Driven's final fling with the FPV GTF

By Matt Greenop

An era ends as we salute the last of the mighty Falcons

As we watch the Falcon tail-lights disappearing into the distance, it's hard not to feel a bit nostalgic. The big V8 Fords - and their nemesis from the other side of the fence - have been just as big a part of New Zealand's motoring legacy as they have for Team Skippy across the ditch.

Ford Performance Vehicles has just rolled out its last car - the Falcon-based, limited edition GTF - and we're now waiting for both the Falcon and the Commodore nameplates to be retired.

The end of automotive assembly in Australia is sad to see. It's our last connection to a proper car industry.

New Zealand's days of production are a few miles behind us now, but we've still had the link to Downunder machinery thanks to Ford and General Motors' plants in Aussie.

Despite the fact that global sales figures proved that the days of large cars were numbered, to say the least, the Detroit duo persevered and we waited, with bated breath, for the whole thing to turn to custard.

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But as we wait for the Falcon and Commodore's run to finally come to an end, the reality of it is starting to sink in. As we dropped off the black and white beast you see here, it was sad to think that it would be the last test of these stroppy FPV monsters we're ever going to do.

Whether you have a blue oval heart beating under your race jacket or a red lion, it's like waving goodbye to an old mate. The era of global models has finally done what's been a foregone conclusion and while the stock Falcons aren't quite up to the licence-threatening standards of the FPV rage, this is the last big-grunt Ford machine that's built purely for our Antipodean markets.

Ford's announcement that the GTF would be the end of FPV's run left many of us expectantly awaiting a truly special model that would one day become a sought-after collector's item.

Will this happen for the last FPV, complete with excessive use of the iconic 351 badge? Um, probably.

Does it deserve it? Yes, in some respects, and hell no in others.

The expectation for this car was such that New Zealand's 50-vehicle allocation sold out almost as quickly as Ford's spin-doctors could knock out a press release.

Under the skin the GTF is all unapologetic grunt, fuel-sucking fun and a nod to a history that - while technically not to FPV's credit - is punctuated by some legendary Aussie muscle. Think XY GTHO Phase III Shaker named for the air filter protruding through the bonnet, vibrating aggressively, but just as easily applied to what the big 351 did to your internal organs when you stood too close to it. Or that wonderful piece of historic Bathurst race footage of the 1-2 finish by Alan Moffat and Colin Bond in 1977. The GTF doesn't quite deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the GTHO -- a car that originally sold for about five grand but which has seen collectors will to part with well over half a million in recent years.

This is not to say that the GTF - limited to a production run of 500 - isn't a good machine. The wick on the supercharged V8 has been dialled up to produce 351kW (more, in reality, but that magic number is there to underline the GT Falcon history), the suspension set-up has been tweaked to give it the best handling of anything to have come out of the FPV workshop.

It's impressive, especially when traction control is switched off and the inner bogan is allowed to run free - the raw power under the bonnet lights up the big back feet in milliseconds and will stay as smoky as intestinal fortitude and rear tyres allow.
Once the novelty of the bum-swinging abilities have worn off, and the "sensible" driver comes to the fore, the significant improvements that the FPV engineers have made to the car's handling become obvious.

The FPV Falcons - like the donor cars - have always had a few issues with getting through the twisty stuff without giving the driver a nervous breakdown. When you look at the almost-outlandish lengths that the blue-oval teams go through to get their V8 Supercars racers to be capable of going around a corner, it's no small wonder that dialling in a roadcar is a bit complicated.

Probably the most obvious quirk about the driving dynamics of the FPVs was that the front-end tendency to bounce around a bit - all well and good when you're on a racetrack but a little hairy when the chosen track is a Coromandel back road. Exiting corners on many of our country roads became a real exercise in bravery, the front end pogo-ing as it battled the back for a bit of grip.

But the car has been transformed by some "significant recalibration", essentially copying the setup from the last limited FPV, the GTR. It not only helps hugely when it comes to slapping that 351kW on to the ground, but cuts down on the front end bounce. This means better turn-in, easier control when the back decides it wants to break loose, and an all-up more tractable package - even when battling coarse chip roads built by the legally blind.

The brakes remain the big Brembos - six pots front and four rear -- which are pretty necessary when trying to haul the big Falcon up in a hurry.

Another big change, quite obviously, is that 351kW figure. An extensive remap of the ECU attached to the 5-litre engine has certainly made it stroppier, accompanied by a solid soundtrack underlined with a good helping of supercharge whine and exhaust pops and cackles on the overrun.

It has a tendency to to hit the rev limiter when the rear breaks free, and while it's got traction control to rein in the 570Nm serving, the car will still spark up the 275/35/19
Dunlop Sports Maxx rubber, now on inch-larger rims. When traction control does get a bit too, er, controlling, it cuts enough power to ruin your day, cutting enough grunt to make correction difficult.

Paddle shifters would make it easier to keep the six-speed auto reigned in, with the tunnel-mounted rocker gear change a bit too far to reach when you have a fistful of opposite lock and too much pace on to want to let go of the steering wheel.

The GTF's interior has seen a few upgrades from other FPV models, but still doesn't seem like it's had enough improvements to be as limited and exclusive as the last-gasp model should be. A much-needed colour display has improved the look of the dash, with a gauge display that shows FPV could catch up with HSV, if quite a bit too late.

The seats are fairly supportive, although the seating position is awful. As has become the norm for performance vehicles, there's a start button, but bizarrely it needs the key in the ignition and turned on to fire up, and can't be used to switch the engine off.

If it were actually possible to buy a GTF it would set you back a shade under the magic $100,000 mark - but the question that needs to be answered is whether it would be better invested on an older GT Falcon rather than a tribute that doesn't quite hit the mark.

- NZ Herald

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