Pur­suit spe­cial

Restora­tion of his­toric po­lice ve­hi­cles is some­thing of a trend to­day. How­ever, here’s a sur­vivor that’s still in orig­i­nal con­di­tion 38 years af­ter pulling off the high­way

Australian Muscle Car - - Muscle Survivor -

Hid­den in­side a Car­coon in a non­de­script stor­age fa­cil­ity in Can­berra is what must be one of the rarest XB Fal­cons in Aus­tralia. It’s one of the high­way pa­trol pur­suit cars built es­pe­cially for the ACT Po­lice in Septem­ber 1974. This one was fac­tory-fit­ted with the 351 2V Cleve­land V8 which gives it a top speed of 140mph (225km/h) if re­quired.

Be­cause they look rel­a­tively stan­dard, these spe­cial po­lice-is­sue Fal­cons were of­ten de­scribed as ‘wolves in sheep’s cloth­ing.’ Most po­lice forces pre­ferred the four-door body style, mainly to pro­vide easy ac­cess to the rear seats. Only New South Wales chose to go with two-door coupes for high­way pa­trol du­ties.

Un­der­neath the stan­dard body they were vir­tual GT Fal­cons. Each po­lice force could or­der them to their own spec­i­fi­ca­tions. This one has the 11:1 com­pres­sion ra­tio, sin­gle rail four-speed man­ual gear­box, limited slip diff, and Kelsey Hayes ven­ti­lated disc brakes on all four wheels. The stan­dard 351 puts out 300bhp at 5400rpm. It cov­ers the stand­ing quar­ter in 15.8 sec­onds and does 0 to 60 in 7.4 sec­onds. Even sit­ting on axle stands it looks mean.

These cars were beasts but the only in­di­ca­tion that some­thing spe­cial is un­der the bon­net are two alu­minium hood pins, like the ones used on race­cars. Badg­ing is Fal­con 500 on the boot, plus dis­creet 351 badges on the front side fend­ers. From the rear the two ex­haust pipes also sug­gest that this is not your aver­age four-door Fal­con.

Four sirens are mounted in front of the grille on a heavy-duty bracket.

But what makes this Fal­con su­per-rare is its time-warp qual­ity. It has been kept ex­actly as it was when it was re­tired from of­fi­cial du­ties in 1976. As far as po­lice Fal­con ex­perts know, this is the only one of its kind to sur­vive in orig­i­nal con­di­tion, in­clud­ing ev­i­dence of what is de­scribed as ‘hol­ster wear’ on the driver’s seat.

All op­er­a­tional equip­ment, in­clud­ing the AWA two-way ra­dio and a sec­ond cal­i­brated speedo in the glove box cav­ity, is still there.

The Po­lar White duco, and ACT Po­lice in­signia on each front door are also be­lieved to be orig­i­nal. There are mi­nor paint touch-ups and one barely vis­i­ble dent, but apart from that the ex­te­rior is im­mac­u­late con­sid­er­ing it was used on a daily ba­sis for two years.

The in­te­rior is also to GT specs, ex­cept that the stan­dard 500 dash­board is fit­ted, which means there is no tachome­ter. The most ob­vi­ous mod­i­fi­ca­tion for po­lice work is a sec­ond speedome­ter, cal­i­brated to 220km/h, fit­ted in the glove box cav­ity on the pas­sen­ger side. There are flick switches for the blue light on the roof and the sirens mounted on the front bumper, and a po­lice ra­dio in the space where the nor­mal ra­dio would be. An AWA hand­set of the click-on,

click-off style is fa­mil­iar to those who watched Homi­cide and Di­vi­sion 4 as young­sters.

Driver and pas­sen­ger – known as an ob­server – sat in black vinyl bucket seats. A cen­tre con­sole glove­box is be­tween them with rub­ber floor lin­ing in place of car­pet. The ash­tray mounted on the back of the con­sole is for use by rear-seat pas­sen­gers. Com­pared to mod­ern po­lice cars ev­ery­thing looks very ba­sic.

If this Fal­con looks fa­mil­iar that’s be­cause it was on loan to the Ford Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre in Gee­long. It re­turned to Can­berra in 2012.

The ACT Po­lice – now part of the AFP – has al­ways had an in­ter­est in pre­serv­ing its his­tory. Al­though its pub­lic mu­seum space closed some time ago the ex­hibits have been main­tained in the hope that an al­ter­na­tive space can be or­gan­ised.

This ex­plains why this car, prob­a­bly the prime ex­hibit, is cur­rently sit­ting in a stor­age unit along with a se­lec­tion of mo­tor­cy­cles, a Hum­ber Su­per Snipe and a po­lice van. These are de­scribed as mile­stone po­lice ve­hi­cles by the AFP mu­seum cu­ra­tor, Lauren Spencer.

She is well aware of the sig­nif­i­cance of the XB Fal­con and, at time of writ­ing, was hav­ing it ap­praised by a mu­seum con­ser­va­tor to as­sess its me­chan­i­cal state. The aim is to have the car road-reg­is­tered so it can be used as a mo­bile mu­seum piece, at­tend­ing car shows and com­mu­nity events. We are cer­tainly hop­ing to see it at the Mus­cle Car Masters in the fu­ture.

As soon as it was de-com­mis­sioned in 1976 it was des­ig­nated for the mu­seum by its two prin­ci­pal driv­ers, Sgt. John Hil­lier and Sgt. John Best. They re­alised that it was a very spe­cial car in­deed, as did se­nior po­lice me­chanic Mario Milin, a Ford en­thu­si­ast who had al­ways loved work­ing on V8 Fal­cons.

All should be con­grat­u­lated for their fore­sight. Most pur­suit Fal­cons were stripped of all po­lice iden­ti­fi­ca­tion then sold at auc­tion.

This one avoided that fate be­cause it was in ex­cep­tional con­di­tion and had never been crashed; al­though there is some in­di­ca­tion that the right rear door was dam­aged and re­paired. It had only 25,155km on the clock, but that was its sec­ond time around, Lauren ex­plained.

It’s cur­rently not road-reg­is­tered but it was a goer back in 1989 when it fea­tured in Sports and Clas­sic Car mag­a­zine. Writer Mal­colm Robertson met up with Sgt. John Hil­lier, still a serv­ing of­fi­cer but no longer with the Traf­fic Branch.

This had been his favourite ve­hi­cle and when he took it for a nos­tal­gic tour of Can­berra, with Robertson in the pas­sen­ger seat, he no­ticed how many driv­ers slowed down as soon as they saw him, even if it was ob­vi­ous to all that this car was no longer in ser­vice.

First sur­prise for Robertson was when Hil­lier drove it around the streets in third gear, a nor­mal prac­tice de­signed to give the driver max­i­mum con­trol over brak­ing and, es­pe­cially, ac­cel­er­a­tion.

At one stage Hil­lier demon­strated that thirdgear ac­cel­er­a­tion… “the punch in your back was some­thing that most driv­ers would have dif­fi­culty imag­in­ing,” wrote Robertson.

Twenty-five years later and I also spoke with John Hil­lier, now re­tired but still en­thu­si­as­tic about his time in the Traf­fic Branch. Over a long ca­reer he drove a se­ries of pur­suit Fal­cons start­ing with the XW… “all V8s, all man­u­als,” he says.

There were only two or three driv­ers qual­i­fied for pur­suit duty in Can­berra so they tended to have a close affin­ity with their cars, usu­ally driv­ing the same one ev­ery day. The XB re­mains his favourite ride how­ever. “I re­mem­ber get­ting it brand new,” he says. “If you got the keys to one of these you had great pride in how you pre­sented it.”

At the be­gin­ning of the watch (or shift) the driv­ers would at­tend a pa­rade in full uni­form be­fore go­ing to a brief­ing, then head­ing to the garage to in­spect their cars. They would per­son­ally check the flu­ids and they ex­pected the pre­vi­ous crew to have cleaned the in­te­rior and filled the tank the night be­fore, even if they had fin­ished at 11pm.

Like all ACT Po­lice pur­suit car driv­ers, John Hil­lier trained and worked on a pur­suit mo­tor­cy­cle be­fore do­ing the pur­suit car course.

In those days, driv­ers were ex­pected to be of the high­est stan­dard and were sub­ject to con­stant scru­tiny. “A cou­ple of strikes and you were out,” he says. “Even if you went on an ex­tended hol­i­day for a few months you were re­called to do a re-test when you came back. “We were or­di­nary people un­der­go­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary train­ing.” The em­pha­sis was on de­fen­sive driv­ing and what he calls “ve­hi­cle sym­pa­thy” – an­other rea­son for this car’s ex­cep­tional con­di­tion.

While most speed­ing mo­torists pulled over as soon as they saw the flash­ing lights in the rear-vi­sion mir­ror there were times when a high­speed chase con­tin­ued. If there were two of­fi­cers in the car, the driver would move up along­side the of­fender and the of­fi­cer in the pas­sen­ger seat would hold up an il­lu­mi­nated po­lice sign. This usu­ally had the de­sired re­sult. There were very few oc­ca­sions when some­one would at­tempt to outrun a pur­suit Fal­con. Hil­lier can con­firm that the 220km/h limit on the speedome­ter was achiev­able.

Some mo­torists must have thought that they would es­cape the po­lice when they reached the ter­ri­tory bor­der [ED: ob­vi­ously people who watched too many Amer­i­can TV shows!]. Not so. ACT pur­suit driv­ers were also Spe­cial Con­sta­bles in NSW, a qual­i­fi­ca­tion that is re­tained to this day.

The XB had some mi­nor draw­backs, no­tably the disc brakes which had a ten­dency to crack, usu­ally af­ter a high-speed chase was fol­lowed by a hard stop then 15 min­utes on the side of the road while the of­fi­cer was fill­ing in a ticket. Un­der nor­mal use the brakes were more than ad­e­quate.

There was no air-con but Hil­lier says the cars were com­fort­able ex­cept in mid-sum­mer when the heat gen­er­ated by the big twin muf­flers, placed di­rectly un­der­neath the front seats, would end up in­side when the win­dows were wound down. The 351 en­gine was not af­fected, idling at nor­mal tem­per­a­ture, sum­mer or win­ter.

The V8 Fal­cons were a favourite with Traf­fic Branch of­fi­cers and they were un­der­stand­ably sorry to see them go. They de­vel­oped an emo­tional at­tach­ment to them be­cause of the pol­icy of of­fi­cers be­ing al­lo­cated the same car when­ever pos­si­ble. This was partly for safety rea­sons, so that driv­ers could work in fa­mil­iar en­vi­ron­ments.

That all changed when the force grew in size and a larger pool of cars had to be em­ployed.

It’s easy to un­der­stand why the likes of Hil­lier had such an affin­ity with this XB sur­vivor.

Main: Let’s do the time-warp! This ACT Po­lice Fal­con is still in the same un­touched con­di­tion as when its ca­reer ended 38 years ago. Be­low: A sis­ter car to the sur­vivor, com­plete with a con­sta­ble in jodh­purs and rid­ing boots.

Above: The XB’s in­te­rior is un­touched with, in­cred­i­bly, even the AWA two-way ra­dio still in­tact.

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