The Homebush Galaxies
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The Homebush Galaxies

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By JoeKenwright - 19 February 2013
The first Homebush Galaxie in 1964 may have seemed like a brand new model with a brand new name but the 1959 'Tank Fairlane' RHD dash sheet metal is just visible in this photo. 

Exactly why Ford Australia waited until 1959 to introduce its first full-sized current US Fairlane 500 model then abandoned the segment in 1961 only to return with the Galaxie in 1964 takes some explaining. The unique 1964-68 Australian Galaxies that followed were often regarded as the benchmarks in the hotly competitive big local prestige car class.

The short story is that Ford’s world in Australia had been turned upside down by 1962 after it became apparent that US development had only left a token durability margin in the Falcon for local conditions.  According to a former Ford Australia president, Ford was left with so many unsold Falcons in 1962 that they had run out of grass in Broadmeadows to store them. 

After an outside company was commissioned to source additional storage facilities, Ford was shocked to discover that their new storage area in Port Melbourne was on the main route that Holden executives used to get to and from work. It was later revealed that the Holden staff were encouraged to drive past and count the growing number of unsold Falcons at a time when Holden’s 1962 offerings were also off the pace. After it seemed to embolden Holden, Ford had to buy time to fix the Falcon while keeping its dealers and mainstream family car buyers on board.

There was also the threat of a powerful new Valiant on the horizon selling for just over $2500. 

Even if there was something familiar about the dash in the 1964 Homebush Galaxie, its instruments were brand new to Australians if not to Americans!

 

Ford’s Local V8 Strategy

The big 1959 Fairlane’s high local content had forced Ford to stay with this model until 1961 with only superficial changes borrowed from the 1959 Canadian Meteor version. Good enough to weather the 1961 buyer’s strike driven by the Credit Squeeze and saved Ford the costs of changing over for two new US models, the old “tank” Fairlane with its award-winning styling had already held its ground over the 1960 Chevrolet and Dodge Phoenix offerings. By 1962, its bulky, lumbering looks were past their use-by date. 

Except Ford’s big gamble on the Falcon to challenge Holden’s domination of the family car market had failed miserably. The niche sales of an equally huge and expensive 1962 Galaxie would not save Ford’s rural dealers from going to the wall.  Yet the ghost of the “tank” Fairlane with its high local content would later help Ford Australia weather the storm. 

The British Zephyr was quickly revived as a better-equipped locally-assembled Mark III later in 1962 then priced against the Valiant as a $2600 premium six with a four speed manual gearbox and disc brakes as standard. Australian buyers loved it so much that it stayed in local showrooms virtually unchanged until 1965 when it was replaced by a well-sorted and superior local XP Fairmont.

The other lifeline was the separation of Ford’s Galaxie and Fairlane ranges in the US creating a new compact 1962 Fairlane that revived the size of popular earlier local Ford Customline, Chevrolet and Mopar models. By shaving a foot (305mm) off the 1959 model’s length and almost 64mm from the wheelbase (118 inches versus 115.5inches), the compact Fairlane was still usefully bigger than the Falcon but better suited to rural roads as most of the length was cut from the front and rear overhangs. 

Because the 1959 Edsel was based on the 1959 Fairlane previously built in Australia, its instruments would fit into the 1959 RHD Fairlane dash to create the illusion of a new dash for the first Homebush Galaxie in 1964.

In terms of cabin space and useable boot capacity, it matched the much bigger 1959 Fairlane in most dimensions. Ford’s Homebush plant was given the job of assembling the new compact Fairlane at a level that suited Australia hence its classy interior and standard V8.

Priced at just on $4000, the $400 price cut over its much bigger predecessor was less than expected driven by the extra imported content. Yet it was soon valued for its more efficient engineering including the new Challenger small block V8. Its tight mono-construction body and big weight loss drew universal praise. 

There was another good reason for establishing the Fairlane badge in this size. The clincher for Ford Australia to drop its planned Australian Zephyr back in 1958-59 was the US promise that the Falcon would one day generate a smaller Customline-sized mid-range model that could be built from Falcon tooling. The compact Fairlane was a vital step in that process.

By an amazing coincidence, the 1962 compact Fairlane looked like an updated version of the 1959 Canadian Meteor that it replaced locally with its block pattern grille, similar side flash, fins and round tail lights. There was surprisingly little to suggest that Australians had skipped two US restyles of the full-sized Fairlane/Galaxie in 1960 and 1961. This process also established in Australian minds that the big Fairlane had morphed into a more sensible model, a perception that would be used to devastating effect in 1967. So why was it then dropped after 1964 in favour of an Australian-assembled Galaxie?

The 1965 Galaxie was a brand new model and a perfect starting point for the second Homebush Galaxie. Positioning it as a premium local RHD model took some ingenuity.  
In the US, the 1965 Galaxie was blatantly benchmarked against the ageing Rolls Royce Silver Cloud citing a significant advantage in quietness. Its relevance to long stretches of unsealed Australian roads in 1965 was questionable which might be why Ford Australia chose to focus locally on long distance comfort, toughness and appointments.

 

The Local 1964-68 Big US Ford Revival

Reduced local content had already pushed up the 1962 Fairlane’s $4000 manual launch price to around $4500 for the automatic version by 1963. Tougher new local content requirements for 1965 meant the next US Fairlane with the same token local content would be even less competitive. 

Meanwhile, the trimmer, better-equipped and more powerful new Chevrolet Bel Air and Dodge Phoenix models with their growing local content could sell for just over $5,000 in 1963.  They now matched the restraint and class of the compact Fairlane with the bonus of extra size, power and presence well beyond their modest $500 premium. 

With a powerful new local Fairmont V8 sharing the Fairlane’s engine due in 1966, 1964 Fairlane stocks were therefore left to run into 1965. Ford knew it would then be able to revive that segment in 1967 with a bargain-priced all-Australian Fairlane starting in the low $3,000 range.  It was the shared Falcon-Customline replacement that Ford Australia had been promised in 1958.

As Homebush wound down compact Fairlane assembly, the rush was on to replace it in 1964 with a long term premium model that would sit comfortably above a range of local Fairmont and Fairlane V8 models. Because Ford Australia had not introduced the Galaxie name as a premium version of the 1959 Fairlane as in the US, a new Galaxie could be pitched as a totally new standalone model in Australia. A trickle of RHD imports and a local Galaxie race track presence had already generated an aura around the Galaxie badge similar to the Chevrolet Impala and Pontiac range.

The instruments from the lavish early 1960s Lincoln dashes were adapted to the RHD Australian and South African Galaxies for 1965-67.

By placing the Fairlane badge on ice for 1965-67, Ford kept the local Fairlane image intact as a premium mid-range prestige model ready to reappear in 1967 at an unbelievable price.

As a strategy, it was pure genius as Australians could never link the first local Galaxie in 1964 as a direct descendant of the 1959 Fairlane, which it was locally in more ways than one! Apart from rectifying the Falcon, Ford resources were also stretched to prepare the Cortina for local manufacture to meet new local content rules ready to replace the ageing Anglia at entry level as well as compete head-on with the growing number of four cylinder Japanese family cars.

Ford turned to an outsider to get the ball rolling. Ray Alberry, whose Lidcombe company Ray Alberry Auto Conversions was contracted to make the premium end of this strategy work, has great memories of the Australian Galaxies that he helped prepare for Ford’s Homebush plant.

He remembers the brief very clearly. He was to prepare each US Galaxie for local production as a RHD model with tooling so it could be replicated on the Homebush assembly line. There was no obligation to complete a mirror conversion of the US specification. In fact, he was discouraged from doing that. After all, the US Galaxie was the working fleet car of the Ford range so his brief was to build a local version that met Australian needs and would support a $5000 plus pricetag. 

This dash layout specific to LHD only from a mid-1960s US Galaxie highlights why it made more sense to create a unique premium RHD dash in Australia drawing on Lincoln parts.

 

The 1964 Homebush Galaxie

Ray Alberry had less to do with specifiying this model as it was an extension of the RHD imports that had been coming out of Canada. He recalls being given a RHD dash and told to fill it with instruments that didn’t look like anything else offered to Australians. 

As it turned out, previous 1960-63 imports had been fitted with the RHD 1959 Fairlane dash and instruments in Canada. The dash panel he had been supplied was more of the same which is why he went looking for the instruments from the 1959 Edsel to fill the same panel. Although a less than classy replacement for the more integrated 1964 US dash, the Edsel instruments were closer to the local Galaxie’s positioning despite their age.  As the dash extremities were designed to follow the full wraparound screen of the 1959 Fairlane, the dash also looked a little weird propped-up against the straight pillars of the 1964 model. 

Because the 1964 model was a last minute, low volume model, it wasn’t on the market long enough to justify anything fancier. It was also the last of the full chassis, leaf spring rear end generation that dated back to 1960. However, it did establish the principles of looking like it came out of the factory as a RHD model, not a converted one. 

This included the tooling-up of a second firewall section or skin that was welded over the original to mount the RHD parts in their correct place and leave no evidence of patched-up holes. Any holes or cutouts were then sealed around the edges with sound deadener from the inside, then filled and covered so they would not be visible from either inside or out. 

As for the uncanny quiet always noted in road tests at the time, was it because the Australian Galaxies were amongst the first to have laminated firewalls even if they were unintentional? Making sure that steering parts and column selectors for the auto and indicators worked on the correct side was also part of Ford Australia’s factory original RHD presentation. 

Trimming the Galaxie cabin to local expectations was also undertaken locally which is why they progressively looked less like their US counterparts inside. Despite its last minute arrival, the 1964 model marked Ford’s first commitment since 1956 to maintain a premium model that at least matched the appearance and engineering advances of the US range.

The cabin detailing in the Homebush 1965 Galaxie featuring local trim and dash filled with Lincoln instruments was exquisite for the era.

 

The 1965-68 Homebush Galaxies 

The 1965 Galaxie even in the US was a ground-breaker as it was Ford’s stated aim to match the limousine quietness of Rolls Royce. It was Ford’s first semi-unitary construction for a full-sized US model and despite the 200kg weight penalty over its full-chassis Chevrolet rival, the results were worth it. The accolades about body stiffness, ride, silence and handling just kept rolling in. It was also Ford’s first with a fully-located coil spring rear end.

Yet it wasn’t as successful in the US as it was in Australia where these qualities were more important. Chevrolet had just unveiled its equally ground-breaking curved-side, coke-bottle hip line styling leaving the all-new straight-laced 1965 Galaxie looking like yesterday’s car. In the Australian context, surrounded by European and British cars, the Galaxie’s more conservative lines were a good fit. It also made the Galaxie look much smaller than its longer 119 inch/3022mm wheelbase suggested.

The sharp body crease lines pressed into every panel were as much inspired by Rolls Royce models at the time to eliminate panel drumming and flexing at speed as any styling trend.

With a choice of the compact 1964 Fairlane’s 289/4.7-litre V8 or the latest 390/6.6-litre version of the FE big block V8, the 1965 Galaxie was an aspirational choice for both compact and “tank” Fairlane owners.  

The 1965 Galaxie's Torque-Box construction was especially suited to tough Australian conditions as perimeter rails linked the front and rear subframes in massive torque boxes at each end. For a unitary body, it added a new dimension of reinforcement. Local Falcons shared similar Torque-Box strengthening. (Image from www.drivenrestorations.com)

Even the small block Challenger V8 (later known as the Windsor) was no slouch as it was bigger and more powerful than the entry Chevrolet small block while the 390 was in a class of its own. Both engines exploited Ford’s new three-speed automatic that only the Dodge Phoenix could match. The 390/Cruise-O-Matic-equipped Galaxie was arguably Australia’s first true muscle sedan. 

Ford Australia knew it was on a local winner.  As the start of a new generation that would generate at least four distinct models, Ray Alberry was told to go the distance in positioning it for local consumption. After the 1965 Galaxie and its successors were all highly praised for their class-leading dash, comfortable seats, quality trim, driving position and equipment, he obviously succeeded as these items were sorely lacking in the US version. The only black mark was Ford’s initial insistence on drum brakes all round for a car that was now too fast and heavy and the local tyre industry’s inability to supply tyres to match.

Ray Alberry’s RHD work was an extension of the 1964 process, only this time the starting point was a much more modern, molded dash that acted as a blank canvas for positioning the instruments and controls. According to Alberry, trying to replicate the exact US positioning of an integrated instrument pod and all the controls around it doesn’t work for a volume factory assembly operation as what happens between the dash and firewall is just as critical.

This time Lincoln Continental instruments were sourced as their individual pods allowed some freedom in where they could be positioned relative to the steering wheel and dash pad. They also added a premium look that was well-received. They looked as though they belonged more in the Galaxie than the Lincoln as their shape and layout seemed to replicate the Galaxie’s rear styling. The heater controls and radio could then be installed in a location that suited RHD drivers and passengers. The handbrake was moved under the dash to the driver’s right freeing up the centre front seat position so important in this market. 

The 1968 Galaxie was the last Homebush Galaxie and the most lavish with its special Australian dash, seats and trim.

Because Ford insisted on replicating the latest US body colours, Ray Alberry had to source the latest, premium expanded vinyl from a global Campbelltown trim supplier to match. A trimmer in Granville then built the special local bench seats with the upmarket pleated stitch pattern and extra bolstering. Wheels at the time described it as a hybrid of the LTD and Galaxie XL interior but it was neither when virtually everything on view inside the cabin was created locally. It was so successful that dash kits were sent over to South Africa for their versions of the 1965-67 US cars. Wheels magazine in 1965 summed it up: “The Galaxie interior is tasteful, beautifully colour-keyed, and right at the top of the luxury class.”

Under the bonnet, a new second firewall was tooled and installed, along with the futuristic intermittent wiper function from the US Mercury.  The correct location of all steering column controls, brake booster and cohesive interior met Ford’s insistence that it had to look like a factory RHD build. 

The new Torque-Box structure replaced the full-chassis/separate body with large perimeter box sections hidden in the sills of the unitary body. Although still free-standing, these perimeter strengthening-rails were capped by torque-boxes where they joined the load bearing structures at each end. The new design generated unprecedented cabin space as well as stiffness. Ford added similar torque-box reinforcement to the local Falcon and the 1965 Galaxie provided a vital context to this approach.

Alberry’s brief was to complete at least one car to factory specification along with the tooling and supply lines in place for volume production. Occasionally, Ford would ask him to continue with a special run of up to half a dozen cars before they were built on the Homebush line to give special customers such as Avis a preview of the new model. Ford probably justified it on the basis of advance marketing. 

While the Australian dash surround and instruments for 1968 might have looked familiar to Americans, they were never combined in this way in any US model.

For 1966, Ford was forced to soften the severity of the 1965 lines by paying some homage to the 1965 Chevrolet look without losing the crease lines vital to the body’s benchmark refinement. Ford Australia used the upgrade to fine tune the dampers for extra control over sudden changes in road surface while absorbing road shock better. The driving position and on road behaviour were again highly praised, not surprisingly after Ford learnt to supply its test cars with “optional” tyres that were up to the task!

Although the 1965 dash would continue in the 1967 local model, this didn’t stop the 1967 model from being one of the most prized and rarest models in the Australian Galaxie heritage. The local XR Falcon was given a unique grille that was closely related to the 1967 Galaxie item. When Lew Bandt gave the new Australian Fairlane its own dash for that year, he opted for a scaled down version of the Lincoln instruments that were in the 1965-67 Galaxies. 

Within three years of the new strategy, Ford by 1967 was presenting its latest Cortina with unprecedented local content, a new Falcon that was a generation ahead of its rivals, a local Fairlane that had no competition at the price and a benchmark Galaxie. Not to mention a Falcon GT that cleaned up Bathurst to cap off one of Ford’s best and most cohesive years in Australia!

The 1967 Galaxie was extra special after the addition of some of the 1965 Chevrolet’s curves was more successful than the 1966 model. The transformation inside was even more dramatic with the arrival of new safety measures that included a centre crash pad for the steering wheel that looked similar to the Falcon GT item, padded sun visors, extra brake warning lights and new seats with better padding and centre armrests. Door hardware was now recessed and dash controls were surrounded by a padded lip. It was all different enough for the earlier instrument panel not to matter. The huge disc brakes up front and a new dual hydraulic braking system made a good engineering story. 

The US 1968 Fairlane/Torino range was never seen in Australia even if its grille style added extra presence to the Falcon front used in the 1967-68 Australian Fairlanes. Its round dials may have appeared in the Australian 1968 Galaxie but the dash design was totally different.

Not only was there cohesion in the styling across the local 1967 Ford range, items like standard disc brakes, various V8 options with three speed automatics and fully padded dashes had not yet reached the Holden range.

Even if the 1968 model was more of the same, it was Ray Alberry’s last Galaxie and appeared to be far more than a facelift. To move it further away from the local Fairlane, it was given a new interior with plush new bench seats with more pronounced bolsters and perforated inserts on the outer positions. These were separated by armrests to replicate buckets front and rear. The base engine had been boosted to the latest 302/4.9-litre specification while the 390 big block continued as the premium choice. Tyres were a full 8.15X15 in size with radials and whitewalls offered as options.

The big news in 1968 was another unique Australian dash. Incorrectly described as the Torino dash, it again followed the principles established by the local Lincoln dash where it not only had to look more upmarket than the US item but had to allow flexibility in its arrangement. Although the dash padding and overall appearance appears to be a RHD version of the US Galaxie’s, the separate round instruments that sat on top of the Torino dash were inserted into the Galaxie instrument panel as part of five circular units that also included the heater control panel. It was a class act and marked the end of Homebush involvement in this special line of cars.

The 1968 Galaxie’s replacement was the first LTD, a model that was much closer to the US equivalent inside and out with the partial conversion undertaken by Ford headquarters in Melbourne during local assembly. But that’s another story.