So it’s 2005, Russell Ingall has just won the V8 Supercar Championship, Ford Australia are making good profits under the genius of Geoff Polites and my 10th wedding anniversary where we decided to treat ourselves with our first new car. Barely more than a decade ago – it seems a seismic shift in Australian motoring must have occurred when I blinked.
Having grown up in the ’70s when people were proud to drive Australian and muscle cars prowled the streets, it was a forgone conclusion that something fast on a 50k budget, probably going to be propelled by the rear wheels, have a manual shift and 8 cylinders. Now having been accused of being a one-eye Ford fan is something I’m not completely comfortable with however it was hard to see how a GT or XR8 wasn’t going to reside in our garage.
Motor’s “Bang for your buck ’05” made interesting reading as I was blissfully pondering the alternatives to a big Ford (Mazda6 MPS, SS, Skyline R33 GTR). Whilst motoring journos were banging on relentlessly about the mass of the truck-blocked 5.4 V8 vs the ‘sweeter’ XR6 turbo, the XR8 with its new Tremec 6 speed manual pulled a quicker lap time around the tight Wakefield circuit than the Golf VR6 and GTi, the Subaru WRX, 8 other assorted – and the XR6T.
So I wasn’t keen on the lairy spoiler and bland wheels on the FPV so the XR8 Enforcer with its ‘Sports Leather’ interior (love it- includes the ripper Momo steering wheel), GT brakes, shadow-chromed wheels, specific badging and lovely green paint got the gig for 50k drive away.
One of the best memories of the car was having it on my wife’s novated lease where we saved around 6k a year by nominating 25,000km a year to reduce FBT cost. What a wonderful time it was being harassed to go away for a weekend with the family, carving up country roads instead of fixing the house!
Possibly the most overlooked aspect of the modern muscle car is the practicality of long term ownership – especially with a family in tow. The room, comfort, versatility and ability to get in front of the madding crowd with just a mild squish of the go pedal puts a smile on your face even after 10 years of familiarity. Cheap ownership costs, 12- 13 litres per 100 of :- cheaper than water – ULP and tyres that wear evenly for 50k has made the experience pleasant.
Rear diff mount bushes were replaced at the first service as with most performance BA’s and we waited another 7 years for the airbag light to come on signifying $250 for a seat belt latch replacement and yesterday I handed a fellow another $250 to replace the roof lining. So in terms of problems, its pretty much; “None worth mentioning”.
Love the ride/handling balance, the super comfortable seats with the suede inlays, the fat steering wheel, smooth torquey motor, delightful brakes and solid engineering.
Not so keen on the road noise, short first gear, narrowish power band and backlash in the drivetrain – although most manuals have it – and, as your skills improve, you drive around it.
So do I love it? Well, when I think of the kids being just out of booster seats when we got it, to now having done all their lessons and passed their driving exams in it I realise that it has been a faithful, fun companion that gave us many wonderful holidays. Together with it being a fun car to drive and I never get sick of winding it out and hearing that delicious bass-pumping induction roar – then, well, yeah I’ll remember this car fondly.
And as the kids ask more questions about cars and watch me grimace as they wrench the gearstick into second on the down-change without so much as a synchro-sparing throttle blip, I am equally thankful that Ford Oz opted for the bullet proof Mexican top-loader gearbox and specced up a car for the masses that still feels a bit special.