Four Falcons rolled during a tortuous and historic acid test aimed to prove up the durability of Ford’s new sedan.
The year was 1965 and not only did the 'Durability Run' devised as a sales push by Ford Australia managing director Bill Bourke manage to impress new-car buyers, it also showcased the rigours of the company’s proving grounds near Geelong.
The five XP Falcons that were subjected to the test all finished - the four were righted after their accidents and continued - each racking up 112,000km at an average sped of 112km/h over almost nine days.
For the Ford proving ground at You Yangs, a 7sq.km open site on plains aside the Flinders mountain range 22km from Geelong, it was the ultimate test.
Even now, almost 50 years later, the incessant testing of Ford product - and product from other manufacturers - continues 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
You Yangs is one of 11 Ford-owned proving grounds in the world.
The reason for its importance is reflected in the durability run of the XP. Ford boss Bourke copped an avalanche of bad press and poor owner reviews on the reliability of the first XK and subsequent XL Falcon models.
His solution was to throw open You Yangs and show the public how the (then) new Ford model would survive. He chose five Falcon XPs off the production line and gave the keys to race drivers - Harry Firth was one - with the brief to drive them flat out until each had covered 112,000km (the equivalent of 70,000 miles).
It was not rehearsed and Bourke ensured the event was transparent. Ford in Detroit rated it so important that Henry Ford II attended. The run was regarded as a success and to ice the cake for the fleet buyers, Ford gave cars away for a six month trial to major corporates. It was the last public display of the proving grounds.
Ford spokesperson Sinead Phipps says the facility is out of bounds.
“We never allow the public into the proving ground and security is always strictly controlled,’‘ she says.
Taking 10 cars from the Carsguide Car of the Year list onto You Yangs was a privilege. It was the perfect facility to put our selection under a variety of conditions that ranged from a high-speed ride and handling circuit to a gravel track and braking and acceleration pads.
The centrepiece to You Yangs is a 5km parabolic high-speed circuit though there are equally as importlant low-speed tracks, special surface areas - including cobblestones, corrugations and Belgian blocks - and salt and mud baths.
Aside from the 40km of roads, the facility includes a crash test area, a new high-speed wind tunnel, climatic and emissions testing laboratories, an environmental exposure area and an anechoic dyno chamber.