In 1967 when most Australians were driving sedate family sedans and small two-door cars, the Ford GT Falcon took to the streets - a local sedan with muscle under the bonnet. The Holden Monaro GTS and Torana XU1 and the Chrysler Valiant Charger soon followed.
They were built in limited editions by mainstream manufacturers who wanted the prestige of winning production car races, especially the annual Bathurst 500 mile race. GT Falcons like this one were raced in unmodified showroom condition. (These days Holden and Ford still make 'Bathurst' cars, but for racing they are stripped of sedan car comforts and modified for more speed.)
As a high performance road car it established a reputation all its own. As the basis for a Series Production racing car, it proved its worth. As a pose-mobile, its attractions were obvious. There seems to be little left to prove about Ford's Falcon GT 351, colloquially known as "The Shaker".
Except, perhaps, whether it's really all it's cracked up to be, or whether it might perhaps be all reputation and little reality. Anyone who has ever been behind the wheel will give you the same answer - an unconditional, unequivocal "YES - it IS all it's cracked up to be - and then some!"
Not, by any means, to imply that the car didn’t have its faults. Simply that in terms of what was available at the time, and what you paid for it, of what it was designed for and what it was reputed to be, the "Shaker" shaped up as a machine to match its myth and mystique. The XY GT managed to represent power with the look of power, at the same time maintaining some sort of reasonable compromise with taste - which was, after all, an individual thing.
Technically, the car was a Falcon 500, Fairmont model, with the 351ci high-performance V8, power-boosted disc brakes, and in some cases a three-speed automatic transmission optioned instead of the standard GT four-speed floor-shift manual gearbox. Other options included mag wheels, sun-roof, tape deck, radio, power aerial, and air-conditioning.
Behind the Wheel
And don’t dismiss the auto tranny too quickly. In its standard form with the manual transmission, the GT was just a bit too powerful and too beastly for normal street work. The automatic transmission took all the brutality out of the car, while in no way dulling the performance edge. With either transmission, it would go like a scalded cat - but only if you wanted it to. For the most part, it would leave the line just as quietly and as smoothly as could be hoped for. Obviously, the most useful place for all that power was on the open road, and particularly in overtaking manoeuvres. And it was here, when you opened the stops, that the XY GT really came into its own, with unholy power, magnificent braking, basically-understeering handling and adequate comfort.
The basic understeer was entirely dependent on two factors: the corner itself and throttle control. Once understood, the car could be made to handle neutrally, and oversteer could be induced with large bags of throttle through the corner. Body roll was distinct when the car was watched from outside, but was barely noticeable while driving - the car feeling quite flat, even though it looked a little different. Check any photos from Bathurst from the era and you will see plenty of lean on the GT. It looked scary, but inside you felt nothing but confidence.
Proving itself from the strop lights against also-rans (which was pretty much every other car then on the road) required a degree of driving skill if you wanted to avoid a power-sapping fish-tail off the mark. Driving skill ... or ... the optional LSD. One area that was a little less than perfect was the seating. The squab section of the seat could have done with more contouring - it didn’t wrap around enough - and finer adjustment for tilt. In this regard, the old knurled knob should have been retained, being a vastly better and more adjustable system.
The cushion section of the seat, while not obviously greatly contoured, was immensely comfortable - although it proved to be a bit too long for a shorter-legged driver. If your mate owns one, and is height challenged, ask him to move over and let you take the wheel. The ventilated Kelsey-Hayes disc brakes
at the front and large diameter drums at the rear, coupled with the power booster, gave exemplary braking, with no tendency to fade or lock up, unless induced to do so.
The 351 V8
The motor is well-enough known to warrant little further discussion - it was big, powerful and quite smooth. In the GT Falcon, as a street car, it left little to be desired. However, for competition work, the 351 proved itself to have an inherently weak bottom end. That’s why the Boss version of the motor was so good – it having four-bolt main bearings, cross-webbing in the block, billet steel crank, extruded aluminium pistons, bigger exhaust valves
and so on - the same improvements that the Yanks made to the 302 V8 to make it a Boss 302, an engine which punched out more horsepower than the 351.
But despite the shortcoming, the engine, when based on its merits for street work, was First Class. The gearbox, suspension and running gear were also more than adequate for their purpose - but again, for competition work the suspension needed a little tinkering to make it right. The car's interior layout, external and internal finishing, general appearance and structural soundness spoke for themselves – being beyond reproach. And that's a statement which could equally well, for our money, be applied to the car as a whole, because it really did live up to its reputation. It was just what it was designed to be - true to its concept.
The Phase Three Falcon
The Phase Three Falcon took the first three places in 1971's Bathurst car race. It was the world's fastest four-door production car for many years. Only 200 were ever made and so, like other muscle cars, they have become highly collectable. It boasted 380 bhp, compared to the mere 40 bhp of the Toyota Corolla of the time and the 208 bhp of today's 4-litre Falcon.
With a top speed of over 140 mph (230 km/h) - it can do 400 metres in 14.6 seconds from a standing start thanks to the Cleveland 5.7 litre V8 engines large port high-compression heads, a Holley
four-barrel carburettor, full extractor system and close-ratio gearbox. Cosmetic improvements included front and rear spoilers and a large 'shaker' bonnet scoop. Today, the XY GT Falcon is seen by many Australian car collectors as the definitive "Aussie Muscle Car".