Used Ford Falcon review: 1997
February 15, 2003
Falcon GT owners and enthusiasts around the country are holding their breath hoping that Ford doesn't attempt to perpetrate another cruel hoax on them when it unveils the new BA GT this month. It did in 1997 when it launched the EL GT. In celebrating the 30th anniversary of the great Australian muscle car, Ford delivered a vehicle that fell short of just about every measure that defines a true Falcon GT.
In the nine years between 1967 and 1976 the Falcon GT carved out a special place in Australian motoring history. Its combination of performance and luxury defined a new type of car in the local market.
Add to that the legendary racing feats of the mighty GTHO at Bathurst and other tracks around the country, and the GT became an icon that is as revered today as it was in its heyday.
Ford dropped the GT for on the grounds of politically correctness in 1976, choosing to build special GT models to celebrate anniversaries. There was the EB GT in 1992 to celebrate the GTs 25th anniversary and the '97 EL GT. Both were limited editions, and for that reason have become collectable, but to GT enthusiasts they were mere parodies of the real thing.
The key to the original GT was its unique blend of performance and luxury equipment, which made it a great high-speed highway cruiser. But by the time the EL rolled around it had become soft and new-age sensitive, with a clear emphasis on comfort which showed that the youthful tearaway had entered middle age.
It was impossible to miss an EL GT. With its Darth Vader grille and high-mount rear wing it could have come straight out of a sci-fi comic. Unfortunately, its performance didn't back up its aggressive on-road presence, and it was largely dismissed by the GT fraternity.
Ford insiders admit today that they wished they hadn't built the EL GT because it sullied the proud heritage of the original GT and created a scepticism in the community about the true credentials of any future GT they built. For that reason there is a feeling that the new GT has to be true to the heritage while at the same time being a truly modern performance car.
Just 250 EL GTs were built in 1997, 135 of which had automatic transmissions – which should give an indication of what Ford was thinking when it built the EL – and 115 had manual gearboxes. A further 15 were built for New Zealand and another two were sent to South Africa.
The power came from a hotted-up 5.0-litre V8 which pumped out 200kW at 4700 revs, an impressive figure for the time, and 420Nm at 3700 revs. It had special cylinder heads, high compression, big valves, heavy-duty valve springs, roller cam followers, fuel-injection, a larger throttle body, and exhaust extractors.
Ford boasted that a GT equipped with a manual gearbox could race to 100km/h in a little under seven seconds and cover the standing 400m sprint in a fraction over 15 seconds. The auto version was about half a second slower. On their own the numbers sound respectable enough, until you realise that a GT from the late 1960s or early 1970s would comfortably better them.
Gearbox choices were a four-speed auto, which was recalibrated to suit the GT, and a five-speed manual, which had a heavy-duty clutch, strengthened gears and a short-throw gearshift. It had a lightweight drive shaft connected to a Hydratrak differential running a short 3.45 ratio.
Under the sci-fi skin lay uprated suspension and brakes. At the front there were higher-rate springs, re-tuned shock absorbers, a larger anti-roll bar and urethane bushes in locations crucial to handling. At the back the live-axle was enhanced through higher-rate springs, retuned shock absorbers, a larger anti-roll bar and urethane bushes.
Braking performance was substantially increased, with twin-piston front callipers and larger disc rotors front and rear. The wheel arches were filled with 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Yokohama 245/40 VR17 performance tyres.
Inside the EL GT was awash with luxury leather and woodgrain trim, along with a long list of creature comforts including airconditioning, power windows and mirrors, and a sound system. Both driver and passenger had the protection of airbags.
But there was no sign of the vibrant classic colours like Vermilion Fire, Wild Violet, True Blue and Yellow Ochre. Instead there were three colours on offer with the bland names of Heritage Green, Sparkling Burgundy and Navy Blue.
In the shop
The key to maintaining the value of your GT is to use it sparingly. Many have been bought as second cars to be used for fun on weekends only, and they are the cars to seek out if you want to buy one.
Lovingly cared for, these cars rarely have any dings in the bodywork, and the interior is normally in near-new condition. Check for bodywork damage, in particular look for mismatches in the metallic paint, and quiz the owner on why he or she wants to sell.
Most buyers of GTs bought them for the long haul, so question their motive for selling now. EL GTs have generally done such little mileage that few things have gone wrong with them, and those things that have needed attention have been fixed quickly by proud owners.