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Day of Discovery

Inside Ford Australia's fabulous Discovery Centre...

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

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If you're taking time out in Melbourne, the all-new Ford Australia Discovery Centre is a great place for the family to spend an afternoon. Located in a historic woolstore in Geelong - across the road from where the first Model T Ford was assembled in 1925 - you'll get up close to many of your favourite Ford models and enjoy an interesting insight into vehicle design and manufacture. There are also plenty of interactive displays and amusements to keep the kids engaged.

Here's a photo-and-caption rundown of what you'll find...

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Harking r-i-g-h-t back to the early days of motorised transport is this beautifully restored 1926 Model T Ford. You realise how much motor cars have changed when you read this vehicle's spec sheet - under the bonnet lives a 2.9-litre four-cylinder producing just 20 horsepower...

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In contrast to this you can drool over some of Ford's most significant race engines. There's a complete YBB Sierra Cosworth turbo engine, an SVO V6 race engine (as used in the 'States) and the awesome Cosworth HB F1 V8, which cranks out more than 600 horsepower. Tech nuts will take notes in regard to turbo sizing on the Sierra engine and the carbon-fibre intake trumpets on the F1 engine.

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One of the most fascinating places to park your butt is in front of a monitor showing some classic Ford television adverts. Marvel over the technology used in the 1964 XP Falcon, Escorts and Cortinas, XBs, the "full size" XD (at a time when Holden went small) and the AU. No doubt, you'll also get a kick out of the 'quality' acting and, er, unusual themes of some of the older ads!

There's a spectacular assortment of immaculate and restored vehicles on display in the Centre.

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Some of the earlier machines include a '46 Monarch 2-door, a massive '52 Mainline ute (which is, however, dwarfed by the 2961kg 2002 F250 'Super Duty' also on display) as well as the first mass produced V8 vehicle - the '32 Ford Condor M18. From the following era, the Centre has plucked a Capri V6, XB 351 John Goss Special, XK Falcon, XR, XY and XA GTs, XD ESP, XB 351 pursuit car and a competition-ready XT GT that competed in the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon. No question, this is vintage and muscle car heaven - even Craig Lowndes' Mark 1 Contina gets a spot on the polished floor.

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Moving away from the production models are some of the promo vehicles that Ford has built in recent years. You can hardly ignore the bright 'Sandfire' gold ute (which boasts a supercharged straight six and side-exit exhaust pipes), a striking green Hornet Festiva, an orange Capri convertible, a wicked coloured Ka, a prototype 1990 EA Falcon Special and the well documented Ford Predator (with its supercharged 4.0-litre on LP gas) from 1997.

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There are numerous engineering cut-aways scattered throughout the Centre to show what's under the skin of a Ford. These include dissections of the AU Falcon suspension and brake assembly, the VCT (single cam) engine plus there's a full-scale AU mounted on a rotisserie with cut-away panels down its side and mirrors on the floor showing the internals of the mufflers and differential. This photograph shows the cut-away of the nose of an early '70s Ford XB Fairmont - very heavy-duty stuff....

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The 'interactive' component of the Ford Discovery Centre includes a push-button-to-operate motorised AU rear independent suspension and an exercise bike that's rigged up to generate electricity for automotive headlights and cooling fan - the idea is to show people how much energy is required to drive these accessories. Displays are also set up to showcase Ford's REX (Rear Entertainment Xtreme) system, which offers in-car TV, Playstation and DVD capability plus there's a corner dedicated to the Hella lighting system presently used on Fords. Oh and, when nobody's looking, you can act like a big kid and feed nuts (of the metal variety) to a robotic beast...

And now we move onto the design and manufacturing side of the Ford Discovery Centre.

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This progression kicks off with a mock studio set up that shows technical drawings, component cut-aways and clay models - including a dashboard and an awesome 1:1 scale of a Fairlane. These models are constructed from a blend of waxes, fillers and sulpher. Stop to read the information panels and there's a description of the processes from design through to manufacturing, with several touch screens and monitors used to make the learning experience more enjoyable. A small theatre is also used to provide a virtual factory tour.

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A large section of the Discovery Centre is dedicated to illustrating manufacturing processes - Ford developed the mechanised assembly line more than 90 years ago for its Model T. Here you can see the bare body shell of an AU Falcon mounted on a mock production line, with the robotic welding rig about to fire into life. Simply push a button to awaken the sleeping welding robot. A little further along the line, a full-size Falcon body can be seen about to be 'dropped over' the engine, transmission, diff, suspension and brakes.

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The component durability test rig is an interesting stop - upon pushing a button, a large weight is repeatedly pressed into one of the front seats (to test material durability), the engine is rocked (to test induction plumbing flex), the boot and doors are opened and shut (to test the rubber seals), the lower sill scuff plate is 'kicked' by a mechanical foot (to see how quickly it wears) and the T-bar transmission selector mechanism is slid back and forth through its positions (to test for slackness). Oh and, for the record, none of these components look like wearing out anytime soon...

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An ex-crash test AU Falcon is also on display in the Centre - fully decked out with a test dummy, rear movie camera, data acquisition system and the chalked dashboard (which shows whenever anything has come in contact with the dashboard during impact). Interesting stuff.

Note that if you find the Discovery Centre more interesting than the kids, you can always drop them off at couple of special kid's areas - Clara's Backyard and Henry's Shed. That ought to give you enough time to take in the cars and technology at your own pace.

Update
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Since our visit, the Ford Discovery Centre has been updated to include displays for the new BA Falcon. There's a clay model of the BA Fairmont Ghia interior plus a full-size clay model of the (yet to be released) Ford Performance Vehicles BA GT. Obviously, many of the 'current tech' displays will need updating as new models arrive.

The Ford Discovery Centre can be found on the corner of Gheringhap and Brougham streets in Geelong - a pleasant highway jaunt out of the Melbourne city centre. Opening hours are from 10am to 5pm every day - except Tuesdays, Good Friday and Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Day. Admission for adults is $6, concession is $4, children are $3 and families can get in for $15. Certainly, it's a very worthwhile visit if you and your family are even vaguely interested in cars - it provides "a unique behind the scene opportunity to experience how cars are designed, engineered and built" and "it takes you on a journey through the Australian history of a remarkable global company with a long and proud heritage in this country."

Contact:

Ford Discovery Centre
+61 3 5227 8700

http://www.ford.com.au/inside_ford/discovery/Ford_Discovery_Centre.asp

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