Ford goes toe-to-toe with HSV for the high-performance V8 sports sedan market in New Zealand for the first time with the new Tickford-developed T-Series Falcons.
The cars, based on the AU II, are available in three versions, the more aggressively-styled FE50 aimed at the younger buyer (17-inch wheels standard, 18-inch optional); the more luxurious FS50 (18-inch wheels, "plusher" ride quality; and the long-wheelbase LS50 based on the AU II Fairlane.
All cars are powered by a Tickford-developed version of the 5.0-litre Ford V8, producing 220kW. That's 35kW less than the standard HSV motor, the 255kW Chevrolet V8.
The Tickfords get a beefy brake system, and unlike the slow-selling AUI based version (which wasn't brought here) have aggressive body kits and styling tweaks.
"At 220kW, this is the most powerful vehicle that we've produced for sale in New Zealand," says Ford New Zealand managing director Nigel Harris.
Ford's performance partner, Tickford (which develops the XR series for Ford and runs the works Australian V8 Supercar race team) has provided the vehicle with a number of enhancements.
The engine produces peak torque of 435Nm at 4000rpm. Tickford touches to the motor include alloy cylinder heads with matched fine-tuned inlet manifolds, a re-calibrated camshaft and a specially developed throttle body for the 220kw it produces. Each engine is signed by the man who rebuilds it - three of them work on the project in the Tickford factory near Ford's Broadmeadows headquarters in Melbourne.
The TE50 and TS50 offer both automatic and manual options - a five speed manual gearbox or the Electronic Sports Shift (ESS) adaptive shift automatic transmission.
The ESS transmission is standard on the TL50, and traction control is standard with all automatic transmission derivatives. Steering wheel-mounted buttons allow the automatic to be shifted manually.
The cars' performance package includes 329mm grooved brakes - with distinctive red calipers - substantial sound systems, and Koni shock absorbers on the TS and TL50.
Safety features include pyrotechnic seat belt pre-tensioners, ABS anti-skid braking and dual airbags.
Ford concedes the HSV V8s will beat the T-Series in a straight line but believes its cars with their more supple suspension will be much better in A to B cross-country running.
"It's very easy to build a car that just goes fast," says Harris. "But one that handles, performs and lends itself to outstanding driving dynamics is what we aimed for and we have worked hard with Tickford to create just that. You can't mistake the Tickford influence in the design of the suspension, transmission, engine performance and brakes."
To enhance the car's cross-country abilities Ford NZ has specified only the beefier of the two barking systems available on the car in Australia.
The cars will be sold under the FTE (Ford Tickford Experience) banner at from dedicated showroom sections selected dealerships.
Ford NZ will have only four to sell each month, but is confident the cars will find a ready market.
"Tickford Australia build only to order. However we have been lucky enough to secure a contract for four vehicles to be delivered to New Zealand each month," says Harris.
"Quite literally these vehicles are individually hand-built from the ground up. Even the engine is completely disassembled and re-built with modified components."
The T-Series range starts at $77,000 for the sporty TE50, $87,000 for the higher specification TS50 and $98,000 for the Long Wheelbase TL50.
The cars are on sale from December 4.