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Australian Muscle Car - - Im­mor­tal Mus­cle -

Numero uno

It’s

the first Fal­con GT! Mus­tang was such a hit on the sales charts in the US and as a brand builder for Ford glob­ally that it in­flu­enced how the Aus­tralian XR Fal­con range was mar­keted upon its re­lease in 1966. Ford Aus­tralia then took the ‘Mus­tang-bred’ XR pro­mo­tional strat­egy one step fur­ther, adding the GT to the range in April ‘67. Its suc­cess laid the ground­work for fu­ture GTs and the leg­endary GT-HOs.

Birth­day toy

It rep­re­sents the birth of the Aus­tralian mus­cle car. It was, by a long shot, the fastest car ever pro­duced in this coun­try to that point.

Arms race trig­ger

The

XR threw down the gaunt­let to Holden. Hit­ting the mar­ket first and win­ning upon its Bathurst debut sparked an arms race that soon es­ca­lated. True, Holden was al­ready well un­der­way with plans for its V8 coupe, but the XR GT’s suc­cess en­sured Holden didn’t hold back on the Monaro GTS 327’s spec­i­fi­ca­tions and ap­pear­ance. Chrysler would also re­spond by up­ping the ante with the Pacer.

Aussie first

The Fal­con GT was the first full-size Aus­tralian fam­ily car vari­a­tion to of­fer a per­for­mance and ap­pear­ance pack­age.

Per­for­mance boost

The

GT was pow­ered by Ford’s 289 cu­bic inch V8, fit­ted with Aus­tralia’s first four-bar­rel car­bu­ret­tor (4300 Au­to­lite 446cfm), “new-type in­duc­tion man­i­fold”, re­vised valve tim­ing and pis­ton de­sign, and in­creased com­pres­sion (from 9.1:1 to 9.8:1) for more horse­power, a quoted 225bhp at 4800rpm with a max­i­mum torque of 305ft/lbs at 3200rpm. This was about 25bhp up on the V8s of­fered for the rest of the XR range.

Bill’s baby

Amer­i­can

Bill Bourke’s ap­point­ment to Aus­tralia in 1965 – be­com­ing MD in ’67 – changed the face of per­for­mance mo­tor­ing here for­ever. Bourke was very much the fa­ther of the Fal­con GT and en­sured any bu­reau­cratic red tape was slashed. Once he made up his mind to pro­duce a high per­for­mance ver­sion it be­came a fait ac­com­pli within Ford. He’s our kind of guy.

Lim­ited edi­tion

The

XR GT started life as a true lim­ited edi­tion with around 250 built to the end of June 1967. De­mand was un­prece­dented and sec­ond batch was pro­duced. Ford’s poor record keep­ing of the time means there’s not a clear pic­ture of the to­tal built. One of­fi­cial tally is 684, an­other 596. The higher to­tal is thought to in­clude fleet or­der po­lice spe­cials.

Cops are tops 1

Upon its launch in 1966 the V8-pow­ered XR found favour as a pow­er­ful po­lice pur­suit ve­hi­cle. A po­lice pack de­vel­oped by Ford be­came the ba­sis for the GT’s de­vel­op­ment.

The big 5-0

Hit­ting the big 5-0 is rea­son enough to love it, but as this year also sees the demise of the Aus­tralian mus­cle car, with Holden end­ing lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing in Oc­to­ber, the Aus­tralian mus­cle car pe­riod rounds out as a neat 50-year pe­riod.

Good gear

It was the first lo­cal V8 fam­ily car with a four­speed (Hurst shift) man­ual trans­mis­sion.

It’s in­side that counts

Green glow­ing Ste­wart Warner gauges headed the trim pack­age that also in­cluded steer­ing wheel im­pact pad, wood-grain fin­ish steer­ing wheel and gear knob.

That sound

“A low back-pres­sure muf­fler sys­tem pro­duces a very ‘sporty’ and dis­tinc­tive note which is nei­ther loud nor harsh,” Ford’s press re­lease an­nounced.

Those stripes

Sub­tle by later stan­dards, the car fea­tured eye­catch­ing (for the time) GT stripes down the side and across the boot.

Those badges

Mus­tang- sourced GT badges with grille black­outs caused quite a stir when re­leased.

Lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion

The po­si­tion on the dash of the ‘289’ badge could dif­fer greatly from car to car. It’s been found in such lo­ca­tions as the glove­box lid to the steer­ing col­umn and sev­eral places in be­tween.

Gold, Gold, Gold

Nor­man ‘Nugget’ May eat your heart out. The XR GT came re­splen­dent in its own ex­clu­sive colour – ‘GT Gold’. What else would you call it? A char­coal black in­te­rior was stan­dard.

Colour my world

In all, 13 XR GTs are known to have been built in colours other than GT Gold. The most fa­mous is the Ivy Green ma­chine driven to vic­tory at Bathurst. Among the oth­ers were Sul­tan Ma­roon and no less than three shades of white. The lat­ter in­cluded Avis White, a nod to Ford’s fleet cus­tomer.

Po­lar Ex­press

The Geoghe­gan broth­ers or­dered a Po­lar White XR GT for their Bathurst ’67 at­tack and re­mark­ably this car sur­vives to­day, as seen in the sep­a­rate story.

Sil­ver bul­lets

The sec­ond most pop­u­lar colour for the XR GT is Gal­la­her Sil­ver or­dered by a cig­gie com­pany for its sales reps to sup­port the com­pany’s spon­sor­ship of the Oc­to­ber clas­sic. See sep­a­rate story.

Off the show­room floor

Seven

XR GTs con­tested the 1967 Gal­la­her 500, in­clud­ing three in GT Gold. Of the lat­ter trio, AMC is par­tic­u­larly taken with the #59 ma­chine of Ken Stacey and Bruce McIn­tyre, which, save for num­ber panel and driv­ers names, is to­tally de­void of sig­nage. It’s as if this car was driven out of the show­room and onto the track.

Se­cret squir­rel XR GT

There was also one built in Rus­set Bronze which was Bourke’s com­pany car. Whis­pers have it that this car still sur­vives and has been in the same own­er­ship since the early 1970s.

Lucky strike

A lucky few own­ers of late-build XR GTs have been sur­prised to find a 302ci V8 en­gine in their pride and joy in­stead of the 289ci. These are cars built around Oc­to­ber, just a few months be­fore the re­lease of the 302-pow­ered XT model. Our fea­ture car, cho­sen for this rea­son, is one such 302 ex­am­ple.

Viva la Mex­ico

The Ford Mo­tor Com­pany de Mex­ico also man­u­fac­tured a lim­ited run of around 100 Fal­con GTs in 1967 that were very sim­i­lar in ap­pear­ance to our Aussie ma­chine – ex­cept for hav­ing only two-doors. These were pow­ered by a 260ci V8.

Taxi!

For­get sil­ver ser­vice, try gold ser­vice! GT Gold ser­vice, that is. Rus­sell Taxi’s op­er­ated an XR Fal­con GT taxi, driven by lo­cal speed­way star, Barry Sulzberger. This im­age was taken on Collins Street in Ho­bart. “Take me to Rich­mond Speed­way or Baskerville Race­way, please cab­bie”.

His­tory nearly re­peats

The FPR-run Fal­con of David Reynolds and Dean Canto ran a spe­cial trib­ute liv­ery to #52D at Bathurst in 2012... and very nearly won the race! The pair’s Bot­tle-O Ford fin­ished just a poof­teenth be­hind the Com­modore of Jamie Whin­cup and Paul Dum­brell.

The H fac­tor 1

Harry Firth was not only be­hind the wheel the day the XR GT won Bathurst, he was in­stru­men­tal in the model’s de­vel­op­ment for the road and track. Be­fore his pass­ing in 2014, Firth penned his thoughts on his de­mon Bathurst 1967 tweaks and events of the race for the Ford and I one-shot magazine. An ex­tract can be found over the fol­low­ing pages.

The H fac­tor 2

FirthF wasn’t just a mas­ter de­vel­op­ment driver, he was peer­less when it came to out­psych­ing the op­po­si­tion pre-race. He out­lined how he tried to mess with the minds of ri­vals on the grid on Oc­to­ber 1, 1967. “Hav­ing made sec­ond on grid, it was bet­ter for Fred to be sit­ting in the car and re­lax­ing him­self whereas I was quite used to stir­ring up oth­ers. Just stand­ing look­ing at their car and walk­ing away shak­ing your head in­stantly raises doubt. Just men­tion rain and they all panic – es­pe­cially if you say ‘hope these tyres are good in the wet.’” Clas­sic Harry!

Keep you in sus­pen­sion

It was fit­ted with sports sus­pen­sion (lower and more rigid) with wider 5.5-inch rims and ra­dial ply tyres. “Springs have been stiff­ened, larger heavy-duty shock ab­sorbers fit­ted and the di­am­e­ter of the anti-roll bar in­creased,” Ford’s press ma­te­rial out­lined.

KB’s cracker of a road test

Rac­ing

Car News’ July 1967 is­sue car­ried a unique XR GT road test with Kevin Bartlett’s im­pres­sions, both good and bad. His com­ments were... typ­i­cally KB. Neg­a­tive: “It’s got no brakes; it’s got no oil pres­sure and com­ing out of corners it won’t go.” Pos­i­tive: “It’s a beaut road car. It’s com­fort­able... Best bloody steer­ing I’ve ever felt in a road car.” And over­all? “A bloke like Harry Firth could get one of these things to go pretty well.”

Win­ner win­ner, chicken din­ner

If line hon­ours at Bathurst in ’67 isn’t a rea­son to love the XR Fal­con GT then we give up.

But wait, there’s more

The XR GT has the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the first car ac­knowl­edged as be­ing the out­right win­ner of the pres­ti­gious Mount Panorama en­duro. Prior to that, there were merely class win­ners.

Cops are tops 2

Wily Harry Firth avoided any trou­ble with the law dur­ing pre-Bathurst high-speed run­ningin ses­sions on the open road in his race XR GTs by invit­ing the po­lice along to come and watch their pa­trol cars un­der de­vel­op­ment! Ge­nius!

Fair­mont Bathurst test bed

A hum­ble au­to­matic V8 Fair­mont (bot­tom right) was used as a mo­bile test­bed in early 1967 by Harry Firth. He ran the car in the BP Rally and also April’s Surfers Par­adise 4 Hour race for se­ries pro­duc­tion cars. “It led the Surfers race in the dry, but fell back to sec­ond in pour­ing rain. Be­ing the driver, it was easy to put the lessons from this into de­sign,” Harry said. Frank Matich was his co-driver in the 4 Hour, but was un­avail­able for the Oc­to­ber Bathurst clas­sic due to his con­flict­ing Can-Am com­mit­ment (as out­lined last is­sue).

Right said Fred

The XR GT is the car that made AMC favourite Fred Gib­son a leg­end. Frank Matich was orig­i­nally slated to be Firth’s co-driver but when he was com­mit­ted to Can-Am in the US, Harry Firth gave FG his big break. And the rest is his­tory...

When Harry met Freddy

Fred Gib­son says he only met Harry on the Fri­day of the Bathurst week­end – ie: two days be­fore the big event. “Un­til I ar­rived at the track I had never met Harry,” FG con­firmed. These new ac­quain­tances soon be­came a leg­endary duo.

Ready race­car

The XR Fal­con GT gave grass­roots rac­ing com­peti­tors around the coun­try ac­cess to ready to go V8 race­car. A good ex­am­ple was Tas­ma­nian Barry Cas­sidy, seen here at Long­ford in early 1968 (bot­tom left) get­ting the tail out as the Fer­rari P4 driven by Bill Brown looms up be­hind.

Gran Turismo?

Ap­ply­ing the GT badge to a four-door sedan saw Ford Aus­tralia draw crit­i­cism from mo­tor­ing diehards who pointed out, with some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, that the gran turismo badge was re­served for two-door cars. But Bill Bourke was not the type to suf­fer au­tosnobs and thumbed his nose at them.

Mys­tery mo­bile

The XR Fal­con GT in Bathurst’s Na­tional Mo­tor Rac­ing Mu­seum is a said to be a reshell of the orig­i­nal car that won the ’67 Great Race. Ex­actly how much of the Firth/Gib­son-driven XR GT lives on in this mys­tery ma­chine is open for dis­cus­sion.

Lap scor­ing con­tro­versy

XR GT was cen­tral to the first big lap scor­ing con­tro­versy in the race’s his­tory that got fans fever­ishly de­bat­ing the cir­cum­stances.

Stag­ger­ing Bathurst speed

Gib­son’s fastest race lap low­ered the Bathurst 500’s lap record – posted the pre­vi­ous year by Frank Matich in a Cooper S – by no less than seven sec­onds.

Steer­ing ra­tio

The steer­ing ra­tio was re­duced from 20:1 to 16:1 for “more di­rect con­trol in com­pe­ti­tion driv­ing when above av­er­age speeds are re­quired”. This re­duced steer­ing wheels turns lock to lock from 5 ½ to just over four.

Sales lead­er­ship started here

The Bathurst win proved a sales bo­nanza and the over­all suc­cess of the XR got Ford Aus­tralia on a roll that even­tu­ally took Fal­con to sales leader, dur­ing the life­span of the XD model.

Mr XR GT

We salute the late Gary Wat­son, who was known as ‘Mr XR GT’. No one cham­pi­oned the XR model more than the South Aus­tralian en­thu­si­ast.

Gal­vanised Ford staff

Bill San­tuc­cione ini­tially worked as an en­gi­neer for Repco be­fore mov­ing to Ford. He soon found him­self work­ing in Spe­cial Ve­hi­cles Divi­sion at Lot 6 un­der Al Turner and later with Howard Mars­den. He’s well placed to sum up the ef­fect the first GT had on morale at com­pany HQ. “I worked in the tool room orig­i­nally, then in the pro­to­type en­gine lab­o­ra­tory. My jour­ney with Ford has al­ways been as­so­ci­ated with what I call the ‘hard­core prod­uct’ – en­gine de­vel­op­ment at Gee­long, the race team and then where those ex­pe­ri­ences took me there­after.

“I was in the en­gine lab­o­ra­tory when the first XR GTs were de­vel­oped. I re­mem­ber the de­vel­op­ment en­gi­neers in those days – and we didn’t have hi-tech stuff in those days – were just so en­thused about the first GT Fal­con. It had a mas­sive ef­fect on the place.

“They were so en­thused about that first GT, they used to gaffer-tape their own per­sonal tape recorders to the rear bumpers just so they could go home and play the note of the en­gine.

“The main­stay of the Ford Mo­tor Com­pany in Aus­tralia – the core fea­ture if you like from the pub­lic’s point of view – was the se­quence of high­per­for­mance ve­hi­cles that were built be­tween the XR GT and the (sole) Phase IV. And it was the same story for those who worked at Ford.

Val­ues to­day

VIP Au­to­mo­tive So­lu­tions’ Col­lectable Car In­dex lists the 1967 XR Fal­con GT as be­ing val­ued to­day at $110,000. This is for GT Gold cars with an over­all con­di­tion rat­ing of 8/10. From AMC’s ob­ser­va­tions, de­mand has in­creased in the last two years due to Ford trag­ics want­ing to own the first and last Aussie-built Fal­con V8s. AMC thanks Phil Grant for sup­ply­ing his mag­nif­i­cant 302ci-en­gined XR GT for our pho­to­shoot.

Lil Kubes

Syd­ney drag racer Gra­ham Or­mond proved that the rel­a­tively small 289ci V8 en­gine in his XR GT could be ‘mas­saged’ into a po­tent per­former on the quar­ter mile. He took his GT Gold XR GT from stock-as-a-rock road car to Street Elim­i­na­tor crowns.

Rare beasts

It’s im­pos­si­ble to know with any cer­tainty how many gen­uine XR GTs sur­vive to­day, but GT en­thu­si­asts be­lieve the num­ber to be around 200.

Cover car of AMC #1

The XR GT is on pole po­si­tion for the first ever is­sue of AMC. We’re keen to hear from owner Ron Fraser to learn if the car is still in the fam­ily. Ron’s im­mac­u­late XR GT car was one of AMC #1’s ‘Sub $20,000 Bathurst Su­per­cars’, val­ued in 2001 be­tween $13,000-$17,000.

Led to the, erm, GT 40

The now de­funct Ford Per­for­mance Ve­hi­cles marked the GT’s 40th birth­day with a black and gold striped ‘40th An­niver­sary GT’ lim­ited edi­tion in early 2007. The 200 ex­am­ples of this BF Mark II GT bore iden­ti­fi­ca­tion that drew a link to the im­mor­tal GT 40 Le Mans ma­chines. Pity there won’t be a 50th an­niver­sary edi­tion...

A year of cel­e­bra­tions

Bathurst race week­end in Oc­to­ber will be the fo­cal point for the XR GT’s 50th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion, with Mus­cle Car Events Aus­tralia host­ing ac­tiv­i­ties track­side that week­end. Let us know of other club cel­e­bra­tions.

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