The outcry that greeted my last 'From the Editor' column - written after Deputy Editor Michael Knowling and I were given a tour over the Australian Tickford premises - provoked a faint sense of d?j? vu. For it was in March 1997 that I wrote the following paragraphs, run in the paper magazine that I then edited. At the time I was bemused that Ford could release the incredibly ugly and slow EL Falcon GT model, a car so obviously off the contemporary muscle car pace.
According to some tests, the manual GT gets to 100 kays in 8.1 seconds. Pardon? Yes, 8.1. A quick skim through some road tests indicates that a family car like a Saab 9000 Aero is faster, not to mention the Volvo 850R at 7.3 and the Volkswagen VR6 at 7.7 seconds. Read that again: a dead-standard front wheel drive Volksy is faster than the latest Falcon GT....
Of course, the direct opposition in the form of the Holden Commodore GTS-R romps away in 7.5 seconds (and is down to 6.2 in some tests!) while even its XR6 stablemate does it in 7.9 seconds.
So, top speed maybe? Well, at 234 km/h a Calibra V6 is up with it, not to mention an auto Senator 185 and a Nissan 200SX. Pretty well all the fast cars from Europe - BMW, Mercedes, Volvo - do 250 km/h.
Performance obviously isn't the GT's forte, then. So is it handling? Not with a solid rear axle it isn't! In fact, I can't think of another performance RWD from a major manufacturer sold in Australia without an independent rear end. Can you?
So is it looks? Make up your own mind! Is it aerodynamics? Is it active suspension? Is it a high-efficiency drivetrain leading to great fuel economy when you're not pedalling hard? I don't think so.
In releasing the EL GT, Ford has continued to seriously downgrade the reputation of fast Falcons. Surely to be competitive in this day and age, lacklustre performance, primitive suspension technology and questionable looks are not what it's about. Where's the 250kW supercharged 4 litre OHC straight six driving through a six speed gearbox to an independent rear end?
Over the last five years the number of modified Fords cruising the streets has declined markedly. And with the factory providing this type of lead that's just not surprising.
After that appeared in print, my phone rang.
"Didja write the crap about the GT Falcon?" asked the caller belligerently.
"So," sneered the voice, "what do you drive? A Holden?"
"No, I drive a Skyline GT-R," I said.
There was dead silence, followed a moment later by the dial tone.
That a reader thought a journalist writing negatively about a Ford could be immediately confirmed as being in the main opposition maker's camp said volumes about his perspective on cars. And of course history has shown the Falcon EL GT as a completely dead-end car - another nail in the coffin from which Ford has been sadly struggling to extricate itself for over a decade.
So the host of emails (see this issue's Response for more) that greeted my criticisms of both the technology and workmanship surrounding the much-trumpeted Tickford TS50 has surprised me not at all; in fact it's the number of supporting emails that has been more unexpected.
However, the underlying theme of many of the critical communications really needs to be explored, because it has implications for the editorial policies of AutoSpeed as a whole...
Many magazine editors take the view that it is their role to be purely reactive to reader direction. For example, if readers write in asking that more semi-naked woman should be PaintShop'd in between the cars, that's just what they get. An even greater number of magazine staff adopt the perspective that they should humour the prejudices and biases inherent in their particular brand of magazine. An example is the frequent belittling of V8 engines in four cylinder magazines - and the denigration of turbos by traditional muscle car mags. That the staff have personal views often completely different to their public personas doesn't appear to worry them at all!
However, an outcome of this common "tell them that they're heroes" editorial approach is that care is always taken never to raise issues or make statements that might offend readers. I mean, if you've been preaching the 'four cylinders are king' line for years, you've effectively locked yourself into a nonsensical paradigm - and evidence to the contrary must never slip through.
AutoSpeed quite deliberately does not specialise in one type or configuration of performance car. In fact, I believe that our only pronounced editorial bias is towards more modern cars. (That's not to say that we ignore the important historical cars - in fact we'll be running more stories on significant old cars shortly.) One reason that perspective is so easy for me to adopt is the variety of cars that I have owned. They include cars with 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 cylinders; single turbo, twin turbo and naturally aspirated; produced in Australia, Germany, Italy, Britain, Sweden and Japan; and with Holden, Honda, Alfa Romeo, BMW, Rover, Mazda, Nissan, Volvo, Saab, Daihatsu and Lexus makers' badges.
And no, Ford isn't on that list - but it could easily be next time. I genuinely don't care about the maker's nameplate - so if Ford in Australia produced (say) a constant four-wheel drive sedan with an efficient and flexible variable valve timed OHC 250kW V8, hell, I'd be interested.
That clearly established and very eclectic AutoSpeed editorial approach also means that we have the freedom to call it as we see it - to move with the trends and the changing dominance of makes, models and technologies. So, unlike (say) a Ford specialist magazine whose journalists would be terrified at the shattering dollar implications of describing how Tickford attach bodykits, we can do it. Even though, yes, that will undoubtedly annoy part of our readership.
But do we even have a choice in the matter? In fact, for us it's not an option to do other than communicate with you what we see and feel. To go further, it is our essential role as journalists that we bring to our readership - all of you, not just one interest group - the information that we have gathered in our privileged access to so many cars, car people and car facilities.
Perhaps you're thinking, "Well, sure - but I bet they wouldn't dare knock their beloved turbo cars and that bloody WRX!"
But you're wrong. In fact, we recently had a chance to drive a heavily modified MY01 Impreza WRX, and were utterly disappointed by how little distance Subaru has come in the last decade. Simply, the current Evo Lancers are now vastly better cars. Years ago that wasn't so - now it is. So, should we keep that information to ourselves, lest we annoy WRX owners when we write how quickly their cars are falling behind?
Not at all!
In fact, we have two columns written and scheduled on these very topics....
It is a vital part of my role as Editor to not just react to reader interests and perspectives, but to also be proactive. If I have access to information or knowledge gained through my position, material that will interest readers and which I am sure few know of, then it is my duty to bring that to you.
And I am happy to do just that, even if some readers don't like it...