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New Car Test - Tickford TE50

A car looking for a driveline to match its undoubted ability.

By Julian Edgar, pics by Julian Edgar and Michael Knowling

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Exceptionally good in some areas but equally poor in others, on the road the Tickford TE50 accurately reflects its genesis. It uses a 5.6-litre version of the V8 Windsor - one of the oldest engines in the world that's still in production - but the driveline's placed in a modern body of great practicability which also boasts suspension and brakes which in this iteration are world-class.

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The stroked version of the 5-litre V8 is available in three Tickfords - the tested base model TE50, the slightly more luxo TS50, and the Fairlane-based TL50. Developing a not-inspiring 250kW at 5250 rpm (the most powerful of the opposition Holdens has 300kW from just 0.1 litres more capacity), the key to the 5.6-litre stroker's performance lies in its earth-shattering torque curve.

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The peak of 500Nm at 4250 rpm tells only a fraction of the story; this engine has no less than 380Nm at just 1000 rpm! In fact, the torque plateau is one of the flattest you will see in any naturally aspirated engine - let alone one without variable cam timing or a variable inlet manifold. Between 1000 and 5500 rpm, the torque output varies by only 24 percent from its maximum - now that's a characteristic to give great driveability everywhere!

In addition to the longer-throw crankshaft, the 5.6 is also equipped with billet conrods, lightweight pistons with fully floating pins, specific Tickford heads and cam, a newly cast intake plenum, and a 82mm throttle body. Its development and production must have cost Tickford a pretty penny.

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Certainly Tickford sings its praises. "Smooth, endless, urgent power.... an iron first in a velvet glove," goes the glossy. Perhaps the advertising copywriter never drove the car, because this is certainly no smooth engine. At idle the engine lumps away, shaking the whole car in a way you won't see in any other new car sold in Australia. The idle is, for example, a heap rougher than found in the cam'd 300kW HSV engine; to many people it will simply be unacceptable.

But at low revs - from above idle to 2500 - the engine is quite refined. There are plenty of (nice) V8 sounds entering the cabin, but in this window the engine's NVH is quite acceptable. Rev it past 2500, though, and a tingly vibration starts to make its way through the floor. Something in the engine balance is just not quite right.... Then start to use the engine in anger and all hell can break loose. Get near the 5750 rpm redline - but still before the rev cut - and the engine shakes with vehemence that we've never experienced in any car. Like, it honestly feels as if the V8 is about to explode - pistons erupting out of the side of the block. You don't even need to look at the tacho - when the whole car starts to fiercely vibrate and the engine makes an incredibly harsh and strained noise, change gear.

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Kind of a whole-of-body shift buzzer.

So, a "smooth endless surge of power" it isn't. And trying to highlight NVH quality as a positive is just plain stupid. It doesn't have any.

What it does have is a superbly linear and tractable grunt - there's no waiting for the engine to come on cam, there's no delay while a turbo spools up, in fact there's no waiting around at all. The wall of torque picks the car up and hurls it forward, whatever the gear.

Responsive and strong and forceful.

Out with the clutch in first gear and the car drives away with ease - that monstrous torque makes stalling damn-near impossible. But then boot it and the rears will immediately light up.

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And therein lies a major problem. For away from the world of macho-bullshit tail slides, the lack of any traction control systems in these cars immediately confines them to a far narrower group of potential users than, say, the HSV equivalents. The TE50 is a two-wheel drive car which in the dry can easily spin its wheels; in the wet we imagine that any injudicious use of the right foot could see the Falcon immediately wrapped around a power pole.

I can hear the comments now: Who cares that it doesn't have traction control? What is he, just a wimp?

But you see this is a car that will be bought largely by men in their upper thirties, in their forties and even fifties. They'll be men with wives, with families, with children. And the Tickford TE50 is not a car that you would let a 17 or 18 year old son go out driving with his mates; further than that, it is not a car that many non-enthusiast men or women will be able to safely drive in slippery conditions.

And, critically, that is simply not the case with the HSV Clubsport (which has similar performance), and it is not the case with the Commodore SV300 (which has even more performance). Both of these latter cars are extraordinarily safe and easy to drive - whatever the skill level, reaction speed and interest being shown by the driver. And a major part of that on-road safety is the standard traction control system fitted to these cars. (We'll have tests of both the Clubsport R8 and SV300 soon.)

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Without traction control, the 5.6-series Tickfords are cars that would require a stern warning before being lent to a friend on a wet day; no such constraint exists with the Holdens. So while in absolute terms the Tickford actually has good rear-end grip, in the real world of families and cars and driving, its lack of traction control is an enormous disadvantage.

But get on the power in first gear, watch the horizon whip towards you, grab second gear in the heavy and noisy 5-speed gearbox and see the process repeated, snatch third... you get the picture. While we didn't find the car as strong in performance as some suggest, this is sure no slow car - our 0-100 km/h times were in the mid/low six-second bracket. Fuel economy? We had the car for too short a period to do too many gentle kilometres, and in our fairly hard drive it was a woeful 19.3 litres/100 km.

(And a curious sidelight: one oft-quoted reason for buying a big V8-powered Australian performance sedan - rather than something like a Subaru Impreza WRX - is the towing abilities of these cars. But here's something to ponder - the brochure on the Tickford cars says specifically: "T-series vehicles must not be used for towing". So there goes that idea....)

It's the engine that dominates the TE50, but get past that lump and we think that the car improves significantly.

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In fact, in the area of ride and handling, the Tickford is clearly a better car than its high quality HSV opposition. The ride of the test car (equipped with the normal Tickford sports suspension package rather than the optional Konis) was quite brilliant. Over long undulations the damping was perfect, while even over short, sharp bumps (usually the bane of cars equipped with 40-series tyres) the TE50 rode with assurance and comfort. Just occasionally some sensations of rough bitumen would get through, but over nearly every surface, the ride is simply sports sedan magnificent.

And that ride comfort is not at the expense of handling. We asked Targa Tasmania top placegetter Craig Dean to drive the car and he was impressed by its handling. "It's neutral, good for its market and it's got no unpleasant surprises," he commented. "The engine has a good spread of torque and the handling is very progressive. The LSD lets one wheel spin in extremes, which is safer than letting both wheels go or the diff being so tight that it pushes the car into understeer."

At our more prosaic driving level, we found far less understeer than in the HSV models, while the transition to (dry road) power oversteer was gentle and well-telegraphed. Even though it wears 18-inch 245 Dunlop SP9000 tyres, the TE50 never feels that it's a case of sheer tyre grip over subtlety - instead the suspension is simply beautifully sorted.

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But as with the base Falcon, the steering is more of a mixed bag. It's well-weighted, and off-centre it is sharp with great feedback. The Tickford is an easy car to place accurately through bends - but only once you've actually entered them. The turn-in transition is harder to get right, because the steering ratio around centre is deliberately vague. It's easiest to feel this when you try to place the left-hand wheels along the edge-of the-road white line. On the straight and narrow it needs constant steering wheel movements, but do the same through a corner and the lock needs little or no adjustment.

The brakes? Oh, the brakes.......! The test car was fitted with the extraordinary $5350 upgrade Brembos, and they are simply magnificent. Using stunning 355 x 32mm vented and cross-drilled discs with huge four-pot calipers at the front, the package is scarcely less impressive at the rear where the vented discs are 330mm and the calipers still four-pot. To be honest, during our drive we didn't get a chance to fully explore the capabilities of this system... we doubt that few people ever will, even on the track. And unlike the HSV premium brake upgrade, the Tickford pads remain very quiet, with no squealing or grinding.

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Significantly, the brake upgrade package is available on this base-model 5.6, while with the HSV equivalent you need to go up the pecking order to the R8 Clubsport before a similar option becomes available.

And that Tickford approach helps to make for a very persuasive dollars argument. The un-optioned TE50 costs just $57,350, while adding the brakes takes it up to a still very reasonable $62,700. That relatively low cost helps excuse the paucity of interior equipment - there's no electric seat adjustment (even of height), only two airbags, no climate control, no trip computer, only a single (albeit qood quality) CD. However, as with the other Falcon models, the cabin generally works well with clear instruments and controls, comfortable seats, quality leather and a steering wheel that (despite its blanked off facilities for the auto trans change buttons) is good to hold.

But the TE50 is a car looking for a driveline to match its undoubted ability. While the steering isn't much to our taste, that's almost the only blemish in a chassis of wonderful ability - and liveability. With brakes that are probably the most competent fitted to any sedan in this price bracket in the world, where the ever-present compromises between the diverse aims of ride and handling are almost perfectly weighted, and in a package whose utility is undoubted, this is a car crying out for a new driveline.

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And, only days before we drove the Tickford, we sampled a car with just the right engine. It was a US import, a late Nineties Ford Cobra Mustang with the DOHC-per-bank V8 brimful of exuberant muscle. Despite being 'only' 4.6-litres in capacity, it was one of the most exciting V8s that we have ever driven, immensely strong right across the rev range, yet tractable and progressive. Backed by a six speed, we found that we could change back to first gear at 60 km/h, then floor it and just hang on as the engine screamed up to its 7000 rpm rev cut. Awesome - although the rest of the car was nothing fantastic.

Now, put that engine and gearbox into the Tickford Falcon, give the package traction (or, even better, stability) control, and we think that you'd have a brilliant car - and one potentially much better than anything in the current HSV line-up.

And of course it's rumoured that just that sort of engine transplant will very soon happen ...

Build Quality

As we intimated in earlier stories, the build quality of both the base Falcon and the Tickford iterations is nothing wonderful.

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In the test car there was water in one of the side indicators...

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...and the rear skirt of the TE50 is held in place with a lower bracket just pop-riveted through the spare wheel well.

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Talking about the spare wheel, there's no full boot floor - just a panel inside the wheel - so the floor is uneven.

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Weirdly, there's also no fuel filler surround panel, so open up the fuel filler lid and you can see down right next to the fuel tank. Rough? Yes, it sure looks it.

Ford Tickford TE50 Fast Facts...
  • Engine has poor NVH but is progressive and strong
  • Excellent performance
  • Very high fuel consumption
  • Ride and handling exceptional
  • Absence of traction control limits range of suitable drivers
  • Optional brakes fantastic
  • Cheap but retained value likely to be poor

The Tickford TE50 was made available to AutoSpeed courtesy of New Oak Ford in Melbourne. New Oak Ford is happy to sell Tickfords Australia-wide.

www.newoakford.com.au
24 Hour hotline 03 9564 3777

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