Ford's critical EF mid-life makeover of its 1988 EA Falcon arrived a year late, the delay generated by plans, since abandoned, to replace it with the unsuitable Taurus and close down Ford's local operation. It gave the 1993 VR Commodore such a head start that Ford Australia has played catch up ever since. Because lean local resources were split between the EF and plans to close Australian production, the update process was not completed until the 1997 EL series by which time it was up against the all new and much fresher VT Commodore.
This explains the critical differences between each update that make all the difference in how this Falcon series feels and drives on the road and the never ending extra value packs required to keep sales alive. The legendary toughness and longevity over rural and urban roads that have seen many EF-EL examples exceed a million kilometres without major overhaul apart from transmission can make it a better used buy than an early VT Commodore.
All EF-EL Buyers and Owners EF Series (August 1994-October 1995):
Generating European grip and handling levels in a Falcon that started life as a budget US design commenced in 1982 with the XE's sophisticated Watts link rear end. The EF represented the second attempt to develop a front end to match it after the EA introduced rack and pinion steering in 1988. A front subframe stiffened by 50 per cent, thicker front anti-roll bar, heavier front springs and other changes sharpened-up front end bite and grip so much that it now felt like the rear couldn't keep up in a corner. This would generate "roll oversteer" as the delayed weight transfer at the rear would try and break the grip of the outside rear tyre. At the time, owners blamed their tyres but they were a symptom, not the cause. When the EF failed to win a much anticipated 1994 Wheels Car of the Year Award, Ford engineers raced to develop a fix. Tired rear springs and shockers will exaggerate this effect and on poor tyres, an early EF can be a handful in the wet and may not be suitable for a novice driver.
EFII Series (October 1995-September 1996): Ford fitted new suspension uprights to raise the front ball joint location by 3mm and reduce toe-in by 1mm. In combination with a thicker anti-roll bar and firmer lower wishbone bushes, the twitchiness and sudden turn-in was drastically reduced so that the rear felt like it belonged to the same car. These changes virtually brought everyday Falcon models in line with Tickford's EF models. The EFII's identification plates do not distinguish between an EF and EFII and may need to be confirmed by Ford when both models were registered during the changeover period. The only visible changes were the EFII's polished GLi badge (compared to EF's black chrome), convex passenger's side mirror and different wheel covers (outer lugs on EFII versus swept spokes on EF).
EL Series (September 1996-August 1998):
Tickford discovered that by lowering the Watts link pivot point and changing the geometry of the rear upper arms, they could eliminate the roll oversteer. With the threat of closure behind them, Ford engineers could now retool the rear axle on all models with a central pivot point lowered by 20mm and different suspension arm mounting brackets. It is not interchangeable with previous models. This generated the first base level Falcon in almost a decade that felt like it was an extension of the driver. The EL rear springs could then be softened and the front end made more compliant as they no longer had to contain the roll oversteer. It remains the best engineered live rear axle of all local cars which makes the EL and later AU sedans the cheapest and most effective used tow cars although wagons retained the traditional heavy duty leaf spring rear end. The EL not only delivered vastly improved handling but a better ride. As a result, the very last EL models with their new AU colours and Sapphire extra value packs quickly commanded a substantial used premium over the later AU series for some years. Even today, a top 1998 EL will fetch $4000 more than an equivalent 1996 EFII or about the same as an AU of the same year and the VT Commodore that blitzed it when new. (Technical data courtesy of Etheridge Ford Service (03) 9298 3890).
These Falcons demonstrate the huge differences in priorities between new and used buyers as values for the good ones are more stable than for any other family car. A tidy early EF is still worth $6000, the EFII sits in the $6000-8000 range with the really good ones topping $9000. Good ELs start at around $8500 and continue up to $13,000 for the best. Because of their remarkably long engine life on LPG, these Falcons may not be as affected by rising fuel prices as other big cars.
CHECK IT OUT ...
EF engine brought big boost in power and reduced engine coarseness. New electric cooling fans and hydraulic engine mounts were critical and must be in good shape. Heat ultimately hardens all oil seals especially around the front of the engine and can break exhaust studs. Battery box is critical to long battery life. Some had piston slap from new at idle but rattly lifters that stay rattly with revs can suggest worn camshaft or missed oil changes. A batch of cylinder head studs failed and generated head gasket failure on certain EL models. Hard working radiator, coolant hoses and belt require pre-emptive replacement. Long life coolant from 1997, anti-corrosion inhibitor only pre-1997. Both require routine flushing and replacement.
Look for brand-name LPG conversion carefully patched into engine's EFI system otherwise excessive gas consumption will result. Check that petrol system still works on gas cars. Autos must have routine service and inspection otherwise they will fail for $2000 replacement cost.
Outstanding body corrosion warranty meant few rust problems but odd surface rust shows up in door panels. Early black exterior trim faded or lifted. Driver's door will sag. Unbreakable polycarbonate headlights were a first and can now be crazed or yellow with age but can be buffed-up. They will also need upgrading for rural use. Faded amber globes in EF rear indicators can blind other drivers. Boot strut bracket welds fail and damage rear seat belt webbing. Correct tow bar for heavy towing must be fitted otherwise body can stretch beyond repair. Early "dancing" doorlocks should now be fixed. Driver's seat sags with age but separate covers are easily removed for cheap cloth and padding replacement.
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Size and weight will wear out front and rear shockers in 50,000 km but cheap to replace. Tyres last about the same but front end adjustment kit may be required if front tyres are scrubbing. Brake pads last around 20,000 kms with new rotors every fourth pad change. Even a slight quality lift in tyres, shocks and brake pads will transform any example. Soft rear springs sag under heavy loads and will need upgrading for towing or long distance touring. Ball joints and key suspension bushes require regular inspection and replacement.
Standard security once an industry benchmark is now easily overcome. A good EF-EL is an absolute certainty for a theft attempt so patch in additional security unique to your car. One of the riskiest used purchases for recycled stolen examples. A Ford expert or dealer may be best equipped to pick up inconsistencies during a pre-purchase inspection.