Open the driver’s door of Andy Etchells’ tidy 1971 Falcon XY, and you may notice a tiny light on the steering column illuminate, showing you exactly where to insert the key. If you know your Falcons, this may strike you as odd, because, normally, the ignition barrel on the XY is located on the dashboard. Well, Andy’s XY is far from normal, although, aesthetically, it’s only really the slightly modernized interior that gives the game away.
To understand Andy’s ‘RadRoo’ Falcon — and the sheer level of craftsmanship that has gone into building it — you must understand the man himself. Andy is a Ford man through and through. In his time, he’s owned more Fords than most of us have owned cars, and of these many Fords, there’s one shape that has always had a special appeal to him — the staunch, slab-sided Falcon XWs and XYs of the late ’60s and early ’70s.
That love for the cars has seen Andy own a number of them, and, while their aesthetics and presence just can’t be beaten, Andy found that the rest of the ownership experience left something to be desired. You see, when you get beyond the roaring, fuel-guzzling carburetted V8s and tough, ’70s stance, some minor issues tend to rear their heads.
The key concern Andy had was to do with the ride quality and handling, or lack of both. Then there was the issue of reliability. Andy wanted to be able to enjoy owning and driving an XY, but without the headaches involved with owning an old car — the car had to ride and handle like a modern car, start first pop every time, be able to be driven by his wife, deliver acceptable fuel economy, and go like the clappers. With a strong automotive background and the skills necessary to overhaul an old Falcon more than thoroughly, Andy was well equipped for the project he’d next be embarking upon.
Instead of finding an XY and stripping it down to chuck some coilover suspension and a modern engine into, Andy went one step — well, quite a few steps, really — further.
“With the XY in bits and having an EL Falcon in the shop, we measured the two up, and, after a lot of thinking, came up with ‘This could work!’” Andy says of the build that went leaps and bounds beyond your typical classic car rebuild.
What, exactly, could work? In his pursuit of modern attributes in an old-school car, Andy planned to graft the XY’s body onto the late-model Falcon’s chassis. The concept was simple: he would retain the classic looks of the XY, but gain each and every modern convenience of a late-model Falcon. With Andy’s calculations laid out, the hunt for a suitable donor car began, and was found in a Falcon EF — the only difference between the EF and EL being a facelift.
The angle grinders were ready, and both Falcons were chopped up, with the bodies separated from the floorpans. With the use of a forklift, the XY body was dummy fitted to the EF chassis, and everything looked as though it would work. This also meant that work of a more boring nature could begin — on the stack of Design Approval Application paperwork for the LVVTA. This comprised pages of information and photos of the proposed build. A few weeks later, Andy received the answer he’d been hoping for.
Unfortunately, the EF donor vehicle was only a six-cylinder, so Andy was now looking for something with a bit more grunt to slot between the front wheels. It’d be a bit different from the wild V8s he’d owned before, though.
“It had to be a bit tamer! Fuel injection, idle for hours in traffic, everyone can drive it, good fuel economy, and start first hit,” Andy listed as his strict criteria when it came to an appropriate engine. Of course, that it had to have eight cylinders was a given.
As if by chance, Andy happened to be talking to someone who mentioned an XR8 engine with five-speed manual gearbox that had come out of his Falcon ED XR8 Sprint. These were rare cars; New Zealand only got 52 of them, and next to none were equipped with a manual gearbox. The Sprint V8s were also more powerful than the regular XR8s, thanks to better flowing heads and intake manifold, a higher rev limiter, and remapped ECU. A deal was done that night for everything that would be needed: engine, gearbox, computer, loom, driveshaft, and LSD diff. Another box could be checked off Andy’s slowly shrinking checklist.
With work beginning on properly grafting the XY body onto the EF chassis, Andy ran into a few issues — chief of which were differences in length and width.
“One big issue was the difference in length from the firewall back to the wheel arches. There was a 25mm step in the length between the two, so we lined up the firewalls and altered the EF inner rear guards, to the curse of the XY back doors,” Andy explains. “This had a carry-on effect with the seat support, parcel tray, and mounting and support area for the hinge and spring mechanism for the boot, which had to function and look factory.”
Equally important to get right was the firewall. Andy wanted retain the XY wiper motor and upper panel — to keep every outward aspect of the car appearing XY — but also make use of the EF’s brake booster and lower firewall section comprising pedals and transmission tunnel. This caused another headache when Andy found that the XY bonnet hinges fouled on the EF brake booster.
“As a lot of Ford owners will know, the bonnet hinges can be a real problem with the XY era — to get the bonnet sitting flush at the back,” Andy says. “We changed the geometry, and got it right.”
It wasn’t without a fair other number of amendments that the XY body was finally mated to the EF chassis, but it happened — sooner rather than later, believe it or not! — and so it came time for Andy to focus on the relatively less daunting task of the interior.
As Andy had always wanted the car to be a modernized XY, he wasn’t keen on just slapping the EF interior in and calling it a day. The car had to retain the classic XY dash, although Andy didn’t see why he couldn’t enjoy the benefits of modern instrumentation. As such, the dash cluster and interior electronics were pillaged from the EF and grafted into the XY dashboard, with a custom carbon-fibre surround made up to integrate new into old seamlessly.
Because it’s all EF Falcon underneath, the XY benefits from all the mod cons such as power steering, a hydraulic clutch, electric windows, air conditioning, central locking, and even cup holders! With the power window switches housed in the centre console, the door cards — freshly refinished by Regal Auto Trim — were looking clean, and Andy didn’t want chunky factory XY armrests all over them. A novel solution was found in the aisles of the local hardware store, where Andy saw a Stanley hacksaw that looked just right. He bought one, chopped it up, and then went back for three more.
The interior was polished off with a full array of functioning interior lighting, the EF Falcon fold-down rear seat, retractable seat belts, and a beautiful Nardi Torino steering wheel on the fully adjustable steering column. To bring the cabin into the 21st century, a thoroughly modern sound system — including a Panasonic DVD head unit — has been installed. This sound system is also hooked up to a modern GPS tracking security system, which Andy has hooked up to his phone. In the unlikely event that his car gets hijacked, the perpetrators may find Andy listening in on them and blasting a few choice words through the speakers!
As important as the interior is, though, we can’t overlook the exterior aesthetics. While the XY is an undeniably handsome vehicle, Andy felt that the chrome trim just didn’t fit the modern theme he was going for, so had it all colour coded to match the paintwork. While he was at it, the front and rear bumpers were narrowed and sucked into the body, tidying the exterior up immensely. The modern theme is continued with LED tail lights, the standard orange indicator lenses replaced with red, both for a cleaner look and in a nod to old American style.
Of course, this styling would all be for nought if the car didn’t sit right. Thankfully, Andy’s on the right page when it comes to giving such a car the right stance; he’s absolutely nailed it.
“We wanted a good suspension travel while having a low stance, which cut out the idea of big diameter wheels,” Andy explains. “The Superlites got the tick, as they were a cool wheel of the era.”
Hunkered down over wheels that are ‘just right’ in size, RadRoo looks the business without being overstated.
The art of subtlety is one of those things that Andy has perfected with this car. It hints at being more than it is, without coming right out and screaming it at you.
“We’ve had a few critics asking whether it’s really worth all the work. They have all since seen it, driven it, and can’t believe an XY can be like this!” Andy says of the end result.
This isn’t the last RadRoo we’ll be seeing, either. “We have a number of people wanting one. Looks like it’s going to be one, or maybe two, a year, to go along with our other stuff,” Andy says.
That’s hardly surprising, given the craftsmanship and passion that Andy has poured into RadRoo, building what is a truly amazing piece of machinery — we’re sure looking forward to seeing what emerges from Andy’s workshop in the near future.
You can find out more about Andy’s projects at falconinnovations.co.nz
1971 Ford Falcon XY
- Engine: Ford five-litre V8, Falcon ED XR8 Sprint engine, cast GT40 heads, roller camshaft, aftermarket AFM (air flow meter), Falcon EF fuel pump, factory XR8 ignition, Coby headers, three-inch exhaust, Flowmaster mufflers, factory XR8 radiator, factory XR8 ECU
- Driveline: BorgWarner T5 five-speed manual, lightened flywheel, Auto Clutch clutch plate, Auto Clutch pressure plate, Falcon XR8 LSD
- Suspension: factory Watt’s linkage, Koni shocks, Lovells super low coil springs, SuperPro urethane bushes
- Brakes: factory Falcon EF booster, Falcon EF calipers, DBA vented cross-drilled rotors (front), DBA vented rotors (rear)
- Wheels/Tyres: 16×8-inch Performance Wheels Super Lites, 245/45R16 Toyo tyres
- Exterior: DuPont Silver Contrai, LED tail lights, chrome delete
- Chassis: Falcon XY body grafted onto Falcon EF chassis
- Interior: Nardi Torino steering wheel, Falcon ED XR8 gauges, carbon-fibre dash panel, Stanley hacksaw armrests, Panasonic head unit, Soundstream speakers, Falcon EF seats, retractable seat belts
- Performance: 335hp
This article was originally published in NZV8 Issue No. 123. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of this magazine below: