Ford Falcon 70,000 Mile 9 Day Reliability Trial…

Posted: March 18, 2022 in Touring Cars
Tags: ,

Ford were in diabolical financial trouble almost from the day the Australian subsidiary commenced building the Falcon in Australia…

A late call was made by local management to build the US Falcon rather than the UK Mark 3 Zephyr. It was the right decision, but as a consequence, and blind optimism on the part of the blue-oval-boys, the Falcon was the first and only car built in Australia which was not designed for our rather harsh range of conditions.

Shortly after the launch of the XK Falcon the queue of customers with their sexy new Falcons into service departments with front ball joint, suspension and gearbox dramas began. Warranty claims soared as demand for the cars tanked.

The Falcon soon became the Foulcan. Despite running production line changes, and the XL and XM updates introducing a raft of minor and major changes, private and fleet buyers stayed away in droves. Ford Australia was at risk of being chopped off at the knees by HQ in Dearborn.

Ford Canada’s US born marketing guru, Bill Bourke (later appointed CEO of Ford Australia) was sent to the Australian outpost to assist in ‘saving the company’. His plan, without any regard for the difficulties of the idea was a 70,000 mile endurance test to be completed over nine days of Ford’s You Yangs Proving Ground to demonstrate the toughness and longevity of the cars.

(FoMoCo)

(FoMoCo)

(FoMoCo)

It is hard to imagine a more unsuitable course for such an adventure, in full glare of the media despite its country location, and so it was that Ford’s CEO flagged off the five cars (and one spare which was regularly pressed into service) which achieved the feat despite a totally unsuitable track, totally unsuitable Dunlop SP41 tyres and totally terrible organisation…

I could rehash what others have published in recent times but when a Wheels article written by one of Australia’s greatest motoring journalists/authors in Bill Tuckey is out there why not just go with that, an article written in the day in the context of the time and the pickle Ford were in. The piece was originally published in the July 1965 issue, it is still arguably Australia’s best road car magazine.

I have exercised editorial and creative direction when it comes to the photographs however. I’ve used none of their shots as there is now a much better range of snaps whizzing around the internet inclusive of the opening shot which inspired my interest in the whole amazing exercise of corporate balls, and success despite some pretty skinny organisation other than in the build/preparation of the cars themselves by Harry Firth’s Emporium of Speed in Queens Avenue, Auburn…

‘1965 Ford XP: 70,000 Mile Marathon’

‘In which the equivalent of 140 Armstrong (Bathurst) 500s goes a very long way to demonstrating that there’s a Falcon in Ford’s future.’

‘Ford took a giant step forward in its Australian future when five battered and travel-stained Falcons smashed through a banner at 1.42 am on a rocky Victorian hillside after covering 70,000 miles in nine days. It may be too soon in history to judge the effect of this considerable feat, but it is plain that it had the effect of making just about everybody in the country conscious of Falcons, if only for nine days. Poorly organised and managed as it was, the endurance run came to mean a lot more than normal “record bids” simply because the company stood up beforehand and announced its intention of doing it. This one simply could not be swept under a rug.’

‘The industry and motor sport authorities saw Ford’s announced intention as a little amusing, particularly its intention of averaging 72 mph on a circuit which makes Lakeside look like a roller skating rink. But the equivalent of 140 Armstrong 500s, or nearly four times around the world, or 60 return trips from Melbourne to Sydney later, they had to eat their words. The cars had more endurance than the drivers; extra pilots were hauled unsuspecting from their warm beds at midnight to be rocketed out to the bleak and chill proving ground in the You Yangs to sit over a fire and wonder how they had come to be there, anyway.’

‘The bid, as the “Financial Review” commented acidly, succeeded in spite of the organisation, not because of it. The selection of drivers was very much on the old buddy system, and did not represent the best available in the country, oil company jealousies notwithstanding. One driver had never raced before, let alone held a CAMS Licence and there were some strange faces in the cars that the old motor sport hands could not recognise. Then both Ford and Dunlop grossly underestimated the tyre wear factor for the new SP41, the Ford mechanics initially had too few tools, the tyres were originally fitted without tubes, spectator control was non-existent, and there were not enough crash and fire units around the circuit.’

‘But despite this, and despite the average being lowered in the first few days to ease the rate of tyre wear, the cars came through – with enormous prestige. The 2.25 mile circuit is dreadfully difficult, mainly because it was built to incorporate high vertical and side loadings on wheels and suspensions. New drivers going out for the first time came back in assorted stages of twitching, but after spending time learning it found that one could save half a second here and there by thinking ahead. Nevertheless, they still had to point the cars every foot of the way; for instance, if one came over the top of ·the 4 in 1 hill and started the downhill approach to the esses a foot or so off line, then you ended up 20 ft or so offline at the bottom amid low shrubs and immovable objects called boulders.’

‘The worst time of the day was just before dawn, when fog settled into the dips, windscreens frosted over, and heavy dew made corners quite greasy. The 32 drivers generally worked on the basis of two hours on and four off, but many “iron men”, like Tom Quill, insisted on doing double duty. There was a 24-hour meals service, and the drivers slept either in the 12 caravans available or went 15 miles back to hotels and motels in Geelong (Victoria). The mechanics worked 12-hour shifts and sometimes ate their meals sitting on straw bales lining the pit road. The drivers got quite intense about the car they were crewing, regarding it as “their” car and threatening each crew member with instant disgrace if he bent it. Car 3, the four-door sedan that eventually covered the most miles and was the only one not involved in a shunt, was team senior ”Wild Bill” McLachlan’s pride and joy. Somebody stuffed the red No 1 two-door hardtop, Harry Firth’s baby, into a boulder, and that caused strained relations. Victorian comingman Brian (“Brique”) Reed had a tyre slit on him and bounced into a gully, while various people rolled various cars.’

(FoMoCo)

‘Each time this happened the reserve car – unprepared for the event – was called in and the mechanics jumped in to repair the badly damaged bodies with whatever tools were handy. And they did a remarkable job. Red No 1 set four new records as soon as it got back on the track after being rolled. And the only serious mechanical failures were those caused by the cars going off the road.’

‘But the drivers, by Wednesday, the fifth day, were starting to enjoy the wearying project immensely. Jon Leighton, head of the Birchwood School of Motor Racing, spent his time on the track in experimenting with various lines and techniques, discovering the circuit all over again every few laps. Bruce McPhee concentrated on being as neat and tidy as possible, yet still managed to go extraordinarily quickly. The drivers were signalled every few laps with the lap time which pit managers Les Powell and Max Ward wanted them to maintain, and this was generally around 1:51 or 1:52. Some of the top men were allowed to lap around 1:48 and 1:49.’

‘One or two ran out of fuel on the circuit, but orders were that when the fuel gauge needle covered the “E” sign the driver was to do five more laps, giving the pits progressively five, four, three, two and one toots on his horn as he came past each time. Changing drivers, wheels, fuelling, cleaning windscreens and checking oil levels took around the two minutes, although the pit stops speeded up toward the end. They were refuelling the cars from drums for two days before some bright lad discovered that there were two 1000-gallon drums of Mobil not 100 ft away.’

‘Dunlop’s radial-ply SP41 tyres came in for as much – if not more – torture as the quintet of Ford Falcons. Estimates of wear were way off the mark and on the first day of the nine-day event about 100 covers were used. There was a twofold cause for this, first the surface of the track was highly abrasive, second, the lap speed of well above 70 mph was chewing out tyres quicker than expected.’

‘The nature of the track layout and the ‘green’ top dressing shredded tyres to such an extent that drivers were signalled to ease up. When this was done tyre life was appreciably greater, although 70-plus mph lapping was still being put in. The Dunlops were worked hard all the time, and on occasions grossly overworked. But throughout all the tyre incidents, not once did a cover part company with the rim, even when one driver returned at 60 mph to the pits with its deflated cover on fire. On the third day of the run, at the drivers’ request, tubes were fitted to the SP41s. As the twisting 21-mile circuit became bedded-in, the tyre wear factor improved and a set lasted roughly six hours. By the second last night only one of the five cars needed a tyre change. And this was to the front offside which had suffered punishment for hours.’

‘It also must be pointed out that the Falcons were being driven at racing speeds on tyres never designed for track work. After the run ended layers of shredded rubber could be found on most corners. This had been chewed off by the scrubbing motion of the wheels under 90 mph cornering. An inspection of the track afterwards showed that the bitumen topping had been worn away ‘by the pounding of the cars leaving a hard, quartz surface. About 600 tyres were used in the event. The tyre bill was roughly £6000.’

(unattributed)

(FoMoCo)

Etcetera…

(unattributed)

The driver roll call includes Bob Jane, Allan Moffat, Ern Abbott, Fred Sutherland, Alan Caelli, Barry Arentz, Barry Seton, Harry Firth, Jon Leighton, Bruce Corstorphan, Tom Quill, John Raeburn, bill Mc Lachlan, Brique Reed, Gil Davis, Kevin Bartlett, Bruce McPhee, Geoff Russell and Max Stahl – and more. Do let me know others in order to complete this list.

Credits…

Wheels magazine, practicalmotoring.com.au, Ford Australia

Tailpiece…

The Australian Wheels magazine ‘Car of The Year’ was and still is a highly prestigious award and no doubt was mightily appreciated by the boys in Broady and Norlane when the gong was announced.

Finito…

Comments
  1. David EM Thompson says:

    In the U.S., the small “V” on the front fender, just forward of the wheel, indicated the 289 cu.in. 271 H.P. high performance engine. That would make 90 mph speeds believable. Also that those puny little tires would get chewed up.

    • markbisset says:

      Cheers David,
      The first locally built Falcon to cop a V8 – the 289 – was the 1966-67 XR. The Fairmont offered a 200bhp version, XR GT was the first local Pony Car, it had 225bhp. And so began a wonderful series of hi-po cars until several years ago.
      Mark

  2. Tim Lewis says:

    Thank you Mark for another great piece of Oz motoring history. Was lucky enough to see Harry’s Auburn workshop while I was editing the 1974 Manchamp doco. Even took Harry in my Renault 16TS to lunch (at, I think, The Tower pub, Hawthorn) and feared the wrath of all motorsport enthusiasts if I had a bingle.

    • markbisset says:

      It’s interesting isn’t it Tim?
      I was aware of the event but didn’t know just how much shit Ford were in at the time, and therefore the importance of success. I tripped over the photos and away we go. Love to know who ALL the drivers were.
      You are lucky to go to the Cathedral (Harry’s joint) in the day, my rat run between Monash Uni and the folks place took me past Gown Hindhaugh most days, so I was a regular rubber-neck there, noy on quite the same level of mystique I grant you!
      Mark

  3. Bill HOLLINGSWORTH says:

    The XP Falcon was a radically different car from its predecessors with its Mercury sourced front sheet metal and beefed up underpinnings.

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