Classic looks and character, modern performance and handling — what more could you ask for in a 1966 XP Falcon?
There are many ways to own your dream machine. The simplest method is to wait for the car you’ve always lusted after to come up for sale, write out the cheque and walk away with the keys. Apart from the tear as your bank account gets drained, you wouldn’t really work up a sweat going about it in this manner.
Then there’s the option of buying a car and babysitting it as it bounces from workshop to workshop, with the hardest part for the owner being to push it on and off the trailer.
At the other end of the scale is the way Ross McLennan went about building his gorgeous 1966 XP Falcon coupe. That way involved spending thousands of hours on the car and performing almost all of the work himself.
Stick With The Plan
Where many people start with a plan then deviate from it, Ross stuck fast to what he set out to do. The results speak for themselves.
Yet it’s not just the car’s great look that has seen it gracing the cover of this magazine, but the overall package, engineering and attention to detail.
So single-minded was Ross with his plan, he actually bought the late-model Ford Tickford TE50 engine before he even had a car to drop it into.
“I deal with a lot of guys through work,” Ross explains, “and told them I was after a late-model injected 5.0-litre engine. And when one came back saying they knew of a TE50 motor, I grabbed it.
They’re a rare motor and have more power and good parts than the stock 5.0s do.”
While finding the motor was easier than expected, locating the car took some work. After examining various XPs locally, Ross turned his attention to Australia, where he finally found what he was after. Or so he thought. “The car looked good, it belonged to the owner of a tattoo shop who had a few different cars and was great to deal with. When it got here, it didn’t look bad either. But once we stripped it and sent it down to Kiwi Dip Stripping in Rotorua, I got a call from Doug [of Kiwi Dip] saying that I may not be that happy with what had been uncovered.”
Cut And Weld
The stripping had revealed some previous repairs to both rear quarters.
Despite the setback, Ross was determined to carry on with the project, even though it meant he would have to do the hard work himself and graft on new rear quarter panels.
This wasn’t to be the extent of Ross’s sheetmetal fettling. Having played with more cars over the years than I have had hot dinners, Ross had a few clever tricks up his sleeve. One of them was grafting the front section of an AU Falcon floorpan into the XP. If you didn’t know, you would never pick it, even with the car up on a hoist.
The new sheetmetal made fitting the TE50 four-speed automatic gearbox a lot easier, because it was able to reside on factory mounts too.
Some Stock, Mainly Not
Once the new sheetmetal was in place, Ross sent the car back to Kiwi Dip Stripping. This time it came out looking as good as it went in, albeit with no spots of surface rust. Once it was quickly coated to ensure the orange cancer couldn’t take hold, Ross set about piecing the car together.
While the new floorpan might only be noticed by experts, it would be very hard not to notice the RRS suspension and steering that has been fitted. While researching for the build, Ross became quite friendly with Angela and Matthew at RRS Australia, and he was one of the first people to receive the company’s latest suspension offering. The front setup includes QA1 adjustable coil-overs fitted to bolt-in front struts complete with PBR disc brakes. The RRS rear end includes a three-link setup, again with coil-over shocks and PBR disc brakes. Topping off the handling package is a rack and pinion steering kit that has transformed the old floating steering into that similar to the latest Falcons.
The beauty of the suspension and steering is that the car drives like it’s new but retains the character of old. This ethos continued into Ross’s choice of engine and driveline. Speaking of which, Ross, being the jack-of-all-trades he is, installed the motor and wired it himself.
A few clever tricks have gone into making the engine work well. Most of them go unseen but they make a difference. One such area is the speedo drive. Because the late-model box has an electronic speedo output but the Falcon’s dash is mechanical, Ross has fitted a Cable X unit that transforms the electronic output to a mechanical drive.
Thanks to the in-house Dyno at Ross’s Auto Gas Centre workshop, he was able to adjust the ratios until they were bang on. But the speedo he used wasn’t the stock XP one, although it may at first glance look like it. It is actually a ’63 Mercury Comet item. It’s almost identical to the XP cluster in every way, with the big difference being it is solid metal rather than plastic. Although the readout is in miles, it wasn’t a problem, as Ross has used the mile marks as kilometre ones when setting it all up. Sure, if he goes over 140kph he will be off the clock, but if he’s going that fast he’s probably not going to take his eyes off the road anyway.
Getting The Look
Once the mechanical side of the car was mocked up, it was pulled down so the XP could be painted, before being put together for the last time. Ross spent hours primering, sanding, smoothing and checking the body while it was on his rotisserie before he was ready for the colour to be applied. “There was only ever one colour in mind: Rosso Corsa Red, a Ferrari colour,” Ross says. “The guys in the paint shop wanted me to paint it myself, since I’d already done all the hard work. I would have, but I didn’t trust myself to do as good a job as what they would do, so I left it to them.”
It appears to have been a wise choice. The work done by Springsgate Panel & Paint simply cannot be faulted.
With such a high-quality finish, Ross didn’t want the Falcon to be let down by shabby chrome, so he had every piece of trim rechromed or replaced with new items.
Matching the fresh chrome look is a set of Cobra Bullet 17×8-inch rims. Not too big, not too small, the Bullets do as much for the ride quality and handling as they do for the looks.
The integration of new and old continues into the cabin, with late-model electronic adjustable Falcon seats now residing inside. Likewise, the windows may look wind-up but they are actually electric.
Besides the painted dash, every other interior surface has been covered with Italian leather, adding a level of class to this XP beyond that of almost any other example we’ve seen.
A Kicker sound system has been integrated, the head unit of which is a Classic Autosound item connected to a hidden MP3 player.
Some people may wonder why you would bother with audio in such a car, but the plan was always for a vehicle that was nice to drive and that’s exactly what Ross has created. The car is so refined and so enjoyable to drive, it gets used to get to work on a regular basis.
There aren’t many NZV8 feature cars you can say that about.
From Plan To Completion
The build was completed just two years after Ross started pulling the XP apart. Completing such a transformation in a timeframe like that is no small task, let alone when you do the majority of the work yourself, making the results all the more impressive.
However, Ross assures us there is no such thing as a completely finished car, and he continues to toy away at it on a weekly basis. Ross is keen to crank a little more power out of the engine, and a conversion to dedicated LPG is also on the list of things to do. He has been in the LPG game for many, many years, so we have no doubt the results will be impressive.
He’s clearly pleased with what he’s achieved and he should be; a lot has gone into this Falcon, and the sacrifice hasn’t only been his. “If you’re going to spend the kids’ inheritance,” he notes, “you may as well do it in style.”
1966 Ford Falcon XP Futura – Specifications
Engine: AUII 5.0-litre (302ci) Ford TE50, SVO alloy heads, roller rockers, roller cam, GT40 intake, custom air box, Bosch fuel pump, MSD ignition, 10mm leads, Tri-y headers, alloy radiator, reprogrammed ECU
Driveline: TE50 four-speed automatic, customised Tiptronic, nine-inch diff, Moser axles, 3.5:1 ratio, Posi LSD, custom driveshaft
Suspension: RRS three-link rear, adjustable QA1 coil-overs, RRS struts, reinforced lower control arms, RRS rack and pinion steering
Brakes: PBR callipers, 300mm rotors, 178mm dual chamber booster
Wheels/ tyres: 17×8-inch Cobra Bullet rims, 235/45R17 GT Radial tyres
Exterior: Mini-tubbed rear guards, TE50 front floorpan, seam welded chassis, Rosso Corsa Red paint
Interior: BF Falcon seats, Italian leather trim, Dynamat throughout, AU shifter, ’63 Mercury Comet dash panel, Cable X speedo drive, Rebel wiring loom, Classic Autosound head unit, Kicker speakers, MP3 player in ashtray
Performance: Enough for now
Ross McLennan – Owner Details
Age: As old as the Ferrari car company
Occupation: Owner operator at Auto Gas Centre
Previously owned cars: Many V8s, a Lotus Escort, even a Bathurst Monaro
Dream car: Ferrari 458, it’s a V8 in Rosso Corsa Red
Build time: Two years
Length of ownership: Three years
Ross thanks: “My wife Sue, Melissa, Karl, Bailey for allowing me to ski (spend kids’ inheritance), The team at Auto Gas Centre – John, Sean and Viv. Doug at Kiwi Dip Stripping Rotorua, Scott Thompson for fabrication and panel, Angela and Mathew at RRS Australia, Norm and the team at Springsgate Panel & Paint, Ray Smith, Jim Pinfold for the upholstery, and many others for the advice both good and bad.”
Words: Todd Wylie Photos: Dan Wakelin