We could try to sugar-coat this, but the fact remains that the AU Falcon of 1998 was a bit of a stinker.
In volume-selling form, it was an ungainly thing with a whale-eating-krill grille, skinny little wheels and tyres, too-high suspension and a melted-at-each-end appearance. When Ford pulled the wraps off it for the motoring press, we all looked at our feet and toed the ground. Awkward.
But out of that disaster came the AU Series 3 and the Tickford derivatives. And within that mix was the rather special home-brewed 5.6-litre version. Designed to give Holden’s 5.7-litre Chevy-sourced V8 a run for its coin, Ford rolled up its sleeves and locally developed a stroker crank for the 5.0-litre Windsor, taking the capacity out to 5.6 litres, power to 250kW and torque to 500Nm.
But there was a lot more to it than a longer crank throw; the heads were still cast-iron but were breathed upon, the valve springs were beefier and there were roller-rockers fitted to suit the Tickford-specific camshaft. You also got a blueprinted, balanced engine that was hand-built, a tuned inlet manifold, extractors and even go-fast goodies like shot-peened con-rods.
With the 5.6 on board, the Tickford sedans were suddenly proper HSV competitors. That said, the bigger Tickford mill was never as smooth as it was in 5.0-litre form and it drank like a supertanker. Twenty litres per 100km around town? Not a problem.
While the TE50 and TS50 Tickfords were available with the 5.0-litre Windsor, either of them could be ordered with the 5.6, the TS getting alloy heads. Same with the long wheelbase Fairlane Ghia-based TL50, but only three were ever built.
Unfortunately, for whatever reasons (but that thirst might have had something to do with it) the Tickford T-Series cars were sales flops. Apparently in retaliation, Ford offered the 5.6-litre engine in a run of Falcon utes dubbed XR8 Pursuit 250, and then stood back to see how that sort of grunt would translate in a vehicle with less weight over its rear wheels and leaf rear springs.
In any case, those stroker-engined cars deserve their spot here because they showed at the time that factories didn’t need to borrow engines from parent companies; mumbo could be designed and built right here – and be extra proud of it.
Which is what happened. And it became a metaphor for the Australian car industry, because that level of flexibility and genius is precisely what our car-makers became famous for at a global level. It’s also one of Australia’s greatest losses as we move to a post-industrial future.
To prove the Tickford engine was special, Ford took a leaf out of Aston Martin’s book and made up a little plaque with the engine-builder’s name on it and applied it to the driver’s side rocker cover. Nice.
Engine: 5604cc V*, OHV 16v
What's our fave Falcon? Check out MOTOR's take on the top 10 Fast Ford Falcons ever made here.