Australia's final performance car heroes pay their respects at the high temple of horsepower: Bathurst
It should never have come to this: a test drive of Australia's last ever homegrown performance cars. Once Ford's factory in Broadmeadows closes in 2016 and Holden's Elizabeth plant follows one year later, these will be the last impressions that Ford and Holden will be remembered by.
Both these cars, at the peak of their game, should be an exclamation mark for their brands and a sign of better things to come. Instead, their story will end with a full stop.
Ford and Holden sales may be at all-time lows, but there is still a solid fan base keeping the faith, even if many are driving imported cars to shuttle the family around these days. Fifty years ago these two brands represented more than half of all cars sold in Australia. Today, the Falcon and Commodore account for just three out of every 100 cars sold.
Some enthusiasts, like our friends Laurence Attard and Derry O'Donovan, have kept buying brand new Fords and Holdens even if the masses haven't. But sadly there aren't enough people like them to sustain local car manufacturing.
Back in the day, when it came to cars, we really were the lucky country. Fleet sales of the basic six-cylinder versions of the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore kept the factories running efficiently, allowing the respective performance car divisions to squeeze a V8 under the bonnet, give it a tune up, and add some other "go-fast bits" (as they're known in the vernacular), to create an instant muscle car.
In fact, you may find this hard to believe, but Australia invented the high performance sedan. It started with the Ford Falcon GT in 1967. It initially was a consolation prize. We got it because the Mustang was a huge success in the US but Ford wouldn't import it Down Under.
So the boss of Ford Australia at the time decided to use the Mustang philosophy on the locally-made Falcon sedan and a cult classic was created. It won on the track and helped Ford claw back showroom sales from Holden.
The efforts culminated with the iconic 351 GT-HO that was, at the time, the fastest sedan in the world. Yes, even faster than any BMW or Mercedes-Benz sedan of the day.
The Ford Falcon 351 GT-HO won Bathurst back-to-back in 1970 and 1971. Allan Moffat, who qualified fastest in 1972 would've won three in a row had he not out-braked himself after being pestered by a young bloke in a Holden Torana called Peter Brock.
It's now apparent that the teenagers who grew up in this era are now driving the revival in sales of V8 Holdens and Fords. Now aged in their 50s and 60s they can finally afford their dream car, except there is just one problem. Their dreams are about to taken away from them.
Which is why all 500 of the latest (and the last) Ford Falcon GT sedans were snapped up before the first one was built, let alone delivered to a showroom.
The cars were wholesaled to dealers within days, and there are about a dozen left in dealerships across Australia with names against them but with contracts still to sign.
Anyone who is having trouble getting their finances in order is going to be disappointed, because most dealers have a queue of people lining up to grab one in case someone else's order falls over. The HSV GTS, meanwhile, will keep going all the way to the end of the Holden production, some time late in 2017.
Against that backdrop, there was only one place to take these two cars: the high temple of horsepower, Bathurst. As if the mood wasn't gloomy enough, the clouds rolled in as we thundered into town. Suffice to say there would be no heroics today. At least not from us, although the photographer deserves a bravery award for enduring the chill in the Antarctic air.
These powerful machines can be a handful in the wrong hands, but thankfully Ford and Holden have made some inroads into making them idiot proof.
They may both be the most powerful ever supercharged V8s of their respective breeds, but they also have the biggest brakes fitted to a locally-made Ford or a Holden, and their stability control systems (the technology that clamps the brakes if you skid in a corner) were developed on ice. Which, given today's conditions, is definitely a good thing.
It's incredible how fast word spreads once we arrive into Australia's Motown. Two tradies followed us to the track after they saw us drive through the city centre. Others jumped on the phone to call their Ford fanatic friends. "Do you mind if I get a photo with the car?" Normally, the HSV GTS steals the spotlight. But today it's all about the Ford.
Industry pundits (including me) thought the Falcon GT-F (for "final" edition) didn't look special enough.
The only defining features are unique stripes, a coat of paint on the wheels and the "351" badges (which now refer to the engine's power rather than its size, as it did in the 1970s).
But if the crowd reaction is a guide, us motoring hacks don't know what we're talking about. Ford fans love it. And that's all that matters.
Ford also left the suspension untouched from the previous special edition Falcon GT released 18 months ago. So what we're testing here is the extra 16kW of power. Ford also fine-tuned the way the GT-F delivers its power to the road. It is, in essence, the car Ford should have built in the first place, eight years ago, when this generation Falcon came out.
But Ford couldn't afford to make the upgrade at the time because sales had already started to dive. In the end, Ford fans will have to be thankful for what they get. It's the fastest and greatest Ford Falcon GT ever. And it certainly doesn't deserve to be the last.