Nothing second rate about the XR Falcon

I reckon that the 1966 Ford XR Falcon is one of the most influential cars to be released on the Australian market.

When it appeared in showrooms in September of that year it heralded the start an era of big, affordably priced, powerful, family sedans and wagons. 

Although a six-cylinder engine was standard, the V8 option, available even in the poverty pack model, opened up new horizons for those who wanted to space and pace.

The Falcon could be optioned to suit individual desires and displayed great driving dynamics for its era.

The XR was bigger, more stylish and more sophisticated than any previous Australian-built car, larger than the competition. 

With a long bonnet and short boot, the “Mustang Bred” Falcon had a thrusting stance.

“Move out front!” the advertisements proclaimed.

Holden’s staid HR and Chrysler’s VC Valiant could not match this aggressive theme.

The Falcon sat on a 111 inch/2819mm wheelbase and that dimension was critical.

It was three inches longer than what Chrysler and Holden had locked in for their new VE and HK models, due for release in 1967 and 1968 respectively.

That spelled trouble.

It meant these new cars would not only look shorter than the Falcon, they would be shorter. 

For Holden, as long-time market leader, that was yet another in a line of performance and dimensional disadvantages it suffered since the arrival of the 1960 Falcon and 1962 Valiant.

Both were bigger, wider and more powerful than a Holden during the early to mid-sixties.

And now, Ford was expanding again, setting higher benchmarks and making Holden play catch up.

When Holden’s design director Joe Schemansky first got wind of the 1966 Falcon he immediately decided a major change was required. 

An extra three inches/76mm was added to the HK’s wheelbase ahead of the front doors.

It was an expensive change to make so late in the car’s development program and was the first time a Holden had been changed to match a competitor’s design. 

It took Chrysler five years to match the XR, with the 1971 VH model.

Leyland’s 1973 P76 also copied the XR’s dimensions.

For me, the 1966 XR established the template for locally-built sedans and wagons that only disappeared when the final Holden Commodore rolled off the production line in October, 2017.

It is a text book case study of how second place in a market can set the trend.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos


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