2003 Melbourne Auto Show

March 9, 2003

by Alexander Corne


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Australia’s big three motor makers, Ford, GM Holden and Toyota each contributed star cars to the Melbourne International Motor Show which opened its doors Friday, February 28.

Traditionally, the show bookends a week of automotive fever in Melbourne with the season-opening Formula 1 Grand Prix taking place next weekend (March 9), a mile or so further away on the edge of the downtown area.

While the high-revving state-of-the-art F1 fliers were still winging their way south, the Motor Show opened on a high note with Ford Australia’s home grown Territory SUV revealed in production-ready form ahead of its on-sale debut this time next year.

Designed by Scott Strong during his tenure as head of design at Ford Australia, the Territory will remind many U.S. observers of the Freestyle SUV Ford previewed at Detroit.

Strong moved back to the U.S. in time to pen the Freestyle having just finished the initial renderings of the Territory. Despite the external similarities, Ford Australia’s vehicle will share little with the Freestyle as it is based on the domestic Falcon platform.

Territory will also run Falcon’s 4.0-liter straight-six engine as well as versions of the Canadian-supplied 5.4-liter V-8, also already inserted into various Falcon models.

The Territory is Ford Australia’s first home-grown all-wheel drive wagon and though the relatively compact size and seats-for-seven accommodation seems quite right for many overseas markets, Ford Australia President Geoff Polites continues to refute export possibilities for the five-door.

It has not yet been engineered for left-hand drive, but could be converted if Ford finds a market, not that it needs it for the business case, executives continue to affirm.

Polites says the Territory should collect 30,000 domestic sales a year, small beer by U.S. standards, but enough to push the Melbourne-based factory to a new shift pattern, assuming it does not steal all its sales from the Falcon sedans or conventional station wagons the factory currently builds.

Ford also whipped the wraps off its Falcon GT and GT-P models, high-performance sedans that extract 390 hp from the 5.4-liter V-8 equipped with four valves per cylinder and a continuously variable camshaft timing system.

GM’s Holden is running on the highest octane available at present. Posting a 54-year all-time sales record of 178,392 vehicles in 2002, The General’s Down Under team plans 14 new model introductions in 2003, including a One Tonner pickup derived from its home-grown Commodore sedan - the four-door that spawned the Monaro (Pontiac GTO in the U.S.).

The tray-back ‘Ute’ is a new addition to the family that previously only featured a full-sided recreational-style utility body with far inferior carrying capacity but independent rear suspension.

Now fitted with a separate rear load carrying chassis connected via a stiff torque tube to the back of the cabin, running a live axle and leaf springs, the One Tonner comes with 3.8-liter V-6 or 5.7–liter Gen III V-8 power and automatic transmission.

Holden last produced a tray-back Ute in 1985 but with undiminished howls of protest still ringing in the ears of executives, Holden caved and farmed out the engineering of the tray-back to TWR Engineering. The result is a 1052-kg carrying capacity that will be the darling of tradesmen across the continent and probably the Middle East (Holden’s huge export market) and possibly even the U.S.

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