By now we have spent enough time around E Series cars to know the cars inside out. But personally, I find the history is equally fascinating. Ford Australia's history over the past 20 years has been very dramatic, full of closure threats and challenges, yet with numerous success stories too. Now, with the earliest E-Series cars only months away from turning sweet 16, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of the most fascinating moments, both good and bad, in the E-Series history.
Please excuse any errors as this was all written off the top of my head.
Listings are in chronological order.
1) '88-92 Falcon engines
Let me get this straight. The Broadmeadows boffins were simultaneously producing a modern engine for the time (3.9 MPI), a half-baked derivative (3.9 CFI), a downright disgraceful variant (3.2 CFI) and an outdated 4.1 pushrod carby for the XF utes. While the 3.2's fuel economy was said to be worse than the (50% more powerful) 3.9 MPI, even more wasteful was the fact that it was shamefully dropped only months after the EA's launch, having consumed precious development money. The CFI system, also fitted to most 3.9s, was supposed to be an interim technology until MPI was completely phased in, yet drivers of 5 year old XEs had long been enjoying multipoint injection. As for the 4.1, its continuance was proof that Ford did not have complete faith in the 3.9. So why hadn't they pulled all resources together, and focused their attention on getting the 3.9 MPI just right? This is exactly what they did with the standardised 4 litre EB/XG, having learned the expensive way.
2) EA 3 speed auto
We all know how it was back in '88: the XF was about as modern as your grandmother's LP record collection, and Ford was desperate to get a one-up on its rival by introducing the EA before Holden's historic return to full-size cars. Trouble was, a supplier issue forced them to release the new model with an XF-derived 3 speed auto. The problem was not the clunky, crude operation of the Borg-Warner unit, but its absurdly tall 1st gear stifling the rev-happy SOHC engines to death, along with a 3rd gear that saw uncomfortably high revs on the highway. A better bet would have been revising the gear ratios with a shorter 1st and taller 3rd - surely this is better than unveiling an historic model that would be flawed from day 1 in volume-selling automatic form.
3) EB/EL Falcon GT
Daringly styled, muscular, luxurious... and something of a stuff-up. Unlike its forebears, the '90s GTs were grand turismo cars in the true sense of the term, built for cruising in style. However, while the classic GTs were remembered as muscle car icons, the automatic EB GT was left for dead by even the run-of-the-mill auto-only HSV GTS of the time. Both cars claimed
a 200kW output, but the HSV was clearly the more powerful. Nonetheless, the limited edition GTs were great at eating long distances. It seemed as if Ford was trying to appeal to young male enthusiasts of the XR-XB era who had now grown up, put on a few kilos and now wanted a head-turning luxury car. Mission accomplished. But what about the young male enthusiasts of the '90s?
4) EB Fairmont Ghia, EF II Fairmont Ghia marketing
Something from the 'deja vu' department. With suspension settings that wouldn't have been out of place on a '70s Cadillac, the top-dog EA did not truly live up to the sports-luxury implications of the Fairmont Ghia badge. So, with the EB Fairmont moving upmarket, it seemed logical for the EB Ghia to be marketed as a sports-luxury model. Everything from pin striping to firm suspension was thrown at it, though the regular 3.9 remained. Exactly where the Ghia lost the plot is unclear, but following the distinctly luxury-oriented EF Fairmont Ghia, the series II Ghia of '96 was marketed as a car of newfound sporty intentions - with lowered suspension, Tickford motor and so on. Perhaps someone should have stuck a big sign up in front of the product planners' offices reading: "Don't forget this time: Fairmont Ghia equals sports/luxury!". Oh and you know something else? The new BA Fairmont Ghia has been newly transformed into a sports/luxury car compared to the luxury-oriented AU, complete with 17" wheels, blackout headlights, lowered suspension...
5) EL Falcon ABS
Looking on previous E-Series history, the '92 EB II GLi had been the first affordable, Australian car to be available with ABS - the bargain-priced $990 Bendix unit. By the time the '93 ED rolled around, almost every model in the range featured it, including the new Futura and Fairmont. The EF might have been an opportunity to standardise this life-saving feature, but instead, the more marketable driver's airbag was given the green light. The otherwise unexciting EL update of '96 was surely the perfect opportunity to give Ford the halo effect of being the first Australian car to come standard with ABS on all models. The EL was always destined to be hit for six by the refined TE Magna V6 and the shapely VT Commodore, but such a simple addition could have made a big difference.
As it turned out, the '98 AU Forte was (disastrously) marketed as a cheaper car than the EL, ruling out any hope of ABS being feasible. The year 2000 rolled around and with the AU II Forte's price heading through the roof, another opportunity arose... but still Ford refused! Later in 2000, the VX Commodore Executive took the honours, followed by a big Holden Marketing Campaign (tm) on the advantages of ABS. Ford followed suit the following year with the AU series III, but it was a blatant, lame catch-up. Ford had blown plenty of opportunities and neglected safety, marketing, and the progress of the Australian car. Why? Maybe Holden bribed them, or perhaps Ford are masochists.
1) EA Falcon bodies
Despite being brutally cheapened by all manner of unpainted bumpers, carry-over XF wheel covers, fit and finish flaws and the image of beaten up taxis, the EA's simple, clean lines and excellent proportions are still appreciated by enthusiasts. In recent years, a large percentage of EAs on the road have been, shall we say, in need of a respray. And wheel covers. Nonetheless, it is the sincerest compliment to the EA's styling that the EB and ED made do with styling changes that are almost undetectable to the average person. It also allowed Ford to focus its efforts on addressing quality issues - much the opposite of the AU experience where one attempt after another was made to make the styling appeal to the average buyer. Also of interest, the drag coefficient of an EA sedan or wagon leaves a Porsche Cayenne, and most others of its ilk, for dead.
2) EB II update
You could go as far as contrasting the EB series II Falcon with Holden's typical series II updates over the past decade. Holden has given us more wheel cover designs and grille changes than I would dare to count, while the EB series II's styling changes were limited to 4.0 badges on the front guards. Why? Because the car's genuine improvements spoke for themselves. The body was strengthened for additional safety and refinement; the engines were significantly revised in the transition from 3.9 to 4.0; new safety features like ABS availability and front seatbelt webbing clamps moved it further upmarket. Indeed, it might have been called EC but there was concern that this stood for Earth Closet (read toilet) in some corners, plus a new round of crash testing would have been mandated. Instead, an update full of big improvements and detail refinements alike was understated to the extreme, and called a series II. It's a whole lot better than a new wheel cover design.
3) ED Falcon GLi lap/sash belt
First, the facts. A lap-only rear centre belt is almost worse than no seatbelt at all, and will snap any occupant wearing it like a twig - even in a surprisingly minor frontal impact. The ED Falcon (and the VR Commodore) addressed this with proper lap/sash belts in all seating positions. However, what is most incredible is the attitude international carmakers took to the issue. In the ED's day, you could buy a Mercedes S Class or BMW 7 Series costing house-money, but you could forget about equalling an ED GLi in the lap/sash department. Today, a number of new cars still
don't boast this feature, and Wheels magazine has in recent years been excluding truck-loads of new cars from its Car of the Year award because they persist with lap-only rear centre belts. Many have argued that it is merely a detail, but it is a detail of overwhelming importance.
4) EF Falcon
While no single aspect of the EF Falcon range stands out dramatically, it is perhaps the perfect example of how a major facelift should be done. While it was all but ready to go back in '93 when Holden's ground-breaking VR Commodore was launched, Ford held off and made countless refinements and quality improvements over the following 12 months. Once again, they showed they had learned from the EA's launch. What's more, the car itself was not only solid, but a genuinely impressive step forward with its newfound refinement, modern styling, improved performance, and stylish new interior, right through to details like an improved drag coefficient to equal a VT Commodore (or a VY for that matter, I believe), uprated braking, and the marketable inclusion of a driver's airbag. A top effort all round.
5) EA S, EB II S-XR6, ED XR8 Sprint, EL update XR8
Among a handful of E-Series performance packages, the manual/MPI EA S, EB S-XR6, ED XR8 Sprint and EL update XR8 all had one characteristic in common, other than class-leading performance for their respective times: Euro-style understatement. Today, when any Australian car with a hint of performance must come with oversized wings, jumbo wheels and so on, the performance E-series cars bar the GTs were stealthy, and easily mistaken for a regular model until the lights turned green. The EA S appealed to performance enthusiasts who cared about acceleration rather than engine size. The S-XR6 of '92 not only ate Ford's own XR8 alive, but nibbled on the heels of HSV's auto-only 200kW machines too. The ED XR8 Sprint (it was originally to be named Cobra, but David Flint refused to have what he called "that bloody blue worm" on his car) was more of an old-fashioned GT successor, focused on performance, value and low weight rather than body kits and big feature lists. It still yearns for a successor. And finally, the 185 kW EL XR8 update took advantage of the VT Commodore SS' Roseanne-like weight to keep the newcomer, with its updated 5.0 V8, very honest.