Available for pre-order online or at any authorized stockist
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.
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
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.
The Falcon GT was the first full-size Australian family car variation to offer a performance and appearance package.
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 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.
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.
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.
“A low back-pressure muffler system produces a very ‘sporty’ and distinctive note which is neither loud nor harsh,” Ford’s press release announced.
Subtle by later standards, the car featured eyecatching (for the time) GT stripes down the side and across the boot.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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