Ford Australia had a productive and successful partnership with Tickford during the 90’s which culminated in the launch of Ford Tickford Experience (FTE) in 1999.
Tickford had most recently worked on Ford’s XR6 and XR8 Falcons as well as the 30th Anniversary EL GT Falcon. These cars were sporty and aggressive, particularly the GT with its massive rear wing, twin bonnet scoop and “Darth Vader” grill.
FTE was seen as Ford’s response to Holden’s HSV performance arm, although FTE initially went in a more understated direction. The first cars FTE produced looked pretty tame compared to the GT from just a year earlier.
The polarising AU Falcon had been released the previous year and early sales suggested Ford’s styling gamble was not going to pay off. Part of the quick-fix strategy Ford would undertake involved the launch of FTE, a performance arm featuring three models with a styling focus towards subtlety.
The range featured three models: TE50, TS50 and TL50. The TE50 and TS50 were Falcon-based while the TL50 was a sporty version of the LWB Fairlane.
While the T1 cars certainly looked more filled out and cleaner than the bog-stock Forte, they lacked wow factor. Performance figures were impressive without being anything to give HSV nightmares about while the styling was pedestrian compared to an HSV. The VT-based vehicles are probably some of the most attractive cars HSV ever produced, meaning the ugly ducking AU had come along at the worst possible time.
Essentially the TE50 and TS50 models were little more than luxury-spec XR8’s, using similar mechanicals and mixing a few bespoke parts with the XR and Fairmont Ghia parts bins. Ironically, the XR Falcons probably looked tougher than the T1 and T2 FTE Falcons.
On the road the consensus was that the FTE’s were powerful and composed with great chassis balance but lacking the wow factor of the HSV’s.
Little changed for the T2 series which arrived with the face lifted AUII update. Model badges were added to the side skirts and the body kit was tweaked slightly. Interior options changed as well but the “good car but not very exciting” stigma remained.
Ford cleaned up the Forte styling and added a low rear spoiler to square off the back end leaving the FTE Falcons looking even less dissimilar to the base model cars. Then the T3 came along.
It took three goes but FTE finally took the gloves off and threw a genuine contender at HSV. A stroked 5.6 litre V8 replaced the 5.0 and the mild body kit became wild with a huge rear spoiler, massive front bar with fog lights and a loud blue paint option. It was by far the most sporty and aggressive car FTE had produced and required Ford Australia to get special permission from HQ in the USA because the ground clearance was less than what Ford policy allowed.
The bigger, more powerful motor coupled with Ford’s superior Falcon chassis was a critical winner but wasn’t really given a chance to hurt HSV sales as Ford wound down the AU program prior to the launch of the BA, a car which managed to fix most of the styling criticisms of its predecessor.
The arrival of the BA in late 2002 meant the death of FTE, even though the performance department remained in tact and was simply renamed to Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV). To coincide with this, the dull model names from the FTE cars were dropped.
Essentially, the TE50 became the GT, reinstating the GT Falcon as a full-time model for the first time since the 1970’s. The TS50 became the GT-P and the long wheel base TL50 was gone for good. The 12 T3 TL50’s sold was obviously too few to convince Ford to continue with a stretched performance car, although the Galaxie 540 concept was a cruel glimpse at what might have been.
The arrival of the turbocharged inline 6 added the legendary F6 Typhoon and F6 Tornado models (later shortened to simply F6), widely regarded as the best 6-cylinder performance cars even built in Australia.
FPV did a lot of things right and Ford used the refreshed BA to win back some of its lost market share, but the homegrown family sedan was already a dying breed by this time.
It’s easy to forget that FTE was part of the foundation of the success of the BA and the return of the famed GT Falcon nameplate. Ford fixed a lot of things with the AUIII and the T3 FTE’s are perhaps the finest example of this.
Prices for TE50 and TS50 models vary from around $30k-$90k currently. The TL50’s are rare as hens teeth, and I couldn’t even find one currently for sale to get a feel for market value. They don’t come up often, so if you’re keen then get cashed up and move fast when the time comes.
Given that FTE was an entity for only 3 years it is not surprising that you don’t see many cars on the used car market. Because sales figures never matched what FPV would achieve in later years all FTE models are relatively rare and represent an important piece of Ford’s performance history in Australia.