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Ford GT


When Ford Australia revived the Falcon GT nameplate earlier this year it might have been seen as taking a big risk.

In danger of diluting a legend, you see; diminishing the status of an Aussie icon.
For not only was Ford reviving the name that carried its big capacity V8 four-doors into Antipodean motoring folklore, but it was doing so with a car that would be part of the regular Falcon line-up rather than a limited edition, small-volume model.
Earlier revivals had been special cars built in strictly limited numbers. Cars like the EL GT with its somewhat bizarre add-on grille and body kit and sublime, John Bowe-developed chassis.
It was something of brute, the EL GT, with a heavy-to-use manual gearbox and phenomenal second-gear acceleration that planted you firmly against the seatback.

I can vividly remember the first open-road corner arriving much more quickly than I'd anticipated when I floored the throttle, the tightish bend seeming to accelerate towards me.
But once I got adjusted to the sheer brutal force of the beast it proved to be an intoxicatingly-good open-road express. And with that heavy gearbox, heavy clutch, brutal acceleration, race car-like chassis and sharp handling responses, it felt very much a GT, a worthy successor to the legendary GTHO.
But to revive the GT nameplate for a fullscale production car, and one sold in three forms - the basic Falcon GT, Falcon GT-P and Pursuit Ute.

 Now that seemed like extreme risk-taking.
Holden had done much the same thing two years earlier, reviving the Monaro badge for the Commodore coupe and succeeding brilliantly. But was Ford doing the right thing by its iconic GT badge?

You bet it was. I loved the Falcon GT when I drove it in Australia in February, hustling it through the Victorian hinterland and along the spectacular Great Ocean Road.

It thrived on corners, its beautifully-sorted chassis remaining predictable and poised, the ride quality good, and the steering accurate and informative.

The massive torque from the 5.4-litre overhead camshaft American V8 meant gearshifting was kept to a minimum, the car remaining capable of storming third gear roads in fourth gear and without the hint of a fuss.
And there was power to spare. Sure the car was more refined than the EL GT had been, but it was every inch a GT for the new millennium. That was February and in Australia: fast-forward to early November and the demanding roads north of Auckland.
You can judge a car best on roads you know well, and the chance to get to grips with the new GT on home terrain had been eagerly anticipated.

The BA GT is the first product from the Ford Performance Vehicle (FPV) operation which has replaced Tickford, Ford Australia's former high-performance partner.

Its engine is the quad overhead camshaft Boss 290 V8, an Australian development of the American 5.4-litre V8.
It produces 290kW of maximum power - 30kW more than the output of the new XR8's V8 - but more importantly, 520Nm of peak torque.
The latter arrives at 4500rpm but there's plenty available before then.
The beefy motor endows this rather heavy - 1835kg - four-door sedan with excellent acceleration.
Australia's Motor magazine clocked it at 5.81 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint.
 Motor magazine's testers cut out the standing 400 metres in 13.98 seconds.
But it's the way the torque takes the effort out of driving that impresses most about the GT.
At 100km/h on the motorway it wafts along, the V8 doing little more than ticking over; at 100km/h on main roads it doesn't get anywhere raising a sweat.

And nor do you, not even when you're pushing this big car hard on a tight and winding road.
You're not changing gears much, often slotting down a ratio more as a security blanket than from any real necessity.
The GT turns second gear corners into third gear bends, third gear corners become fourth gear.
And you can forget about the ponderous gearshift usually found in high-powered Australian V8s.
Ford's revised five-speed shifts quickly, precisely and with ease.
The clutch is still quite heavy, though, especially in stop/start city traffic.
The torque means fifth gear is usable in the city and unlike its six-speed Holden Commodore counterparts the Falcon GT will accelerate quite strongly in top gear.

Backing up the revised five-speed and the potent motor is a sublimely confident chassis.
Though the ride is firm, it's supple, and the GT soaks up bumps without compromising handling sharpness.
Turn-in to corners is one of the BA Falcon's most impressive attributes, and the GT dives into corners with the agility of a small, light sports car.
The car sticks to the chosen line superbly, cornering flatly and with huge reserves of grip.
One of the things that you soon come to realise is that the level of grip isn't entirely dependent on the tyres, that the chassis is a major part of the equation.

The GT generates high cornering g-forces, which puts strong demands on the seats' lateral support. They come through with flying colours, offering good comfort and holding driver and front seat passenger firmly in place during vigorous cornering.
The test GT had racked up more than 11,000 kilometres, no doubt most of them hard kilometres.
And it was here that it showed it's only real downside.

 When I wrote about driving the GTs in Australia earlier in the year, I commented on the total absence of one of the banes of older model high-performance manual gearbox Falcons - driveline shunt in stop/start traffic.

I wrote that "inching through an 11am traffic jam in Geelong (caused by some minor roadworks that cut the available lanes to one), the GT was unfazed, the driveline untroubled by the stop/start. Transmission shunt is absent. This sort of going isn't usually a manual gearbox Falcon's forte but the GT copes well."

That couldn't be said of the GT I drove in Auckland. I can only attribute the car's driveline shunt in rush hour traffic to the car having been subjected to more than its fair share of 0-100km/h standing start sprints during its road test career.
I wrote in February that the GT's general handling prowess was testimony to the rightness of the BA chassis in general.
That rightness is nowhere shown better than in the superlative XR6 Turbo, many of my motoring journalist colleagues' favourite among the high-performance Falcons.
But whether it's because I live in West Auckland or whether it's that I just like the burble of a V8, I still prefer the XR8 to the turbocharged XR6.

And when it comes to the GT, then it's like the ultimate expression of the XR8.
If I had the money, the space and was allowed to have my own way, I'd have a garage full of V8s, including Falcons, Commodores, Chevrolet Chevelles and Buick GSXs.

And I suspect that right now the Falcon BA GT would hold the number one spot.
In February I wrote that the GT is a true sports sedan, almost certainly the best-yet big, rear-wheel drive Australian V8. And after driving the car on home turf, I'm of the same opinion.
Right now, the $75,500 Falcon GT (manual and auto are the same price) holds the Aussie V8 high ground.

- story and photographs by Mike Stock.

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