Car News & Reviews

Australia’s Biggest Land Yacht – The Ford NC Fairlane

Today we’re looking at one of the largest sedans ever built in Australia. The Ford NC Fairlane.

But first, a quick history lesson. The Fairlane name might be familiar to some North American viewers as a model sold by Ford from 1955 to 1970. The American Fairlane was introduced into the Australia market in 1959 and was assembled locally using kits sourced from Ford of Canada. This continued through until 1967, when Ford of Australia released their first locally developed Fairlane.

The ZA Fairlane was based on the Australian XR Falcon of the time and sat above it as a sort of longer wheelbase, more luxury orientated model. This proved to be a winning formula, and Ford Australia continued to offer Fairlane versions alongside every Falcon model which followed. The ZB, ZC, ZD, ZF, ZG, ZH, ZJ, ZK, ZL and finally the NA Fairlane of 1989 were not only longer than the Falcon models on which they were based but also had their own unique styling while still sharing almost all of the same mechanical components.

This brings us through to the NC Fairlane. Introduced by Ford Australia in 1991, the NC Fairlane brought with it one very important upgrade – the mighty 5.0L Windsor V8 engine. The reason I say important, is because the last time any Australian Fairlane or Falcon was available with a V8 was back in 1982 – when the 302 and 351 Cleveland engines were dropped from the range.

This car sold brand new back in the ’90s for around AUD$41,000 Australian dollars – which is around AUD$75,000 in today’s money. There was also an LTD model available which included a leather interior and a few other small upgrades which cost AUD$55,000 – or a whopping AUD$100,000 today. That was a lot of money to pay for what was essentially a working-class luxury vehicle – and as a result Ford only sold 14,000 NC Fairlanes and DC 1,800 LTDs. But enough about that, let’s take a look around this 1993 model NC Fairlane, my NC Fairlane, and find out what makes it unique.

The first thing I want to talk about is the sheer size of this thing. You might recall at the start of this article I referred to it as being one of the largest sedans ever built in Australia. That’s because the NC Fairlane measures in at a whopping 5.2 metres – or more than 17 feet long! None of the Australian Fairlanes before it or since were any longer, and in fact, I’m really struggling to think of an Australian made vehicle which could beat it. If you can think of one, let me know in the comments below.

But let’s go beyond the NC Fairlane’s size, and look at the styling. Ever since I saw one of these back in the 1990s, I’ve always been a fan of how this car looks, and when this one came up for sale a few years ago I simply had to have it. The sort of squared off yet rounded American styling with its wide headlights and front grille arrangement, the full wraparound chrome body mouldings, and the blacked out B and C pillars which provided perhaps one of the earliest examples of what manufacturers nowadays refer to as a “floating roofline”. As a piece of 1990’s automotive styling, I think it looks great. But it isn’t all smooth sailing.

Let’s see if you can spot something wrong here. One of the strangest things about this long-wheelbase luxury limousine is that it has small rear doors. It’s one of those things that you can’t “un-see” once you’ve seen it. This is because most Australian Fairlanes share both their front and rear doors with the shorter wheelbase Falcon on which they were based. And when Ford lengthened the wheelbase for the Fairlane, it was simply added behind the rear doors. This enabled the rear seats to be set further back for increased legroom, but they still used the same sized door. In use, their small size isn’t really an issue, unless you’re hugely overweight, and it is still incredibly easy to get in and out of the back. But visually, well, you be the judge.

Next up we’ll talk engines, and the NC Fairlane was available with an Australian developed 4.0L straight six, or a 5.0L Windsor V8. This particular Fairlane was optioned with the V8 – but if you guessed that Ford borrowed it from the Mustang, you’d be wrong. Whether it was for better durability or perhaps cost, the Windsor V8 offered in the Fairlane was actually built in Canada – and is the same engine Ford used in their North American light truck and 4WD models. But the differences don’t end there. In order to fit this engine into the Australian Fairlane, the inlet manifold had to be reversed for right-hand drive packaging reasons – and this meant the rest of the air inlet and many of the belt-driven accessories are also on the opposite side of the engine bay compared to left-hand drive vehicles. The 5.0L V8 developed adequate power for the time 165kW of power, and 388Nm of torque all sent to the rear wheels via a BTR 4-speed automatic transmission – but it doesn’t stack up well modern vehicles. I mean, there are cars with four-cylinder turbocharged engines today which absolutely destroy this thing in both power and fuel economy. If you drive this thing lightly, you’ll be lucky to average 13 litres per 100 kilometres or around 18mpg. Plus if you’re stuck in stop-start city traffic, you can expect things to get much, much worse.

The Fairlane’s main drawcard is the luxury of space, and in that regard, it doesn’t disappoint. There’s simply a huge amount of space in both the front and back of this car – but for a 5-seat luxury sedan which is longer than most 7-seat SUVs, this shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Inside you’ll find a full velour interior with lounge style front seats, and one of the most comfortable and deeply padded rear seats I’ve ever experienced. The amount of legroom back here is also pretty amazing – I’m around 6’1″ and with the driver’s seat positioned to my liking, there’s still a huge amount of space back here for a second person of my size – and more! But apart from the comfort and space, passengers back here don’t get a lot else. There’s a fold-down centre armrest, a map light on each side, a lovely strip of actual lacquered wood, electric windows and an ashtray for your cigarette. Because ’90s.

Up front, the velour and wood theme continues except you’ll notice there aren’t any electric window switches on the door for the driver. That’s because Ford decided to put the master window controls down on the centre console… completely unlabelled. Still, if you stab away at them you’ll soon work out the outer two switches control the front windows, the inner two control the rear, and the centre switch locks out the rear window controls for back seat passengers. You’ll also notice that only the driver’s window is auto-down – and it achieves this by physically holding the switch down until the window reaches the bottom. The NC Fairlane shares its centre console and dashboard with the ED Falcon on which it is based, and as a result, it has exactly the same look and feel. It did, however, receive a few upgrades.

For a start, the Fairlane gained a semi-digital instrument cluster which is quite unique. The speed and mileage figures are displayed on old-school LCD displays exactly like that calculator you used back in primary school, while the tachometer, fuel and temperature gauges remain analogue. But perhaps the most interesting thing is over on the left. Now it was typical for most cars in the ’90s to have a generic warning light which would illuminate whenever a door was left open or not closed properly. But the Fairlane actually provides you with a dedicated diagram of the car and shows you exactly which door is open at any given time – and this also includes the boot or trunk, and even the fuel flap! To me, it is crazy that Ford would dedicate so much space on the cluster for this information, but well, they did.

Moving across and you’ll find the Fairlane’s automatic climate controls. Both the air-conditioning and heater on this car are incredibly powerful and can be set to your liking by simply adjusting the temperature up or down and the computer will handle the rest. Most of the controls are spelt out in English and are pretty self-explanatory, although curiously Ford decided to hide some of the more specific ventilation options under a little spring loaded door.

Next, we have the trip computer – and I know what you’re thinking. How ridiculous does this thing look! And you’d be right, I’d say people back in the ’90s probably weren’t even impressed by this. Firstly you have your instant fuel economy, which will show you the Fairlane’s fuel thirst in realtime – but I wouldn’t recommend using this because the figures you’ll see will truly shock you. In daily driving it’ll swing anywhere from 8 – 99L/100km – that’s a range of 29mpg down to just 2mpg. Slightly less alarming is the average fuel economy, average speed and range remaining figures. But perhaps the funniest thing on this entire vehicle is revealed when you attempt to set the date and time.

The hours and minutes are set as usual, but the main problem occurs when you try to set the year. The NC Fairlane will allow you to select any year you like – so long as it falls between 1972 and 1999. I mean who signed off on the design of this unit!? For a car which went on sale just 7 years before the year 2000 it’s absolutely crazy.

This Fairlane still retains the existing factory stereo and at the time I’m sure it was all very impressive. I mean there’s certainly no faulting the sound quality it produces – it’s great even by today’s standards. There are 8 speakers in total and a subwoofer on the rear parcel shelf, and the head unit itself offers FM radio and cassette tape options as you’d expect, plus access to up to 6 CDs loaded into the stacker in the rear of the vehicle. But who listens to tapes or CDs anymore? One unique modification I made was to hardwire a Bluetooth receiver into the existing head unit circuitry, which allows you to pair your smartphone and stream audio from Spotify or YouTube. Being able to do this is a godsend and it adds a modern touch to the vehicle without destroying the factory look and is something I might cover in more detail in the future.

Driving an NC Fairlane. Well if you thought this car looked big on the outside, it feels even larger from in here. I think you’re acutely aware of how large this car is because on one hand, you can see the bonnet mascot standing all the way out there on the front, while the squared-off rear end means you can just make out the rear boot line in the distance. Despite its size, the NC Fairlane isn’t as heavy as you might expect – weighing in at around 1,600kg or 3,500 lbs. Yes, that’s still heavy, but for a car of this size, it’s actually pretty good. Not that it really helps fuel economy or performance though.

A V8 NC Fairlane will do 0-100km/h in around 8 seconds, and drink a few dollars worth of petrol in the process. Once you’re cruising along at a constant speed though, things improve. On a flat highway run, you could easily achieve 10L/100km. The fuel economy is truly terrible.

But justify it I shall. You see, I am of the belief that petrol is cheap. Do you want to know what isn’t cheap? Depreciation, interest on new vehicle loans, and the cost of having a vehicle serviced yearly by a dealer. And these are all things you don’t need to worry about when purchasing a quality second-hand vehicle such as this. Parts are cheap, they’re easy to work on and maintain, and if you look after it you’ll probably be able to sell it in a few years for more than what you paid for it. But anyway, I digress.

The NC Fairlane is really at home on long distance highway runs. The suspension is a little floaty, but really does a great job at absorbing bumps and imperfections in the road. The seats are as comfortable as your sofa at home, and the engine is also super quiet. Most of the time it sounds like it’s running on air, even though the fuel gauge assures me this siply isn’t the case. Big Australian Fords like the Fairlane and Falcon also feel really at home on fast, undulating country roads which cover the majority of our sunburnt country – because, despite the softness of the suspension, there’s very little body roll and the car corners fairly confidently at speed.

But while you’re wafting along at speed, here are a few things you might want to keep in mind: NC Fairlanes have no airbags, no traction control and no stability management systems of any kind. It does, however, have ABS! Except for the times when it doesn’t. So get comfortable… just not too comfortable.

Safety features aside, the NC Fairlane really is the perfect car for those after a unique old piece of Australiana to cruise along in and relax in comfort, without spending a lot of money. And like me, if that sounds like you, then you can’t go wrong.

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