Falcons Down Under: The Australian Ford Falcon, Part Two

XA FALCON GTHO PHASE IV AND THE SUPERCAR CRISIS

When Australia’s “Great Race” first began in the early 1960s, it was contested by essentially stock production sedans, which in the early days could have a list price of no more than AU£2,000 (about US$4,500). By the early seventies, however, the tremendous publicity value of the Hardie-Ferodo 500 had led to an arms race between the leading Australian automakers and an array of formidable “Bathurst specials” developed specifically for racing homologation.

Ford had launched the first Falcon GTHO in June 1969 and the hotter GTHO Phase II and Phase III had brought works team driver Allan Moffat back-to-back Bathurst victories in 1970 and 1971. By mid-1972, Ford, GM-Holden, and Chrysler Australia were preparing their ultimate weapons for a rematch that October.

1972 Ford XA Falcon GT interior © 2011 John Howell (used with permission)
With its black-on-black interior, bucket seats, center console, and full instrumentation, the XA GT’s interior looks the part, although black vinyl upholstery seems a poor choice for the hot Australian climate. This car’s three-speed FMX automatic was a new option for GTs; all previous Falcon GTs and GTHOs had four-speed manual gearboxes. (Photo © 2011 John Howell; used with permission)

Like its predecessors, the GTHO Phase IV was developed by Ford Special Vehicles, then managed by Howard Marsden. The emphasis this time around was on durability and handling, addressing the reliability problems that the Phase III cars had suffered in competition. The Phase IV engine, still the 5,765 cc 351 Cleveland, kept the Phase III’s big Holley four-barrel carburetor, but a revised intake manifold and re-ported heads provided stronger mid-range performance while a new baffled sump reduced the risk of oil foaming in hard cornering.

Taking advantage of the XA’s wider track and revised rear suspension geometry, the Phase IV dispensed with the previous car’s rear anti-roll bar, providing more neutral handling. New 15 x 7-inch (381 x 178mm) Globe alloy wheels wore fatter ER-60H tires while a Detroit Locker differential with a 3.00 axle ratio permitted a higher top speed. The previous car’s oversize fuel tank was retained, with a capacity of 36 Imperial gallons (43.3 U.S. gallons, 163.8 liters), although the Phase III’s front and rear spoilers were deleted.

Years later, Ford Special Vehicles engineer Don Dunoon, who had worked on the original XR GT, characterized the Phase IV as a straightforward evolution that was only incrementally quicker than the Phase III. At the time, however, the new GTHO’s performance was big news. Wheels editor Mel Nichols, who tried one of the first Phase IV cars to be assembled in June 1972, reported that it could top 150 mph (242 km/h) with very little difficulty. Marsden later claimed that 170 mph (273 km/h) was achievable in full racing tune.

The 1972 Hardie-Ferodo 500 promised to be an epic battle, with the GTHO Phase IV squaring off against the new Chrysler VH Valiant Charger E49 and a planned V8-powered Holden Torana. Months before the race, however, these latest Bathurst specials ignited a public controversy that would bring about the end of Australia’s hottest production cars.

1972 Ford XA Falcon GT engine © 2011 John Howell (used with permission)
The standard XA GT’s 351 cu. in. (5,765 cc) engine was rated at 300 gross horsepower (224 kW) at 5,400 rpm and 380 lb-ft (515 N-m) of torque at 3,400 rpm. We’ve seen estimates ranging from 340 hp (255 kW) to 385 hp (287 kW) for the Phase IV engine, which in full race tune was capable of surviving brief excursions to more than 7,000 rpm. It was probably slightly less powerful than the GTHO Phase III engine, trading some peak output for better mid-range torque. (Photo © 2011 John Howell; used with permission)

The flashpoint was a feature story in the Sunday, June 25, edition of the Sydney Sun-Herald with a provocative headline announcing that Australian car makers would soon be offering 160 mph (258 km/h) cars for public sale. A description of the new homologation models was accompanied by the outraged reactions of former Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies and New South Wales transport minister Milton Morris, who decried such cars as irresponsible and called upon the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS) to reconsider its homologation rules.

The newspaper article was not the work of a Ralph Nader-style safety crusader, but of new Sun-Herald motoring editor Evan Green, a well-respected rallyist who had driven a works Austin 1800 in the 1968 London-to-Sydney Marathon. According to Green’s friend Harvey Grennan, then Milton Morris’s press secretary, Green had only sought comment from Morris in hopes of pepping up an otherwise-straightforward back-pages article on the latest Bathurst specials. If that was Green’s goal, it succeeded beyond expectations. The story was a sensation, attracting widespread public attention and prompting an outcry from safety advocates and police officials.

Ford Australia’s initial reaction was to place an angry call to Morris’s office to complain about the minister’s public remarks. It was the wrong response. The controversy soon escalated into a stand-off, with the Australian government warning that it would no longer purchase fleet vehicles from any manufacturer who offered such homologation specials. This threat sat ill with auto industry executives (particularly Howard Marsden, for obvious reasons), but the prospect of losing an important chunk of the fleet market was not something automakers could afford to ignore. The GTHO Phase IV was canceled and for a time Ford dealer bulletins denied that any such model had ever existed in the first place.

1972 Ford XA Falcon GTHO Phase IV front 3q © 2009 Craig Coomans (CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic)
Only four GTHO Phase IV sedans were finished before Evan Green’s article was published. Three were race cars — one for Allan Moffat, one for Fred Gibson, and one spare — while the fourth was later sold to a private buyer. Since Ford had anticipated building at least 200 GTHOs for homologation, many of their unused parts, like the special Globe alloy wheels, also ended up in private hands. (Photo: “1972 XA GT HO Phase 4 Falcon” © 2009 Craig Coomans; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license)

Since the Phase IV was never homologated, the Ford works team fell back on the older XY GTHO Phase III at Bathurst on October 1. The results were not auspicious: Although Ford driver John French eventually managed second place, Fred Gibson’s car was disabled by a rollover, while other works drivers, including Allan Moffat, suffered a host of mechanical problems. While the Holden Dealer Team’s Torana GTR XU-1s fell short of the Falcons in outright performance, they made up the difference with greater reliability. HDT driver Peter Brock took first place by a five-lap margin; Charger E49s managed third and fourth.

THE LAST BATHURST SPECIAL: RPO83

Despite the cancellation of the Phase IV, Ford built one final XA homologation model, the 1973 GT Special. Known on the order form as RPO83, the GT Special used some but not all of the modifications developed for the Phase IV. Unlike prior GTHOs, the Special was available with either manual or automatic transmission. Some RPO83 cars also had four-wheel disc brakes, which were added to late-model XA GTs to help meet the 250-car homologation minimum. Ford ultimately built only 259 GT Specials. Production cars were split almost equally between sedans and hardtops, although works racers now favored the latter.

1972 Ford XA Falcon GS hardtop wheelhouse © 2011 John Howell (used with permission)
The 1972 GTHO Phase IV race cars would have been four-door sedans, but Falcon racers subsequently switched to the hardtop, whose broad rear fenders allowed fatter tires without the use of bolt-on fender flares. John Howell, who took this photo, notes that even with 15 x 7-inch (381 x 178mm) aftermarket wheels (rather than the standard 14 x 6-inch/356 x 152mm items), the wheel wells of this XA Fairmont GS have plenty of room to spare. (Photo © 2011 John Howell; used with permission)

The “Great Race” of October 1973 was renamed Hardie-Ferodo 1000 and extended from 500 to 621 miles (805 to 1,000 km), reflecting Australia’s transition to the metric system. The additional laps put a greater strain on both drivers and cars, but this time the Falcon GT Specials had the edge in reliability. Both Fred Gibson and John Goss were DNF, but Allan Moffat and co-driver Ian (Pete) Geoghegan took first place, Moffat’s third Bathurst victory.

It would be the last hurrah for the Ford works team. A few weeks after the event, the Yom Kippur War led to the first OPEC oil embargo and a worldwide energy crisis. In the U.S., Ford Motor Company had already withdrawn from racing to focus on emission controls; Ford Australia followed suit in late January 1974. The works team was dissolved, although its drivers continued to race with other sponsorship.

By then, the XA Falcon was already out of production, replaced by the facelifted XB. The XA had been quite successful, selling more than 152,000 units in 16 months. The related ZF Fairlane accounted for an additional 17,000-odd cars. The XA still fell short of the popular HQ Holden, but it sold better than any of its predecessors.

1972 Ford XA Fairmont GS sedan rear 3q © 2009 Paul McCurley (used with permission)
1972 Ford XA Falcon hardtop rear 3q © 2007 John Howell (used with permission)
Contrasting profiles of the XA sedan (here a Fairmont GS) and hardtop. We don’t have a breakdown of XA production by body type, but it appears that the more practical (if less graceful) sedan outsold the coupe by a substantial margin, even in the GT series. (Top photo © 2009 Paul McCurley, used with permission; bottom photo © 2007 John Howell, used with permission)

While the XA undoubtedly owed some of its success to the work of Jack Telnack and his team, the car’s good fortunes also reflected the continuing growth of the Australian market. According to the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, total new car registrations in Australia had risen from around 267,000 for the 1962 fiscal year to more than 400,000 for 1973. More significantly, the ratio of motor vehicles to population had risen from 285 vehicles per 1,000 people in 1962 to nearly 440 per 1,000 at the end of 1973. That still fell short of the U.S., which topped 525 vehicles per 1,000 people in 1970, but Australia was catching up fast.

XB FALCON: THE LAST GT

The restyled XB Falcon debuted in September 1973, retaining the XA’s body shell, but sporting a new front-end treatment that added 3 inches (76 mm) to its overall length. Mechanical changes were minor; the two-barrel 250 cu. in. (4,102 cc) six was dropped and an all-synchro three-speed gearbox and front disc brakes finally became standard on low-end models. The additional equipment was some consolation for buyers suffering sticker shock. A base Falcon sedan now started at AU$3,236 (about US$4,600), up almost AU$500 from a comparable XA, while the XB Fairmont ran to more than AU$4,000 (nearly US$5,400).

1974 Ford XB Fairmont sedan front 3q © 2011 John Howell (used with permission)
The XB Falcon sedan was now 189.3 inches (4,808 mm) long on an unchanged 111-inch (2,819mm) wheelbase; base curb weight rose about 60 lb (26 kg) to 3,075 lb (1,395 kg). Note the new grille, which to American eyes rather resembles that of the 1973–1974 Plymouth Barracuda. (Photo © 2011 John Howell; used with permission)

The XB GT, now equipped with standard four-wheel disc brakes and a locally made (H-block) version of the 351 Cleveland (5,765 cc) V8, looked thoroughly aggressive, although performance was not quite as muscular as the GT’s appearance suggested. Moreover, the GT was now the hottest factory XB; thanks to the previous year’s scandal (and changes to the CAMS touring car regulations), there would be no more GTHOs or GT Specials. In the late sixties, there had briefly been discussion of offering Ford’s big block engines in the Falcon, but it was no longer a serious production possibility. Nonetheless, in 1975, Ford designers Wayne Draper and Peter Arcadipane installed a pair of borrowed 427 cu. in. (6,981 cc) crate motors in their personal XB hardtops.

1974 Ford XB Falcon GT hardtop rear 3q © 2011 John Howell (used with permission)
The XB hardtop had the same profile as the XA, but substituted a new rear clip and taillights to complement the revised nose. Note the simulated intake on the rear fender, a standard XB GT feature, and body-colored bumper covers. (Photo © 2011 John Howell; used with permission)

A Falcon was once again victorious at Bathurst in October 1974, but it was a year-old XA GT, driven by John Goss and sponsored by McLeod Ford, a local dealer. Second, third, and fourth places went to the new Holden Torana L34, powered by a locally made 308 cu. in. (5,044 cc) V8. The Toranas would dominate Bathurst for the next three years; privately run Falcon XB GTs failed to even finish the race in 1975.

1975 Ford XB Falcon GT hardtop Moffat replica front 3q © 2011 John Howell (used with permission)
A replica of the XB Falcon GT hardtop Allan Moffat and Pete Geoghegan drove in the 1975 Hardie-Ferodo 1000. A front suspension failure forced them to retire after 109 laps. (Photo © 2011 John Howell; used with permission)

Fortunately for Ford, the XB’s showroom performance was considerably more heartening. Despite the energy crisis, which sent many buyers scurrying to smaller cars, the Falcon did quite well throughout 1974, actually outselling the big Holden for the first time. The XB still couldn’t match the total production of the outgoing HQ Holden, but it made a good showing against the subsequent HJ. The final tally for the XB’s 33-month production run was around 220,000 units.

The XB’s popularity was not reflected in increased GT sales. XB GT production totaled only 2,899 cars, of which only 949 were hardtops. The main reason for the sluggish sales was cost. Australian muscle cars were falling victim to the same dilemma that had undone their American counterparts: The young buyers for whom they held the strongest appeal were hard pressed to afford the cars, the petrol, or the insurance premiums. A Falcon 500 with the GS Rally Pack and one of the lesser engines was a more realistic proposition for many customers. While we have no production figures for the GS pack, we suspect that take-up was fairly high, mirroring the new breed of tape-and-decal pseudo-Supercars that were becoming common in the States.

1975 Ford XB Falcon hardtop John Goss Edition front 3q © 2011 John Howell (used with permission)
1975 Ford XB Falcon hardtop John Goss Edition rear 3q © 2011 John Howell (used with permission)
Ford commemorated the 1974 Bathurst victory of John Goss and Kevin Bartlett with a special “John Goss Edition” Falcon in August 1975 — although the actual race car had been an XA Falcon GT, not an XB. Although it has many of the accoutrements of the GT, this car has the locally built 2V 302 Cleveland (4,942 cc) V8. Only 260 John Goss Edition hardtops were built. (Photos © 2011 John Howell; used with permission)

Again paralleling the U.S. market, Australia in the mid-seventies saw a new vogue for customized vans and utes like the HJ Holden Sandman wagon or Ford’s similar Surfsider and Surferoo packages. Ostensibly aimed at surfers and campers, they quickly acquired the same dubious connotations as American custom vans, but they suited the tenor of the times and they were easier to insure than muscle cars.

1975 Ford XB Falcon panel van front 3q © 2007 John Howell (used with permission)
An XB Falcon panel van. Note the hood scoops; while the van and ute were not available in GT form, the GS pack was offered on all body styles and we have little doubt that some owners have built their own GT utes and wagons. (Photo © 2007 John Howell; used with permission)

29 Comments

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  1. A beautifully researched article as per usual! Looking forward to something similar on Holden. Thanks again…

  2. Great article and good research are you going to continue? Ford had already spent money in preperation to the XA being released by beefing up the suspension on the XY model the XA being really a reskin other than the gearbox tailshaft lengths mechanically the are the same. The first NEW floor pan is the EA and parts interchange all the way thru. Thank god Ford didnt go with the Torino.

    1. There was more to it than a reskin, as the suspension track width increased for one. A new ‘top hat’ would be a better way to describe it. Then there was a new rear floorpan for the Watts linkage on the XE which carried through with minor revisions in the E-series. The Falcon is certainly a ‘Grandpa’s axe’ car.

      Great article again Aaron.

      1. Also, because the Falcon has always been monocoque, a new body shell was an expensive undertaking (especially at Ford Australia’s smaller volume), even if the running gear and a lot of the suspension and brake hardware were more or less carryover.

  3. Wow, another great article. Any plans on doing the Valiant Charger Hemi (slant) 6-pack? Or are you Aussied out?

    1. It would definitely be an interesting story, although I don’t have plans to do it immediately, for purely practical reasons — this was a really daunting piece to do, and I think I’d have to work up to doing another quite so ambitious!

      1. It’s easy to see this was a lot of work from a site (which is just you) that does a lot of work. I guess it’s my love of Mopar and my lust to own one in California. I can’t afford to get one with my current travel plans (still need to ride across Europe and Russia) on my ’65 Ducati. They rank high on my list of cars to own. One day…

        1. Admittedly, the Chrysler Valiant would be less daunting to do now, because I have more context for the contemporary Australian market than I did when I embarked on this one. The tricky bit with cars that have never been sold in the U.S. at all is inevitably images. Any article where I don’t have at least a baseline of photos of my own to work with becomes exponentially more difficult, and where I have none — well, without the help of the folks mentioned in the Acknowledgments, this article would have been barren-looking indeed.

  4. Great write up, although you missed the Landau.
    I came here for the Kaiser-Frazer and Nash, but couldn’t stop reading this site, awesome work.

  5. i’ve got a 1974 gs ford falcon panel van no side back windows, gs stripe up both sides and two back doors opening outwards i can’t find any info on it. she’s original except for the motor. its been in the family for abt 27 yrs.
    can anyone help.

  6. Ford has just announced plans to cease production of cars in Australia in October 2016. Australian-market Fords after that will be imported.

    1. I saw that earlier this afternoon — a sad day for Australian enthusiasts.

  7. Awesome article, as always. I’ve always found the Australian cars of the 70s more attractive than the American cars of the 70s.

  8. Just one update. There were two Interceptors in Mad Max. The yellow XB sedan that Max drives and the yellow XA sedan named March Hare that Sarse and Scuttle drive. It eventually hits the Tardis and is rolled.

    1. Thanks for the clarification! It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen the film (which I must admit is not my cup of tea).

  9. Hi ! I would appreciate if anyone can help.
    I need exterior height measurement for the XB PANEL VAN.
    I can see the sedan & hardtop measurements in my searches, but not the panel van.
    Where can I look or ask?

    Thanks & regards
    Nuriye

    1. I don’t have any information that detailed, sorry!

    2. From the XB sales brochure… 63.5″

      cheers

      Bruce

  10. Awesome article. I’ve always liked Australian cars. I don’t know why, since I’m not from Australia, nor have I ever lived in Australia.

    1. Australian cars can be a fun subject for Americans because (to my view) the cars often seem familiar enough to be alternate-reality versions of U.S. cars. By contrast, a British or German car (much less a French or Japanese one) generally seems foreign to American eyes, a product designed for different conditions and different tastes. A Holden or Australian Ford or Chrysler is like the automotive equivalent of seeing a cousin you’ve never met, but who clearly looks like you.

      1. We briefly got the Holden Monaro in the States, badged as a Pontiac G8. The automotive equivalent of your cousin coming to the US and fitting right in.

      2. Aaron, Thanks for the great article. The similarities and differences between US and Australia can be fascinating and old cars are a great example.

        American cars of this period have a huge following in Australia, probably for similar reasons you find the Australian car interesting. For many Australians, old American cars are familiar but more flamboyant and unusual at the same time.

        Sadly the Australia car manufacturing industry is ending, in addition to Ford, GMH and Toyota planning to close their plants. The death of the Falcon and Commodore also means the death of big cheap rear wheel drive sedans. The differences that once characterised US, Australian and European cars are disappearing. Comparing cars is not going to be as interesting if we all end up driving Camrys!

        There are many reasons for the demise of the Australian car manufacturing industry. Australian made cars like the Falcons discussed here faced less competition in the past because of import protection policies but these have been gradually stripped away over the last 20 years. The need for locally developed models has also gone as Australians mostly now drive imported medium sedans, cross-overs and utes or pickups the same as many other countries.

        Australian motor sport will need to adapt. The Australian Touring car series was based on modified production cars like the GTHO Falcons. The current V8 Supercars have become a silhouette type formula, kind of Australian’s version of NASCAR. It will be interesting to see if this series can retain popularity as Ford vs Holden rivalry reduces with the V8 Falcon and Commodore road cars passing into history.

        1. The demise of the Australian native industry is regrettable, although considering that it was heavily dependent on protectionist trade policy, it’s not terribly surprising from a political standpoint. There are good reasons for protectionism, from an economic standpoint, but there are also a lot of powerful forces that find it inconvenient and troublesome, which in today’s world tends to paint a big bulls-eye on it.

  11. I recall seeing an article that had a xw or xy falcon factory prepared with a 428 or 429 big block. In essence it was for one of the big executives in Ford Australia. he may have been an American on secondment to Australia . For some reason i thought Lee Iacocca was involved. It was a factory assembled big block Australian falcon. I wonder if anyone else has seen or heard of this 1 off Falcon.

    1. It was an XW built for Bill Bourke, then Ford Australia’s managing director — it’s mentioned in Part One of this article. It had a 428 (presumably a 428CJ or something close to it), not the 429.

  12. Moffat’s 77 bathurst winning car is an XBGT with XC front panels and dash, you show a picture where it was running up the hill at Goodwood, i also saw it there confirmed JG66 vin number along with the Bathurst mechanic who said it was indeed a XBGT.

    cheers

    1. Thanks for the note — you’re likely right, but I will do some checking when I have a few minutes to spare so that I can correct the text and caption appropriately. (It’s not that I doubt you, I just want to make sure I don’t create new errors in the fixing.)

      1. The car is listed on the entry list as a Ford XC Falcon GS500 Hardtop, but it is quite common for race cars to be updated (where possible) to the latest model/specs and used for several seasons.

        There is a history of the car at this link: http://www.v8supercars.com.au/news/championship/saturday-sleuthing-moffat-s-1977-bathurst-1-2-winner

        1. Thanks, John! I will take a closer look at all this when I’m not running on three hours’ sleep.

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