EL Falcon: An Introduction

Index:

Preface:

Introduced the last few months of 1996, the EL Falcon was in a sense, the Falcon we had to have.  With the VT Commodore only just around the corner and the AU Falcon nowhere near ready (Ford had learned from it's previous experience with rushing the EA to market) the EF was looking decidedly dated as a competitor against a new Commodore.  Not that the EL was a bad thing - in fact as the last of the E-body Falcons it was undoubtedly the best in terms of reliability and technical development.  While the styling changes made were small (and for the most part not as popular as Ford would have liked) the real story lay beneath the skin where most of the $40 Million spent developing the EL lay in wait.

With the introduction of the EL also came a new catch cry - "The Spirit of Ford".  It was a nice wish, and with the changes that came with the EL, they almost had you believing them.  Still, the EL was a car it was easy to be passionate about - with small touches here and there making the overall ownership experience all the more pleasant on all levels.

As could be expected there were plenty suggesting Mexican jokes in relation to the EL's model designation - but there was nothing Mexican about this latest version of Australia's only true blue Aussie six.  Yet I must admit, that without the full list of what Ford changed for the EL (compared to EF) - I was a little dis-appointed at what I first saw.  Indeed, for the uninitiated, the differences could be hard to spot - if at all. Yet with those few small changes, and a new range of colours (many of which were carried over into AU) it has managed to keep the EL looking fresh and alive even years after it's first release.

Ride & Handling:

With steering and suspension changes all round, the EL was a much less nervous handling car than the EF & EFII Falcons before it - due mainly to a 20mm drop in the watts-link pivot point on the rear axil courtesy of Tickford's development work getting the EF to handle correctly in XR guise.  The steering feel on the GLi's and Futuras was improved with less power assistance while the steering on the Fairmont Ghia received speed sensitive power steering for the first time in Falcon history.  Also improved was the steering's self centering quality - helping make the EL car more stable at speed.  Initial dampening (shock absorbers) was softened to better absorb sharp "thumps and bumps", while the secondary impact dampening was firmed up to better control body movement.  Encouragingly, Ford's ride quality benchmark for the EL was the 5 series BMW!  And it showed - with most testers agreeing that the Falcon now rode better, was more progressive and better balanced near the edge on high speed cornering than even the IRS equipped Commodore!

The XR received it's own set of suspension mods for EL - covered in our specs pages for each EL Falcon specification level.

Things to watch for:

Unfortunately, the usual Falcon (since EA) cylinder head problem still reared it's ugly head every so often as did the door lock cycling issue that had afflicted the Falcon since the EF.  Apparently $40 million wasn't enough to fix those problems!  I hope you'll stick with us as we investigate ways of solving these two problems - if you have experienced either of these with your Falcon, please write - we'd love to hear about it!  Keep a look out on our "History/Tech" page for this one and for updates as we receive 'em.

Also disappointing was the headlight performance - good compared to some, but not as good as it should have been.  Considering Ford had the chance to do some work here with the new headlights of the GLi & Futura showing the way, only adds to the feeling of frustration.  The same can be said regarding the front bumper and it's ridiculous levels of frontal overhang inherited from the EF Falcon.  For the customer this would mean many devaluing scrapes and bumps as normal dips going up and down certain driveways became a hazard to the under bumper paint work. Considering a totally new bumper was required for the EL GLi & Futura - why oh why the need to repeat this same mistake?  I guess in it's defence, none of it's competitors were any better (save the BMW - at more than twice the price).

Engine - quietness & economy:

Compared to the VS Commodore and it's 'Ecotech' pushrod V6, the Falcon was at a considerable fuel economy, acceleration and interior quietness dis-advantage.  While the first two can be easily explained by the advances made with the V6 combined with the relative lightness of the Commodore (near on 200kg lighter than the Falcon!!!) the comparable noisiness was a result of a less than optimally balanced crankshaft - something that was eventually corrected with the AU.  Don't get me wrong - the EL was still far better than it's pre-decessors - but not quite up to the levels of whisper quiet of it's rivals.  Still - for those of us who actually like to hear the engine this is no disadvantage at all!  Add to that a deep rumbling exhaust note with an aftermarket exhaust system and all is quickly forgiven...

More quietness solutions, Smart Tint Glass, Interior & Mobile Phone Connections:

This is not to say that Ford had been sitting still in regard to the quietness of it's new offering - with thicker glass and sound absorption materials combined with a laminated steel sump (previously only fitted to the Fairmont Ghia, Fairlane & LTD).  Now with "Smart Tint" built into the Falcon's glass, UV protection was offered for the first time helping keep those interiors cool in summer and providing a equivalent Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15.  Creating an airier atmosphere internally was a new range of interior colours including colour matched seat belts and dash switches.  A mobile phone connection plug was also included - a sign of the times allowing instant muting of the audio system.

Timers, Wipers and a Battery Saving feature:

Other smart features now included a new "BEM" (Body Electronics Module) that allowed a 10 minute delay to be built in giving power to the dash mounted boot / tailgate release well after the ignition was turned off (previously only usable with the ignition on).  It also allowed a batter saver function that turned off any interior, glove box or luggage compartment light 1 hr after being left on.  A third function of the BEM became the control of the new speed sensitive variable speed intermittent wipers (included from Futura upwards) - giving more wipes when you needed it most.

Engine - the nitty gritty:

Engine wise, despite having the same power outputs as the outgoing EF, the EL reverted to the old distributor style ignition system (from the EF's coil pack type) as a cost saving - a decision that would be reversed again for AU.  Other cost savings were deleting of the painted rocker cover & block (now in bare aluminium & cast iron) in a move that mimic's many of Ford's overseas counterparts.  Surprisingly, neither made much effect on the appearance of the engine bay and corrosion didn't make the impact first thought.

While not being as punchy off the line as the VS Commodore due to the Falcon's weight penalty (or advantage, depending on the way you looked at it) the Falcon engine actually had a heck of a lot more power and torque - allowing much easier and relaxed towing as well as highway cruizing - traditionally Falcon's strengths.  The Falcon six also responded to tuning tweaks much easier than the ancient all cast iron V6 - as Tickford's 'Predator' show car proved with it's supercharged single fuel LPG inline six producing 230kw!  Falcon enthusiasts have since proved there's a whole lot more where that came from too...

For the XR8, power was increased mid model from 170kw to the same 185kw as used in the AU series 1 XR8.  To further help support the transition to AU, the last so many months of EL production also featured a 'Hybrid' six with the AU block but with the EL pistons & conrods.  This required a special crankshaft to be made (known internally as the 'VR' vs the AU's 'WR' spec crank) with the AU's larger main bearing surfaces but the EL's everything else.  This engine also received the AU's low inertia valve train to boot - which helped to produce the most reliable and smooth running Falcon six cylinder made to that date.

Safety:

When it came to safety and the lightness of the Commodore, all that weight had to come from somewhere - leaving the Falcon as the stronger car by far.  - A fact Holden eventually acknowledged with the release of the VT, when it added 165kg to "stiffen the chassis".  Read into that whatever you will.  Short of the VT, the Falcon remained the only Australian built car to come with a driver's airbag as standard, and continued the EFII's optional passenger's air bag as well.  Elsewhere Ford claimed strengthened A and B pillars as well as increased interior padding with high density foam added to the interior arm rests to further cushion the impact of a side collision.  The traditional large - car safety applied to the Falcon more than ever and in the EL becomes more and more affordable as time goes on.

Braking wise, the EL received the (then) latest Bosch 5.3 ABS system to increase the Falcon's already large lead over Commodore in this important area.

New names - some old and some new:

Excitingly the EL Falcon meant it was GT time once again (30th Anniversary model) and Ford saw fit to produce the Predator and Sequential show cars giving us all an appropriate amount of inspirational material!  The Classic and Falcon 'S' made their way yet again into the Falcon ranks - this time as special value packs released to help combat the effect the new VT was having on Falcon sales.  New colours also helped give the model a fresh new look - and kept it looking that way even years after it gave way to the AU.

VT Commodore - a new menace:

When the VT was released in 1997, the Falcon was presented with a totally new competitor - one that was not only quieter than the VS, but rode better, featured standard IRS (even if it was an outdated and flawed design - IRS was IRS in most people's books) and looked like a pregnant rice bubble.  Importantly, courtesy of an extra 165kg the Commodore also came with a much improved body shell in regard to strength and crash performance. The result was a huge shift in buyers to the new Commodore - a shift Ford never recovered from in a very long time.  Still, there were enough sold to provide us with not only the best Falcon built to date (1996) - but also with a car that was a much better car than it's competitors in most areas.

Conclusion:

As the last in a line before a major model change, there is little doubt that the EL Falcon was the best Falcon built up to that date.  However what was unexpected was the length or breadth by which the AU Falcon would exceed it in both refinement and quality - and almost nobody realised how poorly the AU would be accepted by the Australian public.  In this context, there is no doubting the attractiveness of this last of the E-body's, and the depth of change which Ford's continual improvements would bring to that original EA concept.  The EL Falcon is an extremely solid car for the second hand car buyer and in many ways was the most visually appealing to date.  And with the GT, Predator and Sequential as well as Tickford's XR series all providing inspiration it is little wonder.

The downside was the EL's slight fuel economy penalty when compared to both the opposition as well as the later AU, as well as an alarming habit of spitting out head gaskets every 100-150,000 kms depending on how you drove & maintained it (most taxi's spent most of their lives without the need to remove the head).  Still, with the extra comfort and safety inherent in every EL Falcon, you sometimes think it's worth budgeting the extra just to take care of the little niggling things that come up every so often.  With so much car for so little money, a second hand (or even new) Hyundai or Daewoo shouldn't even come into it - with extra change left over to take care of any maintenance or items needed that would have been taken care of by a new vehicle warranty.  Being Australian made, any parts needed will come at a third of the price of the equivalent Korean made items anyway.

Add to that the traditional Falcon strengths such as an extremely robust suspension system front and rear (not as easily knocked out of line as earlier models & the competition), as well as it's ability to provide comfortable (relaxing) long distance travelling space for five and you can see why we reckon you're on a winner.  Combine that with it's ability to absorb large distances better than ever before, with fuel economy to surprise out on the open road - and you'd be hard put to find a better second hand car of this age for similar money.

For the individual specifications and changes applicable to each Falcon name plate (GLi, Futura, XR etc) please refer to our EL Falcon Specifications pages.

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