Ford Falcon XD-XE ESP: Buyers Guide
Meant to be a farewell to the V8, this falcon is now ESP-ecial
Ford XD-XE ESP
Five years after deciding that Australia’s love affair with the performance V8 was over and ditching its GT Falcon, Ford was having second thoughts.
Far from flopping in the wake of Holden’s more compact and economical Commodore, the XD range was selling more than 5000 units a month and about 20 percent of those had V8 engines.
The first ESP (European Sports Pack) Falcon was based on the basic XD GL model, with six-cylinder cars priced at $12,894 and 5.8 litre versions at almost $14,000.
Setting the performance version above its ‘taxi-spec’ relative were cloth-trimmed Scheel sports seats, colour coding and exterior pinstriping. The wheels were 15x7 Globe alloys similar to the ones used on the iconic XY GTHO.
Early ESPs came with 5.8 litres of Melbourne-made V8 or the iron-head 4.1-litre six-cylinder. Automatic transmission was mandatory in the 4.1-litre cars, but the 5.8 could be specified with a four-speed manual and most came in this form.
Helping the bulky Falcon drive with a teensy bit more European flair than a cart-sprung 1500kg sedan should, Ford added stiffer springs, a more rapid steering ratio, Bilstein shocks all round and a tramp rod to locate the rear axle.
Those early GL-based cars didn’t sell in huge numbers and within six months had been replaced by a more lavish, Fairmont-based version. This car could be specified with the new alloy-head version of the 4.1-litre engine, which still gave away more than 40kW to the 5.8-litre but was compensated via better chassis balance and economy.
The XE ESP range was introduced in March 1982, incorporating a significantly improved rear axle design. The ‘Watts Linkage’ – yes, it dates back to that bloke with the steam engines – was a system of locating rods that combined with trailing arms and coil springs to control lateral and vertical movement of the rear axle.
Adding to Ford’s growing enthusiasm for the ESP, the upgrade included a 28-spline limited-slip rear end and four-wheel disc brakes as standard equipment.
Big changes inside began with a shift to full Fairmont Ghia specification: power windows, central locking, premium sound and plush carpeting almost everywhere. The seats still came from Scheel, but with an altered pattern and choice of orange or charcoal contrast panels.
ESP paint combinations became more adventurous as well – silver or Monza Red over charcoal were among the most popular – and seat trim came in two patterns, with orange and charcoal the dominant colours, which were carried through to the door trims.
Most distinctive of all the XE ESP features were its wheels. In place of the XD’s Globes were 15 x 7-inch cross-spoked alloys that were immediately nicknamed ‘snowflakes’.
XE ESPs fitted with the 5.8-litre engine were only officially offered with the four-speed manual gearbox, but at least one auto is believed to have been built. The most common engine/tranny combination was a 4.9-litre V8 with three-speed auto (260 built) against 100 manuals. About 200 of the 4.1-litre cars are believed to have been made, leaving a confirmed 178 four-speed 5.8-litre units to complete a production total of about 740. Fewer than 300 XDs are thought to have been sold.
On 28 November 1982, the car purported to be Ford’s last-ever V8 Falcon rolled beneath a commemorative banner and tears flowed. Despite the V8 returning in 1991, this silver-on-charcoal 4.9-litre ESP with manual gearbox remains one of Australia’s most significant Fords.
Six-cylinder ESPs remained available until 1984, when the XF range was released. Those built from early 1983 used a 111kW EFI version of the 4.1-litre engine.
ON THE ROAD
The ESP, especially in 5.8-litre XE form, was intended to rekindle the excitement generated in the days when people flocked to Ford showrooms to see the GTs, but then bought a more humble ‘500’.
In full Fairmont Ghia warpaint, the big-engined XE had an on-road price in 1983 of more than $20,000. That didn’t sit well with some people who remembered being able to buy a new GT sedan 10 years earlier for just $5200.
What you got for your extra $15,000 was a vast improvement in dynamics, braking and occupant comfort. The wool-blend sports seats were nicer to sit on than the GT’s vinyl and provided far better support through bends that would have you bracing against the door in the older car.
Sound suppression in the XE is very good, but that won’t please those who want to enjoy the sound of their own V8. Dual pipes and some creative muffling can make your ESP sound a lot more muscular than it did in 1982.
With so much money being flung about in pursuit of XE ESP excellence, you would think that someone might have sourced an after-market steering wheel to replace the clunky standard item with its oddly-offset spokes.
Visibility in every direction is so much better than in XA-XC versions and the dash is sensibly furnished with large tachometer and speedo flanked by supplementary dials. The dash-mounted light switch is fiddly and that under-dash handbrake could have been dropped down beside the seat.
Despite improved underpinnings, these still aren’t easy cars to push hard on loose surfaces or when the roads are wet. You’re never really sure whether they want to slide the nose wide or snap sideways should the driver be a bit ham-footed with the accelerator or brake.
Treated as a vintage cruiser, though, an ESP will get the car-loving family where it wants to go without any angst at all.
A succession of emission controls slashed the big engine’s power output without helping reduce fuel consumption. The V8 tank takes 80 litres and after 500 kilometres of fairly gentle highway running it will be empty. Six-cylinder EFI cars do relatively well under the same conditions and road tests found they could average 12L/100km.
By the time that people started getting excited over the collector potential of XE ESPs many of the less common XDs were gone or had been neglected almost to death.
As a result, cars like John Bertuzzi’s 5.8-litre car have become very difficult to find and values will assuredly continue to increase.
Six-cylinder XD and XE versions are also scarce, but generally sell for less than half the price of a V8. Usable cars in need of some cosmetics cost $10-12,000.
XD V8s generally cost less than an equivalent XE and $20-25,000 should buy a well-preserved and authentic car. The XE 4.9 automatic is relatively common, but quality cars are now selling for more than $30,000.
That figure is today’s starting point for a decent XE 5.8. Those in top condition will reach $45,000 and some cars have been advertised for considerably more.
Club contacts are generally the best way to acquire an authentic ESP, which will carry the number ‘54’ among the codes on its ID plate.
Cars that have been ‘cloned’ or are missing important identifiers such as their original wheels or ‘lipped’ front spoiler need to be priced well below genuine vehicles.
Rust is likely to afflict these cars in exactly the same way and places as other XD/XEs. The difference is, these ones offer enough potential for value growth to make restoration viable. Sills, wheelarches, the turret and windscreen surrounds are common locations for rust or poor-quality repairs. Major damage to the firewall or inner sills can send even a scarce car to the wreckers. Look for cracks around the front strut mounting points and kinks behind the rear window. Unique items including the spoiler, driving lights and correct mouldings are hard to find.
Engine & Transmission
Better news here because all of the engines used in ESPs were tough and don’t cost a lot to rebuild. Oil leaks from cylinder heads and around the timing cover are annoying more than dire, but exhaust smoke and internal engine rumbles are costly. Other problems include weakened or broken engine V8 mounts, exhaust system leaks and failed welch plugs. Most ESPs will have Borg-Warner’s excellent single-rail four-speed gearbox, which can get noisy and hard to shift, but it rarely fails. Good, second-hand manual or FMX automatic transmissions cost around $500.
Suspension & Brakes
If you turn the wheel on an ESP at low speeds and the front end creaks and hisses, allow $500 in your purchase price for the cost of some new ball-joints and perhaps $1000 to rebuild the power steering. If the tyres are fouling the wheelarches, the car has either been inexpertly lowered or the springs need replacing. Check that the handbrake holds the car and releases without brute force. Close inspection of the wheels is imperative, especially XD Globes, which are different to earlier versions. Gold ‘snowflake’ wheels can be refurbished.
Interior & Electrical
Unless you stumble across a roll of unused fabric, replacing the special trim used in ESPs will be almost impossible. A few companies over the years have offered repro cloth and one of these is the best alternative to finding a car with undamaged seats. Check that the carpets aren’t damp due to water getting in around the wiper motor. Finding a car with its original Pioneer stereo is almost impossible and worth extra money if you do. A lot were fitted from new with factory air-conditioning and this needs to have been modified to accept ozone-friendly refrigerant. Power windows can stick or shudder, so test them a few times and make sure the remote boot release still works.
From the Wheels archives... December 1982
The ESP was a tame final Falcon V8, wrote Bob Murray...
In a time, rapidly reaching Australia, of turbocharged fours and injected sixes, it’s a surprise we have available in this country any V8 of 5.8-litre capacity. And, of course, Ford’s all-iron lump isn’t long for this world.
Ford has kept a low profile on the XE 5.8 and [you] could be forgiven for thinking it was dead already. Still, Ford PR department, under pressure from motoring journalists, made available a 5.8 four-speed test car. It’s a Fairmont Ghia with the European Sports Pack.
The ESP option, available with other drivetrains, adds a deep front airdam, gold-coloured alloy wheels, Scheel bucket seats, Bilstein gas dampers, a 24mm front anti-roll bar, increased-rate coils, lower ride height, a reset rear end and changed geometry for the power-assisted recirculating-ball steering. The price of all this, if you can somehow find one to take your cheque, is $18,555.
The Falcon’s gearshift [is] a delight to use. The lever is short and has a firm, German-type feel in its well-defined, short-travel gate.
Apart from the steering lightness, the ride is patently underdamped at the front end and this shows up in high-speed wallowing over bumps and a disconcerting tendency to find the bump stops.
Pushed very hard, the handling is almost graceful, Jaguar-style. Understeer and oversteer are slow-motion actions which, even when deliberately provoked, require minimal correction. For all its weight and bulk power, this Falcon feels tame.
Ford XD-XE ESP (1980-84)
XD: 250-300 (estimate)
XE: 740 (approx)
Body: All-steel, integrated body/chassis four-door sedan
4089cc inline six-cylinder, OHV, 8v single downdraft carburettor or fuel injection;
4949cc or 5750cc cast-iron V8, OHV, 8v, single downdraft carburettor
Power & torque:
149kW @ 4300rpm,
415Nm @ 3000rpm (5.8-litre)
0-100km/h: 8.8sec, 0-400m 16.1sec (XE 5.8 manual)
Transmission: 4-speed manual or 3-speed automatic
Suspension: Independent with MacPherson struts, control arms, telescopic shock absorbers (f); Live axle with coil springs, four-link location, telescopic shock absorbers (r)
Brakes: Discs (f/r), power assisted
Tyres: ER60H15 radial
Price range: $6000-45,000
Contact: Ford clubs in all States.
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