Premcar engineering director Bernie Quinn – interview

Premcar's engineering director Bernie Quinn talks us through almost three decades of fast Ford fettling

Photographers: Jayden Ostwalk

FIRST as Tickford, then as Prodrive and finally Premcar, Ford Australia’s in-house tuning operation delivered serious mojo to the Blue Oval for almost three decades, culminating in the weapons-grade FG X Sprint models. Although Ford Oz has shut up shop, Premcar continues to innovate and employ some of the smartest Aussie engineers around. To mark 25 years since the release of the first Tickford-badged Falcon, we chatted with Premcar’s engineering director Bernie Quinn about the firm’s legacy and where it’s headed.

First published in the November 2021 issue of Street Machine

How did you come to work on fast Fords?

After I graduated from university I was a production engineer at Toyota in Port Melbourne, working on the introduction of the Toyota Aurion into the manufacturing plant. It gave me a good insight into Toyota’s renowned manufacturing processes and systems, but ultimately I wanted to do product development. I landed a job working at Ford Product Engineering in Geelong, working on the Ford Territory. I loved it. I wasn’t actually working for Ford, I was working for a company called Dana, which developed and supplied the front and rear suspension and driveline modules for the Territory. It was fast-paced and very exciting, especially compared to the conservative, slower pace of Toyota. While I was working for Dana I got to drive a 5.6-litre T-Series mule car. That drive and the long smoky burnout in particular convinced me that I should try to get a job at Tickford! I landed a driveline engineer job there in 2003, just after the company had changed its name to Prodrive.

It’s around 25 years since the first Tickford-badged vehicle – the EL GT – rolled off the production line, but the name actually has roots going back to the early E-Series Falcons, yes?

Tickford came out from the UK and was engaged by Ford to handle all of its niche vehicle development and manufacturing. At that point in time, the Ford plant in Broadmeadows was running at full steam, with a maximum capacity of around 100,000 cars a year. The plant didn’t have the capacity to do niche Falcon variants such as the sporty models like the XR6, or LPG conversions or sunroof installation; they were all done outside of the factory at Tickford.

Not everyone is a fan of the AU Falcon, but FPV certainly did some cool stuff with it.

David Flint [Tickford and FPV managing director] was the big influence on the A-Series cars. It was his baby. He had a background with Aston Martin, so it was his idea to have bespoke and customised luxurious cruisers with the iron fist in a velvet glove. He would do interesting things like making sure any cast-iron suspension component was painted, as well as clear-coating the engine bay – it was about this kind of hand-built approach. With the last version of the T-Series, the stroker models were a stop-gap – no more sand kicked in our face from HSV; let’s knock them out with this last hurrah for AU. It was an awesome car. The innovation wasn’t just in the engine or the unique Tremec gearbox; the manufacturing to do a limited run and build them reliably out of the factory was also pretty amazing.

Fast-forward to 2016 and Ford shuts up shop in Australia. You and the Premcar team were brought on to give the XR6 Turbo and XR8 a send-off with the limited-run Sprint editions. Was that bittersweet, a case of what might have been?

Bittersweet is probably the right way to put it. At the time, the joint venture had been dissolved. In 2012, Premcar bought out the Prodrive automotive technology business, and then the FPV joint venture finished after that when Ford bought out FPV to just let the brand die. Ford still came to us to do the engineering for the GT-F and the XR6 and XR8 Sprints. We were excited to be involved and give them one last hurrah – especially the Turbo because it was our last chance to build all the best bits of the Barra motors plus add in some unique parts into one package, making sure we gave it a fitting send-off. I had a G6E Turbo and I have extremely fond memories of it.

Even though the Ford adventure officially wrapped up with the Sprint cars, the Premcar team seemingly threw everything at the Falcon with its Holy Grail kits. Why was it so important for you to create the ultimate version of the Falcon?

The Holy Grail was 100 per cent a passion project. We always wanted to do a kind of ultimate version of both the Miami V8 engine and the Falcon. We knew putting new trailing arms in the back with different bushes would help with getting the power down and we knew intercooling the engine would be critical in unlocking its full potential, so we threw everything at it to make that package. I’m really rapt that we got it out. We made no money on it, even though it was an expensive package, because of the costs of tooling and engineering all of those parts. It was satisfying to get it into people’s hands so they could see what was possible with the platform and the engine. Everyone who drives one goes, “Holy shit, we didn’t know that car was capable of being that good.” I’ve still got one I drive in Targa High Country and it’s the kind of car where you go as hard as you think you can go and the car just taps you on the shoulder and says, “You can do a bit better; go harder.”

Are there any cars throughout Premcar’s history that you feel needed more time or weren’t done to the best of the team’s ability?

I honestly believe we always did the best we could do given all of the constraints and circumstances, but with the benefit of hindsight sometimes you could do better. We went hard and fast to get exciting products to market. If I had to name one regret, I would say the original BAII F6 clutch debacle. We had the best intentions with that program, but in the end our best intentions were undone with a substandard tiny part. Our effort to recover the situation was awesome, at least.

Were there any projects the team desperately wanted to create but were never greenlit?

Obviously an HO was something talked about quite often, but I feel that we realised that dream with the Holy Grail program. It is our interpretation of what [a modern HO] would have been. There was some other stuff – LHD to RHD conversions and vice versa, and export deals to other markets – that never quite made it. Honestly we were pretty much flat-out delivering the Ford and FPV programs as it was. They were tremendously exciting times.

After the relationship with Ford ended, was there any anxiety about the future of the business?

We’ve had plenty of anxious moments and still do to this day. You never get to the point where you think it’s all cool and relaxed. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve diversified with a whole range of companies. I mean, we even did a helicopter project as well in that timeframe. The idea is to not put all of your eggs in one basket, because that’s when you put yourself at the highest risk of factors outside your control.

So what now for Premcar? In addition to the Nissan Navara PRO-4X Warrior, are there any other OEM projects the team is working on?

You’ll see more stuff from us. We are becoming the experts in the 4×4 dual-cab space, which means there will be more coming in that area of the market, and we’re also doing more work with EVs. For example, the braking systems on EVs are a bit more complicated, partially due to their large mass, but you need to integrate that with the regenerative braking from the electric motor. So we’ve just completed a project with a Chinese manufacturer to do front and rear suspension plus driveline modules. We’ve had to adapt our skills to that, and I think we’re in a really good position to capture more of that work from car companies.

Say for some reason Premcar is dissolved tomorrow and you can never work in the industry again. What’s the car you look back on and think, “That’s my legacy”?

I think the Holy Grail is the culmination of our best capabilities in one package, but there’s only a few of them out there, so it doesn’t have that spread. The Barra Turbo was extremely popular; there’s thousands of them out there, which means it’s a successful program, of which we were a key part. Maybe the BF F6 auto would be my pick. However, the current stuff is an example of how we’ve been able to diversify and adapt with the modern times.

What’s in your shed at home?

An XY Fairmont in perfect condition. It was my mum’s car – I grew up in it – and my brother and I now own it. It’s an absolute peach. There’s also a 1963 Studebaker GT Hawk that I bought when I worked at Toyota. The Toyota car park was like, Camry, Camry, Corolla, Camry, Camry, Studebaker! I took my wife on our first date in that car. I’ve kept it and will restore it one day. Then there’s a 1978 Ford F250 truck. I love it. It’s got its original patina but I’ve had it clear-coated to preserve it. I have an FG X XR8 Holy Grail which has 90,000km on it and goes like stink. I use it as a daily, on the track and at Targa events – an awesome machine. And I have a 2019 Tesla Model 3 Performance – just a very impressive car – and a 2020 Nissan N-Trek Warrior, which is my go-anywhere, do-anything freedom machine.


UK-based Tickford Ltd forms a joint venture with Ford Australia. Tickford handles the engineering, testing and homologation of performance models and other special projects. Ford takes care of the styling, sales and marketing

Tickford Vehicle Engineering (TVE) is created as a dedicated local division for Aussie products, and the first Tickford-badged vehicle is released

TVE launches the Ford Tickford Experience (FTE) T-Series line, based on the new AU Falcon

Tickford is bought out by Prodrive and FTE is replaced with Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV), kicking off with the BA series the next year

Prodrive sells its stake in FPV to Ford Australia; Premcar buys out Prodrive’s Aussie automotive tech biz

The FPV line is discontinued ahead of Ford’s withdrawal from Australian manufacturing


EB S-XR6 & XR8
FORD’S debut XR6 wasn’t particularly distinctive to look at, with the XR’s signature quad headlights not to debut until the ED. But with a Tickford-fettled head and cam, it was quicker to 100km/h than the XR8.

BUILT on the EBII Fairmont Ghia, the 25th-anniversary Falcon GT copped an uprated 5.0L Windsor and chunky V8 Supercars-style bodykit. There were 265 individually numbered cars built, with a big $62,000 price tag when new.

ED Sprint
A SLIGHTLY detuned version of the EB GT’s donk was wedged into the Sprint, which was 70kg lighter than the luxury tourer. The ED series was the first to get the iconic quad-headlight XR treatment.

THE first official TVE car featured styling that’s controversial to this day – especially the vertically slotted grille. It was good for an honest 200kW, and most of the 250 built were finished in Sparkling Burgundy.

AU XR6 & XR8
THE Tickford team had their work cut out to beautify the AU, but the XR range is now a cult classic. Optional VCT helped on the six, while the last XR8s got hand-built, 220kW powerplants.

AU 5.6L
A THUMPING, 250kW, 5.6L Windsor stroker powered the T3 TS50 and TE50 Falcons. Three stroker Fairlanes were also built, alongside a run of XR8 Pursuit utes.

RHD SN95 Mustang Cobra
FORD Australia offered both coupe and convertible right hook Mustangs in 2001-2002, converted by Tickford at its Melbourne workshop.

The newly minted FPV brought the GT badge back full-time, with a 290kW version of the Boss quad-cam under the bonnet.

BF Typhoon
FPV cranked the turbo Barra to 270kW for the BF F6 Typhoon, backed by a Tremec six-cogger as standard. The F6 stuck around until FPV closed up shop in 2014.

THE family-friendly F6X spat out the same 270kW as its Falcon brethren, through an all-paw drivetrain. FPV canned the Territory Turbo-based machine after two years, building 218 units.

GT-F 351
FPV paid tribute to the HOs of yore with its last GT, which knocked out 351kW from the homegrown Miami 5.0L. On overboost, that number jumped to 404kW.

XR6 & XR8 Sprint
THE Sprint badge was revived on two killer limited-edition Falcons as the nameplate’s last hurrah. The Barra’s final evolution made up to 370kW, while the XR8 version was capable of 400kW.

Holy Grail
PREMCAR created this ultimate Miami-powered Falcon package in 2019, with a rejigged manifold, intercooler and tune. Unencumbered by Ford’s bean-counters, the team tuned the car to a huge 483kW. Holy grail, indeed.

Photographers: Jayden Ostwalk