Saturday, December 12, 2009

Beater Road Test: Fox Box of the South Seas - 1989 Ford EA Falcon S

Ask an Australian what the 'S' means on the back of a so-equipped EA generation Falcon and they will tell you "Silly". This is the kind of respect that this hoon-mobile will get you right off the bat due to a generally bad reputation that started right from the rushed launch. After the cylinder head cracking issues were resolved, some mounting points were moved around in the front suspension, and a few issues related to structural integrity were addressed, the EA Falcon evolved into a fantastic car.

I'll be honest - my EA was an impulsive purchase. I didn't know anything about the mechanical maladies or even the sub-car status from come nose-snubbing owners of earlier and later Falcons. But I'm glad that I was ignorant, otherwise I probably would not have purchased the vehicle and would have ended up with something equal or even shittier for far more money. From my experiences, the EA Falcon is a complete bargain, and here's why:

1. Driveline

The powerplant for the EA Falcon has its roots in the humble US Ford compact range of the 1970's, basically being an evolved version of the long since discontinued 140/170/200/250ci straight six. Dearborn ditched this motor in favor of miserable V6s while the Broadmeadows continued development on the old 4.1.

By 1988, the old 4.1 had been destroked to 3.9, given a SOHC cylinder head, and multiport fuel injection resulting in a power output of 186hp in stock form, comparable to the BMW 535is of the time. My car was equipped with "extractors", an ECU reflash, and relatively open intake and exhaust tracts, most likely putting it around the 215hp, good for a sub-7 second 0-60 by my watch. Power is more linear than anything I have ever driven - from 600rpm to 4000, torque seems exactly the same. Above about 4500rpm, the car really falls flat on its face, but still sounds fantastic, although clearly strained.

Even during hard track use, I never had any issues with overheating, loss of power, oil use, etc. The power was always there to come out of corners, but the open diff resulted in trail of smoke marking the inside of my line. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this driveline package is that it will still return 30mph on the highway, extremely helpful for those cross-Outback treks.

2. Interior

No complaints here - I've slept like a baby many a night across the front or back seat in relative comfort. The front seats have far more adjustment built in than an American car and are incredibly comfortable, but this also means more slop in the adjustment. My car failed a CAMS scrutineering session due to loose seat sliders and back rest. Nothing a few small pieces of gravel in the seat tracks and a screw driven through the seat back adjuster can't fix. Rock solid.

The rear passengers are blessed with massive amount of leg room without compromise to those in the front. The interior upholstery and carpeting must be some sort of carbon Kevlar matrix, because even after 300,000kms, there was no sign of wear even at the edges of the seats next to the red piping that the "S" gets you. The interior plastics must be the same stuff used in 80's US Fords, as mine has the same crusty patina of a sun-soaked F150.

3. Chassis

Falcons from the factory are expected to traverse rough and rutted roads, tow trailers, and be driven aggressively, as well as provide comfortable travel over unthinkably long distances. Equipped with lowered springs of nearly the same rate as stock, as well as a Class 3 hitch, this particular Falcon was able to tackle all duties at some compromise.

On track, the car performed shockingly well for how wallowy the springs were. It cornered flat, stopped without fade, and even put down mid-pack times. On the open road, ride was magic carpet-like but a bit too much so when loaded, as the rear of the car would bounce up and bottom out over ruts and bumps. At speed, the rear axle tended to shift around, causing the car to dart back and forth in a self-amplifying series of oscillations that would only calm with a tap of the brakes. This turned out to be the effects of a bad upper control arm bushing, paired with a broken transmission mount, thanks to the curbing at turn 3 at Sandown.

4. Final Thoughts

Whether it was towing a VB Commodore on a landscaping trailer from Ballarat to Melbourne, competing in CAMS time trials, or bring driven completely across the continent, the EA Falcon is a bargain.
The surviving cars have been rid of most of their production issues and good examples can be found for less than a grand these days.

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