Darren Bonnici’s 347 Windsor-powered XP hardtop

Darren Bonnici’s love for his XP hardtop spans four decades, several rebuilds and even a trial separation


Darren Bonnici’s love affair with this XP Falcon hardtop began when he was just a little tacker with big muscle car dreams. “I used to ride past it on my way to school every day,” he recalls. “One day I knocked on the door and asked if it was for sale, and the owner said yes! I raced back home and rang my dad, who was still at work, and together we went and grabbed it later that day.”

First published in the September 2023 issue of Street Machine

The XP rolls on Center Lines measuring 15x5in up front, and 15×8.5in in the rear with 275 Mickey Thompson street rubber

That was back in 1986. Darren was 16 years old and bright-eyed, while the XP was 20 and getting tired. Alongside his dad, young Darren took two years to rebuild the car, finishing it just in time for when he got his licence at age 18. “We fixed the rust, put a 302 Windsor in with a C4 and a Mustang diff, and built it as a nice daily,” he says.

Unfortunately, six months after finishing the first iteration of the XP, Darren’s father passed away from illness. “I wouldn’t have the car if it wasn’t for Dad, so that’s why it’s so special to me and my family,” he says.

Jason Hoctor did a fine job on the panelwork, though Darren was firm on keeping the body lines intact. “Ford just got it so right with the coupes; there’s no need to change anything,” he says

Due to the ebbs and flows of life, Darren parted with the coupe several years later, 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 tidying up the neglected XP, Darren and his brother Mario mini-tubbed it and fitted a nine-inch rear end. At that time, it was running a fresh 302 that Darren used for a while, until his cousin, engine builder Jason Mansweto, started getting in his ear about horsepower and why more is better. “Jason kept pestering me to let him build an engine for it,” says Darren, who didn’t need much convincing to swap in a 347ci Windsor provided by his cuz.

The quality of the paintwork inside the XP is equal to that on the exterior, with all the blue surfaces prepped, cut and polished for an A-level shine and finish

The stroker features a Scat crank, H-beam rods and SRP pistons. A Crane solid-roller cam works the valves in Dart cast-iron heads, and the whole shebang is topped by Edelbrock Super Victor induction and a Pro Systems Venom-VX 780 carby. In the Mansweto Racing engine lab, it made a peak of 530hp and 435lb-ft on pump 98.

After enjoying the coupe for nearly two decades, Darren decided to pull it off the road and rebuild into a proper showstopper. “I wanted to take it to the next level, so it went back to bare metal and we rebuilt it from there,” he explains.

With reproduction parts for these early Falcons now a lot easier to come by than they were back in the 80s, Darren decided to overhaul it all. Trim, chrome, glass, paint, wiring – everything was replaced with new stuff. The engine and gearbox were the only parts during the rebuild that remained essentially untouched.

Once Darren had the body stripped, Jason Hoctor was given the task of getting it straight for KB Prestige & Restoration to lay down the Glasurit blue. “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 code for 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,” he laughs.

Darren wanted to clean-sweep the XP’s engine bay of anything that could take your eyes off the 530hp, 347ci Windsor

From start to finish, the whole process took around seven years, with Darren doing much of the work himself. “I got professionals in for the hard jobs like body, paint and redoing 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 car shows, including two appearances at MotorEx. It has also taken out 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 tells us.

As for the hardtop’s future, the plan is pretty simple. “I just want to enjoy it now,” Darren 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 – that’s what I built it for.”

Futura front buckets replace the originals, retrimmed in glorious white by Mark from Dynamic Trimming, as were the rear seat and door panels. Housed in an owner-fabbed mount, Auto Meter gauges monitor the Windsor’s vitals


Paint:Glasurit custom blue
Brand:347ci Windsor
Induction:Edelbrock Super Victor
Carby:Pro Systems Venom-VX 780cfm
Heads:Dart cast iron
Camshaft:Crane solid-roller
Pistons:SRP forged
Oil pump:Melling high-volume
Fuel system:Holley pump
Cooling:EL Falcon radiator, thermo fans
Exhaust:3in stainless
Gearbox:Protrans C4
Converter:Dominator 5000rpm
Diff:9in, 35-spline axles, 4.11:1 gears
Front:Pedders shocks, standard springs
Rear:Pedders shocks, standard springs
Brakes:Wilwood discs (f & r) Master cylinder: Wilwood
Rims:Center Line; 15×5 (f), 15×8.5 (r)
Rubber:Nankang 165R15 (f), M/T Sportsman 275/60R15 (r)