Tagging the upmarket XE Fairmont Ghia with the European Sports Pack (ESP) badge was, if you’ll pardon our snickering, like calling a family-size ham-and-pineapple a proper pizza.
Because God alone knows what the Europeans would have made of 4.7 metres, 1400kg and 5.8 litres. (Five or six Renaults and a good eight or ten Alfasuds, probably.) Of course, it didn’t really matter that the ESP wasn’t especially European, because neither were the people buying it.
Yet, that notional Euro factor was a strong force in Aussie cars back in the late-’70s and early-’80s when it was still generally agreed that Europe built the world’s best cars. Hmm, how things have changed.
Anyway, Holden had gone all Continental on us with the smaller, more nimble Commodore, so it was only natural Ford would follow suit. That it did so with a scaled up version of a Pommy Granada is not important, it’s what it did after that which matters.
And what it did was turn the fleet-manager’s-darling, the basic XE Falcon, into a properly desirable car. And it still is. More than ever, in fact. Mind you, it had a good basis to start with.
The move from XD to XE Falcon brought with it the well-overdue ditching of leaf springs for the Ford Falcon sedan’s rear end. In their place went a six-link coil-sprung set-up with a Watts link and, suddenly, the Falcon was transformed in terms of ride and handling.
Ford had also been busy over at the engine shop and the XE’s version of the 5.8-litre V8 now cranked out 149kW of power and 415Nm of torque. Best of all, you could team that motor in the ESP with a four-speed manual which, even back then, was quite something.
The rest of the ESP stuff was borderline gorgeous, too. You got Bilstein dampers to further improve every aspect of how the car moved across uneven ground and a lovely set of Scheel seats complete with racy stripes lest you forget you were driving in Europe today.
There was a full set of gauges and the interiors were available in a wonderful range of colours (tans and warm greys) rather than the one-dull-grey-fits-all that you get these days. But there was more: big, fat (for the day) 225/60 15 tyres were mounted on classy yet sporty alloys (inevitably dubbed ‘snowflakes’), two-tone paint, a chin spoiler and many cars wore a set of low-mounted spotlights.
The ESP not only went well, it handled better than any Falcon to date and it was easy on the eye. You could have it as a six-cylinder or a 4.9-litre V8, but any bloke worth his salt lusted after the big 351. Throw in the fact that the XE was the last V8-powered Falcon for nearly a decade and you had even more reason to buy an Fairmount XE ESP and hang on to it for dear life.
Engine: 5766cc V8, OHV, 16v
What's our fave Falcon? Check out MOTOR's take on the top 10 Fast Ford Falcons ever made here.