Super Sprint

With Aussie muscle car prices heading north could this sleeper be the one to buy?...

Originally published in Unique Cars issue #276
Words: Cliff Chambers
Pics: Mark Bean

When Ford Australia ended local production of V8 engines in 1983, it handed ownership of the local performance sedan market to an embattled and disbelieving Holden.

Come 1991 and the automotive market was in a recession-fuelled nosedive. Petrol prices had hit triple figures for the first time in history and Ford's response was to revive its eight-cylinder engines and the GT Falcon that had been unceremoniously murdered some 15 years earlier. Strange days indeed.

Just 250 EB GTs were built - a price-tag of $62,500 was not conducive to volume sales - and promotion of the model as a 'one-off' 25th Anniversary edition left little room for an equivalent to accompany the 1993 arrival of the notably improved ED Falcon series.

Instead, Ford rekindled a model name never used in this country but well known to US Falcon owners. The ED XR8 Sprint appeared during September 1993 and delivered all that the EB GT had offered but without the weird body embellishments. In fact, the Sprint with its blacked-out bumpers and discreet badging erred further on the side of conservatism than was probably good for it.

Although almost $20,000 cheaper than an EB GT, the Sprint was priced $8000 above a basic ED XR8 and demanded some significant value-adding; something which Ford's Tickford Engineering subsidiary installed from the wheels up.

In place of the standard XR's 15inch spoked alloys were 16-inchers carrying 225 section tyres. The brake package was lifted from the previous year's GT and the suspension upgraded to GT specification with a limited-slip differential standard.

The interior remained very much 'taxi pack' with leather seat bolsters providing minor relief from the broad expanses of woven cloth and grey plastic.

Central locking, an airbag and power front windows were expected inclusions but making cruise control optional in a $45,000 car with the capacity to get its driver very seriously booked was unforgivable. Air-conditioning cost extra as well, however it's unlikely that any Sprint left the dealership without it.

The Tickford-enhanced V8 delivered 192kW, which represented a 16.3 percent boost on the standard XR8's output. Additional power came via larger valves housed in alloy cylinder heads, 34 percent greater air-flow through the intake manifold, a 500rpm lift in maximum rpm and remapped engine management settings.

Five-speed manual transmission was slightly more popular in sales terms than the standard four-speed automatic.

While declining to sell Sprints in a numbered edition as it had with the GT, Ford stated that production would be limited to 300 cars. However, by mid-2004 when the last one left the showroom, 184 manual-transmission cars and 172 automatics had been built. The extra 56 were reportedly sent to New Zealand.


Whoever did the maths when calculating the Sprint manual's gear ratios got their sums abso-bloomin-lootly right. Plant the foot and hold it until the tachometer redlines at 5500rpm and you'll have edged 6km/h past the around-town speed limit.

Grab second gear and seven-point something seconds after launch the V8 will bouncing off its limiter at precisely 100km/h. Right there you can elect to proceed all the way to an achievable top speed of 220km/h - tests on banked a track got 10km/h more - or flip the shifter into fifth gear and watch the revs plummet to a fuel-frugal 2060rpm.

The Sprint is a throwback to the grand days of Australian 'muscle' car manufacturing and deserving of far more attention than it gets. It was a car designed to rocket inconspicuously across the huge chunks of this country that didn't rate a speed limit or, if they did, a copper who could be bothered sitting in the heat waiting for an errant XR8 to appear.

The front strut/multi-link rear suspension combination was outdated years before the Sprint appeared but it's strong and simple to maintain and copes well with pretty much anything our rural roads can dispense.

The suspension's major fault is rear axle instability that can pitch the car sideways over corrugations or deep holes. Counterbalancing this deficiency is uprated power steering with loads of road feel and just 2.6 turns lock-to-lock that makes such behaviour easy and even enjoyable to control.

Fuel consumption averages a very reasonable 13.5L/100km and highway running will cut that by 20 percent for a range of almost 500km from the skimpy 68-litre tank.

Rob de Ornelas has owned his XR8 Sprint for less than a year but has plenty of praise for the beefy Falcon.

"When I went looking I wanted the best car I could find and I got it," he revealed. "It cost $20,000 which is more than most in the market but it's only done 29,000km and it still drives like a brand new car."

De Ornelas intends using the car sparingly to maintain its pristine condition, but can't resist the occasional track-day foray.

"On the track it is really surprising how smooth and controllable it is," he enthused. "The handling is excellent for a car of this size and it has lots of torque. The only thing you have to watch are the brakes which really aren't big enough for a car of this weight being driven hard."

Driving at night in any XR8 demands cat-like eyesight and reactions to match. Those four little headlights might look cute but their output isn't sufficient to clearly illuminate hazards on pitch-black roads. Add a pair of supplementary lights if you plan on doing a significant amount of night driving in rural areas.


Considering the price boom being enjoyed by some pretty docile 1970s machinery - $80,000 XB GT anyone? - it's hard to understand why something with the Sprint's obvious attributes can still be largely ignored by mainstream collectors. Scarcity alone should be boosting values and that's well before any consideration of the car as a very usable performance sedan.

Judged on the volume of pro-Sprint interchange in Ford-friendly internet chat rooms, it's likely that people born not a lot earlier than these cars will be clamouring for ownership as soon as they qualify for affordable insurance.

"Even though Sprints aren't valuable yet, some people are building fakes," Rob de Ornelas warned. "The easiest way to pick a Sprint is to look for the 5500rpm redline tachometer as standard XR8s only go to 5000. I wouldn't buy one without the original wheels either."

Sprints came in five main colours - red, white, black, Cobalt Blue and Polynesian Green, with the possibility of other shades being available to special order. If concerned about a car's authenticity, consult other owners via the Tickford/FPV clubs that now exist in most states.

Cars with plenty of 'experience' under their wheels and close to 200,000km on the clock will stop the bidding at $8000 and are probably best avoided. Even tipping an equivalent amount into repairs and rectification won't produce a car to rival 100,000km examples currently being offered in the $12-15,000 range.



Hard use and average build quality will be the greatest issues facing ED Sprint buyers. Misaligned bumpers that sag due to poor-quality fasteners will make a car look tatty. Rust is uncommon in Fords of this age, but check sills and wheel arches. Accident damage is a different matter. Front chassis rails are vulnerable to even minor impacts so look for kinks and also measure the bonnet, bootlid and door gaps for consistency. Water gets through boot seals so lift the spare wheel to check for rust. Bootlid supports are notoriously weak so make sure it stays up without assistance.


click to enlargeThe 5.0-litre, fuel-injected Ford V8 is reliable in the extreme and cars that have travelled up to 200,000km should be showing no signs of ill health. Rattles when cold can signify a range of wear-related issues and any car that blows significant amounts of blue smoke is to be avoided. As the cylinder heads are aluminium, check the radiator contains appropriate coolant. Batteries get hot and frequently leak. Clutch shudder is common and heavy-duty replacements are quoted at $650-900. Far more costly is the complex two-into-one exhaust system and any car showing more than 100,000km is likely to need work in this area. Replacement using a non-factory system can save $1000 in parts alone.

click to enlargeSUSPENSION & BRAKES

Sprint brakes work hard and shuddering, pulsing or squealing indicate some new disc rotors are due. Check that the anti-lock braking system (ABS) is working. A brake hose problem triggered a recall of all Sprints in 1995 and rectified cars will have a sticker on the door shut panel. Struts and especially rear shock absorbers deteriorate quickly so check by pushing on the mudguard edges - not the bonnet as they are easily dented - for excessive bouncing. Worn wheel bearings and suspension joints can be checked by jacking up a front wheel and checking for excessive vertical movement. While down there, check the inner edges of the tyres for untoward wear. Correct alignment involves shimming and should be undertaken by a suspension specialist.


click to enlargeIf the leather-edged seats in a purportedly low-kilometre car look battered, be suspicious. Make sure that the central locking works properly, especially when one door has already been locked with the button. Brake and headlamp bulbs blow regularly so check all of the lights. Dash creaks and rattles are endemic to higher-kilometre cars and not an issue unless the dash is actually loose. Ford's 'Smartlock' system included only a rudimentary immobiliser so upgraded theft protection is recommended.


PRODUCTION: 356 (184 manual, 172 automatic)
BODY: unitary construction, all-steel four-door sedan
ENGINE: 5.0-litre V8 with overhead valves and multi-point fuel injection
POWER: 192kW @ 5000rpm, 405Nm @ 4000rpm
PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h - 7.6secs, 0-400m - 15.6secs
TRANSMISSION: five-speed manual or four-speed automatic
SUSPENSION: Front: independent with struts, coil springs and anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle with Watts link location, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar
BRAKES: disc front/disc rear with power assistance and ABS
WHEELS & TYRES: 16x7 alloy with 225/50VR16 radials
PRICE RANGE: $6000-24,000
CONTACTS: Tickford/FPV Owners Clubs in most states -


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