Overview – AU Falcon Station Wagon.

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Introduction: (Back to Index)
 

The AU Falcon wagon is a vehicle unmatched in it’s abilities or style.  The Falcon provides an excellent ride quality (full or empty) from it's practical leaf sprung rear suspension and is motivated by one of the sweetest inline sixes on the market today.  Add to that steering that is both sharp and accurate (something that can’t be said about the Commodore) and crisp handling – almost better than the sedan equivalent. The VT Commodore on the other hand, while being slightly larger internally is let down by it’s poor load carrying capabilities due to it's adoption of a Datsun 1600 style Independent Rear Suspension with it’s weak coil springs.  And that's not to mention it's ancient design V6 still with cast iron heads and push rods!

Engine: (Back to Index)
 
The Falcon's engine on the other hand, is an absolute work of art, taking inspiration from the best engines in the world - including Jaguar and BMW.  Featuring a torquey straight six design (a design still featured by some of the world's best sports cars - just check out the BMW M3 & Nissan Skyline GTR commonly known as "Godzilla").  The SOHC straight six features an alloy cylinder head and 'fail safe cooling' - that prevents engine damage even under the hottest conditions and even in the unlikely event of complete or partial cooling system failure.  Other features are sequential fuel injection, a dual resonance intake manifold, structural sump, distributor less ignition and a quieter serpentine accessory drive belt.

Suspension, Ride & Handling: (Back to Index)
 

Back to the Falcon's leaf sprung rear suspension - ancient technology indeed - but one that is extremely well suited to the task.  One of the little acknowledged qualities of the leaf spring is in it's ability to provide a relatively good ride quality while the vehicle is empty - while still comfortably handling any weight you might choose to throw at it!!!  In contrast, any coil sprung rear suspension set up to take the weight as per the leaf sprung rear end, would provide bone jarring empty ride quality as well as skittish handling on bumps and pot holes.  This may be fine for Homer and his Spine Melter 2000 but generally since most of us don’t have yellow skin and three fingers per hand – is not a comforting idea.

Add to that the Commodore's poorly designed Independent Rear Suspension's ability to scrub out rear tyres and you'll start to see why I am no fan of it!  Using technology abandoned by Opel (GM's European subsidiary) more than ten years ago, this suspension also has an alarming habit of introducing incredible amounts of negative camber (just imagine a 60's swing arm Beetle) at the first sign of a load.  What scares me the most is the thought of all this weight having to ride on the inside wall of the tyres!!!

As mentioned previously, Ford's engineers have done a fantastic job of introducing the leaf spring to the 21st Century, producing adhesion levels and handling previously unheard of with this type of suspension!  For those who desire a better handling package though there is the option of a Tickford designed sports suspension pack.  Considering how well the leaf spring has performed under Tickford's caress in the XR8 Ute - which is able to comfortably out handle the new VU Holden Ute with IRS - this would make for one seriously good handling wagon indeed!

The Falcon’s ability was proved to me recently when my wife, her parents, brother and our 6-month-old daughter used it to travel from Victoria to Queensland.  Using a cargo barrier with the luggage stacked right to the roof the wagon just sat nicely without threatening to bottom out over medium sized bumps.

And that's all before you get to Falcon's front suspension - featuring world class forged double wishbones for added strength and handling, and joined by a die cast aluminium cross member for added stiffness.  Comparatively, to look under the front wheel arches of a Commodore is a scary experience - making you wonder how on earth such a large vehicle is able to ride on such a flimsy suspension!

Helping the ride and handling of this big wagon no end, is the fact that the floor pan is the same as that used on the long wheelbase Fairlane and LTD, reducing the potential rear overhang by 4" and helping produce a smoother ride.

Styling: (Back to Index)
 

There is no doubt that Ford's futuristic styling has been the subject of much debate - most of it centred around the rear styling of the sedan.  The Falcon wagon does away with this while avoiding the "bloated pig" look of the Commodore wagon.  In fact, in my opinion the Falcon that manages to look right up there with the world's best - whether it be from Volvo, BMW, Mercedes or the like.  It's large headlights (also the subject of much division) work exceptionally well - making the Commodore's effort seem decidedly dim.  A benefit you will appreciate once you get used to their large size - which has now been mimicked by many companies since - such as the new Honda Civic.  Once fitted with Ford's impressive looking 17" wheels you seem to forget all about the headlight's size - in fact they start to actually look good!

Helping the headlights do their job is the rear suspension which resists tail end sag - which can lift the sedan's headlights off of the road under heavy loads.  -Which also helps keep the oncoming traffic from flashing you as you blind them with your skyward low beams (another advantage of leaf springs!).

The Falcon wagon also comes with a higher roof than the sedan which gives more cargo area and head clearance for the rear passengers.  The open airy feeling of a wagon can be wonderful after the relatively confined space in some sedans.  Reversing can also be made easier by the fact that it is far easier to see exactly where the rear of the wagon is than in a sedan.  Rearwards visibility is also up for doing head checks due to the fact that there are no bulky rear pillars or high boot lid to block your vision.

Safety: (Back to Index)
 
Safety wise the AU wagon is the first Falcon wagon to be fitted with a plastic petrol tank – far less susceptible to cracking and rust.  In the case of an accident these are designed to deform rather than split so containing it’s potentially explosive contents.  Even fire is not a problem with the Falcon being tested out at Ford’s proving ground by literally lighting a tray full of petrol under it!  Every wagon from Futura up is fitted with ABS so you can be confident in the braking performance too - providing it has been maintained correctly and the tyres are up to it.  And just like the sedan, those brakes will pull you up a whole lot quicker than any Commodore short of a SS or HSV (the scariest thing is the fact that they let you have a 220kw V8 in an Executive with these brakes – shudder).

AU series 2 brakes are much better than the AU series 1 in that they are thicker allowing more skims between replacing discs, while also resisting heat fade better.  However, the brakes on the AU series 1 were quite adequate for the intended purpose (not if you plan to drive like an XR) and will pull you up better than most vehicles - including the Commodore.  In both cases (AU1 and AU2), tyres will be your limiting factor when governing how quick you pull up.

Safety wise, the AU series 2 wagon also includes a centre rear lap sash belt - where as the AU series 1 comes only with the lap belt in the same position.

Sound Levels: (Back to Index)
 
Sound wise, somehow the wagon tends to support a much “bigger” and basey sound than a sedan although runs out of volume quicker partially due to the smaller rear speakers.  The rear speakers are in a far better place than the EA – EL where they rattled in the tailgate and sounded far too distant.  In fact people who have travelled in both our AU Falcon’s (sedan and wagon) have actually commented the sound quality is better for back seat passengers in the wagon than in the sedan!  The only disadvantage that I can see (wagon vs. sedan) here is noticeably more road noise, but it’s a small price to pay and is not at all intolerable.

LPG Conversion: (Back to Index)
 
LPG conversion is not a problem with the wagon with a circular “donut” tank being used due to the fact that you cannot cut & weld a plastic fuel tank like you could the steel one (Warning: don’t try this at home!).  – Which brings me to the next advantage of owning a wagon vs. sedan – you only lose the space required to re-mount the spare tyre on one side, leaving the load space free to be used.  In a sedan you lose the benefit of the split fold rear seats and therefore the ability to carry long items.  The conversion will cost more than the sedan equivalent - as is the case with all station wagons.

New to the AU series 2 is the availability of a single fuel LPG option (removal of the petrol tank).  This option allows fitment of a second gas tank, effectively restoring the fuel range back to greater than a petrol only vehicle.  Available at less than half the cost of the dual fuel option, there remains very little excuse as to why you wouldn't choose this option - with less reliability issues and LPG outlets available almost everywhere.  Obtaining the LPG option from the factory also gives the added bonus of having the LPG tanks connected to the "Distance To Empty" meter - a very handy invention!

Load Space & Spare Wheel: (Back to Index)
 

The amount of thought put into the rear load space of the AU wagon is impressive with pre-drilled and tapped mounting points in the roof and floor for the cargo barrier.  All that is required to fit is a flat bladed screwdriver to remove the plastic plugs.  There even exists a front set of roof mounts to allow a “2 position” cargo barrier to be fitted behind the driver’s seat enabling you to use the entire rear space for carrying cargo once the back seat is folded forward.  There’s also the ability to fit a third row seat for young children but beyond this you’ll have to get a van (doh!).

The spare tyre is now located below the solid cargo floor and is lowered by way of a winch.  This allows the spare to be got at without emptying the rear cargo area and as such us much better than the sedan.  To top it all off you don’t have to break your back hauling a heavy spare out of a deep well only to drag it across a nicely painted bumper and onto your clean pants!  Once you’re finished you simply slide the other wheel under the wagon, hook the winch back up and wind it up into position!  Who ever the absolute genius is who decided to change the wagon to this system deserves a well-earned pat on the back!

Child seat mounting points are also provided (as per the sedan) and an extremely thoughtful inclusion is rope tie-downs built into the rear floor area, giving you the ability to tie that load down better than Gulliver’s travels.  A useful option is the inclusion of a rear cargo blind allowing you to hide all that mess or expensive items from prying eyes ready to take you for whatever you’ve got.  From the AU Upgrade on this was included as standard fitment in all Falcon station wagons so make sure yours is there or be prepared to knock down the selling price (they are worth near enough to $500 to replace!!!).  These clip in and out easily so won’t effect your ability to carry large items.

Conclusion: (Back to Index)
 
Owning a Falcon wagon can actually be a pleasant experience - and far from the "kiddie carrier only" class.  Having said that - it fulfils that role extremely well too - providing much better safety levels than most smaller vehicles and great value for money.  Add to that a heap of great practical features and you're on a winner!

The only down side for me is that the AU Falcon wagon is only available in three variants being the Forte, Futura and Fairmont - and then only as an auto.  It is a pity it is not available in either XR6 or XR8 variants - or as a Fairmont Ghia - as these would require the fitting of Ford’s magnificent (if heavy) independent rear suspension.  If this were to be done it would also allow a limited edition T-series “Estate” to be produced.  Ok - so I’m dreaming - but it’s still ok to dream isn’t it?

Other than that, the only real disadvantage of owning a wagon is a slight increase in your fuel bill over a sedan, a slight ribbing from your mates and leaf springs that I’m told squeak after a while (ours haven’t yet).  If you can put up with that you’ll be laughing at the sedan driver every time you have to fill the rear seat, or have to carry awkward objects, or have to travel around a sharp corner, or …or …the list goes on!  Still, with the rise in popularity in the ‘States of station wagons in hot rodding, and the rise in popularity of wagon based SUV’s your mates mightn’t be laughing at you for long.

 

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Info By Doug Bevan, site by Anthony Robinson.
Copyright © 2000 by Doug & Any . All rights reserved.
Revised: 19 Nov 2002 .