Before The Falcon
Tracing the linage of Australia's Ford Falcon can be a rather daunting task, given Ford have been such a great contributor to the Australian motoring scene since Henry developed the Model T
. In fact, it was the Model T that went a long way establishing the reputation of the maker, it endearing itself to many Aussie pioneering drivers who soon came to appreciate the cars strength and durability in the harsh Australian conditions.
Back in 1904, Ford's fledgling Detroit operation was experiencing financial difficulty, and so in a search to acquire much needed capital, Henry Ford
met with Gordon McGregor, President of the Walkerville Wagon Company of Walkerville, Ontario, Canada. A deal was struck that would see the Walkerville Wagon Company assume entire production of Ford motor cars built for the British Empire, with the exclusion of Britain and Ireland. Part of the deal included some 51% of the Ford Motor Company of Canada being handed over to shareholders of Ford USA.
The Walkerville Wagon Company were naturally keen to begin exports of their cars, and high on the list were Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The very first distributor and assembler of Ford cars was the Tarrant Motor Company of Melbourne. For a time things were rosy, however the Canadian HQ soon became displeased with the profitability of the Australian operation, and thought that by developing a local Australian manufacturing and assembly plant, profitability was sure to follow. They sent Hubert French to investigate the viability of such an operation.
The Ford Motor Company of Australia was registered on the 31st March, 1925, they immediately doing away with the existing distributor system and dealing directly with their own retail network. 40 hectares of land was purchased in Geelong, however while the buildings were under construction, part of the Dalgety's wool store was leased so that assembly could commence immediately. Production of the Model T in various body configurations followed soon after, and while Geelong was to be the main production facility, Ford also went to lengths to ensure adequate representation in other states, with facilities being established at Eagle Farm in Brisbane, Lidcombe in Sydney, Birkenhead in Adelaide and Fremantle.
The Model A arrived in 1928, and would remain the mainstay of the Australian operation until the next major arrival in the 1930's, the V8. And of course there was the ute, designed in Geelong by Lew Bandt. Its design came about following a letter sent to Ford by a Gippsland farmers wife, she not being terribly impressed with the practicality of the vehicles then on offer. In the letter, she wrote "Can you build me a vehicle that we can go to church in on Sunday without getting wet, and my husband can use it to take the pigs to market on Monday?"
Hubert French was still heading the Ford Australia operation, and he thought the idea had merit. French enlisted the talents of a young Lew Bandt to create a design that combined the front of a passenger car (in this case a Ford Coupe) with the rear of a truck. His design was a masterpiece, it offering unrivaled comfort combined with practacility for the man on the land. It didn't take long for other manufacturers to realise what a watershed Bandt's design was, and other companies rushed similar designs to market both here in Australia, and around the world.
Obviously some credit should also go to Hubert French, he not only shared a vision, but was able to select the ideal person from within Ford to complete the design. But that was in the 1930's, and it was during the next decade that things really started to heat up on the Australian car front, and for that we need to jump camp and talk about the General.
The First Australian Car
It was inevitable that Australia would want to manufacture its own car, rather than merely assemble imports from knock down kits. Lawrence (Larry) Hartnett was in charge of General Motors Holden's at the time, and he was arguably a more cunning politician than Hubert French. Designs had been developed for an all Australian car, and Hartnett had to overcome many obstacles along the way, not least of which was in he getting approval for the project from GM's Detroit Headquarters. For more information on what transpired, you can check the Holden Heritage
page on this site.
By contrast, French was instructed by his Canadian management that he was only to use existing product
- and so the title of "Australia's Own Car" was to go unchallenged, for a time. Instead, Ford's Aussie product line-up consisted of the larger V8's from Canada (Custom, Customline
and Fairlane's), and the smaller British built 4 and 6 cylinder cars such as the Anglia, Prefect, Consul and Zephyr
The only car that could go head to head with the 48/215
was the Zephyr, but after importation of the CKD from Dagenham it was around 10% more expensive, and given the media hype surrounding the all-new Holden it was never really in the race. French was replaced by Charles A. (Charlie) Smith in June, 1950, who immediately set about convincing the powers to be in Canada that Ford needed their own local product to remain competitive.
The 1960 Ford Model Launch, now everbody
could see what Charlie Smith had decided
was right for Australia two years
It took him a while, but in 1955 the nod was given for the manufacture of the Zephyr locally. The Mark II arrived the following year, and many commentators believed it to be better than the comparable FE Holden
, better equipped, better handling and (some may say) better looking. But regardless of how much "better" it was, it remained considerably more expensive.
The Decision, Zephyr or Falcon?
To remain competitive, Ford's US stylists were commissioned with the task of revising the Zephyr Mark II. The only probelm was that the late 1950's and early 1960's ushered in a time of major design change in the look of US built cars, and the Zephyr had become pretty much a dinousaur. Still, the designers did the best they could with the aging design, and waited for the arrival of Charlie Smith to give it the nod.
The call came on July 31st, 1958. In an interview, Charlie Smith remembered..."Mr Emmett cabled me to meet him in Detroit to see the Zephyr that was being redesigned for Australia, and with a party of my senior executives I immediately left for the US.
When they wheeled out the Zephyr at the design studio's, I simply didn't like the look of it, and I said so". Theodore Emmet then showed Smith a mock up of a new compact being designed for the US market, the Falcon. On seeing the new car, Smith replied "That's the car I want for Australia!".
Conjecture abounds to this day, was Emmet disappointed that Smith chose not to proceed with the revised Zephyr, or quietly elated that he had chosen the fresh new design of the US compact? It probably helped that the Falcon, apart from being radically more modern, was also cheaper to manufacture. And at a time when Australian's were turning to the US for design inspiration (no doubt due in part to the advent of television, and the plethora of US shows being broadcast), the Falcon seemed far more likely to be a sales winner.