Falcons growing old, weird NSX woes, hot hatches - Morley's Workshop 431

By: Dave Morley

Presented by

ford falcon xd wagon ford falcon xd wagon

Can an XD Falcon grow old gracefully? What do a BMW 840 and Honda NSX have in common? Those and many other important questions are tackled by our workshop bloke

 

Morley's Workshop

I saw something this morning that reminded me of the cyclical nature of this pastime with which we’re all afflicted. It also confirmed my theory that there’s a reason for a certain make and model to go from garden-art to restoration prospect.

What was it? It was the first restored XD Falcon GL station-wagon I’ve ever spotted. I’m sure there are others out there, but the one I saw in gleaming dark red (a very popular colour back in the day) was my first (and you never forget your first, right?). Now, I’ve seen plenty of super-sharp, restored XD ESPs and ex-chasers, even the odd Fairmont, but never before had I seen evidence of anybody lavishing love, time and cubic dollars on an XD GL or a wagon version of same. But there it was, hauling down the two-lane outside my workshop, making all the right noises and making blokes my age stop in their tracks and follow its progress down the road.

The point being, that I now – as of this morning – recognise that the base-model XD wagon has reached the point where it’s rare enough and fondly remembered enough for folks to be restoring them and driving them affectionately. Seeing one in the wild confirms this for me.

Which also means a couple of other things. One is that the entire XD Falcon range has come full circle in the minds of tappet-heads. From a coveted, brand-new, showroom-fresh car back in 1979, the XD has now become collectible, passing through a variety of stages along that journey. As in, it soon became a relatively new second-hand car, then a cheap grocery getter or a work-vehicle for cash-strapped tradies, then a P-plate special (which is why you don’t see too many these days) and finally to a one-back-from-abandoned wreck jammed into the corner of a carport, covered in an old roll of carpet and cat pawprints, and forgotten.

This process also means that XD Falcon prices (even those of GL-spec wagons) are now starting to shift and they’re only going one way. Regardless of what you thought about XD Falcons back in the day (and my old man had a few as police cars, none of which did much for me at the time) you’re about to start seeing them on club-plates being zoomed around to car shows and coffee catch-ups. And, again, I’m not talking the V8 ESPs and other high-falutin’ versions (they’ve been on the scene for a while now) I mean base-model four-doors with column-shifts and six-banger donks. And, yep, even station-wagons.

Obviously, this isn’t just an XD Falcon thing, and plenty of cars are emerging from obscurity as worthy collectibles as their scarcity increases and nostalgia does its thing. The HQ Holden is a great example. A few years ago, if it wasn’t a two-door or at least a four-door GTS with a factory V8, you could forget about it. But now, when a bog-stock, slightly scruffy Belmont with 173 and three-on-the-tree can be put on the market for 20-grand and nobody giggles, you can see where these until-now overlooked makes and models are going.

Even cars that were a bit on the nose when new seem to have the ability to blossom in later life. A few days ago, I saw a Leyland P76 proudly sporting a set of club plates and being hustled along a stretch of 100-kay hotmix not far from the MBC. In the old days, if it wasn’t a Targa Florio, it was just another old P76, but this one was a standard model with stock wheels and hub-caps and it was as legitimately collectible as anything else on that bit of road.

I guess the point is that you should never rule a car out just because it didn’t float your boat in the day. I guess my RA40 Celica is part-proof of that. And when I spotted that XD wagon this morning, I was still struck (as I was in the day) at how the stylists got to the tailgate and then gave up. But would I have liked to have a chat with the bloke driving it and maybe go for a squirt in the old girl? You betcha.

HERE'S MY TIP

Recycle rap

cardboard-box.jpg 

Don’t chuck out the cardboard boxes your new or mail-order parts arrive in. They’re great for sending other stuff by mail, whether it’s car bits or not. I also reckon the world has enough plastic in it already, so I’m not buying plastic bins or storage units any more. I’m using race-tape and left-over cardboard boxes to make partitions to keep the nuts from fraternising with the bolts (and as for those washers…). Let’s be honest, if the box was strong enough to protect a manifold in the mail, it’ll keep your left-over fasteners together. But plastic is waterproof? Who the hell stores their gear in a wet spot anyway?

LETTERS

They all do that, sir

ford-falcon-ute.jpgLook after the oil-changes and your BF will look after you

I recently bought a 2006 BF XL Falcon ute optioned with the low power, three-valve 5.4-litre V8. Tidy looking old thing with just over 105,000klms on the clock, but it has what sounds to me like a cam chain rattle when idling when hot. Doesn’t do it when cold.

The local Ford dealer says it’s an endemic issue with this breed of engine and won’t adversely affect its longevity. Looking for yours or other people’s experiences with this engine in the hope that I haven’t bought a dud.

I have been reading this publication since I was a teenager and love everything about it. It feeds my passion for cars and for that I thank your entire crew, past and present. 

Geoff,
Email

AW, SHUCKS GEOFF. You make us lot sound vastly more professional than any of us really are. Meantime, that three-valve engine in your Ute is an interesting piece of equipment.

What I have trouble figuring out is why Ford Oz ever bothered with it. Not that it was a spectacularly bad engine, but when Ford was about to start fitting the four-valve, DOHC version of the same 5.4 V8 to XR8s and such, why not just fit that to the Fairmont and Ute? Okay, so maybe head office wanted a power difference between the sportier XR8 and the cooking stuff like your Ute, but surely, any 12-year-old with a laptop could have brewed up a tune that would have achieved that.

Mind you, that DOHC V8 with its big, fat cylinder heads was an awfully tight fit in the BA/BF engine bay. As is normal these days, Ford fitted the engines from underneath on the production line, but even so, the assembly-line guys placed a piece of shiny tape on the rocker covers before fitment. That was so the covers could rub ever so slightly against the shock tower as the engine slid in without damaging the paint. That’s tight! And the aftermarket was horrified to learn that fitting a set of headers would require the engine to be yanked. (Although, I think some tuners managed a way around that.)

As for the timing chains, my sources suggest that your local dealer is giving you the old `they all do that’ line. Is that dealership where you bought the car? Anyway, here’s the skinny on what might be going on inside your engine: That three-valve engine (and it doesn’t affect the four-valve version for some reason) doesn’t like extended oil-change intervals. If any oil change has been skipped, the engine can develop crud which, my sources tell me, looks like a sump full of tan-bark. Erk.

Eventually, that blocks, or starts to block, the oil pick-up and the engine begins starving for oil, starting with the timing chain. At the same time, you might also find that the variable valve-timing mechanism (which also relies on oil pressure) stops working and that can trigger a check-engine light on the dashboard. That’s your other clue, actually.

Apparently, some owners resorted to an oil system flush (in a can) but that only seems to move the crud around and make matters worse. Thing is, if this is what’s happened to your car, Geoff, the rubbish won’t be confined to the sump; it’ll be right through the engine and sticking to everything. So, grab a torch, whip the oil-cap off and peer inside the rocker cover. If it’s all shiny and bright, you’re good to go. If not, though, there’s your problem. And you’ll know: The black, slimy, horrible crud means you won’t even be able to identify individual bits of the valvetrain, it’ll just be all one big, sticky mess.

The fix involved could cost more than the value of the car. Luckily it doesn’t involve replacing any parts, but it does mean removing and disassembling the entire engine, sonically cleaning everything and then putting it all back together. Bottom line is that if you bought the car from a dealer with any sort of statutory warranty, I’d be heading down there for a chat. Let us know how it goes.

The thing that might save you is that at least one Ford expert I talked to reckoned that the three-valve V8 did, in fact, suffer from a batch of dud timing chains, so maybe your car is one of those. Fingers crossed…

 

…Long as yer arm…

torana-engine-bay.jpgFive litres of Iron Lion goodness – what’s not to love?

Serial pest here again. I did have a drink after you confirmed that I had got young Jimmy Hodges’ slant six Ford Fourby right. Sobriety must be kept in check. (issue 426 page 126).

But other stuff is on my mind. I had a four-door jasmine yellow A9X Torana once. Scored the girl then sold it to have children. I’ve still got the original crown wheel and pinion in a bag of greasy oil. We took it out because the car was way too fast for me even with a standard motor. I still have the original gearstick knob though somewhere in the shed though.

Of course, I’m kicking myself now but hey, I also had an XA two-door GT high-performance Falcon (Johnny Crocker special from Balladonia Station) half a dozen XU1s, six or seven Monaros, a wrecking-yard amount of SLRs and SLR 5000s. Then there were a couple of hundred old Holdens. The total value today would be 6.5 squillions.

An old mate came by to talk about our old days of misspent youth and we got into an argument over A9X engines. He reckoned that they were L34 engines. Sadly he is wrong. They were standard 308 engines with the prefix of HT on the engine number. I know because I had one or two.

Robert Bawden,
Ravensthorpe, WA

2-60-ratio.jpg

OKAY, SO THE beer is still flowing out Ravensthorpe way. Good to hear. And I’m with you, Rob, I don’t believe the A9X got the L34 motor from the factory either. From what I can gather, the reason was a simple one: The tuned-up L34 wouldn’t meet the new ADR27A Standard for emissions.

That led Holden to fit showroom-stock A9Xs with the L31 308-cube option which was basically a stock three-oh with a single thermatic fan, a coolant recovery tank and a heavy-duty radiator. And that didn’t matter much to race teams, because they could still use the L34 (with its special casting, baffled sump and tricked up internals) motor since it was still homologated by CAMS.

Lord, man, you’ve owned some special cars over the years. But from what I’ve seen of asking prices for Aussie cars lately, your $6.5 squillion appraisal would be well short of the actual number in 2019. Meantime, what the hell is a Johnny Crocker Special? I’ve heard of Balladonia Station and its location near the 90-mile straight on the Nullarbor Plain, so I can only assume Johnny was somebody who lived around there and built himself a car designed to cope with such conditions. I’m thinking large engine, big tank and tall-as-possible diff, yeah? Please confirm; your country needs you.

 

Down and out

battery.jpgTo isolate or not to isolate? – that’s the question

Dave, re the aftermarket alarm battery drain issue. BlackVue DashCams (there are probably similar items out there) offer a product that cuts a 12-volt power source when voltage drops below either 12.5 or 12 volts. It also handles 24 volts.

I have been using it to maintain a dash-cam in parking mode (set at 12.5V) while I’m in the work car park for 10 hours each day and have had no starting issues. A switch on the device reverts it to accessory/key switched power.

Charlie H,
Email

THANKS FOR the heads-up Charlie. I have actually heard of these things before and, in fact, a lot of four-wheel-drive guys use a similar circuit to prevent their fridge flattening their battery (a better way to go is a second, fridge-dedicated battery, but anyway). And while I can see the benefit of this, the only problem is that when the circuit calls time out and shuts the electrical equipment down (a Dash Cam in your case, an alarm in mine) we’re no longer protected.

That said, my solution of fitting a battery isolator means the alarm never works again unless I park for the day without isolating the battery, so your solution does at least buy the car some time with the alarm working. Neither does your fix involve leaving the bonnet unlocked so I can get to the battery, turn on the isolator and use the central locking to get into the car.

I’ve also thought about hooking my battery up to a solar panel whenever the car is parked for longer periods, but given that most garages are dark places (or at least out of the direct sunlight) that’d be about as useful as a chocolate teapot. Forget I mentioned it.

 

Thief logic

nissan-turbo.jpgThere’s not a lot the backroom boys at Nissan didn’t know about turbos

Reading this column, (‘Out and About’) and Morley’s concerns over having some peace of mind if one’s car was fitted with an alarm system, caused me to recall the one and only time one of our vehicles went AWOL.

My guess is that us honest car owners have a certain mindset about auto security and I was no different. We’d purchased a new N12 Pulsar ET from the Nissan holding yard at Dandenong back when the N13 model had just been released. (The ET was one of six remaining and all were on a factory run-out sale for $13,999). Anyway, late in its 21 years of ownership with us, it got removed from outside the Dapto Leagues Club one night.

Yours truly had a cut-out switch on the starter motor circuit plus the ubiquitous steering-wheel lock. Proving that car thieves share a different logic to the rest of us, the aftermarket steering lock wasn’t touched; the guys just put a hacksaw through the rim of the steering wheel and with some spare wire put power to the starter motor solenoid. Gone in 60 seconds I reckon.

We got it back undamaged, (apart from the ignition lock). They just needed transport to the next town and it ran out of fuel in the process.

Eric Waples,
NSW

YOU’RE RIGHT about car thieves possessing a different mind-set to the rest of us, Eric. The kind of mindset that says: I need this car more than the poor stiff who worked hard for it, just for starters. Tell you what, as a bloke who has had a car stolen many years ago, the mongrels had better hope the cops see them fiddling around in my driveway with my car before I spot them. `Cos with what I have in mind, a good tasering will be like a holiday in a health spa.

Meantime, your letter has reminded me about those little Pulsar Turbos that were around in the mid-80s and then seemed to disappear like they’d never been there. I knew a bloke who had one, but unlike your ET, his was the El Wedgo EXA version. Anyway, Mick was forever wicking up the turbo boost to new heights, blowing the bejeezuz out of the engine and then starting all over again. He was also operating a fairly sizeable profit-sharing arrangement with the Victorian Highway Patrol, so between having a hole in his cylinder block or his licence in tatters, I think he got to ride a pushbike a fair bit.

But those wee Nissan turbomotors could be tuned to make outrageous horsepower, especially considering the car itself was a pretty tinny little box on wheels with styling that looked like a car I actually drew in about first grade. Wicked up like my mate Mick’s was, they also had a pre-metric ton of torque-steer and could get pretty squirrely if you overcooked your entry speed.

The ET was definitely the better of the two versions, especially since it actually had a back seat and styling that didn’t put dogs off chasing cats. Mind you. The EXA’s looks didn’t stop Fred Gibson preparing one for Group C racing in the ATTC and in 1983, it actually fronted up on the Bathurst grid with Fred’s wife, Christine at the wheel. There’s a rumour that the CAMS homologation papers for the thing were meant to allow for a Garrett TO2 turbo, but due to a typo, the papers actually read `TO3’. And suddenly, with that monster turbo, the little Nissan could be tuned to make something around 350 horsepower.

But the Gibson Motorsport Group C Nissan EXA was notable for one other thing. Its second (and final) appearance at Bathurst was 1984 where Christine was partnered with an up-and-coming young fella – Glenn Seton.

 

Dropping revs

bmw-840.jpg

Thanks for some previous advice for my 1992 BMW 850i. I also have a 1992 Honda NSX.

Both cars are autos and both have recently exhibited the same behaviour: When I take my foot off the accelerator at speed, the revs drop down to about 1000 rpm and then bounce back to the actual rpm.

Any ideas as to what’s going on?

Paul Burge,
Tascott, NSW.

honda-nsx.jpg

HMMM. I TALKED to my BMW expert about this while he was driving his own BMW, Paul (hands-free, of course). So, in the interests of science, in the middle of our phone call, he tried the exact same thing. And guess what? From about a 1500rpm cruising speed, he backed off and his car did exactly the same thing you’ve just described.

Which makes me wonder if maybe your cars haven’t been doing this all along and you’ve somehow only just noticed it. It can happen: My mate was married to his first wife for 18 years before he suddenly realised she was a hell-bitch. At least a weird idle-speed won’t cost you your house.

However, on the basis that this is indeed new behaviour from your cars (nice collection of wheels, buy the way) my suspicion would be drawn to the torque converter. Specifically the lock-up function that should, at cruising speeds and throttle settings, prevent any converter slip and make the car as responsive as a manual in the same conditions.

If the lock-up isn’t working, I could imagine that the revs could fall when you take your foot off the throttle and then, if the lock-up suddenly gets its act together, the revs could suddenly go straight back to where they should be. Maybe the road speeds at which this is happening relate to engine speeds that are too low to actually trigger the lock-up, and what you’re experiencing is the `looseness’ in any non-lock-up converter. The other possibility is that your throttle-position sensor has worn a bit of a notch in its travel (for want of a better description) and that is playing silly buggers with where the revs want to sit.

Why hasn’t this stuff thrown up a `check-engine’ light or a fault code? Because it could also be a fault in the on-board brain itself. Fundamentally, if the ECU is crook, it may not know it’s crook… know what I mean? Even so, I’d be hooking the car(s) up to a scanner to see if any fault codes get spat out and whether they’re a potential cause for this.

The real question for me is how the hell two cars from different makes and with vastly different characteristics both managed to present the same aberrant behaviour at the same time. You haven’t mown down an albatross or stepped on a crack recently have you?

 

TRIVIAL PURSUIT

Boring trick

valiant-pacer.jpg

We all know Valiant Pacers go like you-know-what off a chrome shovel, right? But why? Turns out that the 245 cube Hemi in the VG model was closer to 250 cubes thanks to factory-fitted 40-thou oversize pistons. Seems Chrysler went all out to make the Pacer thing work as a six, so hogging out the bores on the production line was part of the solution. Wonder if that caught out any engine rebuilders in the day?

More old gold?

commodore-vn-ss.jpg

Based on my recent revelation that XD/XE Falcons are suddenly cool, what are the cars that you were ho-hum about in the day that you’d give your left agate now to own. Come on, be honest, we’re all buddies here. My own would be the VN SS which, in the day I thought was just a fast taxi but now, to my eyes, has what I call righteous simplicity. I’ll also cough up the Sigma GSR, and although that’s partly for ex-girlfriend reasons, I’d still dig one in the shed right now. My third nomination (apart from my now famous admiration for the RA40 Celica) would be an MX32 Cressida; a car that is still a bit weird-burger to most, but does my heart good. Make mine a wagon.

 

Write to Morley c/o uniquecars@bauertrader.com.au or Unique Cars magazine, Locked Bag 12, Oakleigh, Vic 3166

 

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