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First drive: T3 raises Falcon to new heights

The heart of the matter: The TS50 is powered by a stroked Windsor V8 engine which now produces 250kW.

Ford's go-fast family now has HSV in its sights

26 Nov 2001

ANY doubts that Ford has decided the T-Series performance range must go head to head with HSV have been killed off by the pricing of the new third generation range, dubbed T3, which goes on sale December 1.

Dollar for dollar, the TE50, TS50 and TL50 match their HSV equivalents - with the very minor exception of the auto TE50 that is $40 cheaper than the ClubSport self-shifter.

That means both the TE and the TL rise in price. But the TS50, the flagship car in the range, has been reduced by a staggering $8005 to line up directly against the ClubSport R8.

All three cars come with the much-hyped power increase from 220kW to 250kW - within 5kW of the HSVs (bar the 300kW SV300) - so it's game on like never before.

Ford is claiming the manual TE and TS Falcons accelerate fractionally faster than their ClubSport equivalents, with a 5.9 seconds 0-100km/h time and a 14.1-second quarter.

T3 is a statement of intent from Ford and Tickford, its performance partner responsible for the development of the T-Series range. Mild mannered is out, so is a reliance on chassis performance over outright power.

It was a car they might not have bothered to build - after all the "Barra" Falcon is only 10 only months away and with it comes a new 5.4-litre modular V8 and a whole host of new performance possibilities.

But Ford is not thinking cautiously these days. And when headquarters in the US stumped up the $1.5 million development cost for the engine the green light came on.

"This car does address the issues that customers said we had," said Tickford managing director David Flint.

"They said the car was not obvious enough, you could not pick it at 50 metres which is quite important, and secondly, the car has not got enough power in the face of its immediate competitor." Second point first. Power is now rated at 250kW at 5250rpm and peak torque of 500Nm comes at 4250rpm, all this courtesy of stroking the Windsor V8 engine from 5.0 to 5.6-litres. While the kW count is slightly down on HSV's LS1 5.7-litre V8, the torque numbers are 27Nm up on the 255 and just 10Nm down on the 300 Chev.

The Windsor delivers that extra power thanks to an all-new crankshaft, ported cylinder-head with high performance springs and valves, billet machined connecting rods, lightweight pistons with fully floating pins, a revised camshaft profile, an 82mm diameter throttle body, three-piece high-flow inlet manifold and conical air-cleaner with dedicated mass air flow sensor. Most of those parts have been developed and manufactured in Australia.

The result is the most powerful production Falcon ever and certainly one of the few volume-manufacture based cars in the world to have a handbuilt engine. To signify that, each engine carries a build plate signed by the Tickford technician who worked on it.

And so to the styling. While T1 was understated as part of Tickford's original ambition to find a more subtle and calmer market than HSV, T2 moved away from that last year and T3 junks the concept altogether.

An aggressive new body kit is dominated by a surfboard rear wing which the TL understandably misses out on, and is inspired by the Falcon V8Supercar. It does offer downforce and therefore more rear grip, but only as speeds rise into the illegal zone.

The rest of the kit comprises new front and rear fascias, a black mesh grille incorporating the Tickford logo, side skirts with T-Series badging, deeper rear bumpers and exposed twin chromed exhausts.

Other changes include new design five-spoke alloy wheels for TS and TL while TE also goes up one inch but retains the old wheel design. In all cases they are mated to low-profile Dunlop SP 9000 245/40 ZR18 tyres.

The tune of the double wishbone suspension remains unchanged, although TE50 buyers can now option the TS50's Koni sports set-up for $1500 to replace its standard issue Monroe system. The TL has a Koni set-up more appropriate for a long-wheel base luxury car.

The TE and TS both get the choice of a new Tremec manual or existing BTR automatic transmission - the TS employing the Electronic Sports Shift (ESS) with steering wheel-mounted change buttons. The TL shares the TS's driveline.

New for T3 is an optional $5350 Brembo brake package featuring 355mm cross-drilled and ventilated front discs and 330mm cross-drilled and ventilated rear discs, all with four-piston callipers. The standard brakes are Ford's Premium package comprising 329mm front and 287mm rear discs mated to twin-piston callipers.

Inside, there have been some adjustments. The TE has been downgraded to the XR's "low series" teardrop dash which also means it also loses the six-stacker CD audio system, although it does now come with choice of three leather interiors as standard, matching the TS. TL buyers get two leather choices.

The TS misses out on the luxury seats it used to share with TL while traction control has disappeared from the range altogether, apparently a victim of the compressed 10-month development program.

A further sign of the desire to be competitive with HSV is the addition of the DataDot identification system, which sprays out thousands of minscule dots etched with lines of text that represent a compacted version of each T-Series' vehicle identification number.

TE50 $57,350
TE50 (a) $58,350
TS50 $66,950
TS50 (a) $66,950
TL50 (a) $84,500


Wow! If the Monaro is the best Holden ever, as we reported last week, it has not taken Ford long to respond with the best - as well as the fastest - Falcon it has built.

If you have a sporting bone in your body then the TS50 in particular will move you - fast.

Yes, the engine's great - meaty power and even meatier noise as it revs up past 5000rpm, propelling the car into "license busting" territory. But there has been no sacrifice in useability to achieve this. It idles happily, does not require clutch-slipping or any silliness like that at low revs and produces a tone sure to please the ear and heart of any V8 lover.

Driving the manual is no chore either - the new gearbox is light on the shift for a car of this type and the clutch is similarly easy to operate. The ESS auto impresses as well, smoother and more reliable than early examples tried when launched with T1.

Combine that with a chassis that has always been outstanding and the short wheelbase T3s are both extremely memorable drives, although the TS's Koni set-up is narrowly but noticeably the more refined system, particularly its ability to keep the rear end firmly and comfortably under control.

The turn-in, the grip, the balance of TS are outstandingly high. But the ride too is composed on all surfaces bar the most perturbingly rough. That means you don't only have fun when you get to the windy stuff, it's pretty good on the way there too.

There is no doubt this is a big and heavy car, yet it is only the tightest of territory where it starts to feel ponderous and any sense of understeer starts to penetrate the handling armour.

As speeds rise and the road opens up, the TS is at its best, absolutely composed and unflustered with a tremendous amount of feel through both the steering wheel and the seat. Bumps and undulations do not knock it off line and there is simply no sign of tram-tracking from the excellent Dunlops.

Perhaps it is because the chassis is so well tied down, but the engine simply does not feel overwhelming. There's no scrabbling or sideways motoring. No traction control? Can't recall needing it in two days of hard driving on Targa Tasmania roads. The optional Brembos proved to be as impressive as their price is high, and are recommended to truly harness T3.

The cabin plays a supporting role in this package. Hectares of space are a Falcon family given and it is certainly comfortable enough. But not a lot of effort has gone into making changes here.

So, does T3 meet and beat HSV on its home turf? Definitive answers require back-to-back testing but there is absolutely no doubt these cars represent a big step forward for Ford's go-fast brand.

Considering the limited lifespan and availability, and the model's significance, there's no doubt the TS in particular has a slot well and truly reserved for it in the Falcon Hall of Fame.

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