Clas­sic Wheels

That leg­endary photo

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - FIRST PUB­LISHED OC­TO­BER 1996

FORTY-SIX YEARS AF­TER IT WAS FIRST PUB­LISHED, UWE KUESSNER’S PHO­TO­GRAPH OF THE FAL­CON GT-HO PHASE III SPEEDO AND TACHOME­TER RE­MAINS THE MOST FA­MOUS IM­AGE TO EVER AP­PEAR IN WHEELS.

The shot, taken over driver Mel Ni­chols’ left shoul­der, first ap­peared with the tacho nee­dle at 6700rpm and the speedo re-touched to just shy of 100mph (160km/h), as if the Fal­con was in third gear. Ni­chols’ ‘Big­gest Stick’ story, pub­lished in the Oc­to­ber 1971 is­sue of Wheels, played it straight down the line, and didn’t men­tion the top speed achieved.

It was only four years later, when Ni­chols’ pub­lished a story-be­hind-the-pho­to­graph piece ti­tled ‘HO Down the Hume’ in the Oc­to­ber 1975 edi­tion of Wheels’ sister mag­a­zine, Sports Car World, that read­ers learned the truth. Upon see­ing the orig­i­nal pho­to­graph, speedo just above 140mph (225km/h), Wheels’ man­ag­ing di­rec­tor in­sisted – de­spite mas­sive op­po­si­tion from the ed­i­to­rial staff – that it was not to be pub­lished in that form.

The real pho­to­graph was first high­lighted in that SCW yarn, though it’s since ap­peared on T-shirts, been ripped off by nu­mer­ous web­sites, pub­lished with­out per­mis­sion in other mag­a­zines, and of­fered as a limited-edi­tion print signed by Ni­chols and Kuessner.

Twenty-five years af­ter Ni­chols’ ex­clu­sive first drive in the Phase III, Michael Stahl talked to the peo­ple re­spon­si­ble for the leg­endary Fal­con, plus the two blokes be­hind that pho­to­graph.

Stahly started with Ford Com­pe­ti­tion Di­rec­tor, Amer­i­can Al Turner, and went on to gather the mem­o­ries of Ian Stock­ings, Spe­cial Ve­hi­cles En­gi­neer; rac­ing drivers Al­lan Mof­fat and Fred Gib­son; Spe­cial Ve­hi­cles Man­ager Howard Mars­den; Max Ward, Ford’s bril­liant pub­lic re­la­tions man­ager; Bill San­tuc­cione, whom Stahl called the nuts and bolts man; and Peter Jef­frey, who worked on the Fal­con race cars.

Turner re­mem­bers, “That time will prob­a­bly never hap­pen again. We were very fortunate; it was just a great bunch of peo­ple and we all re­ally loved what we were do­ing. It was the best group of guys I’ve ever worked with, and I had a free hand to do what­ever was re­quired.”

Max Ward rem­i­nisced that the GT-HO he most re­mem­bered was the Phase I, “When we went to regis­ter 200 of them to qual­ify for Bathurst the lo­cal mo­tor reg­istry just lis­tened to the ex­haust and laughed us out of there. Al Turner had the idea to stuff the ex­hausts with chicken wire to qui­eten them down. We took them back to the reg­istry, and that’s how the whole GT-HO era started.”

In the early 1970s Fred Gib­son ran Ford’s NSW press car fleet from his Randwick work­shop. “Ev­ery week, the Phase IIIS would come back in with the tyres burned off. I’d throw on an­other set of Dun­lop Aqua­jets or what­ever the hell they were, and send ’em out again.”

Mof­fat, filled with re­gret said, “Back then I didn’t have the wis­dom to keep one. Any­way, I was just the driver and none of that stuff be­longed to me. I don’t have any sou­venirs from the GT-HO at all. But I sure wouldn’t mind a dol­lar for ev­ery lap of Calder and You Yangs that I did in them.”

EPIC TALES FROM OUR ARCHIVES THE REAL PHO­TO­GRAPH WAS FIRST HIGH­LIGHTED IN THAT SPORTS CAR WORLD YARN, THOUGH IT’S SINCE AP­PEARED ON T-SHIRTS, AND BEEN RIPPED OFF BY NU­MER­OUS WEB­SITES

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