The BA'S new Barra 220 V8 option, listed from September 2002, was the world debut for Ford's latest 5.4-litre version of its modular V8. Built in windsor, Canada, it was on offer in the base Falcon XT from 2002 until the BF Mark II was replaced by the FG Falcon series in 2008.
Similar to the petrol V8 in the Ford Explorer and Ford F250, it was very different from the quad-cam, 32-valve Boss V8 engines built by Ford Performance Vehicles locally. XT V8 buyers could specify the top-shelf Tremec TR3650 five-speed manual, first seen in the outgoing Tickford T3 range, or the latest Sequential Sports Shift version of the local four-speed automatic.
Overlooked because its 220kw and 470nm seemed less than the 235kw/465nm produced by rival Commodores, there was more to this combination than met the eye.
Unlike the pushrod Gen III Holden V8, the Barra V8 had a single overhead camshaft per bank with three valves-per-cylinder - two inlet, one exhaust. It also boasted variable camshaft timing and specific inlet and exhaust manifolds for the Falcon. The armchair response was 'so-what?', given that this didn’t offer any advantage on paper.
The reality was different. In 2002, the torque delivery and sound of the Commodore's Gen III V8 was still 'thin', providing the piston slap and gudgeon rattle on some didn’t overwhelm the V8 note altogether. Just as the old Australian Holden V8 was regarded as a sweeter and more authentic V8, the Barra V8 was the real deal.
Holden's convoluted linkages could only make the Commodore V8's old T56 six-speed manual worse. The extra ratio on paper made little difference when the upper ratios were so tall, and finding any gear in a hurry required skill. Holden was still some years away from offering a programmable (and acceptably smooth) V8 automatic that allowed the driver to take charge.
The regular Barra V8 sat under the standard bonnet and weighed less than the XR8's Boss engine. Still heavier than Holden's all-alloy Gen III V8, it did make a difference. More importantly, it enhanced the BA/BF Falcon's extra refinement, unlike the still obtrusive straight-six. Even if the extra performance didn't quite justify the extra fuel consumption, the premium V8 feel and sound could.
For the BF Falcon upgrade in October 2005, the sedan's manual V8 option was dropped. Instead, the sublime ZF six-speed automatic was matched to a revised 230kw/500nm Barra 230 for better performance and economy. The Barra 220 four-speed auto continued in the ute.
Less than 40 each of the BA and BF Falcon XT V8s - including Mk II upgrades - were built. The best of the breed ran (optional) 17-inch alloys and Fairmont Ghia sports-luxury suspension, but dressing one up as a cut-price XR8 misses the point of this rare and desirable sleeper. As prices drop below $10,000, you can see where this could go.
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