Republish of original posted in 2001
Ford’s stunning new T-Series performance sedans finally have the looks and power needed to take the fight to Holden Special Vehicles. By Glenn Butler
The new T-Series range, launched on Targa roads along the west coast of Tasmania in November, 2001, is the third attempt by Ford to take on HSV’s performance sedan market dominance.
Tickford launched the original T-Series (T1) performance sedans in October 1999, claiming that while they were down on power and displacement compared to their HSV competition, the T-Series was not meant to compete head-on with HSV’s hot sports sedans, but to offer a premium alternative.
With relatively subdued body kits, the ‘sleeper’ T-Series was hard to pick out of a crowd. And while it may have had the edge on HSV in the handling and dynamics departments, the Blue Oval lost countless bar room brags across the country on looks, cubes and outright power. By some margin.
Series Two (T2) redressed this issue somewhat by fitting a wilder, more aggressive body kit to the ‘base’ TE50 model. Engine mods boosted peak power slightly, while suspension changes and uprated brakes finessed an already impressive handling package. Still the buyers didn’t come.
So, finally, in a tacit admission that they were heading down the wrong track, Tickford launched the third generation T-Series sedans with the looks, the power and the displacement to match its dynamics, and – more importantly – the competition.
The model line-up remains unchanged, starting with the Falcon-based TE50 and TS50 sedans, and finishing with the TL50 long wheelbase version. The short wheelbase versions are available with manual and automatic gearboxes. The TL50 is auto only.
Pricing at launch starts from $57,350 for the TE50 manual, $1000 more for the automatic. The TS50 manual is $66,950, same for the auto, while the TL50 is $84,500.
The most notable change is the muscular new body-kit. It’s no good having Australia’s fastest sports sedan if nobody knows it, as Tickford knows first hand. A ground hugging front spoiler adorns the nose of the TE and TS models, complete with Tickford wings integrated into the grille below the bumper. A wing of massive proportions adds aggression and attitude to the AU’s droopy rear end, and it’s not just for show, producing downforce and aiding rear end stability at speed.
The new T-Series engine is arguably the finest iteration of the venerable Windsor V8 block ever to blast the bitumen anywhere on Earth. It’s a fitting swansong for the engine, which first came to Australia in 1966 (the Falcon V8 won Wheels’ prestigious Car of the Year award that year), and ceased production in the States earlier this year. Tickford has enough stockpiled to see it through to September, 2002. After that comes the AV Falcon with its new inline 6 and V8 engines, and therefore new T-Series sedans.
Displacement on the engine is out to 5.6 litres via a bore job, with a reprofiled crankshaft, and new pistons and conrods to handle the increase in stroke and accompanying increase in reciprocating velocity.
The camshaft profile has been revised, and the valves and springs replaced with higher performance parts. There’s also a much larger 82mm throttle body to get more fuel to the engine, while the air filter – sourced from the Mustang – sits in a completely new inlet manifold design.
The end result is an impressive 250kiloWatts of power on tap from 5250rpm, and a massive 500Newton-metres of torque at 4250rpm – 400Newton-metres of which is available from just 1200rpm. That should give the boys in the bar something to talk about.
With all this extra power and torque, the Borg Warner T5 manual gearbox had to be replaced – it simply couldn’t handle that much torque. The new ‘box, a Tremec T-3650, features a slightly shorter first gear and a longer fifth. All other ratios are carryover. The action is slightly different with narrower spacing between the planes. Second to third and fourth to fifth require less left-to-right movement than before.
The BTR 4-speed automatic transmission with ESS sequential shifting remains unchanged.
An increase in power meant bigger brakes were needed. So, the previously optional T-Series premium brake package, which consists of 329mm discs up front and 287mm discs rear, is now standard across the range. An even more massive Brembo package is available on request, and features 355mm discs front and 330mm discs rear.
No changes have been made to the suspension since T2, and none were needed.
The interior comes in for some subtle attention, most notably a revised instrument layout in the TE50, the addition of charcoal grey trim across the range, and Tickford wings in the seat backs.
Our initial drive impressions of the new T-Series sedans came from two solid days of traversing the best roads Tassie has to offer, in all three Tickford products. And if HSV weren’t concerned about T-Series before, they should be now.
The new TE50 flies down the road even quicker than before, riding a seemingly inexhaustible power curve. The new 5.6 litre engine spins very freely and aggressively towards a 6500-plus rpm redline, all the time accompanied by the sweetest V8 sound we’ve ever heard from an Aussie product. If you’re like us, then you’ll be holding gears longer and changing down earlier just to keep the engine delivering aural ecstasy.
For the show ponies among us, you’ll be glad to know the car sounds even better from the outside.
The gear spacing takes a little getting used to, especially with a shorter first and longer fifth. We were caught out a couple of times changing down from third to second only to land perilously close to the rev limiter. With 500Nm on tap, there’s no reason the gear ratios couldn’t be spaced out a bit more.
All the cars we drove had the optional premium brake package fitted. We tried – we really did – to induce brake fade, pounding them again and again at high speeds. They pulled the T-Series up quickly and confidently every time. Only the 1780kg TL50 showed any weakness, a slight brake shudder after a particularly long, hard stop.
Nothing’s changed on the suspension, or in the steering, and nor should it. The T-Series handles beautifully, almost anticipating the road ahead, and adhering to driver inputs implicitly. The only time we found the TE50 wanting was on the ’99 bends’ section of road out of Queenstown. Tight, sharp, and ever climbing, this territory belongs to the lighter, more nimble cars, not a 1715kg brute.
The fact that this was the only time the TE50 came up short tells you just what an accomplished sports sedan it is for our big country. We covered around 600km in those two days; tight hill climbs, long sweeping descents, flat-out straights and undulating mountain passes. We did it all. And so did the T-Series. Easily. Aggressively. Comfortably.
We’ve tried hard to think of any other car in Australia that can deliver as much ability and enjoyment as Tickford’s new T-Series range for the same price.
We reckon there isn’t one.