This XP coupe is what early Falcon dreams are made of
Everyone remembers their first, and Darren Bonnici’s love affair with this stunning XP Falcon hardtop began as a young tacker, pining for this very car until he could make it his own. “I used to ride past it on my way to school every day, and one day I knocked on the door and asked if it was for sale, and the owner said yes!” Darren told us. “I raced back home and I rang my dad who was still at work, and we went and grabbed it later that day.”
A 16 year old Darren began the first build on the XP with his father in 1986, finishing it just in time for when he got his licence at 18. “We fixed the rust, put a 302 Windsor in with C4 and a Mustang diff, and built it as a nice daily,” says Darren. Unfortunately, just six months after finishing the first iteration of the car, Darren’s father passed away from illness. “I wouldn’t have the car if it wasn’t for him, so that’s why it’s so special to me and my family,” says Darren.
Darren did sell the car at one point, but it didn’t stay out of his hands for long. “I sold it in the mid 90s, but it just never sat well with me,” he says. “It stayed in my local area, but the new owner wasn’t treating it well, so I stopped by his house three years later and he let me buy it back because he needed money for his wedding.”
In the process of fixing up the XP from its neglect, Darren and his brother Mario also mini-tubbed the car and fitted a nine-inch rear end. It had a fresh 302 in it that Darren used for a while, before a 347ci Windsor screwed together by Darren’s cousin Jason Mansweto was swapped in.
“Jason kept pestering me to let him build an engine for it,” says Darren.
The stroker features a Scat crank, H-beam rods and SRP pistons. The cam is a Crane solid roller, with Dart cast iron heads, Edelbrock Super Victor induction and a Pro System Venom VX 780 carby. In the Mansweto Racing engine lab it made a peak of 530hp & 435ft/lbs on pump 98.
After enjoying the coupe for nearly two decades, Darren decided to pull it off the road and give it full rebuild into the car you see now. “I wanted to take it to the next level, so it went back to bare metal and we rebuilt it from there,” says Darren. Unlike the first build back in the 80s, reproduction parts for these early Falcons are now much easier to come by, so everything from wiring, trim, chrome, glass and paint is all brand new.
Once Darren had the body stripped, Jason Hoctor was given the task of getting the body straight for KB Prestige and Restoration to lay down the Glasurit Blue colour. “In my opinion, these earlier Falcons really only suit factory style colours, which is why we went with this blue,” says Darren. It’s obviously not an exact match to a 60s Falcon colour, but good luck getting the custom mix out of him! “I’ve been quizzed about the colour plenty of times, but let’s just say it’s a Bonnici’s Customs mix,” laughs Darren.
The engine and gearbox were the only parts during the build that remained essentially untouched.
From start to finish the whole process took around seven years, with Darren staying true to his want of doing as much as he could. “I got professionals in for the hard jobs like body, paint and re-doing the seat trim, but we built the rest at home in the shed,” he says. “This car is special to me beyond words, so being hands on with the build was important to me.”
Since its completion around three years ago, the XP has been on display at a number of top rank car shows, including appearances at MotorEx two years running. It has also taken out the Best Falcon Hardtop at Geelong’s All Ford Day three years on the trot. While we’re on the subject of car shows, we should also note that the XP was picked as the winner of the Symphony for the Motorcar show in 1988, which was judged by the late Peter Brock. “That was pretty cool to be picked as the winner by Peter Brock himself!” Darren told us.
As for what’s in the future for Darren and his stunning hardtop, the plan is a pretty simple one: “I just want to enjoy it now,” he says. “I’ll do a few more shows while it’s in the nick it is now, and then get it out and use it – because at the end of the day that’s what I built it for.”
Story: Kian Heagney
Photos: Shaun Tanner