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Farewelling Frank

A humble car that made a huge impact

by Julian Edgar

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This article was first published in 2007.

Well it’s time to say goodbye to Frank the Falcon.

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About two years ago I bought an EF six cylinder manual 5-speed Ford Falcon. The car was purchased with just one purpose in mind: to become a cheap and down-to-earth car for modification – specifically, to allow me to write lots of interesting stories for AutoSpeed.

I certainly never expected in my wildest dreams (nightmares?) that it would become one of the favourites – and that’s a favourite in the context of all the cars that I’ve ever owned.

A big boofy car with a heavy clutch, enormous torque/weight ratio and steering deliberately designed to make the car feel wieldy (but which irritated me until the end with its variance in ratio), I fully expected the car in daily use to be quite awful. But instead it amazed me with its sheer competence.

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Now look, I can hear you saying to yourselves, Julian’s (again!) been sipping at the red. (And that’s true - but it’s white.) But, especially as Frank ended up in his modified form, this was truly a car for all seasons and pursuits.

We’ve covered the mods in detail in AutoSpeed, but they included grooved RDA discs and EBC pads; my own design intake system modifications; Jim Mock ‘Race’ series extractors and a 2.5 inch exhaust; Jim Mock cam; ChipTorque custom-tuned chip; and Whiteline dampers, springs, revised rear trailing arms, rear Watts Link bushes and adjustable sway bars. And the end result, except for an exhaust drone, combined superbly with the standard Falcon prowess.

This is a car in which on the flat freeway, I could get 6.5 litres/100km.

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Or run a 0-100 km/h time in 7.5 seconds.

Or carry my elderly parents around, complete with 3-year-old in the baby seat and my wife in the front passenger seat.

Or tow a huge trailer.

Or - even on crap tyres - frighten quite exotic machinery on my daily difficult country drive home.

Comfortable, cruisy – but surprising fast and precise when you wanted to up the ante. Frank the Falcon (we gave him that name in irony, but it became a term of affection) could do so much. A heavy lump to pedal around town, perhaps it’s to his huge advantage that probably 85 per cent of the kilometres we did in him were away from traffic lights.

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When it was empty you couldn’t even feel the presence of our standard size 6x4 trailer; and even with a full car carrier trailer on the back, the Falcon just shrugged it off. The big boot, big interior (but thankfully not huge like current Australian Falcons and Commodores) and large but efficient engine conspired to make so many tasks effortless. That sounds kind of pat, but time after time my wife Georgina and I would grin at each other and say ‘Fraaaaank....!”

That might have been after blasting up my mountain road; it might have been after jamming a huge amount of stuff into the car that we’d bought at garage sales; or it might have been after a quick spurt of power oversteer.

But we’d also say the same thing every time the (ex-Fairmont) trip computer started to beep – indicating that once again the Falcon was low in petrol. In fact our 3-year-old, Alexander, got so used to the low fuel warning that when the beeping started, he’d say from the rear baby seat: “Fraaaank’s thirsty – we going to the petrol station?” Even with the car having excellent fuel economy for its size and performance (on my request, the ChipTorque re-tune gave the car very lean cruise mixtures and the breathing improvements of exhaust, cam and intake certainly did not harm economy), when your other cars include two hybrids – a Prius and an Insight - inevitably even an average of about 10-11 litres/100km looks sick.

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And of course, as with any other owner, we got used to the Falcon’s deficiencies and tended to drive around them. What deficiencies then?

In the wet the car was an incorrigible over-steerer; this was a car that one drove very carefully when the road was damp. I’ve written in a column (now a blog post) about the horror with which I towed a large trailer with Frank on a wet road: I think you’d have to be a simply brilliant driver to be confident in that situation. The steering, as mentioned, sped up just past centre: you got used to it but then when you got back into a car with decent steering, the Falcon’s felt simply artificial. The drone of the exhaust was always a pain (I added a second resonator and it made only marginal improvement – I should have bought the complete Jim Mock system of extractors and exhaust) and even with colder-than-standard plugs, after a fixed throttle position had been held for sufficient time, the ultra lean cruise mixtures used to cause an occasional misfire

But thinking of the car in its final modified form (so I am clearly not assessing the standard machine...) I make these points:

  • The modified solid rear axle, four trailing links and a Watts Link rod suspension were so good - even over truly bumpy and difficult roads - that I have completely re-assessed the requirement for an independent rear suspension. If the rear end grips and grips, then lets go progressively (jn the dry!) and with wonderful throttle control, who needs an IRS? On my local roads, the Falcon was far more competent than something like a Nissan 350Z (which I’ve driven on the same roads).

  • In a similar light, I never ceased to be amazed by the grip of the front double wishbone (ok, short-long-arm) front suspension. I may be wrong, but I became convinced that the dynamic camber gain possible in this system gave absolutely clear and demonstrable advantage over the so-common McPherson strut front end. Front-end grip was never a problem for Frank: in fact, thinking over the two years of driving, I am pushed to remember even one example of gross understeer.

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  • I used to be someone who looked at engine performance in terms of revs: a car with a 5000 rpm redline was, self-evidently, a dunger. Now Frank didn’t have a 5000 rpm redline (and in fact with the JMM cam, intake and exhaust, revved quite freely at the top end) but the sheer torque development of the Falcon showed that, in the real world and on real roads, a car engine that develops LOTS of bottom-end torque is a thing of such usefulness that high-steppin’ low torque engines really need to justify themselves – and not the other way around.

  • The variable length intake manifold (standard), tuned length extractors (not standard), very low restriction intake (not standard) and two valves per cylinder (standard) made for a highly efficient engine. The fuel consumption showed this – optimising flows can still give excellent fuel consumption, even with a big engine.

Another other huge plus for Frank is that in two years of hard driving, nothing went expensively wrong. Two things were defective from the beginning – the air con was marginal and the cruise didn’t work. But apart from a water pump (ridiculously cheaply replaced and fitted by a local workshop), there were no unexpected failings – and nothing that was expensive.

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People of my vintage talk about “rugged Australian cars” (which I always previously translated as “crude Australian cars”) but Frank very much showed that ruggedness is a reality. Of all the cars that I have owned, I think the Falcon is the one that I’d most rely on not to leave me stranded in difficult circumstances. Yes, that’s partly just perception but it’s also a testament to the endurance testing that is carried out on Australian-developed cars.

But perhaps it is the simplicity of 3-year-old Alexander’s perspective that is most indicative of how I feel. When we were on our way to view the Falcon’s replacement, I told Alexander that we were thinking of selling Frank. His responses were vehement and clearly heart-felt: “No sell Frank!”, and “Don’t want to see other car – want to keep Frank!” he said from the child seat in the back, both expressed with an emphasis normally associated with a wish for the purchase of a specific toy.

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Until his expostulations, I hadn’t really realised how much the EF six cylinder manual 5-speed Ford Falcon had become part of our lives. View that from your perspective as a pitiful tragedy or alternatively as a joyful awakening: the fact is that Frank the Falcon made an enormous impact on this household.

And here I thought I was just buying an AutoSpeed project car...

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