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It is the exception rather than the rule that Ford’s Falcon will be seen in rallies these days, but in years gone by Falcons were very successful in a variety of minor and major events, both in Australia and overseas. It’s common knowledge that Ford Australia entered Falcons in events like the East African Safari, the Monte Carlo Rally, and the London to Sydney Marathon. In fact, in the 1964 Monte Carlo, Falcons finished second outright against some of the world’s best cars and drivers at that time. Ford’s entry into big-time international rallying in Falcons first occurred in the 1962 Safari when a total of five Falcons were entered. The five cars were crewed by Aussie drivers and co-drivers – Harry Firth/Graham Hoinville, Ken Harper/Des Scott, Geoff Russell/Dick Collingwood, Jack Ellis/Mal McPherson and Doug Hughes/Rex Lewis. In the event, each of the cars suffered various problems, but Harry Firth and Graham Hoinville were the most successful, reaching as high as eighth when a spring broke and they had to retire. Harper and Scott also finished, but were out of late time. Firth was quoted as saying after the event that if the cars had been fitted with the optional 170 cubic inch motor, rather than the optional 144 cubic inch, and Armstrong shock absorbers, rather than the standard ones, they “would have won.”
Despite the disappointing results, the Falcons had certainly made an impression on the rallying world, so much so that the American head office started to sit up and take notice of the car’s potential.
Within six months of the Safari Rally, Ford’s Detroit factory announced that they would be entering three Falcons in a full works assault on the 1963 Monte Carlo Rally. The trio of cars were to be driven by such notable drivers of the period as Anne Hall, Peter Jopp and Bo Ljungfeldt, however the cars were the American-spec Falcon 2-door Futura Sprints, not the four door version used in the Safari and familiar to Aussies. But bad weather blighted the event that year and all crews struck trouble in the snow on the Cavenne Mountains. Anne Hall was the worst affected and was unable to get the big car through the snow drifts, finishing with a loss of 31 minutes. Ljungfeldt drove like a man possessed to be 8 minutes down at the finish, but set fastest times on six special stages. If it wasn’t for those eight minutes lost previously, he would have won outright, but the Monte had an engine capacity formula that decided the overall results relative to engine capacity, so Ljungeldt dropped to second place behind a smaller-engined car.
All though Ford America officially weren’t into motorsport, they could see that the big Falcons possessed plenty of potential as rally cars, so in 1964 the company decided to bring in some heavy equipment for the Monte.
However, instead of running basically-standard cars, Detroit prepared no less than eight Falcon Rallye Sprints, the V8 version of the 2-door coupe. But purely production line vehicles they were not. They were fitted with fibreglass boots, bonnets, doors and mudguards, saving 250kg. In addition, there were alloy bumper bars and, apart from the windscreens, all glass was replaced with Lexan. In the meantime, Ford had obviously spent some time poring over the homologation regulations in an effort to extract the maximum performance from the cars. Renowned American tuning specialists, Holman and Moody, massaged the 289 cu.in V8s, taking them up from 4.2 to 4.7 litres. As well, they added 4-barrel carburetors for maximum power, while a T10 four-speed gearbox replaced the old three-speeder which was mated to a 9 inch rear axle with a Detroit locker differential. There were big disc brakes fitted at the front and larger drums at the rear. Bo Ljungfeldt was again the leading car, while others were Peter Harper, Peter Jopp, racing legend Graham Hill, and Anne Hall, who all started from Paris, thanks to the Monte’s rules allowing competitors to start from various European cities before converging at the Monte Carlo start. Of the others, Bo Ljungfeldt, Bjarne Ljungfeldt, Henri Greder and Jo Schlesser started from Oslo. Bo Ljungfeldt once again dominated the event, setting fastest time on all the stages, but that annoying “formula” was applied once more, putting him back to fifth before the final test on the Monaco GP circuit.
Such was the performance of the car that Bjungfeldt gained 40 seconds on rally star Erik Carlsson over three laps of the track, elevating him from fifth to second behind Paddy Hopkirk’s 1071cc Mini Cooper S.
The Falcon, particularly in Rallye Sprint form, had certainly proved that the car was competitive but, having spent so much money in three years and not taken an outright win, Ford lost interest in the event, a decision no doubt as a result of the widely disliked handicap system that favoured smaller-engined cars. But then the French were famous for their interpretation of the rules, which usually favoured their cars. Of course that’s not the end of the Falcon-in-international rallying story. Australian-built Falcons played a major part in the 1968 London – Sydney Marathon when they entered three Harry Firth-built Falcon GTs with excellent result. But that’s a story for another time.
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