Why Consider EA?
Above all, be prepared to hear, “Get an EB, mate” whenever you ask an ‘expert’ for advice on the EA series. Firstly, it was the excellent 1992 EB series II that introduced the all-important 4.0 engine update and body rigidity improvements, and secondly, a used EB II can cost up to twice as much as an EA. That is not a price different to sneeze at, and a buyer on a budget might find that an EB II is by no means twice as good. Having said that, there are bargains out there an an EB, EB II or ED would be well worth considering.
There were safety-related recalls by Ford in response to the most serious of the original EA’s problems when new, but this works in the favour of a used car buyer today. The unworkable lemons are increasingly off the road, other EAs have been fixed, parts are dirt cheap, know-how is widespread, and the below par reputation of the car means they are very affordable secondhand, too. I realise this is no small claim, but considering the already outstanding value for money of Falcons and Commodores in general, I cannot think of a better value buy in Australia than the EA Falcon. It is a bargain within a bargain. By comparison, EB II and ED models are very solid and dependable cars that represent smart buying for the dollars asked.
Is Commodore a better buy?
The VN Holden Commodore V6 (pictured) – the original EA Falcon’s primary competitor – was regarded by the automotive media as a better car when they were new. According to Wheels magazine figures, the automatic VN Executive’s 0-100 km/h acceleration time was 2.3 seconds faster than the 3.9 litre throttle body EA GL, yet the Commodore apparently consumed 2.2 litres per 100 km less fuel at the same time. Part of this was due to the EA’s heavier, more solid body – but it was mostly a product of the inefficient 3 speed automatic transmission. The EA’s main advantage was its more stable handling and softer ride, to which Wheels claimed the VN was more of a driver’s car.
Today, however, the VN (and, to a lesser degree, its VP successor) could be considered a more flawed design. It was originally conceived to carry over the 3.0 Nissan six from its smaller predecessor, but some way into the VN’s development, Holden management suddenly elected to use an American Buick-derived pushrod V6 instead. Some serious drivability issues resulted from this about-face, including unrefined NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) characteristics and an accelerator pedal almost like an on/off switch in early models – and the latter remains a real safety issue in the wet when combined with its powerful V6, nervous handling, low weight, and skinny tyres on base models. The front track was also carried over from its narrower predecessor, resulting in potentially unsmooth handling at the limit. The EA’s performance/economy woes (in 3 speed form) are superficial by comparison. The EA costing noticeably less than the VN Commodore means it is a better car for the money for most intents and purposes.
Thus there is clearly a market for even an early model, secondhand EA Falcon or Fairmont, especially for someone who is able to see through the car’s poor reputation – even if some examples are best avoided and others could require a little work if the previous owner has let the car go downhill. A top EA with service history is worth spending a bit extra on if trouble-free motoring is your highest priority.
EA models guide
Each model has its points. The Falcon GL is a cheap way into a capable, passably modern car with few features to prove unreliable. However, the single-point (throttle body) injected motors can require extra maintenance, which is as convincing an argument for the multipoint engine as the latter’s extra power. Above all, watch for loose and worn examples that feel as though they are on their last legs – be it a former police car, a high mileage ex-taxi or yesterday’s unloved fleet vehicle. It is well worth saving for the best possible example, with the multipoint engine preferable.
The Falcon S is sought after for its better looks (due to lowered suspension, ‘snow flake’ alloy wheels, body coloured bumpers and thicker side protection mouldings with red striping) and is reasonably likely to have the multipoint engine fitted. Because it was aimed at private buyers from new, there is less likely to be excessive neglect. However, the S being a more sports-oriented model may have inspired some hard driving over time, so be watchful.
Due to its market when new, the top model Fairmont Ghia is less likely to have been thrashed, and instead it is the ultra-high mileage or run-down examples that may prove most undesirable. There are no single-point engines here. The big problem the Ghia has over its siblings is the potentially troublesome electrics, which some people in this market prefer to do without. Windows, exterior mirrors, door locks and aerials are all electric on this model, and sluggish, tired motors will eventually need replacing (this is not excessively expensive with wreckers able to provide parts, but the fact remains that a simpler model will require less maintenance).
With all these factors in mind, the Fairmont standard could be the pick of the range for the average buyer. It has the benefits of a generally conservative type of owner and is unlikely to have been driven hard. The equipment level has all the ‘essentials’ (air con and remote boot release, for example) but nothing particularly complex. Once again the multipoint engine is generally worth the extra dollars, and the prices typically asked for this model are very reasonable.
Specific Problem Areas
With the worst problems now gone, EA-ED Falcons are generally very long-lived, tough and reliable cars. But before you reach for your wallet, here are some woes that have troubled EA-EDs in the past.
* First and foremost, the head gasket will blow, typically around the 100,000 km mark. This occurs due to engine head materials with different properties expanding and contracting at different rates. The car’s SOHC engines produced more heat, and were sitting under a more streamlined and cramped bonnet. The cost of a fix is $800-1000 – EB II and ED models are more improved in this respect..
Right: ‘Blue Oval Forever’ installed a new red rocker cover himself and replaced his EA’s troublesome corkgasket material with the ED Falcon’s rubber kind. This ended his oil rocker cover leaks for good.
* Another heat-related drama, the batteries overheated and, in isolated cases, apparently exploded. This only affected early ’88 EAs, and they will be either fixed or off the road by now.
* The front disc brakes were prone to developing an unhealthy shudder due to excessive and inconsistent wear. The short-term fix in most cases is machining the discs to effectively simulate consistent wear, which will rid your bank account of about $60. Longer-term, new front disc brakes will solve the problem – but once again, this is an issue that will probably have been fixed anyway. ‘Blue Oval Forever’s’ EA is equipped with excellent aftermarket DBA slotted and drilled discs (left) – all fitted for $280 plus about $80 for a good quality set of pads.
* Various leaks are not unheard-of. A very light oil ‘bleed’ from the gasket could eventually require the full $1k fix. Other leaks from the power steering, speedo transducer and worn under-bonnet hoses, etc can all cause problems, but generally those will be cheap to fix and is the kind of problem that any car of this age will experience.
* Body rigidity was not a very strong point of the pre-EB II Falcons, and by now, some will feel loose, worn and tired. This could be even more of an issue with the long-wheelbase NA Fairlane and DA LTD, which were not given enough additional body strengthening until the NC/DC series II, which corresponded with the EB II. Otherwise, the main downside for most EA/EBs will be a few rattles here and there. Personally, I don’t mind squeaks and rattles that surface only when driving over large-ish bumps, etc, but noises that are constant while driving are an annoyance and a distraction. Cars that feel past their use-by date are best avoided.
* In some cars, rust may crop up around the front and rear windscreens, around the rubber boot seal and in other such places. Again, this is to be expected for the car’s age, but a rust-free car is worth spending a bit extra on for piece of mind.
* On automatic EA II, EB and ED models, it is particularly to pay attention to the 4 speed transmission. This is not nearly as long-lived as the old 3 speed unit, and is far more expensive to replace.
* Shock absorbers may need replacing, depending on the example.
Other, lesser problems could be mentioned here, but instead, the golden rule is to get expert advice as necessary to check that a car has a reasonable amount of life left in it.