30 Right Said Fred

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

Fred Gib­son, in his ex­clu­sive AMC col­umn, re­calls the switch to the XA Fal­con un­der the new tour­ing car rules for 1973. Theme song: any­thing from Right Said Fred.

Quite a few peo­ple have quizzed me about the pe­riod in the early 1970s when Ford moved from the Fal­con GTHO Phase III to the two-door XA. It’s an in­ter­est­ing pe­riod to ex­plore for a num­ber of rea­sons, in­clud­ing the power of the me­dia. In­ci­den­tally, I want you all to re­mem­ber how old I am be­fore you start fir­ing emails at me if you think I’ve got my dates and facts mixed up.

In 1972 ev­ery­one in­volved in rac­ing with Ford was look­ing for­ward to the GT-HO Phase IV. There were on-track dra­mas early that year with the Phase III, in­tro­duced in Septem­ber 1971, be­cause the tyres, on nar­row steel rims, just weren’t up to the job. Ford asked a South Aus­tralian company, Globe Prod­ucts, to help. It was an im­me­di­ate suc­cess. They made 15x7” al­loy wheels that were strong, light and adapt­able to a whole range of tyres. They also almost halved the brake tem­per­a­tures! A 1-2-3 fin­ish first time out at Sandown Park proved the point. Nowa­days, by the way, Globe make wheels for Har­ley David­sons and ship them to the States!

For Bathurst that year, Ford was plan­ning the XA GT-based Phase IV – un­til the me­dia got wind of it and be­gan a cam­paign that ended with Ford shelv­ing the whole idea.

The new Ford, Chrysler’s Charger and Holden’s To­rana V8 all caused a hue and cry in the Aus­tralian press be­cause, the journos said, th­ese ‘su­per­cars’ that could rocket past 160 mph were far too dan­ger­ous for the or­di­nary driver. Even be­fore the in­ter­net, the growth of tele­vi­sion and all the rest of our mod­ern me­dia, it was a very stark les­son in the power of the writ­ten word. Es­pe­cially when it’s writ­ten by peo­ple who might have taken a more re­spon­si­ble ap­proach, but that’s another mat­ter.

Don’t for­get, Ford were in the process of hav­ing pro­to­type Phase IV Fal­cons al­ready vir­tu­ally on the assem­bly line, so it was re­ally a big deal in Aus­tralia back in those days when all of a sud­den the gov­ern­ment said, ‘No, this can’t hap­pen.’

Of course, it was a po­lit­i­cal night­mare for Ford

In his ex­clu­sive AMC col­umn, the Ford legend re­calls the switch to the Fal­con hard­tops in 1973 and the ob­sta­cles that had to be over­come.

with the num­ber of cars the var­i­ous gov­ern­ment of­fices might stop or­der­ing. To cut a long story short, the gov­ern­ment banned it, Ford canned it, and the Phase IIIs were rolled out again for Bathurst. Rolled be­ing the oper­a­tive word, as mine rolled dur­ing the race it­self!

So what were we go­ing to do for 1973? CAMS brought in new rules to re­place Se­ries Pro­duc­tion rac­ing, what was called Pro­duc­tion Tour­ing.

The Ford Mo­tor Company de­cided to go for the mod­i­fi­ca­tions which CAMS were al­low­ing on the cur­rent car un­til they sorted out what to do with the new Fal­con – the two-door which they were pro­duc­ing as a road car.

By that time John Goss had emerged as one of the coun­try’s best and most popular driv­ers. The McLeod Ford-backed JG was the first to race a two-door Fal­con – and it was an ab­so­lute dis­as­ter, as the Fal­con’s en­gine be­came frag­ile un­der the new reg­u­la­tions. One of the big­gest prob­lems was oil surge – the oil goes away from the oil pump in the bot­tom of the en­gine and all of a sud­den you’ve got zero oil pres­sure.

The new regs al­lowed big­ger wheels. But when you put big­ger wheels and there­fore big­ger tyres on, they give you more grip and the oil surge gets worse be­cause the car’s cor­ner­ing quicker. As a re­sult, JG was blow­ing up en­gines with mo­not­o­nous reg­u­lar­ity.

I was run­ning my own Fal­cons out of my Road & Track business in Syd­ney; the Ford Mo­tor Company had their fa­mous Lot 6, Ma­honeys Road, in Mel­bourne. Ford’s main rac­ing man Howard Mars­den asked us to be­come in­volved, partly be­cause we had a re­ally good work­ing re­la­tion­ship with Wag­got En­gi­neer­ing. Merv Wag­got was an en­gine-builder in his own right, a gen­uine enthusiast, and the bonus was that his brother Doug was re­ally good at camshafts. So we did a lot of de­vel­op­ment to­gether on the en­gine for the two-door race car.

It had a lower bon­net line than a Phase III, which had the shaker air duct in the bon­net with the big scoop to feed the Hol­ley car­bu­ret­tor. You could poke the long trum­pets up into that and gen­er­ate a lot more torque in the en­gine.

With this new car the bon­net was very low; I spoke to HM about what I be­lieved we should do – put two side-draft We­bers on the car. Work­ing to the new rules, we made an adap­tor that sat on top of the man­i­fold, onto which we put two side-draft 45mm or 48mm We­ber car­bu­ret­tors, side­ways.

It was good for power, but it was re­ally good for fuel econ­omy. If any­thing was bad for fuel econ­omy it was that Hol­ley car­bu­ret­tor. It was like a hose – it just poured the petrol down through the en­gine. This way it was more metered and we could tune the We­bers bet­ter.

If there was one neg­a­tive, it was the dif­fer­ent link­age set-up: two We­bers, so you had to syn­chro­nise them and HM was very con­cerned about re­li­a­bil­ity for a 1000-kilo­me­tre race, which Bathurst was for the first time in 1973.

We did an enor­mous amount of camshaft work with Wag­gott En­gi­neer­ing to en­sure we could fit it into the ex­ist­ing en­gine spec. We sourced blanks from Amer­ica and ma­chined them down to our own camshaft de­sign, then used a process we called stel­lite weld­ing: you grind it right down and build it up with a re­ally hard, stel­lite weld. Each lobe was welded and re­ground again so it was a re­ally hard, fairly thick sur­face on the camshaft. We stel­lited the cam fol­low­ers as well so you had stel­lite to stel­lite on the camshaft (reg­u­la­tions only al­lowed flat tap­pet camshafts).

We also came up with some ideas of our own about that oil surge prob­lem.It was crit­i­cal to keep as much oil in the sump as you could. If you’ve got no oil in the sump it’s surg­ing worse than ever. In the val­ley of the V8 you had drains where the oil came up to the valve-gear; you don’t need a lot of oil to that so we re­stricted the amount of oil to the top end of the en­gine (rocker gear). Where the oil drained back into the val­ley, we en­larged the holes in the cast­ing and we were prob­a­bly the first to paint the in­sides of all the cylin­der blocks.

A cylin­der block is cast iron and rough: they do it all the time now, but we were among the first to use a spe­cial paint so the oil would run off it very quickly down into the sump. Even where the crank­shaft went, in the bot­tom half of the cylin­der block, we painted in there too so the oil wasn’t hang­ing around, it was drop­ping back down into the sump.

Merv Wag­gott (right)

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