Wayne Draper's HO Legacy
The passing of Wayne Draper in 2012 was the loss of one of Australia’s great automotive designers. While you might think the story of such a character would be of endless hours scribbling designs and sculpting clay, Draper’s story is of a man obsessed by his passion. He broke the rules and risked his career to preserve an era of muscle cars that would have otherwise been lost.
In his later years Draper would be hit by a string of tragedies and challenges, but during his early time at Ford he took his luck and wasn’t afraid to risk it all.
Straight out of school Draper studied industrial design at RMIT Melbourne with a talent for design and a love of cars. His mentor encouraged him to apply at Ford, and although he was knocked back at first, Draper put in another year of study and was offered a role as a junior designer the following year.
The design department at Ford when Draper started in 1970 was bohemian and all rules were off the table.
“The thing during that golden era of design in Australia is that they were all cowboys,” says Rob Draper, who has continued the legacy of HO Phase Autos since his father’s death. “They could do what they like, it was chaos equals creativity… they were loose and they would have these wild ideas and it was a real creative hub. Dad would come home with all sorts of different cars; he would say he wanted this engine with this and this paint and later that week he would have it.
“Dad was crazy about cars; he always was,” says Rob, pictured second from right on previous page. “He had a Datsun rally car and loved driving it hard, but even in the work cars he’d take home he was on the limit all the time.”
His daily commute to work with fellow designer Peter Arcadipane was in twin black XB Falcon GT 427 coupes. “When we were both a couple of very young designers at Ford we got up to a lot of mischief,” says Arcadipane. “We used to blast through the upper northern suburbs at full trot and time ourselves. Always trying to outdo the other. But we never hit or wrecked anything.
“One day the inevitable happened. Straight out of the classic road movie The Vanishing Point, the police put up a roadblock on Sydney Road, up near Ford. They had obviously been getting numerous complaints about these two maniacs in their evil devil-machines! They were waiting for us one morning ‘guns raised’. As Lady Luck would have it, we had to stop for fuel and our friend who worked there informed us that something was up.
“We got in our Mad Max machines and very gently burbled up to work, exactly on the speed limit. We got a lot of angry and frustrated looks from the boys in blue. But they could do nothing.”
Some of Draper’s greatest luck came when he took the then Ford boss Geoff Polites’ LTD for a spin. Draper rolled the car eight times!
He escaped unscathed and promptly trotted out to order Polites another one.
When you ask anyone who knew Draper to tell you about him you get the impression he was a man without fear. It was an attribute that would provide him the audacity to continue the HO name after Ford dropped it in face of the supercar scare of 1972.
Draper joined Ford as a designer when the GT-HO Phase II was in the latter stages of its development and it was the old muscle cars like it that Draper most had an affinity for.
Left: Wayne Draper (in skivvy) fearlessly used Ford’s facilities to press ahead with designs the company’s head honchos would never approve – or, at one stage, approve of. Bottom left: Draper surveys the results of a very different re-design exercise.
When Ford axed production of the GT-HO Phase IV in 1972 and subsequently withdrew from racing, Draper’s creative energies were just getting into gear. For a petrolhead like him it was hard to stand by and see the dynamic, performancedriven car company slowly decline into a cardiganwearing maker.
When the XD model was in development in the mid to late 1970s, he penned a version he called a ‘Phase 5’. Not only did Draper find a way to bring this design to life, as a secondary manufacturer, he did so while helping get XD Falcons onto the racetrack, despite Ford Australia’s top brass flatly refusing to homologate a racing version of the model, as outlined in AMC #50.
The subsequent Phase cars after the GTHO Phase IV are a polarising point for some enthusiasts, who dismiss the cars as they’re not factory-built Ford production vehicles. But for many bluebloods these machines – and Draper’s designs generally – are laced with the Blue Oval’s own DNA as he actually worked there. They are considered vehicles that Ford should have produced. And if it weren’t for Draper and some
others, the realisation of the original XD Phase 5 and XE Phase 6 designs would have been buried under a pile of E series Falcon drawings.
“Even though Ford weren’t changing their mind [about not marketing performance cars like the GT-HO],” Rob Draper continues, “there was one designer there who thought, ‘Stuff it, I’ll do it on my own.’ And the guys there and on the scene – Dad, (automotive fibreglass supplier) Bob McWilliam and Murray Carter – did it without Ford and they made sure these cars, in some form, got on the racetrack and road.”
This is a reference to the clandestine efforts of Wayne Draper and other Broadmeadows insiders in helping Ford privateers including his mate Murray Carter homologate the XD and XE model racing Falcons of the late Group C touring car era. What Carter and Garry Willmington started, Dick Johnson took to a whole new level, winning three Australian Touring Car Championships in four years, as well as the 1981 Bathurst 1000.
“So, in a way, the spirit of the fans who worked within Ford is in these [Phase 5 and 6] cars,” Rob Draper continues. “To me they are better than a production Falcon, because Ford didn’t care and these guys did. They are pure enthusiast cars.”
Ford dropped its trademark for the HO (Homologated Options, the original meaning of HO) after cancelling Phase IV production and Draper was canny enough to pick it up. He subsequently started Phase Autos with Bob McWilliam, at first designing spoilers for the XA, XB and XC Falcon touring cars. The dilemma for Wayne Draper was keeping his side business a secret from Ford, a challenge when Draper was using Ford’s modelling clay, testing Phase 5 prototypes in its wind tunnel and getting Murray Carter to test the cars without Ford’s knowledge.
In 2010 Wayne Draper told AMC the following: “Bob and I established a new company ‘Phase Autos Pty Ltd’. We were equal partners in the business, but I had to remain a silent partner if I wanted to keep my job at Ford.
“The idea was that Phase Autos would design and manufacture the (CAMS) approved bodykits for the XD racecars and produce the minimum number of road cars needed for homologation, which I think was 25 units.”
Not that a full 25 complete cars rolled out of Phase Autos in the traditional sense. Some complete cars were produced, but many were simply kits sold to individuals or Ford dealers for fitment. In any case, near enough was good enough for a governing body desperate for the new Falcon to hit the track.
“I think we just had to show a genuine intent to build them. It was all smoke and mirrors,” Wayne Draper told AMC for issue #50.
Son Rob is today immensely proud of his father’s efforts to find a way forward and presson even when Ford’s head honchos cottoned on to Wayne’s involvement.
Ultimately, Johnson and the other Falcon racers were generating positive press for the XD range and Ford’s corporate aversion to the racing program dissipated.
“Ford did eventually catch wind of it,” Rob says. “As I understand it, a marketing executive at Ford named Rick Jarvis convinced management that what was going on was a way to still be involved in motorsport without them having to do anything or pay for anything.”
It’s been difficult for Rob Draper to piece together details of Phase 5 and 6 road car production and where the cars were sold. This is due to poor, paper-based 1980s-style recordkeeping, the loss of surviving records in recent years and the passing of both original partners. Coming up with a total number is tricky also due to the fact that some left the workshop as complete cars, while others were sold as kits. It’s also possible that no two cars produced were the same.
“I’m told Phase Autos did an early run of cars and shipped them to dealers,” Rob Draper says. “Publicity in magazines and the XD’s success on the racetrack contributed to people walking into Ford dealerships and wanting to order them. Some customers wanted the bigger guards and some people didn’t. That’s why all the cars produced are slightly different. Customers had an options list. There was never an arrangement with specific dealerships.”
One knowledgeable enthusiast told AMC that the total number of cars produced in the 1980s was around the 30-mark, comprising approximately 26 XD-based Phase 5s and as few as four XE Phase 6s. The small numbers highlight how that this was very much a part-time sideline business for both partners.
Rob says there’s a steady flow of owners coming out of the woodwork claiming to have an
original Phase 5 or 6, and while there wasn’t any stamping, there are a few particular alterations McWilliam made to the Phase cars that makes identification easy.
Through the 1980s, as the E series of Falcons were released, Draper moved away from designing Phase vehicles and focused on reaching his goal of becoming Ford Australia’s chief designer. The opportunity never came at Ford, and it was a bitterness Draper held onto, but he did get the opportunity at Nissan in 1991. Then, three years later Nissan closed down local operations and Wayne went on to teach design at RMIT, while contracting one-off projects through the HO Phase Autos name.
Bob McWilliam and Draper eventually parted ways. McWilliam was keen to expand in other directions, such as boats and caravans, but Draper had bigger ideas for HO Phase Autos.
“Bob wasn’t as keen to think as big as Dad was. Or so I’m told by a few past employees. I know the last design Dad did as partner to Bob was the police divvy van in the early to mid1990s,” says Rob.
In 2008 Draper relocated Phase Autos to Strath Creek, 90 minutes drive north from Melbourne’s CBD. He continued developing designs for HO and met Denison Phillips, who took on the task of producing and fitting the bodywork for customers under the Phase Autos name. The business was just starting to build momentum when tragedy struck in February 2009. When the Black Saturday bushfires, that claimed 173 lives in regional Victoria, ripped through the small town, Phase Autos’ workshop was completely destroyed.
Phillips remembers the loss well, not just for
HO Phase Autos but also for all its customers who had lost cars.
“There were a lot of upset customers and most of the cars were uninsured. We’re still dealing with people who blame us for their loss, but then there are some people who really helped. We had people donating cars and money to help get everything back up, it’s amazing how helpful people can be and it shows the passion and support for the cars we build. I’d really like to thank those people,” Phillips says.
It was a hard time for Phillips and Wayne Draper and they had to reboot the business in a shed on a property Phillip’s mother owned in the same region.
Loss of the workshop paled into insignificance when in the same year Wayne Draper was diagnosed with cancer. But it didn’t stop him. He continued to develop Phase designs and was more determined than ever to see the completion of his ultimate creation, an XE Phase 6 Series II – a modern build of his eighties creation.
The base for the car was a silver-coloured 1982 Ford Fairmont XE. As the original Phase 6 moulds had been lost in the fire, Phillips developed a new mould with Draper that was redesigned slightly and one-piece – basically an improved version for the Series II.
“We have customers now who give us a car and say ‘do everything’, but we also get people who don’t have that sort of money but have always wanted a Phase. Being able to DIY and use some parts of our kits makes it a reality for them and that’s what keeps the spirit of these cars alive.”
As Draper’s cancer became more aggressive, Phillips and a small team of family and friends worked around the clock to get the car ready in time for Victoria’s All Ford Day in early 2012. While the XE Phase 6 wasn’t running, it was presentable and had its first outing, garnering much attention from Blue Oval fans. Draper then pushed Phillips to finish the car and have it running, because he believed there was nothing more important than for a car to be running.
“Dad always said that cars are alive,” Rob continues. “They’re like an animal and people react to things that are alive. He said the car has to have a heart; it’s its pulse. The thump of that V8 engine is the heartbeat.”
It took an extraordinary effort, but Draper had many friends and Blue Power Racing Developments were able to get the engine running in just a few days.
The engine itself is a rebuilt 351ci Cleveland with a 650 Holley and electronic ignition. The soundtrack is rich and amplified via 4-2-1 extractors and a three-inch stainless steel exhaust. Power is controlled via a T5 gearbox through an 8¾-inch differential.
Wayne Draper designed the original XE Falcon range for Ford Australia and initially specified door trims and side mirrors that, due to budget constraints, were pushed back until the XF model’s release. He was finally able to get these on the Phase 6 Series II that came to life in 2012.
While a beauty to see and hear when driving, in reality this particular car is restricted to appearing at car shows – the impracticality of its 18-inch 335/30 rear and 265/35 front Pirelli P-Zero tyres means they are just a finger width away from the bespoke Phase 6 wheel-arch flares.
Out in daylight for the AMC shoot the car feels as alive as Draper intended, and its PPG red paint with 17.5 per cent fluoro pigment mix has a brilliant lustre under full light.
“We were on display inside a building for three days at our last car show,” says David Wyles, Draper’s step-son and owner of the XE Phase 6 Series II ‘demonstrator’ shown here. “On the last day of the show we wheeled it outside and everyone was asking if it was the same car – the paint comes alive in the daylight.”
Wayne was too ill to drive the realisation of his dream, but Rob, Phillips and Wyles took the car around the back of the house where Draper was bedridden so he could see the pinnacle of his HO Phase Autos legacy.
Phillips, who is currently building a similar Phase 6 for a client, says that even in his final days Draper was relentless in his desire for having
Dad always said that cars are alive. They’re like an animal and people react to things that are alive. He said the car has to have a heart; it’s its pulse. The thump of that V8 engine is the heartbeat.
the Phase 6 project completed.
“I went around to see him for the last time,” Phillips recalls, “and he opened his eyes and all he said to me was ‘Just get that car finished.’”
Although Wyles, who helped Draper in the workshop when he was younger, isn’t as involved with the business now, Rob Draper and Denison Phillips have taken the reins.
“I look after HO and a lot of the business side of things,” Rob explains, “while Denno manages Phase Autos and working with clients to build their cars.”
A serious car accident last year has left Rob Draper battling injuries but he’s determined to continue his father’s legacy.
“There are plans for some one-off Phase cars based on newer Falcons, but we’re still at the proposal stage, for the moment were doing a lot of the early Phase kits.
“Although business has been growing, I was in a bad car accident 18 months ago and it has just been another setback to deal with, but we’re getting there now and I’m doing much better than the early days.
“When I bought the car (that was in the crash) Dad said it was so well designed, and that it would save my life one day… and he was right.”
For the moment Phase Autos is based in Broadford, although as it expands and takes on more clients there are plans to relocate again. The current project taking up most of Phillips’ time is a complete rebuild of a red XE Phase 6. It’s one of the biggest projects to date.
“There’s not one part of this car that won’t be refurbished or new,” says Phillips, pictured third from right on the opening page of this story. “The interior was in great condition, but even that is being completely replaced to factory, it’s a huge job, but it just shows how much passion and enthusiasm there is for these cars and how much people are willing to spend to have the car they’ve dreamed of. They’re a special car to a lot of people, the Phases.”
The latest project coming to reality at HO Phase Auto is on the extreme side of what can be done. Draper’s Phase designs lives on through the enthusiasts, no matter if they want a complete rebuilt or a DIY kit. In other words, the approach in the 1980s – i.e. low-run, complete build or supply of kits – is still the go today.
The operation has brought half-a-dozen XE Phase 6s to life in the last three years, plus two XD Phase 5s. A further 30-odd kits have found customers in a similar period.
“We do provide different services,” Phillips says, “and although we can look after a complete build, we get a lot of customers who want to do most of it themselves. The only difference between a 100 per cent DIY kit and having us fit it is that we will provide a compliance plate if we do it ourselves. It’s just that we know it will be done to the exact specifications. But we’re happy to provide a certificate of authenticity with kits.”
It’s by no means a big operation and the cars will never be factory Ford vehicles, but they do fill a gap in the Blue Oval’s storied muscle car history. The reincarnated Phase machines only exist today due to demand from enthusiasts and a lot of hard work from the young guys quoted in this story.
“Dad had a lot of roadblocks put in front of him, but he worked tirelessly to create his dream. The Phase cars live on through the enthusiasts that share his passion.”
Above: Allan Moffat ultimately raced RX7s against the XE Falcons, but Wayne Draper worked on a concept to keep him in Fords. Below: HO Phase Autos’ workshop was destroyed in the February 2009 bushfires, but it’s since risen from the ashes.