Life of a jobless car lover
I really didn’t think that I would care as much about this decision as I did. I just can’t help but feel ripped off and even snubbed by a family that I presumed I had given up on long ago. I guess the passions that you grow up with never really leave you, they just end up sitting dormant in the back of your mind until something worthy brings it all back to the surface again. That “something worthy” was Ford Australia’s unveiling of the final edition of the iconic Falcon GT, the GT-F 351. The F actually standing for Final. With Ford Australia shutting down its local manufacturing in 2016 closely followed by Holden (GM) in 2017. The economics of this decision make sense and are therefore a necessary move. What this does bring about is the end for the Falcon (the locally produced 4 door saloon). The Falcon has been a constant in the Australian automotive scene for 54 years. Since 1967, the GT has sat at the upper echelon of the range. Due to this unfortunate business decision the Falcon will cease to exist, which has had Ford fans hoping, nay, expecting, a fitting send off to the legendary GT. Instead what we got, was an open hand slap to the face with this ill conceived, slap happy, lazy, knee jerk PR decision of a car that is meant to culminate 40+ years of Australian Muscle car history! I sir, am not amused.
Let me give you a brief run down on the Falcon GT and the 351 badge:
1967 saw Bill Bourke raid the US Ford parts bin to liven up its Falcon range Down Under. He came back with the 289CI (4.6L-ish) V8 from the Mustang and offered it as on option on all trim levels of the Falcon. This all seemed pretty sporty so he decided to take it racing. He needed a model that could be raced on Sunday and driven to work on Monday. Continuing on from the success of the popular Cortina GT Bill carried the GT moniker over to the Falcon and offered it in Gold only. They cemented its place in history with a 1-2 finish at the Bathurst 500, the race that they set out to conquer. A legend is born in the XR GT.
1968 saw some very minor cosmetic improvements and the introduction of the 302CI (4.9L) to the range, going under the name of the XT GT. An increase of only 5bhp didn’t help much at the big race that year with Holden Monaro GTS’ taking a 1-2-3 at Bathurst.
Ford hit back in 1969 with the XW GT-HO. the HO is for Handling Option. Once again they raided the US parts bin and came back with the 351CI (5.8L) Windsor engine. The bigger engine, better Brakes and better handling were a huge step up from the previous model. Holden were doing the same thing, and had stuffed a 350CI (5.7L) Chevy engine into their Monaro GTS and managed to take the victory at Bathurst that year, with the new 351 High Performance badged Ford coming in second. Both cars taking the fight to the Mustangs and Camaros that were dominating the series. The Phase II GT-HO was producing 300bhp (224kw) and capable of a 14.4 quarter mile and a 0-62mph (0-100kmh) in 6.4sec.
In 1970 Ford Australia rolled out the last iteration of that shape, and at the pinnacle of that model sat the XY GT-HO Phase III. The success of this car is what the new GT-F is meant to draw its inspiration from, pay a salute to, and bring back the glory of the 351 badge. More on this car a little later on.
With an all out war erupting between Ford, Holden and Chrysler a front page newspaper article in 1972 changed the whole scope of each manufactures outlook within 7 days. It was dubbed the “Supercar Scare” and forced the governing body for Australian motorsport to bow to public and political pressure to change the rules for the Australian Touring Car Series from having to run showroom models of which at least 200 examples had to have been sold, to allowing modifications for racing. This brought an abrupt end to the production of the highly anticipated XA GT-HO Phase IV, of which only 4 had been completed; 3 prototypes for the track, and one for the show room.
The GT remained in production until 1976 in a shape that you may remember from such films as “Mad Max” and “Love the Beast” (The Eric Banner Doco). The XA and XB models were great cars. They were in fact the first of the fully Australian designed and built Falcon as the US stopped building the Falcon years before. Ford finally introduced the 2 door coupe to the 351 GT badge, but sadly, none ever packed the potency that the Phase III delivered.
In 1992 Ford Australia decided to pay homage to the 25th anniversary of the GT. This “one off” run of about 250 cars definitely looked the goods. As an 11 year old boy I was awe struck by the muscular wheel arch flares, the massive rear wing and huge 17 inch rims (hey it was 1992, 17s were massive). Dad took me down to the local dealership as soon as they got one in to go over with a fine toothed comb, it was gorgeous! It came at a time when the faux par of V8’s was subsiding and Revheads all over Australia were rejoicing that Ford and Holden V8s were once again proudly thundering around Mt Panorama (Bathurst) instead of the insane Turbocharged Sierra Cosworths that dominated the series in the late 80s. Sadly though, the 25th Anniversary EB GT was a dud. 220bhp (165kw) was all the 5.0L was able to produce. It seems that when they raided the US parts bin they grabbed the wrong engine. The SVO Mustang engine that should have been used didn’t end up arriving till the following year, in another limited edition Falcon, the XR8 Sprint. This was a weapon, a wolf in sheep’s clothing if you will, none of the flare but all of the go. Dad ended up with one of these instead.
Ford had another go at the GT 5 years later (30th Anniversary) in the EL GT. They basically managed to produce a rather good Luxo Tourer but nothing that would hark back to the race bred machines that created the badge.
In 2002 Fords performance arm FPV (Ford Performance Vehicles) created a production model GT, and what a car that was. Finally able to eclipse the performance numbers that the XW and XY models put down back in 1969-70. A GT that not only looked the part, but backed it up with great performance from the 5.4L (327CI-ish) F-Truck engine with Mustang sourced heads.
2008 saw the introduction of forced induction to a GT for the first time ever as Ford Australia made the switch to the new 5.0L mustang engine and developed their own supercharger for it. BOOM! 450bhp (335kw) and a handling package in the top of the line Rspec suddenly has the GT chasing M5’s and E63’s (at twice the price) without embarrassing its self (I said chasing, not beating).
So here we are at the Final edition of this historic Australian car that I’m disappointed with. So what’s wrong with it? Honestly? Nothing. Its a fantastic car, my problem is that it’s not a Great car. And by Great car I mean the “staring off into the distance with your head slightly cocked to the side as you remember it” type Great. The potential for this is all within reach, that’s what grinds my gears about this.
Here’s how the 2014 FPV GT-F 351 shapes up:
5.0L supercharged V8 with 470bhp which is 351kw in our measure and the reason for the renewed 351 badge. An overboost function that boosts power to over 530bhp (400kw+) but doesn’t kick in till 4,500rpm, and forget about it if you’re all crossed up or if the ambient temperature is too high. What the hell is that!? Every other manufacturer is doing everything they can to get all the power and torque on tap from as early in the rev range as possible, not this car. Oh and a hot day in Australia is pretty rare, so that shouldn’t be to much of an issue either. FPV claim minor tweaks to it’s handling capabilities which has improved turn in over the already nimble Rspec and an easy to use launch control mean that it will get up and go and tackle the twisty bits with gusto, and initial reports seem to confirm this.
So really, other than a somewhat unique sticker kit and the new badges this GT is really quite similar to the rest of the GT Range. Which is a good car that the Ford boys can be proud of, in fact its probably the best performing 4 door saloon with a Ford badge on it anywhere in the world. I”m sorry, but it’s just not enough for a final edition.
In it’s day the XY GT-HO Phase III made its mark on the world by claiming the title of the fastest production 4 door saloon in the world. Not only did it grab this title by the scruff of the neck but it held it for 19 years! (points for naming who knocked it off). It featured in the most requested photo in Wheels Magazine’s (our local Auto rag) history. The infamous shot over the shoulder of Mel Nichol as he held it pinned against the limiter at over 140mph (225kph) down the Hume Highway. The original pic showed the Taco at 6700rpm and the Speedo off the dial. It was retouched for publication to show a more reasonable 105mph (168kph) in third gear. No one bought the lie and the pic is still the most remembered photo in the magazine’s long illustrious history. It dominated the race that it set out conquer, it was a full 25 seconds a lap faster around Mt Panorama (Bathurst) than the GT-HO Phase I. Ford claimed 300bhp (225kw) from the 351 Cleveland, but the real numbers were closer to 400bhp (300kw). There are so many stories about individual’s encounters with this Mustang bred Falcon, all of them told with enough emotion to assume that it was a life changing experience, it was just that kind of car.
So why, if you’re going to stamp the latest edition with the word “Final”, would you not want to emulate the essence that created this legend? After all, its always been known as a Mustang bred Falcon, so why not go and get the heart of the the baddest Mustang of them all, which would then see the 351 badge revived in it’s truest form, displacement. The 5.8L V8 in the Shelby GT500 Mustang is good for 662bhp (494kw)!! It’s right there, in the US parts bin, where all their other V8s come from. I can’t think of a better way to say “Thank you and Goodnight” than with yet another 4 door saloon world title. But the biggest reason that I can think of, is one that I thought I had matured past a long time ago. A reason that isn’t as prevalent as it used to be and is ending quite soon. It’s the rivalry between the Ford and Holden Camps here in Australia. Whether its on the track or on the street you were brought up on one side of the fence and you stayed there, blue or red, I don’t even think I had a choice, it was just ingrained in my DNA. This rivalry has has been going for as long as the two brands have existed in Oz, and Holden just took a massive lead with their new HSV GTS or as the English know it, the Vauxhall VRX8 GTS (the Americans get the toned down version in the Chevy SS). As soon as the thumping 575bhp (430kw) 6.2L Supercharged V8 from the ZL1 Chevy Camaro became available, they stuffed it in the local car and happily took the bragging rights.
A 600bhp+ GT as a send off would have been the equivalent of dropping a microphone from shoulder height and kissing a piece sign as you walked away. Instead we get this half arsed piece of PR hype. It’s probably a good thing that Ford Australia is shutting its doors as I won’t have to request the executives be Pall Bearers at my funeral, just so they can let me down for the last time.