Home News Mad Max’s Falcon emerges from the rubble in B.C.

Mad Max’s Falcon emerges from the rubble in B.C.


It’s the duck’s guts, the last of the V8 interceptors, black and battered and brooding and brutal. Max Rockatansky lost his mind in 1979 and here he is hurtling, tumbling, battering his way into the 2015 summer blockbuster season in a carefully choreographed explosion of a movie. After a 30-year hiatus, Mad Max is back. He flew here in a Falcon.

Amongst the industrial estates and abandoned buildings of South Vancouver, another Falcon rumbles along an empty road. Sheets of paper line the gutter, gusting in the breeze and giving the Sunday morning loneliness even more of a neutron-bomb feel.

The 351 cubic inch Cleveland rumbles like a thunderstorm rushing toward the red monolith of Uluru in Australia’s Northern Territories. The flared flanks still wear the livery of the fictional Main Force Patrol with pride. “Pursuit” is written across the rear trunk in big block capital letters. We’ve got a jar of Vegemite in the trunk and are out looking for trouble.

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No, really – I’m not kidding about the Vegemite.

If you already know about the Ford Falcon it’s likely from the car’s association with the post-apocalyptic movie series. The black hero car, fitted with a switch-operated supercharger and huge auxiliary fuel tanks, is half-Batmobile and half-Death Race 3000.

1976 Falcon XB

With its “Concorde”-style front end and exposed side-exit exhausts, you don’t need to know what the Pursuit Special is based on to know that it’s a badass. Oh, it comes from a land down under? Where women glow and men plunder? How interesting.

It’s a car that grew up in Australia and found its own burly identity as the country learned to love it. The Falcon was a racer, a brawler, a cop, a movie star, and a scandal-maker. Here’s its history.

The first thing you should know about Ford of Australia is that it’s actually a subsidiary of Ford Canada, not Ford’s American division. As one of the Commonwealth countries Ford Canada was allowed to distribute to, Australia started out with Model Ts shipped from Canada as knock-down kits. They even had a factory modelled on the Canadian version, with a roof designed to handle seven feet of snow. In Melbourne.

No trip into the post-apocalyptic wastelands would be complete without vegemite.

It’s a curious link between our two countries, part of that firm friendship that sees thousands of Aussie lifties headed over here to run our ski resorts, and thousands of Canadians headed to the underside of the globe to get sunburned and possibly bitten by something poisonous. I’ve remarked upon our special relationship before – indeed, I have cousins living in Geelong, right near where that first Ford factory was built – and a reader took me to task for suggesting that koala bears are poisonous. It’s a valid criticism, and I accept the correction. Koala bears are not poisonous.

They are venomous.

But I digress. The point is, in the early going, Australia didn’t really have their own Fords, but vehicles built to work in other climes. Initially, this meant a selection of British-style stuff, which cost more than the Holden (General Motors) offerings, and was a bit elderly. And also designed by bloody pommies.

1976 Falcon XB

After rejecting a Dearborn-styled Australian special based on the Ford Zephyr, the decision was finally made that the first fully Australian Ford sedan would be a right-hand-drive version of the American Falcon. Production started in mid-1959, in the fancy new Broadmeadows plant with the incongruous snow-shedding roof.

This first Falcon, the XK, looked pretty good. Unfortunately, it was a few Matildas short of a waltz. Designed for the smooth, freshly paved American interstates, the soft suspension of the XK met Australia’s mostly unpaved roads (something like 90 per cent in 1960) and promptly went to pieces like a modern British cricket team.

Imagine, if you will, trying to sell a baseball hat in 1960s Australia. “But how do you hang the little corks off the side?” cry the customers. The first Falcon didn’t translate, and Ford’s image took a kicking.

It would take years to stir up public interest in the nameplate, something done with a publicity stunt emphasizing the new updated XP Falcon’s re-engineered strength. Over a nine-day run at Ford’s proving grounds at You Yangs (don’t you just love Aussie place names?), five Falcons managed to pull off a gruelling 70,000 miles (112,000 kilometres) of punishment, maintaining an average speed above 70 mph (112 km/h).

Holdens still outsold the Falcon handily, but interest was growing in the Ford offerings. And then a bloke named Bill Bourke decided to sell a cop car to the public.

The V8-powered Falcon XR GT would be the first real performance Ford in Australia, and was essentially the same as the cop version Ford was developing for the Victoria police force. It had a 225-horsepower 289 ci engine like a Mustang GT, a top-loader four-speed manual, disc brakes up front and a beefy suspension.

Very few were sold to the public, however, enough XR GTs found their way into Australian garages to allow Ford to homologate the car for racing at Bathurst in New South Wales. The racetrack, Mount Panorama Racing Circuit, had huge elevation changes, and only the most basic concessions to safety. Stirling Moss was reportedly shocked at the lack of barriers and short run-off areas, and you can just imagine the laid-back Australian track marshal patting Moss on the shoulder, “She’ll be right, mate. No worries!”

1976 Falcon XB

Bathurst would become a battlefield for the Falcon, clashes and one-upmanship between Ford and Holden creating muscle cars to match anything that might come out of North America. The Falcon GT would get its own mascot (Super Roo: imagine a Super Bee, but as a marsupial), and an even hotter version called the GTHO. This’d get a tuned-up engine good for 300 hp, and crazy homologation-special stuff like a 164 L fuel tank.

From here, things just went bonkers. You can see why – Bill Bourke, the managing director of Ford, even had a 428 ci big-block shoe-horned into his personal Falcon. The thing would reportedly light up its tires at a hundred miles an hour.

It’d all end with the XA and XB Falcons, the last of the GT cars that Mad Max would make famous. The Pursuit Special, Max’s black anti-hero car, is based on a 1973 XB GT, itself a relatively rare car. As an aside, that unique solid nose on the car is an aftermarket clip penned by Ford designer Peter Arcadipane, who stuffed a 427 cu.-in. big-block into his personal XB.

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For a taste of what life would be like in a sunburned country, I head down to meet up with James McMillan and his 1976 Falcon XB. This car’s got a great story – imported as a dream machine by a guy who couldn’t get it past provincial inspection, it was sitting in a wrecker’s driveway when McMillan happened upon it and did a double-take. Is that a MFP-liveried movie replica? Wait, it’s a real Falcon?

It was bound for the wrecker the next morning, but McMillan took on the rescue, bringing it back to life even while ownership remained hazy thanks to the befuddled importation. Happily, patience and mechanical aptitude paid off, and now we’re sneaking around back alleys and empty parking lots looking for the most apocalyptic backdrops possible.

1976 Falcon XB

It’s a neat-looking car, the Falcon, roomy inside yet much more compact than contemporary American muscle. It’s right-hand-drive, of course, but also kinda like a baby Torino.

But the comparison’s unfair – the Falcon is its own thing entirely, even ignoring that this one’s painted up like Roop and Charlie’s “Big Bopper” cop car. It has its own culture, its own roots, its own fanbase.

Eric Bana explores the latter in his excellent documentary Love The Beast. Never mind rural Australian jokes about the title – it’s not what we think. The Beast in question is Bana’s 1974 XB hardtop coupe, a car that he’s had since his teens. He calls it a campfire, the one thing he can still gather around with his childhood friends when he escapes from the faux-glitz of Hollywood.

Bana races his XB in the Targa Tasmania – in the documentary, Jeremy Clarkson calls him insane for doing so – and eventually crashes it. He’ll fix it up though; the car is a constant, a direct link to the land-locked small town where he grew up.

More than the Mad Max connection, this is the Falcon’s real beauty: it evolved to become a true Australian car. While the horsepower wars of the ’70s would scandalize the nation, such that nothing quite like the XB GT was ever made again, at its peak, the Falcon was a fair dinkum Aussie machine.

Regrettably, after 55 years of Falconry, Ford Australia is now shutting down production, turning to a more global product lineup. A real shame that; no matter what the blue oval brings to Oz next, they’ll never again build anything this true blue.

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