Mark Blekic’s EFI 250-powered XP ute

A lesson in subtle car craft, by a genuine Ford master

Photographers: Cristian Brunelli

There’s something special about Mark Blekic’s XP ute. More than just dropping new gear in an old car. It’s got tons of appeal but doesn’t slap you senseless with glitz and power. What’s cool about the XP is that it’s at the cutting edge of street machine evolution.

First published in the December 2007 issue of Street Machine

That’s a big call but check it out. This ute is modernised, yet built in the period-correct spirit of the XP’s day. In 1966 there were no V8 Aussie Falcons, billet rims or Recaro pews, so Mark’s ute has a straight six, steelies and hub caps, and a classic interior. It’s updated but without butchering things held sacred; it’s hot rod style. That’s reflected in the factory-like 60s flavour.

It was built using an exhaustive list of neat parts and custom tricks derived from decades of Falcon heritage, and there are some you’d never notice. It’s a carefully crafted, intense old-meets-new homage to its early-girl Ford roots. And it’s done to a degree not often seen in street machining circles.

As co-owner of Victoria’s Early Bird Falcon Parts, Mark obviously knows the subject, and plenty of friends who share that classic Falcon expertise. But don’t assume this XP was whipped up over a handful of weekends and few slabs.

The ute predates his business by a long mark. Bought as a $1000 banger from a farmer in the early 90s, a lot of key engineering work went into it before he started EBFP with Danny Zuclich.

“It looked good but when we pulled it apart the chassis rails and inner guards were paper-thin from rust corrosion,” Mark says.

While the body shape now looks stock, it isn’t. Mark essentially removed the entire rear half of the ute and had Street N Strip Engineering fabricate a half-chassis and tubs. He then replaced much of the rear sheet-metal with XP wagon panels, such as the rear quarters and bumper, and customised it all to suit.

“That pretty much fixed the rust,” he says.

The rear floor and fuel tank got the flick. A 65-litre fabricated stainless steel tank straddles the tailshaft between the chassis rails and between the axle lines, like you’d find in many modern cars.

Designed for EFI, the fuel system uses two electric lift pumps to feed a remote surge tank and runs proper EFI return lines.

After his mate Mark ‘Barbs’ Barbizzi smoothed the entire body from roof to sills, the XP was shipped off to get sprayed.

“The painters did a very average job,” Mark says. At this point he was injecting all his energy into getting his business off the ground, so the ute project was put on the backburner. For eight years.

When Mark eventually dusted the half-baked project off in 2005, he had Richard at Auto Trade Body Works do the military-style paint — called Basic Green — in Sikkens two-pack and whipped up the required bright work from his shop stock. Six and nine-inch steelie 15s are an inspired retro touch, as is the whistle-clean alloy work in the tray.

It has the same industrial toughness under the bonnet. The EFI 250 is free of glitz and looks like true workhorse material. Mark injected a bit of spark, mildly porting the alloy head and adding Crow cam gear, Haltech brains and a meatier Pacemaker exhaust, but it’s clearly not intended for anything more glorious than brisk cruising and flexible, hassle-free street driving. The only fitment issue was notching the factory strut brace to clear the intake runners.

A healthy 195 horses charge through an RPM ten-inch clutch (on an XF Falcon cable set-up) and T5 five-speed manual ’box to an alloy XR6 tailshaft and a nine-inch diff with a sensible 3.5:1 diff ratio.

Stock XP turning and stopping hardware isn’t cutting edge but as EBFP is an official dealer for the superb RRS Ford chassis upgrade gear, Mark raided the shelves for the more modern solutions.

“When we pulled it apart the chassis rails and inner guards were paper-thin from rust corrosion”

He opted for the MacPherson-type front, which uses coil-over struts, and the Phase 1 front disc brake conversion. Phase 1 is the smallest of four brake sizes but it was ideally suited to Mark’s needs as it comes with 287mm discs, a perfect fit behind the ute’s 15-inch rims, while the single-piston calipers are well up to containing the six-banger’s moderate power.

Rear brakes are XF Falcon discs with the same calipers as the pointy end. Mark decided to run twin VH40 boosters — one for front, one for rear — fed by an XT Falcon master cylinder.

Getting the stance right up front was no drama — the RRS coil-over strut has 2.75 inches of height adjustment — but the rear required a bit of time raiding the Falcon parts bin. Mark ended up using XY leaves to get the bum sitting pretty.

Like the rest of the ute, the inside of the cab appears standard but is actually heavily customised. For a start, the interior is four inches longer than stock to provide more modern legroom. That was achieved by repositioning the rear wall further into the tray.

There’s another subtle trick in the doors. The XP came from the factory with quarter window vents but Mark decided to delete them, installing one-piece full-frame glass with electric mechanisms and old XB switches.

The bench is still good old tan vinyl, retrimmed by Reservoir Motor Trimmers (C&N Trimmers did the rest of the cabin) but it has more supportive XY Futura guts, while the steering wheel is from an XT. There are more bits of Falcon history everywhere you look: the shifter is an EB item with a BA GT gear knob. And then there’s the tricky digital dash, sourced from an XF Ghia; Mark fitted the instrument cluster up while his mate Toby modified the dash fascia to suit.

Plenty of customisers have made similar mods to project cars in the past but what’s special here is the result. Mark’s XP is way more than the sum of its parts and if this approach catches on, it’ll need a name more fitting than simple ‘retrotech’. You might call it Cool School.


Colour:Basic Green
Engine:EFI 250 six (4.1-litre)
Head:Match-ported alloy, 9.8:1 comp
Pistons:ACL, cast
Cam:Crow, hydraulic
ECU:Haltech E6K
Sump:Custom 6.5 litre
Injectors:AU 4.0-litre
Radiator:XY V8 Falcon
Exhaust:Pacemaker headers, 2¼-inch system
Transmission:BorgWarner T5 five-speed
Clutch:RPM 10-inch, XF cable type
Tailshaft:XR6 style, custom alloy
Diff:Nine-inch, 3.5:1
Chassis:Half-chassis, tubs
Brakes:RRS Phase 1 calipers (f&r), RRS discs (f), XF discs (r)
Suspension:RRS coil-over strut conversion (f), XY leaf springs (r)
Shocks:RRS (f), Koni (r)
Rims:Steelies, 15×6 (f), 15×9 (r)
Rubber:BF Goodrich, 195/60 (f), 295/50 (r)
Seat:XY Futura bench
Tiller:XT Falcon
Gauge:XF Ghia digital

Danny, Toby, Mark Marbizzi; Auto Trade Body Works; Doug, Automotive Wiring Systems; Reservoir Motor Trimmers; C&N Trimming