XR GT 3: Gallaher
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!