Graham 'Smithy' Smith reviews the Ford Fairlane AU 1999-2003, its fine points, its flaws and what to watch for when you are buying it.
The Fairlane is no longer at the top of the luxury car pile, but the nameplate that once defined local prestige motoring is still a revered one with many local prestige buyers. When Ford first introduced the Fairlane back in 1959 it stood out like a shining beacon of luxury in a market starved of prestige models. The Fairlane was the car most aspired to own, it was a shining symbol of success.
In the years that have passed the Fairlane has lost much of its lustre, having been swamped by imported models seen to offer more prestige than the Falcon-bred Ford, but it still has a special place in the local market.
The Fairlane concept as we know it today was introduced in 1967 with the launch of the first locally designed model. It was a simple idea, but a brilliant piece of marketing.
It was simple in that it was spun off the Falcon making use of the same mechanical package and much of the front-end sheet metal, but with the wheelbase and boot lengthened to create a larger sedan with heaps of rear legroom and a cavernous boot.
The brilliance was that for such a small change Ford could offer a desirable model for those who wanted to step up from the Falcon.
Ford followed the same simple concept when it launched the AU in 1999. Like its forebears it was spun off the Falcon, in this case the much maligned AU.
If the AU was canned for its perceived ugliness, the Fairlane was a much better looking car. The down in the mouth front of the Falcon was much the same in the Fairlane, but with a neat styling makeover it took on a classier look.
If the front was little changed the rear of the Fairlane was completely changed from its smaller sibling, and much the better for it. Where the Falcon sagged at the extremities the Fairlane sat high and handsome. It was a much better looking car than the Falcon.
Inside there was the usual rear legroom associated with the Fairlane, the boot was enormous, and it boasted every feature Ford offered on its option list.
The Fairlane Ghia, as it was badged, could be ordered with the 4.0-litre single overhead camshaft six-cylinder VCT variable cam timing engine which boasted 168 kW and 370 Nm, or the smooth 5.0-litre overhead valve V8 with 175 kW and 395 Nm. Both came with an electronic four-speed automatic transmission with a floor shift.
Underneath the extended skin the Fairlane had independent suspension both front and rear, the double wishbone rear set-up a marked improvement over the compromise set-up under Holden’s Statesman.
Brakes were disc front and rear, with ABS and traction control standard fitment.
The Fairlane is often sought for its towing ability. In standard form it was rated to tow 1600 kg, but could be fitted with a towing pack that pushed that up to 2300 kg.
Inside the Ghia had standard leather trim, six-way power driver’s seat, air-conditioning, dual front airbags and a premium sound system with CD player.
Ford released the AUII upgrade in 2000 with a laminated firewall and hydraulic engine mounts for a quieter ride and improved brakes.
ON THE LOT
Although Ford sold the Fairlane with a choice of six cylinder and V8 motors it is the V8 that is most prized by those who aspire to own the big Ford.
A 1999-2000 six-cylinder AU can be bought for $15,000 to $18,000, a 2000-2002 AUII update can be had for an additional $5000.
The more desirable V8 AU can be bought for $16,000 to $19,000, add $5000 to step up to the AUII update.
IN THE SHOP
Continuous development over many years has seen the Falcon and Fairlane evolve into sturdy cars that generally don’t have a lot of faults, at least major ones.
Mechanics report few problems with the AU, there doesn’t appear to be the same issue with cylinder head gasket failure as there was in earlier models. A design revision on AU has cleaned up the problem pretty well, although further improvements to the head gasket in the BA would tend to suggest that Ford didn’t think the problems were completely solved in AU.
Brake wear is a problem with the Falcon and Fairlane, look for regular pad changes and disc machining. The problems were reduced with the AUII upgraded brakes.
Build quality has been a lingering problem with the Falcon and Fairlane over the years, and Ford made a serious attempt to put those problems behind it with the BA. That doesn’t matter to anyone with an earlier AU and the problems that seem to pop up with the AU are more than likely due to production problems than basic design flaws.
With today’s fuel price concerns it should be remembered that the Fairlane is a large lump of a car, weighing almost 1700 kg so it will consume fuel at a high rate. Ford’s quoted fuel consumption was as high as 14.0 L/100 km around town for the V8 so it would be worth considering LPG to save money.
IN A CRASH
Competent suspension design along with four-wheel discs, standard ABS and traction control give the AU Fairlane the dynamics to avoid a collision in the first place, but should the situation get to the point a crash is not avoidable the Fairlane’s strong body and dual front airbags come into play.
Paul Karwacki owns a 2001 AUIII Fairlane sportsman which has clicked over 80,000 km. Apart from a leaking power steering high pressure line and pump he says it has been good reliable transport. He adds that the Fairlane may not be as refined as the Statesman equivalent, but it makes up for it with better on road dynamics largely due to its more sophisticated and robust suspension componentry. In six-cylinder guise he says it out-points both V6 engine options in the Statesman offering greater refinement and just as much power as the supercharged unit. The Fairlane, especially the AU II models with better brakes, is underrated which makes it excellent value. The looks may not appeal to everyone, but he reckons they look great lowered with a nice set of mags off an XR6, XR8 or T series car. He chose this model because on paper the driveline and suspension set-up is superior to that of the Holden equivalents.
• stately styling
• ability to tow
• enormous boot
• heaps of rear leg room
• high level of equipment
• generally reliable engines and transmissions
• high fuel consumption
• Holden Statesman – 1998-2003 – $21,000-$40,000
• BMW 7-Series – 1998-2000 – $60,000-$70,000
• Lexus LS400 – 1997-2000 – $40,000-$75,000
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you value cars on a metal for money basis there’s lots of value in the Fairlane, but expect to pay for it at the pump.