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From the Editor

6th November 2001

by Julian Edgar

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Look, I haven't pedalled a Tickford Ford Falcon. It may well be that the cars drive impressively, with sophisticated handling and engines developing powerful and refined punch. But if in fact they do, it can only be because of a triumph of development over design and build quality...

Just take a look at the latest T-series - the pictured 5.6-litre TS50.

Not for me the over-the-top prose of one of Australia's glossy motor magazines. "Race on," they trumpet breathlessly. "Tickford swerves out of HSV's slipstream as its daring, dynamic T-series prepares to challenge Clubsport and R8."

"There are no better examples of the kind of passion and commitment required to build good cars today than the.... FTE TS50"

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Ohmygod!

I always knew that the Australian motoring media looked at the local product through glasses rose-tinted by advertising dollars (or is it just blind patriotism?) - but either way, this is simply farcical.

Where do I start? Perhaps with the engine.

The Windsor V8 first saw the light of day in 1962. Nineteen Sixty-Two.... that's no less than 39 years ago!

We're talking clean-sheet design technology that's not just one or two generations behind, but from an era when man hadn't even walked on the Moon... So distant in the mists of time that the old geezer pictured at the top of this page hadn't even been born!

That's not automotive stone-age - it's dinosaur age...

Can you think of any other performance car sold anywhere in the world that is currently powered by an engine first designed over 39 years ago? We can't...

That any media outlet can even embrace - let alone laud - the idea of a current model using an engine whose direct roots are well over a third of a century old is quite laughable.

Don't think so? OK, can you imagine Holden re-introducing a stroked version of the EH's Red motor, or BMW getting rid of the M3's engine - and replacing it with the 1968 2500 model's SOHC six, complete with some new bits?

Or perhaps Nissan releasing the R35 GT-R powered by the Prince Skyline engine - oh, but replacing the three Webers with fuel injection, of course. The Honda NSX equipped with a stroked version of the air-cooled 1300 from the Honda Coupe 9? I mean, it is simply so absurd that the mind boggles - but that is what is happening at Tickford...

And, says Managing Director David Flint, "This is a pretty good example of what we can do, and it's a pretty good indication of what's to come in the next few years."

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So on that basis perhaps we'll soon see the re-introduction of the XM Falcon - it's of the same era that first saw the release of the Windsor V8.

But it gets better - or worse, perhaps.

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I simply wouldn't have believed that in this century any car manufacturer would release a flagship that had aerodynamic attachments that did nothing for performance. That comment applies even more strongly to the Falcon, a car that underwent a very thorough and successful aerodynamic refinement. The original aero development included the XR8 derivative - that biplane rear spoiler really worked, and there are the wind tunnel figures to prove it.

But no, the huge rear wing on the TS50 is there strictly for looks alone. Apparently, the body kit didn't even go into the wind tunnel - instead the wing's angle of attack was simply adjusted so that it had no affect on the handling....

Gee, couldn't BMW and DaimlerChrysler and Nissan and Porsche learn a lot about performance car aerodynamic development from Tickford in Australia, hey?

A measure of the company's desperation can be seen when it is realised that in less than 12 months, the performance versions of the Falcon will get a brand new V8 engine straight from the States... pity the poor buyers shelling out the cash for this car without knowing that a radically better engine is literally months away...

And it's not just at Ford, too. The current big Holdens use a rear suspension design that is one of the most basic independent rear suspension systems known to humankind. No, it's not a swing-axle design, but it is literally only one (afterthought) suspension link better than the semi-trailing arms found under the body of a 1960's BMW or Datsun.

But what's even sadder than all of this is the way the local motoring media are active and willing participants in glorification of technologies that in a world context, are thirty or forty years out of date. Even more infuriatingly, when in a short time Holden release a proper rear suspension design, and Ford put the Mustang engine under the bonnet of the Falcon, those same media will turn around and say how outdated the old systems were.

Be real brave fellas - say it now....

I went through the Tickford factory the other day. Dep Ed Michael Knowling and I were taken on the full tour, the guide full of boundless enthusiasm, the workers happy and confident and welcoming. People had pinned up their personal Ford posters everywhere, while many a workstation had a small print of a modified XB Falcon - or a classic shot of a racing GTHO - in view.

It was good to be in the company of people genuinely enthusiastic about their marque and the cars that they were producing.

But, you should have seen the build process: it was a bloody eye-opener.

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Firstly, you gotta realise that Tickford is just a few sheds. Fairly big sheds, but sheds none the less. Inside the main shed is a bunch of hoists and perhaps 40 or 50 guys taking bits off new Falcons, screwing other bits on, then driving them out of the door. The cars arrive nearly completed from the Ford production line, so lots and lots of brand new parts are simply junked. The Simsmetal bin full to the brim with just-removed exhaust extractors springs to mind - one worker told me that they had a Christmas party fuelled each year by the proceeds of the melted-down components from that bin... And the sheer wastefulness of that approach wasn't unique - around at the area where they bolt on bigger brakes, another bin was full of brand-new calipers, removed just moments before from zero-kilometre cars.

But it was when I saw how they were putting on the body kits that my worst thoughts were confirmed.

The XR8 runs a kit that includes a small rear skirt. We watched as two guys attached it - a process made more awful by the pride with which they showed us their bodgy technique.

Firstly, they placed a fibreglass template against the rear bumper and drilled some holes through the bumper plastic. Fine. Next they marked a line along the bumper, and proceeded to get stuck into it with a powered hacksaw. With great care, one guy cut along his guide - unfortunately missing his line by at least 25mm at one end. Ooops. Then the other worker picked up his drill again.

"We gotta give them a bit of movement in case they don't quite line up," he said. He stuck the drill bit through each of the holes in the bumper and wriggled it from side to side, elongating the opening by perhaps three or four diameters... never before have I seen anyone show me with pride how not to use a power drill....

A quick scrape with a razor blade to remove (most) of the plastic whiskers hanging from the fresh cut, the application of some glue, and the rear skirt was pushed into place. At least it fitted nicely.

Nuts were done up, then a bracket was added to stiffen the lower portion of the skirt. Time again for the power drill. A few seconds later, a hole had been made through a previously rust-proofed and painted panel, a bracket had been pop-riveted on and it was all done.

I have seen neater and more careful jobs carried out in suburban body shops. Like, making sure that the hole through the rust-proofed panel was again treated. Like, not having to elongate holes...

And then there was the sunroof installation.

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A factory sunroof in a Tickford, Sir? No such thing.

What you get is an aftermarket Hollandia sunroof installed by the simple expedient of cutting - with a pair of powered shears - a big hole through the roof.

Have a look at the next sunroof you see in a proper prestige car. See that rolled edge, where the roof panel was always intended to have a sunroof? See how the panel has been pressed? Well, you won't see that in your Tickford (and neither, I'm told, in your prestige Holden). But here at least the raw edge of bare metal was treated. How? By a guy applying paint, dipping his brush into a coffee mug...

No, AutoSpeed probably now won't ever get Tickford press cars to drive. Yes, we can expect a frosty reception from Ford when we next contact them to get media releases.

But for Christ's sake, someone in the media has to have the guts and honesty and integrity to tell it like it is...

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