When it comes to facelifts, the Ford Falcon is the automotive world's Phyllis Diller.
After two previous nips and tucks of the "edge design" AU model, Ford has put the Falcon under the knife for major surgery.
It revealed the results in Melbourne yesterday and, well, you'd barely recognise her. Only the basic framework, doors and mirrors remain.
In one of the most stage-managed launches in Australian automotive history, Ford again tried to put the troubled AU Falcon in its rear-view mirror by unveiling the new version three months before going on sale.
Such a move is unprecedented in an industry which likes to keep its models secret so they look fresh when they arrive in showrooms and don't hurt sales of the superseded model.
The new BA Falcon, as it will be called, is a make-or-break car for Ford Australia. The company has invested $500 million in the redesign after the $700 million AU model flopped.
Before the AU Falcon, Ford and Holden swapped the sales lead monthly. But in a dramatic fall from grace, the Falcon has been outsold by the Holden Commodore for the past 60 consecutive months.
In the history of the two nameplates neither has outsold the other by such a margin. Ford is now a distant third in the new-car sales race behind Toyota.
Ford Australia recorded losses for the past two years but hopes the new Falcon will turn the company around.
The normally pragmatic Ford Australia president, Geoff Polites, refused to talk about the AU yesterday. "I'm not one for looking backwards, I'm for looking forwards. I don't want to talk about AU at all," he said.
But in March 2000 he said of the AU: "We developed a car the market didn't want. We were happy with it but the public weren't. We did 32 research groups on the product, but not one on the customer."
Mr Polites was not president when the AU was released. Key people involved with the original AU are no longer at Ford Australia. Two new design chiefs and two sales and marketing managers have been appointed since.
Ford yesterday declined the Herald's request to interview the designer of the original AU Falcon, Steve Park, who was posted to America soon after it was released. He is back in Ford Australia's design studio in Melbourne working on Asia-Pacific projects for the company.
Four years ago Ford's press material described the AU as "dramatically different" and said it represented the start of the next design trend. Yesterday, designer Graham Wadsworth strayed from the company script when he accidentally described the AU's styling as "soft" and "doughy".
The AU Falcon's project manager, Lindsay Dawson, who is now retired, was quoted in 1998 as saying: "You don't get permission to spend $700 million on a car unless you know it's going to walk out the door."
But yesterday Mr Polites would not speculate on how long it would take for the Ford Falcon to become Australia's number-one selling sedan.
"Our number one objective is to make money, not to overtake the Commodore," he said.
The new Falcon is expected to be 3 to 4 per cent more expensive than the current model. Prices would start from about $32,500. The first 260 cars rolled off the Broadmeadows production line yesterday.