Ford's Falcon GT
had a life span of only eight years, but it packed more drama and more passion into that time than any other car in Australian motoring history. The GT's swansong was its appearance at the 1975 Bathurst 1000, although some would linger for a few years more. At the time, it was litreally being swamped by a horde of Torana SL/R 5000s
all with better power/weight ratios, better brakes, less body weight and more agility than the Falcons.
The Falcon GT's rise and demise was almost exclusively governed by the requirements of the "The Mount". The first 289 cube Falcon GT
appeared when Ford could develop its Cortina GT
1.5-litre cars no further and the passport to winning was cubic inches. The Falcon GT was developed for five years to its Phase III GTHO peak because the race regulations required cars to be very close to road going specification - much closer than they were to by the mid 1970's. The Phase III was a registrable track car - probably the most thoroughly-developed car ever produced by the Australian auto industry - built to be "fastest from Hell corner to Skyline
Falcon GTs after that were tamer. The Phase IV HO
, which was to have been based on the XA GT
, was stillborn and Falcon GTs became "ordinary" road cars. Then of course, the ADRs got into the act, as did the public outcry about "160 mph family sedans" and petrol prices started to rise. Speed limits were introduced all over the country and it became harder for the GT owner to find a place to give his car a squirt and it became harder to pay for it and almost impossible to insure.
The price of petrol in most cities is started to nudge 70c a gallon - a considerable sum at the time - which meant that high-speed long distance journeys, which were the big 351's forte, cost real money. And of course there was the emission ADR 27 A rule, brought in to cut emissions to the 1974 US levels with their knock on cut in performance too. ADR 27 A required all cars to carry a good deal of anti-pollution equipment like air pumps and catalytic converters, making the 351-equipped Falcons battle to break 18 seconds for the standing 400 m.
Production began to dwindle, and by the end of 1975 Ford dealers are quoting 14 weeks delivery on a GT sedan. While think that Ford decided to kill off the GT rather than allowing it to survive as a pale relative., with the intention of reviving the marque when clean-running engines would be once again able to develop big power.
Australian's first met the GT in 1967. This was the "any colour you like as long as it's gold" car. The XR GT
had the last word in big engines - a 4.7 litre pushrod V8 just like the American Mustang, plus a large chromed-phallic-Hurst- style gearshift, a chrome spoke woodrim wheel, sumptuous bucket seats, an all-black interior and plenty of easily read, accurate instruments. Its desirability at the time rivalled that of a Ferrari in many enthusiasts' eyes and this was only increased by the "Big Bronze Bathurst Bomb's" win in the 1967 Gallaher 500
, fore-runner to the Hardie-Ferodo 1000.
Power was a mind-blowing 168 kW (225 bhp) at 4800 rpm and the unit also pumped out 413 Nm (305 lb/ft) of torque at 3200 rpm. It seemed the only problem was that it was not fitted with a limited slip diff. The gold GT started a cult which required every hoon-about-town to have black stripes along the door sills on his car, even if it was a 120Y. The stripes were inherited from the Ford GT40 sports/racer of the 1960s.
As good as the XR GT was, the XT was a revelation.
With 230 horses on tap, the XT was more refined, even though it only boasted modest increases in power and torque. The sill stripes were removed from the waistline, and better still the GT could be had in a small range of colors instead of one, and an automatic transmission
was an option. It also handled and went better with its wider wheels and tyres
and revised gearing. The XT GT
would cover the standing 400 m in around 16.3 seconds when only three years before everyone had been impressed by late 18s for the three-speed Holden 179.
Some enthusiasts were a little disquieted by the fact that the XT GT
had an automatic transmission
option, but the truth was the XT's specification was a let-down after predictions of 390 cubes and twin four barrel carburettors. Predictions that it would conquer the mount also fell short, unhappily it could manage only a seventh and was beaten hollow by the General's rapid but raw Monaro 327. But Ford had high hopes for 1969 because the restyled XW GT with its 351 "Windsor" engine producing 216 kW (290 bhp) would be at least a match for the General, who was busily packing the Monaro with an American-built 350 engine.
The XW GT
was fitted with large Kelsey-Hayes vented disc brakes, detail handling
mods, a 164 litre (36 gallon) fuel tank option and a new final drive
ratio of 3.25. Meanwhile, Harry Firth left Ford's competitions department to start the Holden Dealer team and was replaced by "Big AI" Turner - instigator of the GTHO. The letters HO stood for "handling option", but meant more than that. It had a big tank, larger four barrel carburettor, large capacity alloy inlet manifold, hotter camshaft, three-inch tailshaft, stiffer roll bar in front and rear bar as well. This car was a real beast, quite unpleasant around town - a real track car.
The 1974 Winning John Goss / Kevin Bartlett XA GT...
Ford's public relations people refused to let any motoring journalists drive the XW GTHO, but Wheels Magazine were to make their own arrangements and drove a private one. The car covered the standing quarter mile in 14.4 seconds, had bags of poke, but wasn't as good to use on the road as the "ordinary" XW GT.
The XW was notable for two other things. It introduced Ford's "Super Roo" promotion pitch - which eventually spread right down through the range to Escort 1300s - and it introduced Australia's first "cow catche
r" nose spoiler. The spoiler only added to the HO's brutish looks and sent the Ford fans even wilder with desire.
Opinions varied about the effectiveness of the spoiler, as road tests of the unadorned GT noted that stability above 160 km/h was good anyway. Mind you, the Bathurst cars were expected to breast a couple of large humps on Conrod Straight at 200 km/h plus. The XW GTHO was also notable for the fact that it was also beaten at Bathurst, this time by the Holden Monaro 350 - the race that made Colin Bond's name nationally known. A Falcon was second on the same lap, but it was no consolation.
In 1970, Ford continued its XW Falcon more or less unchanged and the GTHO was seen around the tracks a lot as sedan racing - especially series production racing became more popular. The finest and fastest of the HOs was the XY Phase III which could top 225 km/h and was for quite some time the quickest four-door'sedan in the world. Ford then released a changed version of the HO for the 1970 Bathurst race
- with stronger five-slot steel wheels taken from the US Mustang, a new better breathing version of the 351 engine (the "Cleveland") with solid valve lifters and bottom end strengthening to allow more revs to be used. The Windsor engine had run out of puff around 5500 rpm, but the Cleveland could add 1000 rpm to that which meant considerably higher Conrod Straight speeds and better acceleration. The XW was was also given a bigger Holley
four-barrel, a 750 cfm (cubic feet a minute) unit which assisted its breathing.
The softening-up process began with the XA GT. It lacked the brutal appearance of the XY and didn't go as hard. The Phase II HO was always pretty beastly around town, but its ability on the (at the time, still unrestricted) open roads was remarkable. The only you could own a faster car than the GTHO was to pay four times its price of $4800 for an Italian. Allan Moffat cruised this car to a comfortable victory at Bathurst '70
, though the next-placed Falcon GT was only sixth. Holden did surprisingly well with its "little" 186 Torana XU-1, but Chrysler's new Pacer, which used the Valiant's hemi-six warmed over, was rather disappointing.
Ford facelifted the XW in 1971, calling the new model the XY. The GT versions of this model were all fitted with Cleveland engines and this is a large part of the reason why Falcon GT pundits regard this as the best GT of them all. Later models had Australian-built 351s which were good engines but didn't have quite the revving ability of the Cleveland. The XY became known as the "shaker" GT because it had a giant air scoop connected directly to the carburettor which poked through a hole in the bonnet and rocked every time the throttle was blipped. It didn't have much functional value, but the public loved it. The XY GT
sired the fabulous Phase III HO - a superbly well-developed car with a free-revving engine which needed an electronic rev limiter to stop drivers exceeding 6150 rpm.
t was even quite tractable, though the spring rates were hard enough for the ride to be rather uncomfortable around town. A lot of the year's development work that went into the Phase III HO was centred around improving its durability. Mods were made to the cooling system, the sump to reduce oil surge, the head gaskets, the brakes
and there were detail changes to the suspension
settings. To add more urge, the Cleveland engine was equipped with the Holley
780 carburettor. And all this time, Ford had been claiming that its HOs had the same output as the GTs - 224 kW (300 bhp) and 3801b/ft of torque. For the HOs, 261 (350) would have been a whole lot more accurate.
The Phase III notched Ford's grandest Bathurst victory Moffat's untroubled win in 1971
. The cars also came in second, third, fifth and seventh. It was a fitting result for Ford's finest car which was, fittingly, described at the time as "simply one of the best cars in the world
". Of course, the Phase III wasn't always going to be the greatest of them all.
Ford's Greatest Victory At The Mount...
In 1972, Ford released the sleek XA Falcon range including a GT version which used almost exactly the same mechanicals as the XY, but was more sophisticated in its appeal. Some people said it lost pose value and gained prestige. In the back rooms, Ford began to build up the greatest HO of them all - the Phase IV - which was to take on the coming Charger 340 cube V8 and the 308 V8
version of the Torana XU-1.
Some motoring journalists reported seeing these being built in Ford's competition workshops. The Phase IV was to have had 15 x 7 five-spoke Globe "Bathurst" mags, (later fitted to racing Phase III's) the same spring rates as the Phase III (but lower unsprung weight and a wider track), no rear anti-roll bar
but changed rear leaf springs to minimise body roll, and a softer front bar.
On the engine side, there were some changes to combustion chamber shape to speed gas flow and new exhaust
headers were fitted for a better extractor effect. The two modifications increased the engine's torque noticeably and lowered the peak by a full 1000 rpm. Internal gearbox ratios were standard Falcon XA GT because it was felt that with the increased torque of the HO engine it didn't require closer cogs. But the final drive
ratio returned to the 3.0 run in the XT GT.
After the Phase IV was killed, Ford secretly developed a GT Special which was used as the basis for its Bathurst attack. In standard form the GT went only slightly quicker than the normal model but with race modifications it was more durable, had greater performance. The XB range was available in sedan and hardtop, manual or automatic, but anti-pollution gear robbed the engine of its free revving ability and acceleration was down on previous models. But the XB was still a brilliant cruiser, and a we would have one in a heartbeat.