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Home-brewed 1974 Ford XB Falcon

By Tas McMillan | Photos: Ben Hosking, 03 Nov 2019 Features

Home-brewed 1974 Ford XB Falcon

Tomi Vatavuk's XB Falcon is an exercise in detailed design and homebrewed engineering, with 433 cubes for motivation

PRACTICALLY everyone on the planet agrees that XA-XC coupes are right up there with the best-looking body shapes ever smashed out of sheet steel. However, there’s a lot less love for the humble more-door version out in the modified car world. Tomi Vatavuk’s stonking sedan bucks that trend, and demands much more than a cursory glance.

This article was first published in the October 2019 issue of Street Machine

Ford Falcon XB

Getting a Falcon to sit this low over monster 20x13s takes a huge amount of work! “We didn’t have to touch the wheelarches, but we did move the diff back to centre the wheels in the guards,” says Tomi

Tomi’s family played a significant role in developing his passion for 70s Falcons from a young age: “My brothers are eight and nine years older than me, so I grew up being that annoying kid following them around,” he says. “Tghey always had tough cars. There’s a video of one of my brother’s mates in an XC doing doughnuts in a car park, and I was in the back seat! I must have been about 11 years old.”

Read next: Show-quality 1976 Ford XB Falcon streeter - BFAT

Ford Falcon XB side

The 19s down the front may seem small by comparison, but they still have to clear the bodywork at all suspension positions and provide a home for the 355mm Brembos 

It was about the same time that Frank Piccolo’s blown orange XB GT (SM, Jul-Aug ’92) took out the coveted Street Machine Of The Year award, fuelling Tomi’s desire for an XB of his own. In 2001, after years of dreaming and saving, in the end a few hundred bucks and a case of beer landed him this very sedan. “It was a Skyview Blue Falcon 500 with three-on-the-tree,” says Tomi. “The weekend I bought it, me and my mate drove it up to Sydney to go to a Pantera concert!” A ‘vulgar display of power’, if you will!

Read next: Chris Bitmead's 1976 Ford XB Falcon - XBOSS

Ford Falcon XBTomi drove the XB as it was for the next few years, before he decided it was time to build the car he’d always wanted it to be. “I mounted it to a rotisserie and stripped it – sometimes I’d work on it all night and I wouldn’t sleep at all!” he says. Tomi’s good mate Johnny Musladin (whose own much-modified EH was featured in SM, Jun ’96) stepped up to handle the serious metalwork. Everything between the rear seats and the rear of the boot was cut out and replaced with mini-tubs, drastically raised frame rails and a custom-rolled boot floor.

Read next: Rick Galloway's 1974 Ford XB Falcon coupe - FATXB

Ford Falcon XB wheel

The XB’s massive feet invite all sorts of comments, ranging from blaring praise, to criticism, to downright head-scratchers. “Some bloke looking at the car at Summernats said: ‘I love it because the wheels aren’t Simmons’!” laughs Tomi 

Underneath, the stock diff and leaf springs were turfed in favour of a fabricated nine-inch and triangulated four-link with RideTech coil-overs for handling the bumps. The front of the XB didn’t miss out on the upgrades either, with more RideTech coil-overs controlling RideTech upper and lower arms. The vague steering box and linkage were replaced with a RetroRack billet rack-and-pinion set-up, and a set of Stubtech drop spindles allow the sick ride height while retaining suspension travel and geometry.

Ford Falcon XB

Just like everything else underneath the XB, the big stoppers were far from a bolt-on proposition – Tomi and Ross ended up milling their own rotor hats and caliper brackets to mount the DBA discs and FPV Brembos. The brakes are actuated by a standard Ford master cylinder and booster, with vacuum provided by an electric pump hidden in the boot. “I wanted to pay homage to the Falcon GTs of the 70s, but go way beyond them in terms of performance, handling, comfort and finish,” says Tomi.

Ford Falcon XB engine bay

Tomi’s CAD work is everywhere under the bonnet, though the strut tower covers and the air cleaner are the most obvious examples. The tower covers transitioned from paper to CAD models, then 3D-printed plastic to check the fit, then finally into CNC-machined aluminium

Speaking of comfort, have a Captain Cook at that interior! The trim patterns and shapes were inspired by those of the Ferrari 458 Italia and Lamborghini Huracan. The dash is the standard unit, albeit trimmed in Alcantara and filled with Speedhut gauges, and a great deal of effort went into making a heating system that works well and is hidden from view – Tomi even 3D-printed his own heater vents, plenums and tubes. Cardboard, MDF and modelling foam were used to create models of the door trims and other custom interior parts, from which moulds were made for the carbonfibre end products.

Ford Falcon XB engine bay

“I couldn’t find an air cleaner that would fit under the bonnet, so I designed one around an off-the-shelf filter element and we milled it from a chunk of aluminium,” Tomi says

Outside the cockpit, that sensational combination of Maserati and Mazda silvers puts a cheeky twist on the classic Falcon GT blackouts. “I think they need the GT stripes to break up the colour, but I thought black would be too much of a contrast,” says Tomi. There isn’t enough room in this mag to list all of the work put into the body, but keen eyes will quickly spot mods like the carefully tucked bumpers, the missing door locks and the custom rear undertray that takes design cues from the GT bonnet.

Ford Falcon XB boot

Of course, what would be the point of all that top-notch gear keeping the chassis rails off the road if there was nothing under the bonnet but a worn old 302 Clevo for propulsion? After several engine builders left Tomi feeling less than well assured, he met Bill Kaglatzis at BK Race Engines and instantly knew he’d found the right man for the job. Bill stuffed a 9.2in-deck Dart block with some tasty spinning bits from Scat and Comp Cams and added a beaut sump from Jeff Johnston’s Billet Fabrication to control the slippery stuff. Up top, the Clevor wears Trick Flow PowerPort heads, a milled-down TFC single-plane and a Quick Fuel 950cfm carb, while ICE ignition gear sparks off nearly 700hp. Fred from Protrans screwed together a tough C4 to transfer power from the engine, while Mick at M&A Engineering sorted out the Strange nine-inch.

Ford Falcon XB interior

Details abound inside the XB, like the custom centre console with GT bonnet scoops at the top, the billet shifter surround and the CNC-machined heater control panel. The tubs and fabricated floor meant the rear seat had to be made from scratch, but Tomi made sure to keep it comfortable and usable for cruises with his family 

With Tomi’s goal of 70s style with modern underpinnings amply covered, he’s keen to hit the road in the XB any chance he gets. “The car has turned out exactly as I envisioned it when I was 19,” he says with pride. You can’t ask for more than that!

Ford XB Falcon console

OLD’S COOL

As most readers will understand, there’s something special about driving older cars that more modern stuff tends to lack. When Tomi bought the XB, he didn’t really intend it to be his daily driver for nearly 10 years – he had an EL Series II XR8 for that.

Ford Falcon XB

“The EL was a much nicer car to drive than the XB,” Tomi says. “It was more comfortable and handled beautifully, but you just couldn’t get me out of the XB. I used to drive it everywhere when I was at uni; I even drove it around Mount Panorama a few times.”

SOKOL plates

Though it’s easy to read the plates as ‘so cool’, ‘sokol’ actually translates as ‘falcon’, and draws together Tomi’s family heritage and his love of local Fords 

Of course, all of that changed when he decided to take the XB off the road for a bit of a tidy-up, and you can see where that idea led!

Tomi Vatavuk

TOMI VATAVUK
1974 XB FALCON

Paint: Sikkens Maserati and Mazda silvers

ENGINE
Brand: Dart Windsor
Capacity: 433ci
Carb: Quick Fuel Race Q-Series 950cfm
Intake Manifold: TFC
Heads: Trick Flow 2V PowerPort 225cc
Camshaft: Comp Cams solid-roller
Conrods: Scat H-beam
Pistons: Custom
Crank: Scat 4340
Fuel pump: Aeromotive Eliminator
Exhaust: Pacemaker extractors, twin 3.25in stainless, Hooker Max Flow mufflers
Ignition: ICE

TRANSMISSION
Gearbox: Ford C4, manualised reverse-pattern
Converter: TCE 5500rpm
Tailshaft: 3in chrome-moly
Diff: Strange 9in, 3.7:1 gears, Truetrac centre, 31-spline axles

SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Springs: Hyperco coils (f & r)
Shocks: RideTech HQ-series coil-overs (f & r)
Anti-roll bars: Custom 28mm (f), custom 20mm (r)
Steering: RetroRack power rack-and-pinion
Brakes: Brembo six-piston calipers and DBA 355mm rotors (f), Brembo four-piston and DBA 328mm rotors (r)
Master cylinder: Ford

WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: Simmons FR; 19x8 (f), 20x13 (r)
Rubber: Pirelli P Zero; 225/35 (f), 345/25 (r)

THANKS
All the following for their constant friendship, help and knowledge throughout the build: John Musladin at Johnny Rotten’s Metal Lab; Jason Sandner, Gunther and Anthony at Abel’s Smash Repairs; Ross Commons at Devilish Racing; Bill Kaglatzis at BK Race Engines; Shaun and Josh at Trims By Shaun; Mark Caldwell at Monel Custom Automotive; Roberto Jugovac at Gungahlin Auto Group; Ray Spence at Canberra Automotive Engineering Services; my parents, brothers, friends and of course my wife Lisa and girls Tihana, Elena and Matea for helping and enjoying it all as much as I have