After much speculation and idle rumouring, the Australian market is at last to see a V8 compact, albeit in small doses.
AUSTRALIANS can now buy new Ford Falcons equipped with V8 engines. This sensational piece of news has “sneaked up” on the motor industry because of the quietness – perhaps even secrecy – surrounding the first experiments with the new cars. The V8 Falcons, more or less Australian copies of the Ford Sprint V8 available in the US, will be made in small numbers at first while Ford Australia gauges the effect on the market. But they are made here – they are not fully imported V8 Sprints. And therein lies the difference.
The cars are being turned out by Sydney speed shop proprietor Mr Bill Warner, who has long been a well-known specialist in supplying hot bits for and modifying, American engines. Warner buys from Ford new unregistered two-door Futura hardtops, replaces the six-cylinder engine and transmission with his equipment, makes certain detail suspension modifications, and then returns the unused engine and transmission to Ford, where he is credited for them.
His first car, finished early in November, used the 260 cu in. V8 engine that is available as an option for the Fairlane, normally fitted with the 289 engine. Warner then scheduled a car for the 289 high performance motor plus four-speed all-synchromesh gearbox with floor shift however buyers can specify whatever engine they please.
Ford – and General Motors – has no immediate plans to build and market a V8 compact in Australia. There are several reasons. Market research indicates that only a very small number of buyers want a V8 before a six and the tightening-up on the volume of imported components used in local manufacture makes it senseless to plan a car around an engine that would at first have to be fully imported. As it is, Ford probably will have to install a production line to build the at-present fully imported 200 cu in. six, and obviously doesn’t want to be up for the double expense of building a plant for V8 production.
However, apparently Ford wants to test the market with a V8 version it only in a small way and this is probably why they gave tacit, permission – while not actually direct support – to Warner to “try on” some two-door hardtop with the extra punch, it will be very interesting. Warner had almost shelved the first car when he advertised it in a Sydney Saturday morning newspaper and had more than 100 enquires.
Complete and depending on type of engine and transmission requests the two-door Sprints will cost about £1700 right down to twin tailpipes and Sprint badge at rear. Warner’s output will probably come down to about two a week, as his conversion process – which took about 10 days with the first car – becomes more streamlined there are few difficulties involved in the task.
The V8 fits neatly into the Falcon engine bay without anything having to be cut or lopped. There is actually slightly more room between the radiator fan pulley and the radiator than with the six. The offside exhaust manifolding in the first car had to be reversed so that it curved forward and then back beneath the engine, but this was only because this car was equipped with three-speed column-shift manual transmission, and the exhaust pipe in its normal position was obstructed by the shift linkages. Subsequent cars will have a floor shift.
The engine mountings are a combination of the original Falcon mounts and Fairlane points. The car gets stronger coil springs in the front, a change in rate at rear, and a few other minor touches. So far the braking system has not been altered. Subsequent road trials are aimed at testing the braking and the alteration in handling, if required.
The high-performance 289 available has high compression pistons special connecting rods, a bore of 4 in. and stroke of 2.87 in., with four-barrel carburettor. It runs on 10.5 to 1 compression, and develops 271 bhp at 6000 rpm it will spin to 7000 rpm freely, and will be fitted with tachometer. All cars get a heavier clutch and a different transmission, to take the extra torque.
In the US the biggest engine option for the Falcon, including the Sprint, is the 260 ci. but the 289 is made available for the Mercury Comet. Relative all-up engine weights are: 144 cu in. 3481b: 170, 3561b; 200, 3651b; 260, 4821b; 289 (normal 195 bhp version 4851b; and 289 (competition. version) 4851b. The normal 289 runs on 8.7 to I compression, produces 195 bhp at 4400 rpm, whereas the 260 is also on 8.7 yet runs to 164 bhp at 4400 rpm. This compares with Ford’s biggest Falcon option in Australia of 121 bhp for the 200 cu in motor.
Mr Warner has long planned to enter the new car conversion business in this way, but the two-door Falcon hardtop is the first car that has met his requirements. He toyed with the idea of starting with the XL series four-door Futura, but decided the car was not quite “sporty” enough in nature. The hardtop, however, launched the project immediately.
He does not see much chance for owners of existing Falcons to get a conversion to V8 power through him, as apart from his limited time he would have to place on the owner the onus of getting rid of his old six-cylinder engine. Where normally he converts a brand-new unregistered Falcon and freights the unused six back to Ford, he would have to charge the owner of an existing car the full price of the V8 with no allowance for the existing engine. “I don’t think – too many will want to do it on those terms,” he says.
WHEELS was first to drive the first Australian V8 Falcon. The car had only just been finished and was still new, so there was no opportunity to take full test figures. However, the impact it made on us was quite overwhelming.
The finished unit is a beautifully balanced car, sitting level front to rear, with just the right amount of power. It seemed to us to be the complete answer to the Australian buyer who wants lots of power but doesn’t need the size of the bigger American cars.
The first impression is of the glorious noise that comes from the twin-chromed tailpipes when the engine is switched on. The exhaust system was made up especially by Sonic Speed Equipment, mainly because of the high import taxes on fully-imported systems, and emits a distinct V8 sound that turns the heads of passers-by when they realise that it is coming from a Falcon. The noise outside the car is marked, but not noticeable, but all the passengers get is a delightful V8 burble.
New as it was, the prototype’s Fairlane clutch was quite stiff in action with a fairly high pedal load, but this was as much due to the clutch facings not being burnished. The gearbox was also fairly stiff and notchy, but this will disappear with use and as the clutch is adjusted to take up initial wear.
Warner’s made up special throttle linkages to suit the existing Falcon pedal hangers, and have given the car a nice, light throttle action. Apply the power, and the car rockets away in most impressive fashion, complete with throaty roar from the pipes. The initial feel of the car promises standing quarter mile times in the low 16-second bracket, and a top speed of well over 100 mph.
The slight extra weight of the engine in the front end has given the Falcon a little more initial understeer, but one soon compensates for this. The steering is also a little heavier, but this is a decided advantage as it gives more “feel” of the road through the XM’s smaller-diameter wheel. All in all, we felt that the modified car was easier to place and “point” and the extra power makes it all-over a better-handling car than the six. This is because the power can be used to tie down the rear end in corners and for faster acceleration on exits.
A Sun tachometer was mounted high on the facia in the prototype, although a different unit will be used in subsequent cars. The engine, even though stiff, spins very freely.
Photographer Ian Elliott said (under his breath) during our runs that this would be the best traffic light Grand Prix Q-ship he had seen. Indeed it would if you are so inclined. All that tells the onlooker the true character of the car are the twin pipes, a neat Sprint V8 badge on the rear and a “260” badge on each front wing where the Pursuit 170 badges had been before. However, on this first car the offside exhaust pipe curved beneath the front cross-member – 4 in. Will be cut from the next cars – and is an immediate clue to anyone peering under the front bumper. The pipe gives only about 4 ins. ground clearance – too low by anyone’s standards.