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The Ford Falcon GT Story

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The GT Falcon Story

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If the name “Stewart Warner” means nothing to you, then you have probably found the wrong page. If, on the other hand, you recognize the name as that responsible for the seriously elegant instrumentation adorning the cockpit of the Ford Falcon GT, then welcome, and read on…

The GT Falcon is unquestionably the quintessential Aussie muscle car, however we can thank the competition between the big three manufacturers of the day, GMH , Ford and Chrysler, for the evolution of arguably the most collectable of all Aussie built cars.

While we could easily go back as far as the Model T, which endeared itself to many pioneering Aussie motorists with its amazing durability, the real indication of great things to come was shown with the XK Falcon’s Pursuit 170 engine. At the time the Valiant sported the most powerful engine, however the Ford engineers created the Pursuit engine as something a little more specialized for the Aussie motoring enthusiast.

Designed to be freely revving and more tractable for Aussie conditions, the new engine ushered in a time of innovation in Australia, rather than the legacy of larger capacity lethargic engines finding their way to our shores from the US. Holden counter attacked with their 179ci six being introduced as an option from September 1963 in the EH series, itself evolving into the X2 introduced with the HD - a more spirited performance on offer courtesy mainly of its improved carburettor. Nevertheless there was certainly no panic at Chrysler, their 225ci slant six still offering a class leading 145bhp and remaining as the most powerful six cylinder Australian sedan.

Chrysler also led the pack by being the first of the big three to offer a V8 option, but things were about to change – forever. When the XR was introduced Ford decided upon the fitment of the wonderful 289ci Mustang engine as an option across the entire range – a stoke of genius in no small part due to the marketing talents of Bill Bourke, then Deputy Managing Director of Ford Australia (later Managing Director). Collaborating with the Victoria Police Force, the path to the Ford Falcon GT was set. The police requirements were that the car be able to outrun the top speed of an average sedan (that being around 90mph), while having four doors.

Bourke’s answer was to equip the XR with the Mustang V8, have it mated to a four speed manual gear box, improve the suspension and throw in a handful of other refinements, thus begat the car that would quickly garner legend status. Don Dunoon was responsible for much of the engineering work, and while we have not been able to question any officers of the day that had the pleasure of driving these first iterations, we are pretty sure they found the new car a vast improvement to the six cylinder “three on the tree” versions they had been used to.

The XR VicPol pursuit special was obviously too good to be kept away from an eager public, and Bill Bourke ensured it would find its way to Ford showrooms. Sticking to the traditions of the Model T, the first Falcon GT could be ordered in any colour you wished, as long as it was bronze. The decision on colour was brilliant, it remaining timeless and now coming to immortalize the emergence of Aussie performance cars.

If you think back to the time, you will realize just how forward thinking Bourke’s decision to bring the GT to market was; Australians used liberal amounts of Brylcreem in their hair, pubs shut at 6pm and the nation was shocked when the Melbourne Herald newspaper ran a front page photo of new Prime Minister Harold Holt with wife Zara holding a cigarette.

It was a time when the British automotive industry had become complacent, a stuffy nosed attitude of “tried and proven” will win the day (and sales war) was quickly losing favour with Australians who needed transportation capable of swallowing up the endless miles as they sought out their favourite holiday destinations. Bourke's vision was supreme, he realizing that by taking the new pursuit car, equipping it with a Fairmont interior, fitting the dashboard with the green-glowing Stewart-Warner gauges, adding a chrome “Hurst shifter” gearlever and deeply dished wood rim steering wheel (not to forget the sensational red GT badges), he could create a Unique! car indeed.

Just how unique you may ask? Well at the time a performance 4 door was unheard of, not only in Australia, but throughout the world. But why a 4 door performance car? There were quite a few reasons actually, firstly the Victoria Police required their car be fitted with four doors (and their requirement provided the impetus for the cars development), in a period filled with baby-boomer parents the need for a four door car was paramount, and finally production car racing in Australia was garnering an ever increasing allegiance of fans.

Jack Telnack supplied the styling artistry that turned a standard Fairmont into a GT. The stripes, the chromed wheel covers, blacked-out grille, badgework and so on worked to maginificent effect, especially in combination with the purposeful stance conveyed by the GT's that sat one and a half inches lower in ride height than their Falcon cousins. No such project had ever been attempted before in Australia and Telnack added aggression to the Falcon without undermining its elegance.

The GT started life as a true limited edition, only two hundred and fifty five being built to the end of June 1967 (the actual numbers broken down by month being three in March, 105 in April, 115 in May and 36 in June). Demand was unprecedented, and a second batch of GT’s were quickly put into production, another 303 being constructed by years end. The final 38 XRs were assembled in January and February of 1968 and the GT's future as a model in its own right was assured.

With the launch of XT in March 1968, the GT was made even more potent and attractive and, thanks to its having taken a regular position in the range, there was now a choice of colour; the original GT bronze remained, along with Zircon Green and Candy Apple Red, arguably the most evocative of the several shades offered. It should be noted to those seeking out a genuine GT that it was possible to order a GT in a non-standard colour, and at least two were finished in the delightfully subtle Springtime Yellow.

The 289 engine was superseded by the 302, which brought a modest increase in outright performance. Now very much a part of the Ford model lineup, it was inevitable that a little rationalization would be required to keep cost down. Very little was given up, but the Hurst shifter was replaced by a shorter more conventional model, and in the true traditions of the GT name, (Gran Turismo meaning Grand Touring), an automatic version was available as an option. The XT was more subtle and elegant than the XR, and gave little away in sporting nature.

The extroverted XW was to follow, it fitted with the brutal 351 Windsor engine, the pinned bonnet giving some indication of the potential top speed of the now legend GT. Just in case you didn’t notice the bonnet pins, Ford added “Super Roo” decals, fat stripes and “351 High Performance” chrome badges to its flanks. Simply put, the car looked so powerful that it never actually needed to prove itself at a set of traffic lights. The body adornments clearly stated to wanna be’s “nough said”.

The standing quarter mile time dropped from mid-16s to mid 15s, helped by a lowering of the final drive ratio as well as the giant increase in power and torque. The Ford engineers ensured the GT could stop as well as it could go, fitting fabulous 11.25” Kelsey-Hayes ventilated front disc brakes. The XW GT begat the wonderful XW GT HO Phase II, developed for the Bathurst 500 of 1969 and 1970 respectively, although these later iterations sourced the 351ci engines from Cleveland rather than Windsor.

Next came the “Shaker” – the most recognizable of the GT’s, the XY. Smoother, more refined, undoubtedly the best. The Phase III would punish any comers on the racetracks of Australia, garnering a reputation that has endeared to this day, and making the XY unarguably the most collectable of all GT’s (although we would be happy to own any of ‘em).

The XA retained much of the grunt of the XY, but the styling was far more restrained – no Super Roo decals and, so much is the pity, no Phase IV. Four examples would be built before the concept was abandoned at a time when the “Supercar Superscare” would see the media hype convince many that a Japanese 4 cylinder was the only answer to modern day transportation.

The XB’s would be the last of the genre, although many consider the XC Cobra part of the family – and one we at Unique Cars and Parts agree with. The XB continued the theme of increased refinement, and few other cars ever offered such an encompassing “cockpit” that would make you feel more a pilot than a driver. The addition of Kelsey-Hayes disc brakes to the rear wheels helped pull the brute to a stop, however there was no HO, and inevitably no future GT – for a time anyway…
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