The sun shines brightly, bathing Ford’s You Yangs proving ground in a warm glow, yet encircling its perimeter are thick black clouds, leaden with rain.
The weather is an apt metaphor for today’s activities. Doom and gloom surrounds the Blue Oval in the outside world as it makes the difficult transition from local manufacturer to importer, yet here today there is a palpable sense of excitement on both sides.
MOTOR is at You Yangs to drive the last-ever Falcon GT and meet the team that created it, a small group of engineers proud of their achievement and full of passion for the project.
They needed to be. With a shoestring budget and short time frame within which to work – the program only kicked off in September last year – they essentially volunteered for one of the toughest tasks imaginable, satisfying the demands of diehard Ford fans hungry for one last hurrah.
To complete the picture, we’ve brought along a couple of GT heroes, in the form of Garry Quigley’s wild Phase III GT-HO tarmac rally car and Ford Australia’s own XR GT, the first Falcon to wear that evocative badge.
By the time you read this, the GT F (F for Final) will have been unveiled in the public domain, however a clash of embargo and deadline dates means we’ll be driving two of the four development prototypes, one automatic and one manual.
To the naked eye they may look like a pair of standard GT-Ps, but myriad paint chips, loose wires in the engine bay to allow on-the-fly ECU tweaks and brake discs heat-stained blue tell of the hours of abuse they’ve suffered.
The other clue that these are not just regular GT-Ps lies in the rear tyre size. Under the rear arches sit 275/35 ZR19 Dunlop Sport Maxxs, indicating these cars benefit from the chassis upgrades introduced with 2012’s GT R-Spec.
With time and funds short, the decision was taken to cherry pick the choice components from the existing range to create FPV’s version of a Greatest Hits album.
But let’s start with the engine work, the reason for the reintroduction of the iconic ‘351 GT’ badge. With the whole project dependent on reaching that magic number, the Miami engine was sent back to Prodrive for some massaging.
Chief Program Engineer for Falcon and Territory, Peter de Leur, tells us keeping the project quiet at this point was a major headache: “People were saying ‘what’s going on? What’s the Miami doing back on the dyno?’”
Liberating those extra 16kW came down to fiddling with the engine’s ECU, while new software allowing for more precise boost control ensures the extra grunt poses no threat to reliability.
But although it’s the kilowatt figure that attracts all the headlines, the engineering team is keen to point out it’s the extra torque that plays the biggest role in changing the engine’s characteristics. While maximum twist remains at 570Nm, it’s now available over a wider rev range.
Of course, ever since the Miami engine appeared in late 2010 there’s been plenty of conjecture surrounding its actual power output, thanks to the presence of an overboost function.
While they aren’t keen to discuss it, the engineers confirm that if conditions are right, up to 15 per cent more power is available. We’ll let you do the maths. Simply put, while the GT F is never making less than 351kW, which already makes it the most powerful Falcon ever, it’s often making quite a bit more.
Our first taste of the GT F comes on You Yangs’ 4.8km Constant Speed Track, basically two lengthy straights linked by long, steeply banked corners that put most NASCAR ovals to shame.
Once all the camouflaged prototypes and weird engineering mules have been shooed away by Ford’s nervous PR crew, we have the place to ourselves. Cruising on to the track, the speedo is reading 190km/h in what seems like moments, and a couple more laps confirms that the GT F rips to its 250km/h limited top speed with little effort.
Racing legend John Bowe is on hand to offer his thoughts and instantly notices the engine’s stronger top end. As JB regularly drives a standard GT for corporate ride days, this suggests that if you’re swapping from an FG II to a GT F, you’ll notice the extra power on more than just the spec sheet.
By any standard it’s a crazily fast car, each gear unleashing a relentless torrent of acceleration. It makes a mean noise, too, with a satisfying braarp on full-throttle upshifts and a roar that echoes around the You Yangs facility, though it’s soon upstaged by Garry’s Phase III, its tweaked 351 screaming like an angry V8 Supercar as it tears around the circuit at full noise.
Thankfully, rather than just cynically turn the power up, FPV has thrown everything possible at the GT F’s chassis as well. The premium brake package – Brembo six-piston calipers at the front and four-piston at the rear – comes standard, as do the R-Spec chassis upgrades.
To quickly recap, these consist of re-tuned Sachs dampers all ’round, stiffer upper control arm bushes and upper strut mounts up front, and higher spring rates, reinforced lower control arms and a larger anti-roll bar at the rear.
There’s also stiffer transmission mounts and, crucially, 19 x 9.0-inch rear wheels with 275mm-wide rubber. Added for GT F is the ability to manually adjust rear camber by up to one degree negative, though it’s unlikely anyone will bother.
It comes as no surprise to learn the GT F drives more or less exactly like a GT R-Spec. Ride comfort suffers compared to a standard GT, though the extra body control is well worth the sacrifice. Rush in to a corner too hot and it’ll understeer heavily, but drive it with restraint and it’s balanced, adjustable and capable of going sideways at ridiculous angles. Mega fun.
However, to be blunt, no-one has bought (by the time we go to press most will have been sold) a GT F based on the way it drives. This last-of-the-line GT is primarily a car for collectors, and Ford has made a real effort to individualise it and justify its collectable status.
Externally, a new stripe package based on the XB GT adorns the roof, bonnet and lower side sills. Five colours are available: Winter White, Kinetic (blue), Silhouette (black), Octane (orange) and Smoke (dark grey).
Stripes are matt black standard, but the following colour/stripe combos are options: Kinetic/white, Silhouette/gold, Smoke/silver and Silhouette/silver. The only other options are a car cover and a tow bar.
Which is a shame, as it means the GT-P’s body-hugging Recaro seats fitted to these development prototypes are not available. It’s an unfortunate omission when so much effort has been made to treat the GT F to the best components available.
Elsewhere, the interior is jazzed up with premium stitching and embroidery on the partial leather seats, the centre console and audio system from the luxo GT E and, this being a limited-edition FPV, a GT F-branded build plate.
Most of the 550 GT Fs available (500 for Australia and 50 for New Zealand) already have customer’s names next to them, with some fast Ford fanatics laying down $10,000 deposits before the car had been announced on the assumption that FPV would do something to say goodbye. It’s a strange state of affairs that Ford struggles to sell 700 Falcons a month of all varieties, yet can shift over 500 of the range-topping variant in only a few weeks.
We’ll be back at You Yangs in the future (see breakout), but today’s visit has a feeling of finality to it. MOTOR (and Modern Motor before it) has attended the release of every Falcon GT since the ground-breaking XR changed the face of Australian motoring in 1967, but the official launch of the GT F will be the last one ever.
At least for the forseeable future. Whether or not the Falcon GT nameplate ever makes a return is up to Ford’s marketing department, but it’s unlikely to be in the form of a big, rear-drive, V8-powered sedan. And it won’t be Australian made.
We just hope those 550 GT F owners learn a lesson from Garry and his Phase III and drive their cars as they were meant to be driven in the country for which they were engineered. After all, the team who created it would prefer it that way.
Take a Bowe, John
Ford faithful JB has helped develop more than a few fast Falcons, from the EL GT to the Tickford T3 range and recounts the time he drove an original BA GT mule. Fairly handy behind the wheel, he’s more than qualified to give his thoughts on the new GT-F.
“It’s fast,” he says. “Beautiful engine; torquey, revvy, lots of grunt. I know it’s going to have this 351 badge and I don’t know this for a fact, but from my trained right foot, it’s got far more power than that.
I’ve driven the GT R-Spec a fair bit and it’s quicker, a lot quicker. Chassis dynamics are similar, it’s firmer and slightly edgier than the normal GT-P which I think it needs to be.
It’s very stable at high speed. It’s got nice damper control. And even though it’s firm and edgy, the ride is quite acceptable. It’s really like a driver’s car. Particularly in manual form, it’s terrific. A true muscle car.”
3.5 out of 5 stars
FPV GT F
|Body||4-door, 5-seat sedan|
|Engine||4951cc V8, DOHV, 32v, supercharged|
|Bore/stroke||92.2 x 92.7mm|
|Power||351kW @ 6000rpm|
|Torque||570Nm @ 2500-5500rpm|
|Power / weight||189kW/tonne|
|Emissions||324g/km CO2 (claimed)|
|Suspension||Double A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f);
Multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar ®
|Brakes||355mm ventilated six-piston calipers (f); 330mm ventilated discs, four-piston calipers|
|Wheels||19 x 8.5-inch (f); 19 x 9.0-inch (r)|
|Tyres||245/35ZR19 (f); 275/35ZR19
(r) Dunlop Sport Maxx
|Positives||Ferocious power; playful handling;
you’ll be king in certain neighbourhoods
|Negatives||Not much different to a regular GT;
it’s the last one ever