XR GT 3: Gal­la­her

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents - Bob Sleader

The most fa­mous road­go­ing XR Fal­con GTs of all were those com­mis­sioned by a cig­gie com­pany. With a crav­ing for a not-so mild Gal­la­her, we tracked down one sur­vivor.

If not for its ti­tle-spon­sor­ship of the fledg­ling Bathurst pro­duc­tion car race in the mid 1960s and ac­com­pa­ny­ing pro­mo­tional cars, vir­tu­ally all trace of the now de­funct Gal­la­her GT cig­a­rette brand would have been stubbed out decades ago. Yet, in its own unique way, the Gal­la­her brand en­dures. In fact, it’s fair to say it will al­ways com­mand its own page in the an­nals of Aus­tralian muscle car his­tory.

Con­trast that with other Gal­la­her In­ter­na­tional (Aus­tralia) Ltd’s cig­a­rette brands that dis­ap­peared off the shelves around the same time – Park Drive, Ski, Wal­dorf and Ed­in­burgh. These were all soon for­got­ten.

The Gal­la­her brand keeps smoul­der­ing thanks to the rep mo­biles painted sil­ver with rep stripes ex­actly half a cen­tury ago. It would have been a dif­fer­ent story if, in­stead, those cig­gie com­pany sales reps drove around in white ‘Park Drive XR Fal­con GTs’ with red stripes or even teal ‘Wal­dorf XR GTs’ with red stripes.

UK-owned Gal­la­her In­ter­na­tional set up shop in Aus­tralia in 1963. Its par­ent com­pany was the sec­ond big­gest name in the Bri­tish tobacco in­dus­try at the time, com­mand­ing 33 per­cent of the mar­ket.

Gal­la­her soon found the go­ing tough in Aus­tralia. One rea­son was that it didn’t own the rights in this coun­try to the well-known prod­ucts that made it a sales leader in the Old Dart. It launched here with the Ed­in­burgh brand, but that failed to, if you’ll ex­cuse the pun, light up the mar­ket. Af­ter all, there were only so many homesick Scots liv­ing down un­der.

Be­fore long it would launch new brand names that were unique lo­cally, re­quir­ing mas­sive investment to give them a foothold in an al­ready heav­ily sat­u­rated mar­ket.

By the time the com­pany had com­pleted its $5 mil­lion re­vamp of the old Holeproof underwear fac­tory at Ry­dalmere in Syd­ney’s west in late 1965 the losses had mounted. For 1966 the com­pany ramped up pro­mo­tional ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing ti­tle spon­sor­ship of the Bathurst 500, which to that point had been backed by shock ab­sorber com­pany Arm­strong.

Things went to whole new level for 1967 when it threw its marketing might be­hind its new Gal­la­her GT King Size Fil­ters. The word ‘syn­ergy’ was still a long way off at­tain­ing wide­spread use, but had it been part of the marketing ver­nac­u­lar in 1967 it would have been apt word to de­scribe the op­por­tu­nity the Ford Mo­tor Com­pany’s launch of the raci­est lo­cally-man­u­fac­tured car in April that year pre­sented.

The all-gold, lim­ited edition XR GT Fal­con’s launch was an event that would not have es­caped the at­ten­tion of Gal­la­her’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Michael Moxey. The Fer­rari-driv­ing Moxey was the type of chap you’d see in the so­cial pages of the Sun­day news­pa­pers and whose home would fea­ture in women’s mag­a­zines. Get­ting no­ticed was his spe­cialty.

Now, we don’t know if it was Moxey’s idea for Gal­la­her to place a spe­cial or­der for eight new GTs painted in Gal­la­her Sil­ver with red stripes. But we can be sure the lo­cal Ford dealer’s eyes would have lit up when Gal­la­her’s fleet man­ager en­quired if a lim­ited run in this spe­cial colour was at all pos­si­ble. That dealer was Hunt Bros, which op­er­ated from the site now oc­cu­pied by Thom­son Ford’s ser­vice de­part­ment in Par­ra­matta’s fa­mous Auto Al­ley.

The idea was that Gal­la­her’s sales rep­re­sen­ta­tives would be un­mis­si­ble on the roads when do­ing their rounds drum­ming up busi­ness, with the cars dou­bling as pro­mo­tional ve­hi­cles at high-pro­file sport­ing events. In ad­di­tion to spon­sor­ing the Bathurst 500, Gal­la­her also backed mo­tor race meet­ings at War­wick Farm, the most up­mar­ket of the Syd­ney tracks – MD Moxey’s kind of place!

An of­ten pub­lished image of the eight sil­ver XR GTs parked on the lawn at Gal­la­her’s Ry­dalmere fa­cil­ity pro­vides a sense that these ma­chines were at the fore­front of the com­pany’s de­sire to ‘own’ mo­tor rac­ing.

These rolling bill­boards were a hit wher­ever they went prior to the 1967 Bathurst 500, which in­cluded be­ing used as ‘tour’ sup­port ve­hi­cles for the Syd­ney to Bathurst cy­cle race, held in the Great Race’s lead-up.

Ac­cess­ing the ar­chives to­day of the ma­jor news­pa­pers of the late 1960s, speci­fi­cially the busi­ness pages, it’s clear that the Bathurst 500 spon­sor­ship rep­re­sented a last roll of the dice for Gal­la­her Lim­ited.

In March 1968 the UK-owned cig­a­rette man­u­fac­turer elected to with­draw from the Aussie mar­ket, sell­ing its trade­marks, leaf stocks and man­u­fac­tur­ing equip­ment to US-con­trolled Philip Mor­ris (Aus­tralia) Ltd. Pro­duc­tion of Gal­la­her cigarettes was switched to Philip Mor­ris’ Moora­bin fac­tory in Mel­bourne in the short-term, be­fore the brand was dis­con­tin­ued al­to­gether.

As to the eight sil­ver XR GTs, for­mer em­ploy­ees of the Geoghe­gans have con­firmed these were sold off through the fam­ily’s car­yards and landed in the hands of pri­vate own­ers. There is, how­ever, some dis­agree­ment whether some of the eight were re­painted GT Gold to make them eas­ier to shift. In­deed, the car you see here was painted GT Gold at some point early in its life. Ex­actly when is un­known.

Fal­con GT ex­perts tell us that as many as four of the eight Gal­la­her cars sur­vive to­day in vary­ing con­di­tions. Prob­a­bly the best known of these is our fea­ture car, owned by

Gal­la­her’s unique sil­ver promo XR GTs were a big hit, although not enough to save the ail­ing fag brand. Townsville’s Bob Sleader, who gra­ciously al­lowed AMC to pho­to­graph his mag­nif­i­cently-re­stored ex­am­ple.

Bob pur­chased his car in 2012 from the es­tate of Gary Wat­son, the fondly-re­mem­bered South Aus­tralia who picked up the nick­name of ‘Mr XR GT’ in the 1990s. It al­ways be­mused Gary that most other GT en­thu­si­asts were more in­ter­ested in the later mod­els, whereas he had a fas­ci­na­tion with the ear­li­est – and what he con­sid­ered of­ten un­ap­pre­ci­ated – GTs. His ob­ses­sion be­gan when he pur­chased a Gold ex­am­ple as a young bloke in 1981. As his knowl­edge deep­ened over the next decade or so, he yearned to own what could be termed in the 1990s the holy grail of XR GTs – an of­ten talked about but rarely seen sil­ver beast. In fact, Thy­lacine sight­ings were more com­mon than Gal­la­her GT ap­pear­ances at one point.

Fun­nily enough, one such car in Tas­ma­nia was on Gary’s radar but the owner wasn’t keen to sell. This owner, ei­ther as a favour to Gary or to get him off his back, put Wat­son onto an­other car in Queens­land that was for sale. This was 1996 and Wat­son snapped up a car that had been in the ven­dor’s fam­ily since the late 1960s or early 1970s. This ma­chine had been re­stored in 1988 to its sil­ver colours.

Three years into own­ing the car, Wat­son re­turned it to full Gal­la­her pro­mo­tional ve­hi­cle con­fig­u­ra­tion, adding stripes and sig­nage. The car be­came a mag­net at the bian­nual Fal­con GT Na­tion­als and other car shows, oc­ca­sion­ally at­tract­ing the at­ten­tion of for­mer Gal­la­her em­ploy­ees. This helped Gary gather a range of Gal­la­her pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial, such as im­ages, ad­ver­tise­ments, in­no­va­tive for their time flip-top cig­a­rette pack­ets, beer coast­ers and pins.

Gary even had the priv­i­lege of speak­ing to one gen­tle­man who ac­tu­ally drove the cars for Gal­la­her back in 1967. AMC would love to speak our­selves to this ex-Gal­la­her em­ployee to hear rec­ol­lec­tions, if in­deed he is still alive...

Wat­son’s pass­ing in 2011 means a lot of his knowl­edge and con­tacts have also been lost.

How­ever, his pride and joy is in good hands with Sleader. This car was the third of the Gal­la­her Sil­ver XR GTs to roll off the Broad­mead­ows pro­duc­tion line.

It’s said that one of the dis­tin­guish­ing fea­tures of the sil­ver Gal­la­her cars was an ad­di­tional lock on the driver’s side quar­ter panel next to the tail­light. The ex­tra se­cu­rity stemmed from the cars trans­port­ing sig­nif­i­cant quan­ti­ties of cigarettes around while un­der­tak­ing their pro­mo­tional du­ties. Any such lock must have been re­moved from our fea­ture car early in its life – hope­fully by an early owner and not a would-be thief!

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