It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but the job of transforming a Falcon ute into an off-roader turned out to be more difficult than anticipated.
We’re talking about a forgotten chapter from Ford’s Australian story that dates back more than 50 years, the 1972 XY Falcon 4x utility — just 432 of which were built before Ford pulled the plug.
The offroader was originally conceived to meet the demands of the Australian Army, but released to the public after leaked photos generated plenty of buyer interest.
Priced at $3680, all of them were powered by Ford’s 4.1-litre six-cylinder engine, together with a three-speed Borg Warner manual transmission and Spicer two-speed transfer case.
Kerb weight was 1642kg, it had ground clearance of 190mm at the front and 203mm at the rear, and could carry a payload of 626kg.
Standard kit comprised a high backed bench seat (from the XA), saddle trim upholstery, padded sun visors, dash and arm rests, two-speed wipers, heater demister, plus a tinted laminated windscreen — all plush for the day.
A sump guard and tonneau cover were also standard.
Accessories included a winch, heavy-duty tow bar and military-style, high roofed canvas canopy.
You could even request a dealer-installed Falcon GT front spoiler.
Warranty was 12 months or 12,000 miles. “Going Ford is the going thing!” the brochure said.
The 4×4 bits came from Jeep and the cars were converted and assembled largely by hand of a weekend at Ford’s Brisbane Assembly Plant, which was also responsible for conversion of right-hand drive F series pickups.
The design called for a second diff, leaf springs and a live axle to be installed under the front and that required a bit of rejigging and reinforcing, with the engine tipped to the right — to provide room for suspension travel between the axle and sump/exhaust.
The 4x ute missed out on power steering, because the steering was reportedly too light to start with. Ford actually fitted a GT-HO steering box to bring down the ratio.
Original fit skinny 6.00 x 16 lug-tread, cross-ply tyres were the same as those fitted to World War II Jeeps.
It was the only way they could squeeze in a spare.
As we all know, a 4WD of any make, not just a Ford, is not much chop in the bush without a spare wheel.
The front subframe and rear undercarriage had been strengthened to cope with expected off-road bashing, and to provide mounting points for the front springs.
Problems emerged when a prototype returned from outback testing with stress fractures in the centre of the cab.
Worse still, its front axle assembly came back bent.
While reinforcing the cab wasn’t a major drama, fitting a higher-rated axle assembly certainly was.
This spec change and other issues with the American supplier caused huge delays, putting back release of the XY 4x ute to late 1972 — rather than 1971 as planned.
By this time the new XA Falcon had already been introduced and while there were plans to introduce an updated version of the ute, the project was shelved before it could happen.
Legend has it this was because of the difficulty involved in getting the ute to meet new ADR requirements.
But it was probably for a combination of reasons:
It was costly and time consuming to produce
New ADR requirements meant it had to have a collapsible steering column and high-back bucket seats
The XA body was not as strong due to its frameless door construction and that meant testing had to be done again
All in all, it makes the Falcon 4x utility a rather rare beast which makes the opportunity to buy one a rather large occasion.
One is up for grabs at Shannons May 17-24 timed Autumn auction.
Shannons says it’s the real deal, in largely original shape with its 250ci straight-six recently rebuilt.
The front differential and bearings were replaced at the same time, despite the odo showing a lowish 50,000 miles.