XR GT 4: Geoghegans
The Geoghegan brothers-driven XR Falcon GT was the first to greet the chequered flag at Bathurst in ’67. Within a few hours it was relegated to second place. Today it’s possibly the only surviving Ford factory works car from that landmark race.
The Geoghegan brothers’ XR Falcon GT was the first to greet the chequer at Bathurst in ’67. Within a few hours it was relegated to second place. Today it’s possibly the only surviving factory works Ford from that landmark race.
They did things differently in 1967. But then Harry Firth, to whom the Ford Motor Company entrusted preparation of its three official Gallaher 500 challengers, always marched to the beat of a very different drum.
Harry operated Firth Motors from Auburn in suburban Melbourne in his own unique style. It was here, Harry told AMC shortly before his passing in 2014, that three XR GTs lobbed fresh off the Broadmeadows line. There was an Ivy Green Metallic example for Firth and co-driver Fred Gibson; a Sultan Maroon machine for Bob Jane and Spencer Martin; and a Polar White car for Ian and Leo Geoghegan. Receiving a white car enabled the brothers to mimic the colour scheme of their other green-striped Castrolbacked racing machines.
After basic fettling by Firth and his men, these machines went their separate ways. Harry did his thing; the Sydney-based Geoghegans their own. It’s little wonder this approach – far removed from Ford’s in-house works efforts between 1969 and 1973 – bred a rivalry that boiled over on race day.
Harry explained Firth Motors’ deal with Ford in the following manner: “We had the job of making sure no one had any problems.”
Just how much time the white example spent at Firth Motors before it headed to Sydney has been lost in the sands of time, but it could
not have been long given the car rolled off the production line some time in September for a race held on October 2!
While it’s the Firth and Gibson-driven green machine that goes down in history as the first V8-engined car to win the Bathurst classic, those record books could very easily have read differently. This is especially the case when you consider that the official results list the top four finishers – two Falcon GTs and two Alfa Romeo GTVs –as all completing 130 laps. As an aside, those same four cars lined up first through fourth on the starting grid, albeit in a different order to their finishing positions. Remarkably, this is the only time in the storied 50-plus year history of the Great Race that the four fastest cars in qualifying would be the same quartet that filled out first through fourth on the result sheets!
The Geoghegan Falcon started from pole
position courtesy of a 3:03.0 lap, pipping the Firth/Gibson XR GT (3:03.2) and the Kevin Bartlett/Laurie Stewart Alfa (3:03.5). Row two on the 3-2-3 starting grid was filled out by the Doug Chivas/Max Stewart Alfa and the third worksbacked XR GT of Jane/Martin.
Many trackside pundits considered the Alfa GTVs to be the pre-race favourites. Bartlett had all-but-matched the pace of the more powerful GTs in qualifying, and the lighter Italian-built cars were expected to be far easier on their brakes, tyres and componentry over 130 laps.
Yet, from the start of the race, the power of the GTs up and down the mountain became a telling factor, with Geoghegan, Gibson, Martin and the Bob Beasley/Des West XR setting up a handy lead from the Alfas of Bartlett and Chivas, who appeared to be happy to run their own race while the Falcons pressed on. After the hectic early laps, the pace soon settled down and it wasn’t long before the Alfas got back past Beasley. However, the fightback by the top two Alfas was soon to be thwarted by a problem with wheelnuts coming loose, causing the cars to lose time in the pits.
Up front, the race for outright honours became a tight tussle between the top two Fords. A long Correspondence from Ford in the ‘80s and ‘90s all-but confirmed the car was Geoghegan brothers ‘67 Bathurst XR GT. pit stop by the Geoghegans at the first change, allowed Firth to take over the lead… a position that would change a couple more times throughout the race. In the meantime, the top two Alfas had sorted out their issues and were ready to pounce should either of the top two Fords slip up. The Jane/Martin challenge faded after a couple of blowouts of their Fulda tyres.
At the end of a very tight race, Gibson was less than 10 seconds ahead of Leo Geoghegan. If that all sounds straightforward, the everpresent curse of sixties and seventies Bathurst classics would soon raise its ugly head.
Lapscoring disputes were par for the course during this era and, sure enough, there was confusion when Gibson came past the pits to complete the dark green car’s 130th lap. Surprisingly, there was no chequered flag awaiting #52D… much to Firth’s dismay.
Instead, it was Leo Geoghegan who was shown the chequered flag first and, with his brother, presented with the class and outright trophies. Firth quickly protested the result, believing that his team had won, and after the officials reviewed the lap scoring, Firth and Gibson were awarded first place, the Geoghegan car being relegated to second.
The lap-counting error occurred when Ian Geoghegan returned to the pits at around the 100-lap mark via the back gate on Mountain Straight, after almost running out of fuel. Although the lapscorers missed this, Firth was typically right on to it. His protest and evidence ensured the correct result was restored and the animosity between Firth and the Geoghegan escalated to a whole new level.
Leo Geoghegan, prior to his passing in early 2015, told AMC that he believed the white #53D Falcon was brought back to Sydney after the ’67 Bathurst 500 and eventually sold through Geoghegans Sporty Cars.
Very little is known about what became of the car over the next few years.
Inevitably, as the years rolled on and Australian muscle cars with race history became increasingly desirable, Falcon GT enthusiasts began discussing the fate of various chassis that represented the Blue Oval at Mount Panorama.
The whereabouts of the Falcons from Bathurst 1967 was a common topic of conversation between XR GT devotees Paul Lloyd, from Western Australia, and South Australian Gary Watson. By the early 1990s both had heard the persistent rumours the white Geoghegan car had travelled to WA fairly early on in its life and remained in the state. There had been occasional correspondence between owners in remote parts of the state and relevant car clubs.
Watson, known through the GT fraternity as ‘Mr XR GT’, had begun piecing together information on these late sixties performance Fords, gathering documentation that would eventually help him confirm the identity of some prized vehicles.
Meantime, Lloyd was told by a fellow WA GT owner that he had seen a white XR GT – with the number plate BEZ 262 – in the north-west mining
town of Mount Newman a couple of years prior, owned by a Bill Martin. Lloyd was even given photographs of the car.
With no current address for Martin, Paul took the punt on sending a letter addressed to Bill Martin, c/o Mount Newman Mining, in the hope that it might get forwarded to him. Nothing ventured, nothing gained...
Much to Paul Lloyd’s surprise, he did eventually receive a response, only to discover that Martin and the car had moved to Mount Manganui in New Zealand. Bill Martin also sent some later photos of the car, which showed that it was still basically the same as depicted in the earlier photos from Mount Newman, except for the NZ number plate, UM 3822.
Over the next few years Paul and Bill kept in contact. In the late 1990s Bill Martin asked Paul if he would like to buy the car. Lloyd, not being in a position to make the purchase at that time, passed the information onto good friend Gary Watson, who jumped at the chance to add the Geoghegan car to his small collection of XR GTs that also included one of the eight Gallaher Silver GTs.
Although the identification plate was missing when Gary bought it, the numbers stamped on the car matched the letter that Bill had received from Ford in 1997. This reinforced the information contained in a document that Gary had collected from 1984 – a letter from Ford Australia’s Customer Service Offi ce to a prospective owner of the car, a ‘Mr Pinner’, who had written to them seeking information to help him verify its authenticity. This letter clearly indicated that based on the information detailed on the car’s identification plate, the car was a ‘Polar White’ Falcon GT; that Ford built “at least one unit in this colour” and that the Geoghegan brothers raced one at Bathurst in 1967.
There are suggestions that the ID Plate still exists and that it’s still in the possession of one of the car’s previous owners.
For Gary, buying the car based only on photos and discussions with Bill Martin and Paul Lloyd led to a few sleepless nights. Thankfully the car was in surprisingly good condition when it arrived at Port Adelaide from New Zealand in December 1999.
“Gary made a very rushed trip to the wharf to pick the car up before they closed down for the Christmas break and immediately started work on it when he got it home,” Gary’s brother Steve recalls. “The first thing was to remove a set of rusty 12-slots. The replacements were the original 5.5-inch steel rims.
“The restoration took a further twelve months, which included things like a new windscreen and roof liner as well as boot mat and re-chroming some of the cosmetic bits. One of the things that Gary was frustrated about was the fact that he could not locate a set of the original Michelin tyres that the car had raced on.”
The car, by and large, only required relatively minor cosmetic touch-ups ahead of restoring the mechanicals back to original and returning it back to how it looked on October 2, 1967, with the green stripes and the #53D racing numbers.
Over the next 12 years Gary proudly showed The photos that confififirmed confirmed the car’s existence in the ‘90s in a remote north-west mining town in WA. his three XR GTs at various car shows, but made a special effort for the GT Nationals no matter where they were held. Such was Gary’s attention to detail, his cars regularly took out the top honours for each of the categories entered. The Polar White machine often received the gong for the ‘Best Maintained XR GT’.
Sadly, Gary passed away from an aggressive form of cancer in September 2011. Whilst his silver and gold GTs have since been sold, the Geoghegan GT still remains with Gary’s family as a fitting reminder of his passion and skill. However, as Gary would not want this historicallysignificant car sitting idle and gathering dust, it is for sale to the right buyer.
“The 2003 GT Nationals at Bathurst was a special time for Gary as he was asked to put his car on display at the big dinner along with the other factory green car. He would also meet Leo Geoghegan, who would sign the firewall of the car. Leo was very impressed to know that his old car still had life in it. Gary was also awarded a trophy that is called the spirit of the GT award, which was presented to him by Fred Gibson. He did a lot of photos with the car on the Mount Panorama racetrack along with his other cars.”