1974 Ford Fairmont Hardtop 250 Ci (4.1 litre)
They don't make 'em like that anymore
Power steering lines burst on pump.
Stitching falling apart on seats.
Rear seat sun damage, tears in upholstery.
Carpets worn and rotted.
Fuel Tank rusted and perforated.
Tie Rod ends and bushes worn.
Power steering box leaks.
Timing chain slack with wear.
Light switch faulty.
Ford's Australian Falcon and Fairmont variants have been a mainstay on Australia's roads for over 40 years, but for most people outside of Australia it will be known as the car in the Mad Max movies.
Falcon Hardtop's were once plentiful and relatively cheap back in the 80's and 90's, but a combination of rust prone bodies and their popularity amongst collectors both local and overseas have resulted in a drought of genuine, honestly priced cars.
My car was sourced as they often are by a friend of a friend who knew of a car that had been sitting under a layer of dust, hibernating for what looked like years. It was factory standard apart from it's 14" Aunger alloy wheels shod in 225 tyres and aftermarket sports steering wheel. Despite being a higher specced Fairmont, options were minimal which included power steering, over-riders and body protection mouldings.
Even though it was the first Falcon designed entirely in Australia it's styling is derived from the American muscle car scene, with large cavernous wheel arches to accommodate big rubber, NASA shaped cooling ducts and honeycombe grilles. Those unfamiliar may squint and think they're seeing a Torino, Mustang or even Challenger. There's a lot of metal here, but it's hard not to appreciate those muscular yet swooping lines and ubiquitous 'coke bottle' hips. Proportionally it is perhaps back heavy, but still gorgeous to look at from any angle.
Ford's XA-XC range was never the most tolerant when it came to rust, with the Hardtop having an even poorer record, but this example was surprisingly low on the red stuff, with only perforations in the rear wheel arches and some surface rust dotted around the front stone tray.
The usual spots underneath the rear screen and lower rear wings were uncharacteristically clean, especially for a car now over 30 years old.
It could certainly be said 'they don't make them like they used to' along with it's built to last mechanicals, after a couple of jump starts the long inline six kicked back into life and was soon purring like the last 12 months hadn't even happened.
After inspection, it was decided new brake pads, new tie-rod ends and replacement of a punctured radiator and rusting petrol tank were in order as well as the usual new plugs, filters and oil.
As time went by the car became more of a restoration project, more by choice than necessity. A sometimes testing, but rewarding time. Parts are plentiful for this popular car with only some trim and fittings being harder to obtain. Wrecker yards were once filled with them and auto swap meets are also a good source and then there's always Ebay of course. There is also a wealth of repro parts available. The Falcon also shares bits with it's other Ford cousins the Fairlane, Mustang/Cougar and even Cortina, so finding donor parts should not be an issue.
Apart from a great piece of eye candy, the Falcon/Fairmont is a large purposeful cruiser, but it's dimensions externally do not entirely carry over on the inside, those in the front have plenty of legroom and the seats are generously sized and comfortable even on the longest of journeys, but provide little support. The lower roofline however (2" lower than the sedan) results in limited headroom for taller drivers and rear passengers. The boot is a large cavernous 780 ltr box, but a protruding filler pipe to the tank and lack of folding rear seats limits those bulkier items the Falcon should be man enough to carry. There are also two compartment wells either side of the fuel tank, but they often retain water and corrosion.
Inside it's fairly workmanlike and all oh so seventies with loop pile carpet, and vinyl seats. The dash is a smart cockpit style design from the XA, favouring the driver, with radio close to the steering wheel.
Controls are placed in an eclectic mix, but all reasonably easy to reach, only the wipers button seems a bit of a stretch, mounted high on the dash. The XB's lights, indicators and horn are all integrated on a long stalk sticking out from the steering rack like on most 70's Fords and were a bit of a revelation back then, before the headlamp switch was found on the floor. Gauges are basic with only speedo, and fuel, you'll have to get a GS or GT if you want rev counter and ancillary meters. In fact things are a bit on the frugal side in general, forget a tripometer, even intermittent wipers, and a heated rear screen was only available as an option most buyers didn't bother with. Heating and ventilation do the job, and the nifty old footwell vents really help on a hot day.
Driving is surprisingly easy in the old Ford, despite it's dimensions.
Pedals are well placed and are weighted just right, with the power disk brakes doing a fine job, in fact the GT and Landau versions were one of the first Australian cars to have discs all round. Visibility is generally good for the most part with a a wide screen and thin pillars up front, you'll certainly notice how busy some of the muscle car lines are up on the hood, but soon get used to them. Huge rear quarters and sloping rear screen don't help in the rear vision stakes though, and parking becomes a test of wits and ability at times. The side mirrors may look the part, but do a pitiful job, with very little adjustment available and cover only a small arc of visibility, at least you have a nice clear pillarless view from the side, for when you do look over your shoulder, which you will be doing a lot. Power steering should be compulsory for a car of this weight, but is thankfully a common option.
Steering is fairly solid (probably balanced out more by the aftermarket alloys and steering wheel) but has the same vagueness on straights like most other recirculating ball systems.
On the road the car seems again solid and comfortable, but being a Fairmont I was expecting something a lot more smooth, even softer, but perhaps this is a big ask with the wider wheels and dusty leaf springs at the back. On the limit the car begins to roll and wallow with a tendency to understeer, but everything is quite progressive and easy to adjust. Oversteer is also easy enough with plenty of power to the rear wheels from standstill or sharp corners, it's all really dependent or your driving habits.
The well respected C4 auto gearbox is simple, well behaved and robust, but showing it's age without a fourth gear or overdrive, but again this is what you get from an old 70's Aussie tank. The 6 cylinder engine is another simple yet hard wearing unit, found throughout the Ford range.
Despite it's meaty capacity, it has a long stroke and is more attuned to cruising (or towing) than revving up any great deal of excitement, yet I still find it quite fun around town with power on tap when it's warm and settled. It seems all the more at home on the highway eating up the long stretching miles of Australia.
The car remains my only mode of transport, but was once a second/weekend car. The 4.1 litre is quoted at drinking fuel at 17 mpg, so with the cost of petrol it still remains an occasional car. I'd certainly drive it more if petrol was less of an issue, rather than any question of its reliability, there is always the option of converting it to run on LPG, but I want to try and keep things as nature intended. Despite its age it neither feels tired nor fragile, and its faults have been limited to worn parts and the odd electrical gremlin. Practicality is not a huge factor, but if I wanted four proper seats I'd go and buy a sedan, or worse, a modern Japanese people carrier.
So in all, it's old, it's big, and not exactly clever, but with being built in the days of cyclone Tracey, it's built to last, and along with those gracious muscle car lines which for me are about as good as the best that came out of Detroit in the late 60's and 70's, something I hope to continue to enjoy for many, many years to come.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 4th February, 2008