Family heirloom YEABRA XF Falcon

Mick Matthews turns his pop’s beloved daily driver into one of the best XF Falcons Australia’s ever seen

Photographers: Ben Hosking

In 1988, Bill Felstead visited the JT Fossey dealership in Tamworth to buy a brand-new, Monza Red XF S-Pack. Bill’s grandson, a five-year-old Mick Matthews, tagged along on the day, sparking a decades-long connection with the Falcon. “I’d often go with him in the car on holidays, towing his Viscount caravan, or he’d take me and my brother to the golf range,” Mick recounts.

First published in the March 2023 issue of Street Machine

“He used to say it was too powerful for me, being a 4.1-litre four-speed with fuel injection, but I would always hassle him that I wanted the car someday. Pop was a well-known greyhound trainer around Newcastle and would drive the car everywhere around the country to race his pooches in the early 90s. So, it was only fair that we called the car the Greyhound Hauler.”

When Bill passed away in 2000, Mick inherited the car. As with most long-term projects, it saw a few different iterations before it became the stunner you see here. “I had it painted in 2005 in Hot Chilli Red with a set of 18s, which were massive at the time,” Mick laughs. A 351 Cleveland, Top Loader manual and nine-inch rounded out the combo. “I went over to Canada for a couple of years, where I met my wife, and when I got back in 2010, I decided to put 20s on it and roll the guards. It basically snowballed from there, so it’s been a solid 12-year build.”

Mick called in Theo from Pavtek Performance to build the 393ci Clevo, which runs a forged bottom end, a custom solid cam by Pavtek, and CHI 225cc 3V heads. A 950cfm APD billet carby supplies pump 98 fuel through a CHI single-plane manifold. Exhaust is handled by a pair of headers and a twin three-inch system, all custom-made by Dean Beattie. The fuel and brake lines, laser-cut radiator shroud, air conditioning condenser shroud and engine bay brackets are also Dean’s handiwork, while the power steering pump and front drive came from March Performance.

The engine has made 650hp on the dyno, so it’s no shrinking violet, but huge power was never Mick’s goal. “It’s too nice to be trying to do wheelstands in, if you get me,” he laughs.

Behind the mill is a manualised C4 with a TCE 3500rpm converter, which helps keep it all “somewhat friendly on the street”, according to Mick. From there, a three-inch tailshaft turns a nine-inch diff with a Strange centre and 3.7:1 gears.

Corey of Mace Family Kustoms sorted the ultra-smooth engine bay fab, including the modified strut towers and under-dash brake booster. Dan Slater at Kingpins Kustom Paint & Panel welded the guards to form a one-piece front end and laid down the HOK Candy Apple Red. “He’s gotta be one of the most talented painters in Australia,” Mick enthuses.

Dean Beattie became a key force in turning the XF into an elite-level proposition, as Mick explains. “He said, ‘Well, Mickey-swizzle, we’ve gotta mini-tub it and get some massive 22-inch steamrollers under there, ’cos no one has ever done that with an XF before.’ That wasn’t an easy task for Dean seeing as the car was already painted, so we removed the doors and boot and put them in storage for a few months.”

A custom four-link out back helps make way for the 22×12 Simmons hoops, while new chassis rails from the back seat to the tail-lights allowed Mick to retain the factory seat mounts, belts and parcel shelf. “Dean didn’t want to reinvent the wheel; he’s built a heap of elite vehicles and tubbed a lot of VLs and other Holdens, but this was the first Ford he’d ever tubbed,” Mick adds.

The interior fit-out is epic. “I wanted to keep the feel of an 80s Falcon: grey interior, headrests, Scheel-like seats,” Mick says. “We wanted a really classy take on it, so we sat down with Daz and the boys from Stitched Up Custom Trim and got a plan together.”

Starting with an empty shell, the Stitched Up team first drew everything up with CAD, and made heavy use of 3D printing, CNC machining and lots of good old-fashioned trimming talent. The dash combines aluminium, shaped foam and leather with 3D-printed end caps, while the brake reservoirs have been visibly countersunk into the top. The Haltech IQ3 display lives in a smooth two-piece surround, and there’s a Vintage Air a/c system hidden underneath.

Sliding-lid compartments hide switch panels in the minimalist console, which meets hand-made back seats. The front pews are reshaped Territory items that have received 3D-printed Scheel-style headrests and laser-perforated inserts to match the scuff plates and door trims, the latter of which were a major undertaking in themselves (see sidebar, opposite page).

“All said, we did leave it pretty late to get the car finished in time for Summernats 35,” Mick concedes. “They were long days with Dean and Daz, juggling family and work commitments and also my family business, Camel Towing.

It wasn’t easy getting the car over the line, but we got there with help from everyone, especially Nathan Rae of Elite Reflections Auto Detailing, who detailed the car to get it back to looking like it had just been painted.”

Showcasing his pop’s pride and joy in the Summernats Elite Hall was a dream come true for Mick. “Enjoying it with all my great mates and family was amazing,” he says. “Driving it out of the Top 60 hall to cruise around Canberra was the highlight for me.

I’d say I’ll do a couple more car shows this year, and then I’ll be driving it regularly to the golf range and gym.”

Door to door

While XF-era styling cues dot the interior of Mick’s XF, the model’s bland, moulded plastic door cards were never going to cut it. The replacements are great examples of Stitched Up Custom Trim’s artistry, using Alupanel backing boards and 3D-printed sections to provide the base.

One-off armrest/door handle combos are affixed with the help of magnets, and there’s not a raw edge or fastener in sight.

Darren even laser-etched Bill’s name in each handle. And given this is an 80s X-series Falcon we’re talking about, the door trims on Mick’s car are easily removable for much-needed outer door handle access!

Michael Matthews
1988 Ford XF Falcon

Paint:HOK Candy Apple Red
Type:393ci Cleveland
Carb:APD billet 950
Manifold:CHI single-plane
Heads:CHI 3V 225cc
Cam:Solid Pavtek
Crank & rods:Scat
Fuel system:MagnaFuel
Cooling:Alloy radiator, Spal fan
Exhaust:Custom BT headers, twin 3in system
Gearbox:Paul Rogers C4
Converter:TCE 3500rpm
Diff:9in, Strange centre, 3.7:1 gears, 35-spline axles
Rear:Strange coil-overs, custom four-link
Brakes:Wilwood 335mm discs and six-piston calipers (f), Wilwood 300mm discs and four-piston calipers (r)
Master cylinder:Wilwood
Rims:Simmons FR; 22×8 (f), 22×12 (r)
Rubber:225/30R22 (f), 335/25R22 (r)

Dean Beattie; Daz and the team at Stitched Up; Dan and Kev at Kingpins; Corey Mace at Mace Family Kustoms; Steve and the boys at Steve Mudge Auto Electrics; Theo at Pavtek; Paul at Paul Rogers Transmissions; Tony at GT Custom Metal Polishing; Mark at PROcoat; Nathan and Prevo at Elite Reflections Auto Detailing; my beautiful wife Sarah.