The ’70s: when ties and sideburns were wide, trousers flared, and moustaches matched bad haircuts. During the first part of this decade, my friends and I used to clip squares of cardboard to the rear forks of our bike with a clothes peg so it’d strike the spokes as they rotated. The idea was to make a 'cool' sound… Although exactly what sound that was, I'm not sure now, but we’d ride down the streets on our dragster bikes and imagine ourselves as Peter Fonda in Easy Rider.
Luckily for us, both YouTube and Facebook were decades away. I guess this was my first 'mod' and it slowed us down, was fairly useless and didn’t achieve the image we’d been hoping. Yes... The useless mod for show and effect, which brings me to some of the cars I’ve purchased.
As you know, car manufacturers are not immune to adding the automotive equivalent of 'go-faster cardboard' on their products precisely for buyers like me – or at least the younger me that had hair. While it doesn't make cars any faster per se, it does makes them move quicker out of the dealer’s lot. All of which brings me to the Ford XD Falcon S Pack I bought in the early ’80s.
At that time I’d started work and felt somewhat flush, so I decided to purchase a second-hand Ford Falcon XD. I distinctly recall walking into a random used-car dealer’s lot – the type I now cross the street to avoid – when I saw it. 'It' being a white Ford Falcon XD with an 'S' emblazoned on the rear panel. The damn thing may as well have been haloed in light accompanied by a heavenly choir as I approached it. As I weaved my way towards it, the car yard's owner flicked his eyes skyward in thanks and hastily ran out of the office, knowing by my vacant expression that tonight there would be food on the table. Good food.
That 'S' emblazoned on the back was like the cardboard on my bike, attracting my gormless self to it as a cliff beckons a lemming. The conversation went something like:
Me pointing to the 'S': “What’s this mean?”
Salesman: “It means that this Falcon is special. It’s the S Pack.”
Me: “S Pack? Does it go faster than a regular Falcon?”
[Salesman slowly lifts eyebrows and shoulders]
Me: “It does! Wow, great! I’ll take it”
The S Pack was an option that included slotted wheels, pinstripe cloth seats, a digital clock, a tachometer and an 'S' decal. That’s it. No upgrade to the engine. No limited-slip diff for the 4.1-litre model. No more oomph or bang. Not even tweaked suspension. Just some cosmetic upgrades to make the naive purchaser feel 'special'. And I fell for it. Completely and gullibly.
The XD itself wasn’t a bad car for the time. The rating I've given it is in comparison to modern cars, but in its day it competed against the Commodore by being a larger car with somewhat better fuel economy. I had the '1/2' upgrade, which had electronic ignition and an alloy head – both of which were a big deal back then.
It had a lot of firsts or 'nearly firsts' for an Australian Falcon, although not in a good way at the time. It was the first Falcon that had European bits, and it came with plastic bumpers and a plastic fuel tank. The last item caused much angst at the time when a number of people, myself included, wondered about the safety.
Mine was a four-speed manual and the 4.1-litre six-cylinder. The engine made a respectable, for the time, 94kW and its 0–100km/h time was about 13 or so seconds. The ride was comfortable at the expense of handling, and my car had air-conditioning, a first for me, plus the boot was excellent. It was able to hold all my worldly belongings, which at the time resided in a single suitcase when I embarked from Canberra to Sydney for work.
What I was blissfully unaware of, while signing away a significant part of my future income, was the car had been in a crash and was poorly repaired.
Me: “I think I’ll get this checked by the NRMA.”
Salesman [perspiring]: “No need to do that! We’ve already done that. We only sell the best cars.”
Me: “Really? You’ve checked it?”
Salesman [relief]: “Of course. It passed our checks with flying colours. Besides, you’ve got a warranty.”
In retrospect I was buying a cheap life lesson. Every car I’ve purchased subsequently (except the few times I’ve bought new or demo) has been thoroughly checked by an independent organisation. RAC, NRMA… Whatever it was when we lived in Britain. Every car. Every time. It’s something I recommend to readers. A pre-purchase inspection may not always catch everything, but they should pick 'minor' things like the car being held together with rust-laden putty and painted-over duct tape.
Unfortunately, within 18 months of purchasing the car and living in Maroubra in Sydney, all parts of the car were rusting badly. From the door panels, where painted-over plastic hiding holes became visible, to every pillar and the body of the car. The rust was so bad that I had to scrap it, despite still owing 50 per cent of what I’d paid for it. It tarnished my view of Falcons and may have put me off cars save for my subsequent purchase – a red Porsche 924, recently reviewed here, which transformed me into a 'car guy'.
But like the plethora of movie sequels, the story doesn't end there. The addendum? Well, I managed to pay the car off with my first year's bonus, so not too much out of pocket. As for the salesman and his car yard? Well, I read that it closed this year in 2018 and his was the last car yard to leave Braddon, Canberra. I wish him well and the best in the future. I don't bear a grievance, since all the angst and foibles were of my own doing.
In truth, things turned out well. If he hadn’t sold me a lemon, then I may never have bought my subsequent Porsche 924 and discovered a life-long passion for cars. My past would’ve been a lot duller, and so it’s a bit like an automotive Nietzsche. What doesn’t bankrupt you this time makes you more careful the next. Still, the truly wise person always gets a pre-sale inspection.