The life of Brian’s XE Fal­con

Brian Cal­laghan was the first to put a XE Fal­con tour­ing car onto a race­track, a car that started and fin­ished three Bathurst 1000s. That same one-owner Ford is about to re­turn to the track for the first time in decades.

Australian Muscle Car - - Resurrected -

Speedway star Brian Cal­laghan had made his Bathurst de­but in 1981 in an XD Fal­con, fin­ish­ing a cred­itable 14th, co­driven by jour­nal­ist Peter McKay. A year later, Cal­laghan up­dated to the new XE, so new in fact that he couldn’t just buy an ex-taxi or police car, but had to buy a new body from Ford.

“We bought a brand-new shell and a box of bits from Ford in about May 1982. There were some bits we pulled off the old car, too. We acid- dipped the shell at Gal­vanis­ing Ser­vices. We had to do it on week­ends – leave it in the acid bath on Sat­ur­day night, but then pull it out be­fore Mon­day or all the stuff they’d dump in there would have crushed it!

“I don’t know that we got that much weight out of it by acid-dip­ping it, but we sure made it weaker! The car flexed so much we had to keep re­plac­ing windscreens. Most years at Bathurst we’d use at least two.

“It didn’t take that long to build – it took longer to acid-dip it. We log-booked the car on the Fri­day at the CAMS of­fice and raced it on the Sun­day at Ama­roo Park – Au­gust 5 it was log booked and Au­gust 7 is the first en­try in the log book.”

That was qual­i­fy­ing day for the CRC 300, the 155-lap en­duro held at the Syd­ney cir­cuit through­out the 1980s and de­scribed by Dick John­son as like run­ning a marathon around your Hills Hoist. Cal­laghan and co-driver Bob

night. Next thing there’s a ros­ter pinned to the tent pole, for which team wants to use it next!”

“The XE used to roll-steer like bug­gery. The rear springs were too short [Brian holds his hands about 100mm apart], you couldn’t get any rate into them with­out them bind­ing. The prob­lem with the XE was that you’d have heaps of un­der­steer into a cor­ner, then when you tried to flick the back of the car around on the throt­tle it would over­steer like bug­gery. The short spring (and the small space it had to fit in) meant that you couldn’t in­crease the num­ber of coils or the thick­ness of the wire with­out the springs bind­ing up. So the rear of the car, at least in the early days, was very soft and floaty.

“I passed Alan Browne (Re-Car Com­modore) on Con­rod, near the first hump. He came up to me af­ter­wards and said he thought some­thing might be bro­ken on my car – he’d never seen any car shake around like that.”

Cal­laghan was chuffed to greet the flag inside the top 10 in just his sec­ond Bathurst at­tempt. How­ever, cel­e­bra­tions were short-lived, with the ma­roon and yel­low #47 Ford – and Dick Above: Cal­laghan says fel­low speedway guru Barry Gra­ham called him­self “a works driver”, as in ‘if he didn’t work, he couldn’t drive’. Bot­tom: Sev­enth at Bathurst ’84 and first Fal­con home was a fine re­sult for a cou­ple of ‘skid kids’. John­son’s ex­am­ple – dis­qual­i­fied from the 1982 James Hardie 1000 for a cylin­der head ir­reg­u­lar­ity.

After a quiet first half of the 1983 sea­son, the XE ap­peared a cou­ple of times at Ama­roo, be­fore post­ing a fine sev­enth in the Oran Park 250, the car’s fi­nal hit out be­fore the big­gie.

“In 1983 we bent a lower con­trol arm in the race at Bathurst and lost a lot of time re­plac­ing it,” Brian says of their 20th place.

The car made a longish stop to re­place the arm and then at least one more for fur­ther ad­just­ment to the wheel align­ment. At the time, and to this day, Cal­laghan reck­ons he didn’t hit any­thing. One won­ders if the load put on the arm by the hard springs might have been too much.

“Peo­ple like John­son – he knew all the tricks, how to get good horse­power and a chas­sis sorted.” But John­son strug­gled too, en­list­ing ex-Williams For­mula One man Wayne Eck­er­s­ley, who reck­oned he’d fixed the back by start­ing at the front. It took John­son’s team 18 months to solve the prob­lem.

“He was cer­tainly us­ing some re­ally hard springs. I re­mem­ber John­son chas­ing some 2000 pound front springs.”

The idea of such a hard front spring is to load up the back of the car, to trick it into think­ing it had some grip. That way you could use a harder rear spring and live with the bind­ing. But it made the car tricky to drive.

It was re­ported in The Great Race book that other Ford teams had rec­om­mended Cal­laghan and Gra­ham ex­plore the ‘grey’ areas of the Group C rules, as their car was too close to stan­dard. Cer­tainly by late 1983, the XE’s han­dling was vastly im­proved, with better axle lo­ca­tion (cour­tesy of some ex­tra arms and mount­ing changes to the Watt’s link). The 1984 Bathurst book com­ments that by that time the car had gone back to softer springs.

“We used a NASCAR block. It was a thicker cast­ing, es­pe­cially be­tween the banks of cylin­ders – it could take the heat better,” Cal­laghan re­calls. “With good Car­illo rods and a good crank, and with the dry sump, you could make the en­gines live. It al­ways used to run hot – 210-220 de­grees in the wa­ter. You had to keep the oil cool.”

Cal­laghan had al­ways built his own en­gines and gear­boxes and they rarely gave trou­ble. The driv­e­line, of course, was that well-tested mix of a 351, a top-loader and a nine-inch diff. When you’re on a good thing, stick to it.

Barry Gra­ham was the bloke that brought re­fine­ment to the team, work­ing hard on the han­dling of the big, heavy car.

“Barry used to say he was a ‘works driver’,” says Cal­laghan. “If he didn’t work, he couldn’t drive. Barry brought the fi­nesse; I was as rough as guts!”

Bathurst 1984 was their finest mo­ment, sev­enth out­right and first Ford home. They had a trou­ble-free run for a change and they duly reaped the re­ward.

Fond mem­o­ries of ’84 aren’t con­fined to the on-track re­sult, with the fam­ily at­mos­phere in the pad­dock – five car­a­vans and sev­eral tents – all part of the lure of rac­ing in that era for father-of­five Cal­laghan.

It was a fit­ting way to end the Group C-era. With no vi­able and com­pet­i­tive Blue Oval op­tion for pri­va­teers un­der the new Group A rules, the pair switched to a VK Com­modore that would record a trio of Bathurst DNFs. A switch to the VL Walkin­shaw model for the ’88 race saw the duo come home sixth and first of the Com­modores.

After Bathurst 1984, at Barry Gra­ham’s in­sis­tence, the XE Fal­con’s en­gine and gear­box were re­built. “Barry said ‘if we don’t do it now, we never will’.”

Since then the car’s been in the fam­ily’s shed. They live on acreage out­side Pen­rith and the ‘shed’ is a mini-mu­seum, with a re­cre­ation of Brian’s su­per­charged To­rana XU-1 speedway car, an old ex-Bob Black­law Sprint­car, a for­mer Liver­pool speedway push car (a short­ened, roof­less Mini) and Jeff Free­man’s Offy Speed­car from the six­ties. And heaps of mem­o­ra­bilia. Right: Brian tries to coax the old girl to life, as grand­son David Baker (left) looks on. The car is ef­fec­tively a Group C-era time-cap­sule.

The car raced once as a GT car, in the abortive Aus­tralian GT Cham­pi­onship at Oran Park in 1985. Then once more in 1995 at Win­ton, as a Sports Sedan in the hands of Brian Jnr, who de­scribed it as ei­ther a bit of fun or tor­ture. Since then it’s been in the shed, turned over once in a while, kept dust-free and wait­ing.

Now the wait might nearly be over. Daugh­ter Michelle Cal­laghan is go­ing through the process of get­ting the car’s Cer­tifi­cate of De­scrip­tion for rac­ing in Her­itage Tour­ing Cars.

The car didn’t want to start when we vis­ited – a flat bat­tery the cul­prit. And it prob­a­bly needs more than just new tyres – after 30 years of sit­ting, plas­tic and rub­ber gas­kets, seals, hoses and the like will be brit­tle. And as Brian Cal­laghan says, “you never ever want to leak oil on the track, oth­er­wise you go home with ev­ery bas­tard hat­ing you.”

It’s not as pretty as most of the Her­itage Tour­ing Cars, but such is the price of pre­serv­ing a Group C time-cap­sule. It’s clearly a work­ing Group C tour­ing car and very rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the class’s pri­va­teer ranks. It’s not su­per-shiny and we re­ally wouldn’t rec­om­mend eat­ing off the en­gine, but that’s how things were. Even modern rac­ing cars are like this – rough bits here and there, small nicks and scratches that don’t show on tele­vi­sion.

The hope at this stage is to have the car at the 2016 Mus­cle Car Masters over Oc­to­ber 29 and 30, at least on dis­play.

1983 Ama­roo Park

1984 Bathurst

1983 Bathurst

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