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1981 Ford Falcon - flashback

By Craig Parker | Photos: rabbitte.com.au, 28 Dec 2019 Features

1981 Ford Falcon - flashback

With an award-winning interior some reckon looks like a choccie biscuit, this XE look-alike Falcon XD is as tasty as they come

SEN-bloody-sational is the only way to describe Tony Jackson’s Coral Brown Falcon. One thing for sure about the XD-XE series of Falcons, they’ve got these chiselled-in-granite angular lines, so when you get the bodywork spot on they look a million dollars. Take a long hard look at this Falcon’s flanks, they’re arrow straight and the lines are razor sharp. On top of mirror-perfect panelwork all the bodylines line up within fractions of a millimetre. Yep, looking a million dollars is something this Falcon does with ease.

This article was first published in the March 2002 issue of Street Machine

Ford XE Falcon rear

Dick Johnson had a drop tank just like this one under his famous Greens Tuf Ford, but his XE never looked this good underneath!

But don’t let appearances fool you, this schmick XE Ghia look-alike actually started life as a very ordinary XD S-pack. Why the front sheetmetal change? Back when the police were patrolling the highways in XE Falcons, Tony was cruising to a Newcastle race meet (he’s a retired jockey), and one of NSW’s finest came looming up in his rear-vision mirror. Tony felt it was such an intimidating view, he decided the XD would just have to have one.

With most rebuilds, the interior is usually the last area to receive attention. Things are somewhat twisted around with this Falcon. “Actually, we built the car around the interior,” says Tony, before adding that “the rebuild took 10 years!”

Read next: Nitrous 393-cube 1982 Ford XE Falcon

Ford Falcon underside

Young blokes have a bit of a tendency to get themselves into trouble when behind the wheel – it’s in our genes. But when said steering wheel is connected to a red-hot L34 Torana, all hell is likely to break loose, and break loose it did – all too often. In the end, Tony’s uncle, who just happened to be a Crown Sergeant, gave him the ultimatum, “Sell it or else!”

Out of the driveway went the Torana, with a less than pristine S-pack taking its place.

“I loved the Torana but it had to go,” says Tony. “The Falcon was pretty raw but I knew she had potential.” Troubles over, eh? Far from it. The 302 S-Pack had been retro-fitted with a 351 Windsor, a combination that had the EPA giving Tony no end of grief due to its non-compliance with emissions. Luckily – or unluckily, depending on how you look at it – it wasn’t a problem for too long, as it died an unnatural death not too long after.

Read next: Coyote supercharged V8-swapped Ford XE Falcon

Ford Falcon XE underside

The original colour was a beigey/off-white colour (Ford called it Moon Dust) with a brown vinyl roof. Eventually the vinyl roof became too much of an eyesore, so off it came and the top half of the Falcon was matched to the lower portion. While the spray gun was filled with the correct coloured paint, the bumper bars, mirrors, door handles and the new 16-inch Neales Wheels were all colour coded. The old girl was starting to look a whole lot better.

Enter the now defunct Reviva Trim. They were looking to get themselves some exposure on the then flourishing car show scene. They approached Tony with the offer of giving him a unique one-off interior in return for the use of his vehicle at shows. Not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Tony jumped at the offer.

Read next: Pro street 1979 Ford XD Falcon

Ford Falcon onroad

And unique is a very apt description for the walnut and tan, all-leather interior. “You either love it or hate it, it’s that simple”, says Tony. At shows, the response has been about 50/50, with some punters blown away and others labelling it a Tim Tam. Regardless of opinion, the XD scored two Top Interior awards straight off the bat.

So Tony set about bringing the rest of the car up to same eye-catching standard – and it’s about here that the real saga began. With a ticket in hand for a one-month trip to the US, Tony went panel beater shopping. “No worries mate, she’ll be ready when you get back.” The prophetic words still ring clearly in Tony’s ears. Upon his return, the car sat, unfinished and barely touched.

Ford Falcon XE boot

Two resprays and four panel beaters later, Tony breathed a huge sigh of relief when Scotty (from Formula Autos, Tuggerah) rolled it out of the booth. Scotty was the third person to paint the car but the first to get it right. Both previous attempts proved very costly and time consuming. Tony jokes that, all up, the XD’s panel and paint owes him something like $14,000!

Looks sharp, doesn’t it? And to think, two years ago someone decided to pull out in front of Tony and totalled the front end. Luckily Scotty did an equally good job the second time around.

Ford XE Falcon engine bay

With panel and paint taking so long, the XD’s engine selection also underwent a couple of transformations. This is in fact the Falcon’s third. Engine number one was a really tough 351 Clevo which was unceremoniously flogged off to pay for the second paint job. With money tight and an expected (should we say optimistic) completion date emerging, a second, milder engine was acquired. Things dragged on yet even further, and in the end Tony knew this mill wasn’t going to be big enough for his tastes. Engine number three – another 351ci Cleveland – came at the right price and had good pedigree, as it regularly pushed another XD into the mid 11s at Sydney’s Eastern Creek. Confident with this knowledge, Tony says, “My XD runs exactly the same set-up, therefore if I ever decide to race it, that’s probably where I’ll be aiming.”

John from Feneck Race Engines originally built the mill, which will rev to 7500rpm all day without breaking. Internally a set of TRW lumpy-top pistons push the compression up to a stout 11:1. Connecting the TRW forgies to the high-nodular 4MAB crank is a set of Scat H-beam rods, while up top, one of Barry Grant’s legendary 750 double-pumper Demon carbys sits proudly atop an Edelbrock Torker inlet manifold. Sparking the fire is a MSD Blaster three coil, MSD distributor, 6-AL module and Magnacore leads.

Ford Falcon XE engine bay

Of course the engine bay is up to the same high standard as the engine, and is clean enough to eat off. Copping the brunt of the Cleveland’s dyno-proven 480hp is one of Ford’s near-indestructible four-speed Top Loader gearboxes (see side bar), working in harmony with a Hays 11-inch street clutch and a nine-inch diff (what else?)

Under the hood is not the only place this Falcon’s got a tough set-up. Flick the on button for the all-Alpine audio system, and your ears will be serenaded by glorious waves of music. Heading up the Erina Car Sound-installed system is one of Alpine’s primo CD/tuners. From there, the low-level audio signals head rearward to the boot-mounted 4x75WRMS V12 amplifier. This in turn sends its grunt off to two bass-thumping 10-inch VR subwoofers and two sets of coaxials. There’s a 6.5-inch set on the thick MDF parcel tray, while a set four-inch coaxials occupy the original positions up front.

Ford Falcon interior

By some standards this is a big system, but in Tony’s words, “If you’re going to have a nice car and spend a bit of time cruising it, then it’s only natural it should have a sweet-sounding system.“

When Simmons Wheels had released their spanky new 18-inch OM series, Tony was at the head of queue. Even the spare’s an 18!

Brother-in-law Shawn O’Brien, from Smith and O’Brien Auto Electrics, was a tremendous help during the entire ordeal. Apart from heaps of hands-on help and moral support, Shawn is also responsible for completely rewiring the XD.

Ford Falcon dash

Getting the car finished has been a huge struggle – it’s had more than its fair share of hiccups along the way. However, Tony is quite philosophical now that it’s complete. “I’ve achieved everything I set out to do with the car, including getting into Street Machine (he’s been a reader since the early 80s) and scoring a win at the Summernats at any level (the XD managed to win Top Bodywork, third Sedan and made the Top 80).”

It’s now been on the road a couple of years and Tony absolutely loves it to death. “I’ll never sell it, it will never be parked in anyone else’s garage but mine.”

Load Her up!

Ford gearbox

IN THE 60s American carmakers lived and died by the belief, win on Sunday, sell on Monday. To keep pace with the ever-spiralling performance levels, Ford and other American car manufacturers began developing monster-horsepower, high-compression big blocks. At this stage autos were still considered passé, so the manufacturers needed super-beefy manuals to cope with the power onslaught.

For Ford it was just a matter of delving into the parts bin at their truck division, from which they plucked the famous Top Loader gearbox along with the famous nine-inch diff. This four-speed box was somewhat unique, in that all its internal gears were loaded in from the top, as opposed to a split-case housing where the gears are loaded in from the end. That’s how it earned the nickname Top Loader.

TONY JACKSON
1981 FORD FALCON

Colour: Coral Brown

ENGINE
Engine: 351 Cleveland
Intake: Edelbrock Torker
Carby: Barry Grant 750DP Demon
Ignition: MSD Blaster three coil, dizzy & 6-AL brain-box

UNDERNEATH
Gearbox: Top Loader four-speed
Clutch: Hays 11-inch Street
Diff: 3.5:1, LSD, nine-inch
Suspension: Pedders Coils, Koni shocks

INTERIOR
Seats: Walnut & tan leather
Wheel: MOMO wood
Gauges: XE Ghia and Auto Meter
Tunes: Full Alpine system

ROLLING STOCK
Rims: 18x8 & 18x9.5 three-piece OM Simmons
Rubber: 235/40 VR18 & 265/35 VR18