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.

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

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.”


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