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Ford Falcon's final flight

We take the last locally-made Fords -- Falcon sedan, ute and Territory SUV -- on a final road test.

We take the last locally-made Fords -- Falcon sedan, ute and Territory SUV -- on a final road test, from Broadmeadows, to Bathurst, to Brisbane.

Ford's Broadmeadows head office is a deconstruction zone.

Behind a zig-zag of temporary fences, the big office building near the giant Ford sign -- a landmark on the Hume Highway north of Melbourne since 1960 -- is being renovated.

It will soon house designers and engineers who will continue to develop cars of the future -- but they'll be made overseas.

Signs warn of asbestos removal, another indication of just how long this place -- and this brand -- has been a part of the Australian landscape.

It was here long before we knew asbestos was deadly, and six years before Australia began using decimal currency.

Barely a stone's throw from the iconic art deco building is Ford's car assembly line that will fall silent forever next Friday -- after the Geelong factory produced its last engine on Monday, after 91 years of operation.

We're in Broadmeadows on a Sunday afternoon to grab the keys to the three remaining models made here -- a Falcon sedan and ute, and a Territory SUV -- for a symbolic farewell drive.

The eerie silence is broken by the occasional clink of the gates shifting in the strong winds.

At its peak in the 1980s, when Ford was building more than 600 cars a day, nearly 5200 workers were employed at Broadmeadows alone.

The train station on the western fence of the Broadmeadows factory -- the end of the Upfield line, reopened in 1965 to transport Ford workers -- has served the site for decades. Soon, it won't get much use other than the occasional local wanting a trip into town.

Across the street from the Barry Road staff entrance is a small group of shops.

"Fordgate" houses a kebab joint, a milk bar, bakery, coffee shop, a bottle-o -- small businesses that have largely thrived on Ford's foot traffic over the years.

At its peak in the 1980s, when Ford was building more than 600 cars a day, nearly 5200 workers were employed at Broadmeadows alone. Another 4200 were at Geelong.

The production line has since slowed to a trickle of just 83 cars per day -- less than the output in the 1960s.

Now the workforce on both sites totals 814.

Had buyers steered away from the Falcon and Territory following the shutdown announcement three-and-a-half years ago, the factory would have closed earlier.

Against the odds, though, the place kept going until the very end. It wouldn't die early.

But Ford did start a domino effect. It is the first of Australia's three remaining car manufacturers to shutter their factories by the end of 2017.

Although it wasn't obvious to the public, all three car makers relied on each other to keep the parts supplier industry -- and each other -- alive.

When one car assembly line fell, it was only a matter of time before Holden and Toyota announced they would follow suit.

Even though our journey starts weeks away from the shutdown, we're already feeling more than a tinge of sadness.

The smaller factories that make parts for Australia's car manufacturers need the throughput of all three production lines to produce components cost-efficiently.

Even though our journey starts weeks away from the shutdown, we're already feeling more than a tinge of sadness.

We've known this day was coming, but now we're here, the emotions are starting to sink in. More than once over the coming days we would wonder if there was anything that could be done to save not just Ford, but the entire car-making industry.

To farewell the homegrown Fords we headed from Broadmeadows to Bathurst -- the back way, the same route the racing legends of the 1960s and 1970s used to take, "running in" their Falcon GTs on the way to Australia's greatest endurance race.

Back in the day, before sponsors and corporate boxes, the cars had to be based on showroom sedans. Some racers didn't even bother removing the car's registration plates.

We pass through small towns that, like Ford, have also seen better days. Empty wool stores and dead tractors dot properties on the outskirts. In town only half the shops have enough business to remain open. This would be a familiar sight in the coming days.

We do a symbolic lap of Mount Panorama -- the sacred ground that helped build the Falcon's reputation with so many victories against arch rival Holden -- before our next leg to Lismore.

At Tamworth, A Toyota billboard welcomes us to "LandCruiser Country" -- another sign of the times.

Avoiding the Pacific Highway north we get to take in some of Australia's best country roads. The narrow ribbon of pavement between Tenterfield and Casino is a highlight.

Bruxner Highway is more like a tourist route than a highway. It's here the Falcon sedan and Territory SUV come into their own.

They're soaking up bumps and thumps while the body of the car stays flat and serenely comfortable. Both vehicles have the steering precision of the latest BMWs -- even though their origins are more than a decade old. No wonder Detroit is retaining 1100 engineers in Australia to develop future models.

The ute is starting to show its age, the back end jiggling over bumps. But all is forgiven once the turbo six-cylinder engine comes alive.

If Australians could experience these cars on these demanding roads, they might have bought more of them. These days, though, we fly over terrain like this, thanks to cheap airfares, although we did see our fair share of Territorys towing caravans.

The diesel engine in the latest Territory could do with a little more oomph, but the rest of the car is so good and so well laid out, it could go another 10 years. More modern SUVs don't drive as well as a Territory -- including others made by Ford.

The ute is starting to show its age, the back end jiggling over bumps. But all is forgiven once the turbo six-cylinder engine comes alive. Originally designed to replace the V8 (although Ford got lucky and got a V8 any way, so it kept both engine options) it will go down in history as the best engine ever made in Australia.

To our surprise, Ford gave us the second-last ute ever made. It has kept the very last one as a museum piece, to go alongside the last Falcon sedan and Territory SUV.

Next stop is Lismore to meet Bob Trevan, whose father founded Australia's oldest and continuously running Ford dealership, in 1910.

It's been located on various lots in and around the district for the past 106 years, and is one of the oldest Ford dealers in the world.

Bob Trevan, now 78, retired and sold the business in 2005, although it still carries the family name.

He's seen plenty of good times and bad with Ford. Although sentimental about the end of an era, he isn't surprised the factory is closing.

"Everyone's buying these things," he says, pointing to the lot bursting with Ford Ranger utes.

The Ranger was designed and engineered in Australia and literally tailored to our conditions -- but it's made in Thailand where labour rates are one-fifth of ours. It's been Ford's top-selling model in Australia since 2012.

With Lismore in our rear view mirror we head to Eagle Farm near Brisbane Airport.

Many Australians have forgotten that Ford made Falcons here since 1961, before switching to ute production for most of its life, and finally finishing with Fairlanes and LTDs in 1987. It was converted to a Ford truck factory until it was closed in 1998.

Today, the site is a construction zone for a giant warehouse. In the dust there's no clue a Ford factory was ever here.

At least the Broadmeadows building will survive perhaps for another generation, albeit as an office.

The facade of the Geelong building is heritage-listed. The site may one day become apartments, but at least the memory of Ford's oldest manufacturing site in Australia will survive.

The cars, however, have been consigned to history.

What's your best Falcon or Territory story? Tell us in the comments below.

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