30 Right Said Fred
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)