74 Phillip Island Classic report
Strong thought-provoking content, myths debunked, facts only, no nudity. Written by Ben Stewart.
Historic racing in Australia is a bit like NASCAR – the season starts with the year’s biggest event. AMC’s Bruce Moxon checked out the quirky, quick and quaking at the 2014 PIC. Theme song: Richard Clapton’s ‘I am an Island’.
How much power does it put out? It’s an age-old question uttered by generations of ‘car people’. And a major selling point for manufacturers when promoting the performance potential of a car aimed directly at the sporting-minded enthusiast driver.
When it came to Aussie muscle cars built during the golden days, from the late 1960s to mid-1970s, the question took on an importance of unprecedented proportions.
This was when (seemingly) the sky was the limit in terms of what carmakers advertised, and what the motoring press sometimes speculated.
This innocent enough question was probably the most challenging of all when it comes to a car packing serious muscle under the hood. It has been known to turn faces bright red, with the potential to cause considerable embarrassment. It’s also the ultimate argument starter! Yet, no matter what the answer to the perennial ‘how much’ question, somehow it is never quite enough.
There were periods when Chrysler, Ford and GM-H were hell-bent on outdoing each other in a battle to claim bragging rights as to who had the most powerful car.
Sometimes, manufacturers were more ‘honest’ than others. Sometimes they only told half the story. And sometimes, outside speculation was based purely on a specially prepared race-spec car and not an example in standard showroom trim. It is always important in these situations to compare apples with apples.
The eventual ‘winner’ was Chrysler Australia with their E49 R/T Charger. It won on two fronts, but lost in the most important area – vehicle sales. With the highest advertised horsepower and the fastest acceleration figures of anything from the ‘big three’ from the era, the E49 stands unequalled at the top of the tree.
To level the field, Australian car manufacturers followed their parent companies and rated engine output according to a standard devised by the Society of Automotive Engineers, which they designated ‘SAE gross’.
For the purpose of advertising and promotion, only the highest horsepower figure was good enough to use. As a result, both Ford and GM-H used a peak figure of 300 horsepower in their advertising and vehicle specifications while Chrysler Australia topped that with 302 horsepower.
The SAE gross output was an unrealistic figure in many ways as ultimately the engine had to be installed into a vehicle in order to make the car perform. Because of this, a second (but rarely published) figure was obtained from the same engine dressed and running all ancillaries. This lower figure was designated ‘SAE net’.
A sliding-scale system known as ‘GM 1-20’ tests were the benchmark used by General Motors and adopted by GM-H. Chrysler and Ford had similar test procedures and as such we can compare the results obtained. The ‘GM 1’ test was done on an engine dynamometer with the engine under test totally unencumbered of powerrobbing accessories such as the alternator, starter motor, water pump and air-cleaner assembly. Air was plumbed into the carburetor, and the engine was run without closed exhausts. The resulting horsepower and torque output ratings from such tests were considered to be the ‘gross output’ of the engine.
Tests were also conducted on the same engine but with the front of the engine fully dressed, using the ambient air, running a closed cooling system and with a closed exhaust connected. This test was referred to as a ‘GM 20’ test, and the output of the engine in this case was rated as a ‘net’ output.
The first really impressive figure was claimed for the XR Falcon GT at 225 horsepower (SAE gross). Strangely though, the XT model with a larger engine only had a minor lift to 230 horsepower, yet the performance increase was significant. The considerably heavier Holden Monaro GTS 327, with 250 horsepower, left both of them in its dust as it set a whole new standard in performance with a 0 - 100mph time of less than 20 seconds.
1969 was a high point for both Ford and GM-H when 300 horsepower was claimed for the Falcon GT-HO and the Monaro GTS 350. In a strange twist though, Ford was erring on the side of caution in terms of specifying the power output of its racing car engine at just 10 more than the regular GT. GM-H on the other hand was honest to goodness as the chart illustrated reveals.
There was to be no further increase in the
advertised power outputs from either Ford or Holden. In standard road trim, the 0-100mph times were down in the 15-second bracket by mid-1970 – the Falcon GT-HO continuing to shade the Monaro GTS 350. Both cars had top speeds in excess of 130mph.
Ford kept the advertised horsepower at 300 when the XY Falcon GT-HO Phase III was released in mid-1971. Some sections of the press were suggesting that the actual power output of the Phase Three HO was in excess of 330 horsepower. Maybe for a blueprinted and raceprepared car…
However, the roadgoing cars still could not crack the magic 100mph before the measured quarter-mile yardstick. Something didn’t seem quite right here.
To put this in perspective, Ford’s Broadmeadows plant manager, Don Deveson, had a “Phase III plus” company car running “a Cobra Jet cam, manifold and 850 cfm carbie”. This modified GT-HO put out 232 horsepower at the rear wheels on the Ford dyno. A standard HG GTS 350 has just 200 horsepower at the rear wheels.
Come mid-1972, Chrysler Australia set new standards everywhere with its E49 R/T Charger figures. Namely, 302 horsepower, a 0-100mph time of 14.1 seconds and a standing quarter-mile in 14.4 seconds! Game, set, and match thank you very much.
The E49 was somewhat lighter than the Ford and Holden, but in anyone’s language the 265ci 6-pack Hemi six-cylinder engine was a work of art – the awesome performance matched by awesome looks.
The last Australian muscle car with 300 advertised horsepower was the 1974 Ford XB Falcon GT.
On the whole, the car companies were up front with advertised power outputs. Naturally they claimed the more attractive figures (who wouldn’t?), but they weren’t fibbing as such in spite of the fact that many people to this day still believe that the factory figures were grossly inflated.