1998 NL Fairlane by Tickford
Transmission: BTR M97LE, electronic 4 speed auto, GT Adaptive Shift Strategy, T-Bar shift. Ratios: 1st 2.39:1 - 2nd 1.45:1 - 3rd 1.00:1 - 4th - 0.68:1, Reverse 2.09:1
Specifications: see http://www.fpv.com.au/theheritage/fairlane/1998nlfairlanebytickford.aspx
FOR: Tight drivetrain, mellifluous exhaust note, strong grip on road and cavernous interior.
AGAINST: Creaky body, somewhat lumpy ride.
VERDICT: Big, bold and bordering on desirable.
RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)
The Fairlane by Tickford is the type of car that would appeal to 50-plus buyers into bungee jumping, rather than the bowls set. Somehow the idea of a Ford Fairlane GT doesn't stack up, but that's pretty much what this car is. The Fairlane by Tickford, as it is somewhat ponderously known, takes the standard long-wheelbase luxury Ford concept beloved of the middle-aged, well-to-do country esquires and back-seat driving politicians, and injects it with an unholy dose of steroids. It's a meaner, somewhat leaner car than the squashy Fairlane Ghia that rolls off Ford's Broadmeadows production line, and far more convincing than the Fairlane Concorde tested by Sunday Drive six months ago.
Which isn't all that surprising, because it's the "Tickford" part of this car's name that is just as important as the "Fairlane" half. Tickford Vehicle Engineering is a company contracted by Ford to produce performance cars wearing the blue oval badge. They include the XR6 and XR8 range, which have appeared in sedan, wagon and even ute form. (And then there was last year's EL GT Falcon - an extroverted hot shoe of a car, if ever there was one.)
The Fairlane's altered boot, bonnet and lashings of chrome trim hide what is basically a Falcon with an extended wheelbase. So Tickford's engineers turned to transferring as much of the GT's go-faster bits as possible to the longer car to make a luxury express. The idea was to keep as much luxury as possible but add some brio. While Tickford has resisted the temptation to fit the car with boy-racer wings and bonnet scoops, the replacement of the standard chrome sculpture that passes for a grille on the standard car has been replaced with a much more restrained wire-mesh unit.
A better engine, revised suspension, the addition of bigger alloy wheels and tyres, and an interior upgrade come at a price, however. The Fairlane by Tickford costs $70,500 - some $18,000 more than the Fairlane Ghia donor vehicle - but the levels of performance and equipment are enough to leave the owner wanting for little. The Falcon GT's modified engine has been transplanted into the FBT (now there's an acronym to contend with), but with one important proviso. It has been tuned to produce superior bottom-end torque, instead of the ultimate in horsepower. It's no normal automatic either, but a locally developed unit that utilises adaptive-shift technology. That means there are five different programs in the governing software, which can give syrupy, low rpm shifts if the driver is tooling along, or, if the throttle inputs indicate the driver is having a go on a nice piece of road, it will shift accordingly and hang on to lower gears longer. It all works, too. The engine produces 195kW of power, which is 20 more than the standard Fairlane, and torque has risen by 17Nm to 405Nm. Like any V8, it's not an engine that thrives on revs, but one that produces plenty of pulling power at low speeds and provides instant response for handy acceleration on the move.
Accurate acceleration tests conducted by Motor magazine show this Fairlane has a fairly lively 0-100 kmh time of 8.2 seconds; but just as important perhaps is the throaty, warbling rumble from the exhaust pipe, which signifies this is a V8 with an attitude. Other engineering work by Tickford includes tuning of the suspension for better road holding and less body roll, but without destroying the ride quality. It's a successful blend up to a point and you get the feeling it's about as good as Ford's archaic live-axle set-up is going to get. The Michelin Pilot tyres stick to the road well, and most of the standard Fairlane's awkward and sloppy body movement has been eliminated. The ride is quite lumpy, however, which won't bother performance-minded drivers as much as it would horrify traditional Fairlane buyers used to a magic-carpet style of bump elimination. The pay-off in float and pitch reduction makes the FBT's on-road dynamics far preferable, however. Where the car is showing its age is in the body, because the Fairlane is an awful lot of metal welded together and, inevitably, there's a number of creaks and groans evident when traversing less-than-perfect road surfaces.
What the Fairlane has always excelled at is looking big and impressive and translating that size into interior room. From the front seats it is mostly upmarket Falcon, although the steering wheel has changed to a very tasty leather and woodgrain four-spoker, and the power/economy transmission switch has been removed and the hole hastily filled in. The seats have been trimmed in leather, which gives everything an upmarket feeling and allays the otherwise overly plastic ambience. Move to the back seat and there's spawling space for two, or more than adequate room for three. All of the Fairlane's extra wheelbase length has gone into back seat room and it shows. Apart from its Holden Statesman rival nothing other than a big BMW or Mercedes can match this car (or any other Fairlane) for back seat room.
Standard equipment includes everything from twin airbags and ABS through to a six-stacker CD player (which has excellent sound quality), cruise control, trip computer and climate control air-conditioning.
The Fairlane by Tickford is more than a hotted up V8 Ford: it has enough refinement to please the sybarites among us, plus the urge to provide real driving excitement. It's perhaps a little too big to be a true sporting sedan like the best BMW, but considering the price, and the unlikely platform from which it comes, the FBT is a job well done.
Fairlane by Tickford
Engine : 5.0-litre, 16-valve V8
Power : 195kW at 5100rpm
Performance : 0-100 kmh in 8.2 seconds
Fuel economy : 13.2 L/100km (average)