in mid-1980 buyers were given further enticement with the introduction of more fuel efficient six-cylinder engines equipped with cylinder heads designed and built by Honda. However, petrol economy was only one factor in the Falcon's decline.

The biggest reaction against the Falcon and Commodore had been a resistance to rising prices, which had been spiraling upward much faster than wage increases and the cost of living.

Ford canvassed public opinion before taking the plunge on the XD. Extensive surveys showed buyers wanted a medium-sized five-seater car with good ride and handling qualities, but smaller, easier to handle, and more economical than the XC Falcon.

So the XD was designed to meet these requirements, using much the same mechanical base as the XC but with more sensible styling and smaller overall dimensions.

Saving weight was a top priority. Plastic components were used extensively, including the bumpers, grille, dash, front spoiler, and petrol tank, which all contributed towards a significant 116 kg reduction, in turn giving the XD a 10 per cent improvement in fuel economy over the XC.

The previous wheelbase was retained, but the length and width were trimmed, although not at the expense of passenger space. There was even an attempt to improve the aerodynamics of the Falcon, the rear-view mirrors being an obvious candidate for a styling revision.

The base GL version was fitted with a 3.3-liter engine, while the 4.1 liter six came standard in the Fairmont and Fairmont Ghia, with the 4.9 and 5.8 liter V8’s optional. Most buyers specified the 4.1 engine, which offered a good blend of power and torque to cope with everyday needs, and was sufficiently strong to haul a boat or caravan.

Improved vision made the XD a most controllable car for its size. While comfort was adequate, unfortunately the driving position suffered the same fault as previous Falcons insofar as the steering wheel was too close to the chest and the old-fashioned umbrella-type handbrake was retained.

The European Sports Pack (ESP) was released 15 months after the rest of the range, in June 1980. It was fitted as standard with the new 4.1 liter alloy head six, however the 5.8 liter V8 was available as an option. The ESP also featured a re-worked suspension system, which included higher-rate front and rear springs, a rear radius rod and Bilstein gas shock absorbers. The steering geometry and anti-sway bars were unique to the ESP.

The car sat on 7 inch wide wheels, and the tires were low-profile 60 series steel belted radials. Inside the ESP featured contoured Australian made Scheel seats with woll-cloth facings. The fact that there was no longer a true performance car in the Falcon lineup was little detterant to the likes of Dick Johnson and other drivers of the Blue Oval, and the famous number 17 would line up at the start of the 1981 Bathurst 1000 event. All seemed to be going well for Johnson, but a massive accident on lap 121 would see the race brought to an early close. Dick Johnson and his XD were named as winners, having been in the lead the preceding lap 120.

The XD Fairmont Ghia was easy to spot from the lesser Falcon's, it featuring lovely fluted alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, velour upholstery and additional instrumentation including a then rare tachometer. The Ghia was only ever sold as a sedan, all other models were available as either sedan or wagon. Unfortunatelly, the hardtop was no more, the ESP being the sportiest on offer.

The XD commercials arrived 6 months after the models launch in September 1979, both the ute's and panel vans being available i n a "base" level of trim, or GL. Ford revised the 3.3 and 4.1 liter six-cylinder Falcon engines in August 1980 with aluminum cylinder heads and other modifications aimed at increasing their fuel efficiency – in turn giving the XD slightly better fuel consumption figures of 14 liters/100 km in urban running, with a highway cycle figure of 10 liters/100 km at constant 100 km/h cruising speed.

The six-cylinder Fairlane and LTD sedans were also equipped with the aluminum cylinder heads. The reason for switching to the use of an alloy head was in its better thermal efficiency, allowing a higher compression ratio (up from 8.7:1 to 9.2:1 on the 3.3 liter engine and from 9.0:1 to 9.4:1 on the 4.1 liter). The easiest way to pick a car with an alloy head is by the badges on the lower front guards, but the wheels are also different.

footnote by Sandy Mercer

The XD Falcon marked the start of Ford's determined push to become market leader in Australia, a goal they ultimately achieved, but one that, at the release of the XD, was beyond their grasp. The perceived fault lay in the size of the XD in comparison with its competitors. While downsized slightly from the previous model, it was still a big car, but, in styling, it made the shift from copying U.S. style to a more sharp edged European look.

To UK eyes, it looks like a MkII Granada, but it was bigger to allow the use of the existing six and eight cylinder engines, while underneath, traditional leaf springs supported the rear axle and the car possessed all the virtues of tough, uncomplicated robustness.

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Also see:

Falcon XD Specifications
Falcon XD Brochure
Ford Falcon Commercials
Falcon/Fairlane Identification Guide
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