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Pre-Owned Performance - Ford Falcon XR8 Sprint

Now largely forgotten, the Falcon XR8 Sprint is a real stormer.

By Michael Knowling

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History

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In the early 90s, the XR8's persistent second place ranking to Holden's V8 models (and even Ford's own XR6) warranted the release of some more heavily breathed-on models. The 25th Anniversary EB GT - which was released in 1993 - came powered by a Cobra-spec engine and had the right amount of power to hit back. However, its executive level trimming weighed it down and it carried a significant price tag. Accordingly, its success in the market place was only moderate.

As a more educated follow-up, Ford's high performance tuning division (Tickford) developed the ED model XR8 Sprint. It was to deliver brilliant performance (thanks to minimal weight and about the same power as the GT), subtly distinguishable lines and - above all - affordability.

Chassis

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Like both the everyday XR8 and the 25th Anniversary GT, the ED Sprint was built up from the original EA26 Falcon floorplan. This had been designed to incorporate wishbones at the front and a live axle (with trailing links and a Watts link) at the rear. Swaybars were fitted at both ends.

However, the Sprint's suspension settings were noticeably improved over the stock XR8. The spring and dampers were revised, the car was lowered a further 5mm and the swaybars were unique. At the rear, the control arm's pick-ups on the axle were also lowered slightly. The Sprint then received its own slab-sided 16 x 7 inch ROH mags, which came clad in 225/50 Michelin Pilot SX rubber.

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These changes made the car feel a lot more stable than the conventional XR8. Pushing it through corners, it displayed only gentle understeer - oversteer was there only when deliberately provoked. The Sprint reportedly power down very smoothly - in fact, more so than the IRS'd VR Holden Club Sport (which suffered from tramping). Tickford's new ride quality was also widely praised. Behind each of those 16-inch wheels, the Sprint packed the same ABS disc brakes as EB GT - which performed very well.

Externally, the ED facelift brought a few changes over the previous model. This included a new grille, colour-coded door handles, new paint treatment around the rear trim panel, a Smartlock immobiliser with keyless entry, new side impact protection beams and stronger door strikers. The 1993 XR Sprint's distinctive "four eye nose", rear spoiler, wheel arch trims, lower body extensions and the winged Tickford badge were also introduced.

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Onboard, the Sprint utilised Fairmont spec instrumentation together with snug, heavily-bolstered seats and a Momo leather-bound wheel. Air and power steering were standard fare, but power windows were not available. All up, the Sprint weighed in at 1579kg (1600kg for the auto) - nearly 70kg lighter than the 25th Anniversary GT.

Engine

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The XR8 Sprint's Windsor engine is almost identical to that found in the Anniversary GT - which is officially listed at 200kW. Both are based on the US Cobra-spec engine. However, the Sprint's quoted power figures varied slightly from 192kW to 195kW (at 5000 rpm), and torque was 405Nm at 4000. Note that the Sprint was reported to have a superior mid-range torque spread to the GT. And. of course, the basic 5-litre XR8's 165kW motor wasn't even in the race...

To achieve its extra power over the basic XR8, the Sprint featured aluminium GT40 heads, larger valves, aluminium rocker arms (to give a higher lift ratio), a new camshaft and a 9.0:1 compression ratio. More obvious under the hood is the bigger airflow meter and throttle body and new intake manifold. Its EEC-IV management system was comprehensively remapped and the rev limit set at just over 6000. A bigger exhaust also sprouted from the rear.

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Moving down the order, the Sprint came with the choice of a 5-speed Borg Warner 'box or a 4-speed BW slushbox. However, the manual versions - which had a near-identical gearset to the GT - are much more common. These also came with an uprated clutch for added durability.

The rear end uses a 3.27:1 LSD centre, while the auto sported a slightly shorter ratio.

Performance

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In a straight line the XR8 Sprint lived up to its name. The unlikely looking new Falcon could haste to 100 km/h in between 7.3 - 8.4 seconds (the latter in wet weather conditions) and clock the quarter mile in as little as 15.1 seconds. The "awesome" GT took around 4 tenths longer to cross the line! This powerful acceleration was backed with a top-end speed of around 230 km/h - and, despite missing the GT's aero add-ons, it remained quite stable in this range. The near-200kW engine revved out freely and it blurted out an aggressive exhaust note when prodded.

The downside was fuel economy. An over-keen drive may find themselves getting around 16 litres per 100km consumption! On the other hand, gentle driving will give a best of 11.7 litres - which gives a much more reasonable touring range from the car's 68 litre tank.

Mods

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The bad news for the hot-up freak is the XR8 Sprint already comes tweaked by Tickford - so it features a lot of the upgrades people make to get their stock XR8s hooting (such as the different intake manifold and the GT40 heads). The good news is you can still get power by fitting a better header and exhaust system. Going for a quality 3-inch system, you could expect to gain about 5-10% power - although, this could cost anywhere up to $3000. A larger diameter forward-facing cold air duct should give another 5% power and the cost here shouldn't exceed about $200.

However, for a much bigger hike in power, one of the many aftermarket blower kits (designed for the basic XR8) would also be an option. These cost approximately $8000 - but you'll receive approximately 30-40% more power! Chassis wise, Tickford did a pretty good job. One aspect that could be easily improved, however, is the tyres. A set of Eagle F1s (or similar) are said to give a tremendous boost in grip.

Buyers' Guide

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Unfortunately, the Sprint was only a limited number build, with just 300 cars originally scheduled. The cost for the car when it was released back in 1993 was around $42,000 (plus ORC). It was discontinued in 1994. The only options available were an automatic transmission, cruise, sunroof and a towbar. Most XR8 Sprints were painted white and came with a 5-speed 'box - which is good if you want a real Q-ship.

Today, the Sprint hasn't got the following the hot Commodores have. Hence, they can be picked up quite cheaply - from around $18,000, in fact. Even the most pristine car won't fetch any more than around $22,000. This bargain price should certainly make the Sprint number one on the list if you want early 90s V8 performance. However, note that insurance coverage might be an issue for younger drivers.

In service, the Sprint has proven ultra-reliable. The only things to consider are the condition of the clutch or the transmission - either of which can wear out if the car is thrashed. Other than that, if the car has service records with regular oil changes, there shouldn't be any hassles.

Performance of Intended Role

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As an affordable, less boy racer-ish version of the EB GT, the Sprint was a great success. The new-improved XR8 was said by Wheels magazine to be, "a GT Falcon at two-thirds the price and a better everyday drive to boot". It also carried over all the functionality of the basic XR8, which made it an ideal fast family car (or just a more flexible hoon-mobile!).

Summary

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Ford's potent XR8 Sprint has been pretty much forgotten today - largely due to the Holden V8's widespread popularity. However, if you want heap of bent-eight muscle in a full-sized car, the Sprint is hard to ignore. And if you like the idea of treading softly and carrying a big stick, buy yourself an Falcon XR8 Sprint - you'll be sure to upset a few HSV drivers!

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