Car Restoration Projects
Ford XD Falcon turned thirty
In 2009 we searched for a genuine example of the model to celebrate its milestone, and found an unrestored gem with Ford enthusiast caretakers, Darin and Anita Shaw.
Tucked away in a western Sydney garage, Shaw’s XD was not only a genuinely unmolested car, but it was a Ghia with a 5.8-litre V8 and had been ordered from the factory in August 1979 with a manual four-speed transmission. Hued in black with black velour trim the old girl had only travelled just under 130,000 kilometres.
Anita said: “Finding the car was a pure coincidence.
“We were travelling to the Gold Coast for our holidays and stopped to see our mates in the Falcon GT Club at Valla, near Nambucca Heads on the NSW North Coast, where the club was holding an event.
“Darin saw the XD, fell in love with it, came over to me and said: ’You’ve got to check this out’ .
“ I did and we bought it.”
The irony of the find was that the owner, who lived in Sydney and wanted to sell the car, had come to Nambucca to collect it from storage at a friend’s place. The friend told him of the Falcon Club event and suggested it may be a good place to display it with a ‘for sale’ sign.
Darin’s love of cars started at high school and the Falcon affair started when he used to hang out at a friend’s panel shop, were he’d seen XYs and XAs being repaired.
“I particularly liked those two models as well as XDs and XEs,” Darin said.
“I was lucky enough to buy an XE ESP (European Sports Pack) version some time ago when the prices had dropped to an affordable level.
“It’s tucked away at present and its ESP number plates are on the XD for the time being.”
Darin is a purist and any car he’s owned has been kept in, or restored to, factory spec. At present he has an RPO 83 XA undergoing impeccable restoration.
Over the years the couple has owned 10 Falcon GTs, including two RPO 83s.
“It’s a team effort with us and we like to do as much of the work on a restoration as possible ourselves.
“We get a great deal of self-satisfaction that way.
“We’ve won quite a few trophies over the years and have won the best Falcon GT three years running with three different cars,” said Darin proudly.
The other XD
Anita and Darin had another surprise waiting when we arrived. The black Ghia had a stable mate – a 1980 XD Sundowner panel van – and yes you guessed it, in standard factory condition. Although originally a six-cylinder, it was powered by a 5.8-litre V8, but this model was available new in this configuration.
The Sundowner was also a manual four-speed, but was white in colour, contrasting with its ‘black beauty’ four-door stable mate. All they had to do since buying it was freshen up the paintwork and re-decal it.
We drove in the XD Ghia with Anita at the wheel, followed by Darin and son Bradley in the Sundowner, to a nearby park to grab some 30th birthday shots of this perfectly preserved pair of birds from Ford Australia’s 70s-80s motoring history.
XD’s gestation and success
In 1976, Ford US engineer Fred Bloom arrived at Ford Australia as director of engineering, to direct, design and plan the fourth-generation Falcon. It was coded Project Blackwood and was to become $102 million investment by Ford in Australia, to produce a home-grown Falcon.
However Ford’s 4.1-litre, six-cylinder engine needed to be more fuel efficient to cope with the next ADR (Australian design Rule). Bloom made a deal with Honda in Japan to design and produce a lighter, cross-flow aluminium cylinder head for the 4.1-litre engine and its 3.3-litre sibling.
Ford Australia had surveyed the buying public and it showed that buyers were asking for a medium-sized five/six-seater with good ride and handling characteristics, but smaller and more economical than the XC.
Bloom, who had experience working in both the US and with Ford Europe, considered both the US Maverick and Euro Granada, but both were rejected in favour of a fresh local design.
The new model was to be lighter and more compact than its predecessor, while using the same running gear from the XC, with leaf rear springs. The same wheelbase was used, so that although the overall outer dimensions of the XD were less, it didn’t compromise passenger space and comfort.
The XD was to use more plastic components and Ford had set up a plastics facility at Broadmeadows in the early seventies. This was expanded to cope with the additional demand for the lighter components on the new model. A weight saving of around 110kg was achieved by the significant use of plastics for the fuel tank, bumpers, front spoiler, grille and dash assembly.
The base model retained the GL name and the 3.3-litre engine, while the 4.1-litre six-pack was standard fare in the Fairmont and Ghia version. Two V8s of 4.9- and 5.8-litre capacities were optional. The majority of buyers chose the 4.1-litre, which had sufficient power and torque for normal use and was good enough to handle a caravan or a boat in tow with ease.
The XD had excellent all-around vision and its size made it easy to manoeuvre. It still suffered the faults of the previous Falcons from the driver’s viewpoint: the steering wheel was non-adjustable and therefore often too close to the driver. That archaic handbrake position remained, hanging out of the dashboard.
The ESP derivative was launched in June 1980, coming in standard form with the new 4.1-litre, alloy-head six and the 5.8-litre V8 available as an option. It was spec’d with a re-worked suspension, including higher-rate front and rear springs, a radius rod at the rear and Bilstein gas shocks.
The special steering set-up and fitment of anti-sway bars were also an ESP standard specification. It was standard with low profile 60 aspect ratio radials mounted on seven-inch wide rims. These models also came with Australian made Scheel wool insert seats.
The upmarket Fairmont Ghia was fitted with fluted alloy wheels, had four-wheel disc brakes, velour upholstery and comprehensive instrumentation, including a tachometer. It was available only as a sedan.
The ute and panel van variants were launched in the third quarter of 1979 and both had basic GL-level trim.
Honda’s designed and manufactured Falcon aluminium six-cylinder heads were available on the 3.3- and 4.1-litre engines after August 1980. They were more thermally efficient and offered a higher compression ratio (9.2:1 and 9.4:1 respectively) than the cast iron heads. Spotting the alloy head models is easy, as they have a badge fitted on the front guard.
Leader of the pack
In 1979 Holden dropped its Kingswood model and launched the all-new, smaller Commodore, based on the European Opel – a decision they later came to regret. The volume consuming taxi industry turned its back on the smaller Holden and bought the Falcon.
Police departments across the country bought the powerful 5.8-litre Falcons to use as pursuit cars.
However, Holden still held the title of top selling car in 1979 and 1980, but by 1981 buyers opted for the bigger car and moved across to the Ford camp. By 1981 Ford had wrestled the number one selling title away from Holden, vindicating its $102 million gamble on its home-grown XD.
Rock of ages
The XD was also winning on Australian racetracks, but not before Ford stalwart Dick Johnson’s now famous rock incident at Mount Panorama during the running of the 1980 Hardie-Ferodo 1000, that put paid the No.17 Tru-Blu XD Falcon completing the race.
Johnson’s chances of winning were boosted when he passed arch-rival Peter Brock’s Holden that was limping after a shunt on lap 17 of the race. The elation wasn’t to last long though, as DJ came into The Cutting where a tilt-tray truck was carrying a stricken race car it had recovered earlier of the track.
Then, as the blue XD entered the corner on the racing line, a rock the size of crash helmet lay in its path. DJ had nowhere to go as the slow moving truck filled the section of track that should have been his escape route!
It was all over when both left-hand wheels collected the rock and the Falcon was out of control with Johnson merely a passenger, as the car almost hurdled the concrete barrier. Johnson’s 1980 Bathurst race was over.
But as they say: ‘It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good,’ and Johnson was back in 1981 with John French as co-driver, to stamp the Tru-Blu Falcon XD indelibly in archives of Australia’s most prestigious and rigorous endurance motor race, by crossing the line in first place.
Johnson and the mighty No 17 XD also won the Australian Touring Car Championship in 1981 and 1982.