Australian Muscle Car
A new Phase in racing
The Falcon GT-HO Phase II didn’t have a long competition career but while it was on track it enjoyed plenty of success - and it avenged Ford for the Bathurst embarrassment of ‘69
Externally, the XW Falcon GT-HO Phase II is almost indistinguishable from the original GT-HO model. The only visual difference is in the wheels: the original model’s 14 x 6-inch wheels had 12 slots, the Phase II’s are ve-slot. But under the skin a lot had changed. The upgrades were substantial, many of them a direct response to the original GT-HO’s humiliating failure at Bathurst the previous year.
Of course, the big ticket change was the switch from the Windsor 351 V8 to the Cleveland version – although this had nothing to do with what had happened on the Mountain in ’69. The Cleveland engine had been a part of Al Turner’s vision for the GT-HO series right from the start – before the American had even arrived in Melbourne in late ’68 to take over Ford’s down under motorsport operations. It was only the slow moving wheels of the Ford system that prevented the original XW GT-HO from being Cleveland powered.
The other big one was the rear axle. Gone was the ‘traction-lock’ clutch-type limited slip diff, replaced by new, stronger rear axle assembly with new 31-spline axles (Phase I had 28-spline), a ‘Daytona’ diff centre and, importantly, an optional Detroit Locker.
It was the old traction-lock limited slip diff that had proven the GT-HO’s Achilles Heel at Bathurst in ’69. Under race conditions, the diffs loosened up to the point where they eventually stopped working, leaving the GTHO drivers helpless against excessive, tyre-smoking wheelspin. It was a particular problem up through Griffins’ Bend, where the right rear was unloaded under heavy power for a lengthy spell. It was too much for the special soft compound Goodyear racing tyres Turner had chosen, with two of the three works cars suffering right rear tyre failures.
That kind of thing wasn’t going to happen with a Detroit Locker, although coping with that diff’s aggressive locking characteristic presented Phase II drivers with an entirely new challenge. Some liked the ‘locker,’ others hated it.
The Top Loader gearbox was upgraded with a longer extension housing, which allowed for a shorter tailshaft in the interests of reducing tailshaft ‘whip’ at high speed. The tailshaft itself was also thicker. Of more signi cance, though, were the new close ratio gear set. The heavy dual plate clutch and high 2.32:1 rst gear might have meant the Phase II was a bit of a donkey around town in general traffic, but on the track (and especially on the Mountain) the close ratio ‘box made it a real thoroughbred performer.
The Phase II had bigger front and rear roll bars, longer front springs with increased rate, and the slightly stiffer driver’s side spring now tted to the passenger side.
In all, a substantially improved car that addressed all of the original GT-HO’s main shortcomings (except the brakes, which apart from nned rear drums were unchanged), coupled with an all-new, more powerful Cleveland V8 engine.
Any V8 Monaro offering from Holden was going to nd it tough matching that – except that there was no V8 Holden that year. Holden had dramatically changed tack with its racing effort, eschewing the big coupe despite its huge run of success, and opting instead for a smaller, lighter, six-cylinder powered Bathurst challenger in the LC model Torana GTR XU-1.
So all that stood in the way of Ford’s potent new race homologation 5.8-litre V8 Falcons on the track were ‘mere’ six-cylinder machines. On paper, in Series Production racing from August and onwards into the endurance races, the new GT-HO looked set to clean up. The reality, though, was far from as simple as that.
The Falcon XW GT-HO Phase II boasted significant improvements over the original XW GT-HO. But that only increased the pressure on Ford to deliver at Bathurst, given how spectacularly the GT-HO had failed the year before. Making the stakes even higher in 1970 was the fact that were the new Ford to go down at Bathurst again, this time it would have been defeated by a six-cylinder opponent.
Battle of the Big Three
The period from mid-1970 to the end of 1972 really was a wonderful time in our touring car racing history. In the Australian Touring Car Championship it was the peak of the heavy metal muscle car era: legendary machines like Bob Jane’s Camaro, the Allan Moffat and Ian Geoghegan Mustangs (and the factory-built ‘Super Falcons’), and Norm Beechey’s Monaro. But at the same time in the Series Production ranks, there was the emerging battle of the ‘Big Three’: Ford, Holden and Chrysler all striving for success at Bathurst, with three very different machinery offerings.
The new model GT-HO made its race debut at Oran Park on August 9, literally days after it went on sale. Possibly the requisite homologation paperwork for the Phase II hadn’t been completed by then, because rather than run in the Series Production Toby Lee Series round (won by Fred Gibson’s Phase I), Mike Gore entered his new Phase II in the Division Two Sports Sedan races. It was not an auspicious debut: in the main Div 2 race (inset left), Gore was ghting for the lead with a Valiant-engined Simca Aronde when the new Falcon’s engine blew.
It was left to John French to notch up the new model’s rst race win, at Surfers Paradise on August 30 with a privateer Phase II entered by local Ford dealer, McCluskey Ford. In a fairly thin eld, French won both races on the day, defeating John Harvey in Bob Jane’s HT Monaro GTS 350 on each occasion.
Just as Mike Gore had given the Phase II a low key debut, so it was for the new LC model Torana GTR XU-1, with George Geisberts
nishing an almost unnoticed third at Surfers in his brand new XU-1. But a week later the true nature of Holden’s dramatic detour into six-cylinder territory would be revealed as Harry Firth unleashed the Holden Dealer Team’s rst XU-1 at Warwick Farm. There were no top line Phase IIs present, but aboard the new Torana Colin Bond did manage to account for all of V8 opposition put in front of him.
What was clear from that Warwick Farm meeting was that the new Phase II was going to need to live up to its performance expectation if it was to counter this smaller, more nimble Holden. While sheer grunt was on the side of the Falcon with the new Cleveland 351 engine, the big, heavy Ford was no match for the Torana under brakes or through the corners – and the V8’s thirst meant more fuel stops than the Holden over the 500 miles at Bathurst.
The new Chrysler Pacer, too, loomed as some kind of threat. The VG model Pacer upgrade was a much different proposition from the toe-in-thewater exercise that the original VF Pacer had been. Gone was the old 225-cubic inch ‘Slant’ six in favour of the bigger, better and more powerful
245 Hemi, which came in two and fourbarrel carburettored versions. That made the Pacers contenders in classes C as well as D, but either version was also a potential outright chance.
The Sandown Three-Hour was the rst (and only) time the ‘Big Three’ would square off, all at full force, before the Bathurst race. The factory Ford team had a trio of new Phase IIs for Allan Moffat, Bruce McPhee and Fred Gibson/Barry Seton. The HDT had new XU-1s for Colin Bond and Peter Brock; Chrysler had 4BBL Pacers for Norm Beechey, Des West and Leo Geoghegan, with Doug Chivas and Graham Ryan sharing Geoghegan’s 2BBL – which proved quicker in qualifying than the four-barrel Pacers.
The Chivas/Ryan Valiant looked about on a par with the pace of the HDT XU-1s, but that was no great claim to fame given that Moffat’s pole lap was nearly ve seconds quicker!
And that told the story, with Moffat winning the
Sandown race at a canter, lapping the entire eld. Bond’s XU-1 was second and Beechey was third, but if the Toranas found it tough going matching the new Falcon’s speed, the Pacers were in even more strife. On the surface of the Sandown result, a GT-HO Phase II whitewash at Bathurst looked a mere formality.
And yet… some worrying cracks were showing in the Ford armoury.
Moffat’s was the only one of the factory cars to complete the three hours without drama. Gibson/Seton placed sixth, six laps down, but McPhee had a particularly fraught run into a distant 10th place. Early in the race the harmonic balancer either failed or failed to remain attached to the Cleveland 351, the resulting shrapnel blast not only damaging the car’s bodywork but also holing the radiator of Graham Ritter’s Phase II which had been close behind at the time, and which retired as a consequence.
If the new Phase II had shown itself to be somewhat less than bulletproof at Sandown, how would it fare around the much tougher Mount Panorama circuit, in a race twice the distance of Sandown’s?
On the surface of the Sandown result, a GT-HO Phase II whitewash at Bathurst looked a mere formality. And yet… some worrying cracks were showing in the Ford armoury.
Heading into the Great Race there was some disquiet among the privateer Phase II runners. The chat amongst some was that the Cleveland engine’s 10.7:1 compression ratio was too high for the available fuel in Australia. There was certainly concern over the engine’s lubrication system, with Racing
Car News reporting that at least three new GT-HOs ran bearings in the week or two prior to the Sandown enduro. The Hans Tholstrup/ Bill Ford Phase II blew its engine on the drive up to Bathurst!
Some also weren’t impressed that while the Phase II had more power and handled better than the original GT-HO model, the brakes had been largely left unchanged. Brakes were an issue for some at Sandown just as they would also be at Bathurst.
As for the engine dramas, according to Al Turner they’d all been addressed by the works team – and the information had been duly passed on to the privateer Phase II entrants. As he explained in AMC #52, the issue was mainly to do with internal clearances in the engine:
“What we (Ford Special Vehicles) found was that [with the Cleveland] everybody was increasing bearing clearances, piston clearances and all the rest of it but we’d already worked out that that was the wrong way to go. The way we solved it was by going the other way and decreasing clearances everywhere. We tightened everything up and we gave those guys [private Phase II entrants] the exact same dimensions we were using.
“We also tried to improve the surface nish on the cranks. The problem with those crankshafts was that they were nodular (iron) cranks and when they’d get really hot you’d end up with these little barbs sticking up on the bearing surfaces. That would chew out a set of bearings in no time and that was a big problem for some of those guys, too.
“The main problem there was that because of the problems they’d [the privateers] been having with the Cleveland engine early in the piece, they all went off, took their engines apart and did their own little things to them.
“We supplied them with everything they needed; it was in Ford’s best interests to do that because we didn’t want to see any of our cars stopped on the side of the track, but if they chose not to follow our instructions then I couldn’t help that. It’s like that old saying - you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink!”
There were two signi cant changes to the Bathurst race for 1970. One was the ditching of the old three-two-three grid in favour of rows of two. The other was the relaxing of the twodriver requirement: entrants were free to drive the race solo, should they wish. Moffat took this option, as did McPhee, the services of Barry ‘one-lap’ Mulholland thus longer being required. But Gibson and Seton would share the third works car – making it their third Bathurst in a row together in a factory Falcon.
Despite questions over the Phase II’s durability, Ford went to Bathurst as the hot favourite. With 14 GT-HOs entered (plus another two listed as reserves), it surely was going to take a catastrophic attrition rate to prevent a Ford
win. Not that numbers were completely on their side, as the XU-1 eet was 12-strong, with the Pacers half that number.
Moffat took pole to lead a Ford works team one-two-three in qualifying (sadly, the axing of the three-two-three grid for 1970 denied us the powerful spectacle of the three works Phase IIs lining up on the front row).
The two HDT Toranas (Bond driving solo and Brock paired in the other car with Bob Morris) and privateer Don Holland XU-1 were the only non-GT-HOs in the top 10 on grid. And the best of them, Bond, was the best part of ve seconds slower than Moffat.
Behind the scenes, though, things didn’t look anywhere near that comfortable for Ford, though. Moffat’s car had lunched its engine in the rst qualifying session after a distributor drive failure, necessitating an engine change. And it was far from the only Phase II to suffer pre-race drama. Tony Roberts’ engine failed on Saturday and had to be replaced, while John Goss had to rebuild his overnight. The Bob Beasley/Bob Muir car was overheating, David McKay’s car was mis ring. The Trevor Meehan/Peter Wherrett car was running out of brakes.
The Great Race has seen some amazing opening laps over the years. Of course, whatever transpired in 1970 was never going to top the Skyline wipeout of the previous year, but we did see something you don’t see every day at Bathurst, when Colin Bond outbraked not one but two Phase IIs into Murray’s Corner to take the lead as they completed the opening lap.
It was nice piece of showmanship, but Moffat was unmoved and simply stuck to Ford’s lap time game plan. Before long he and Seton were back ahead of the Torana, and then Moffat steadily pulled away.
If only the rest of the Phase IIs were doing it so effortlessly. Ritter was an early pit visitor with loose tappets, while the Beasley, Hodgson, McKay and Aunger cars all had engine failures. Then the Seton/Gibson works car was in the pits with a broken diff, the result of a failed rear axle seal. A bit later on Ritter’s car ran out of brakes, as did the Meehan/Wherrett Phase
II – the latter to drop a heap of time in the pits when running as high as third due to a distributor points failure.
Even before midday, with four hours still to run, as the Fords started falling one by one the race was poised in the balance. Moffat was leading and the remaining factory Falcon of McPhee was fourth – but behind both HDT XU-1s. The Toranas appeared to be well placed to put the pressure on later in the race and maybe break what remained of the Phase II eet.
The race looked like it might culminate in a fascinating David-vs-Goliath ght to the nish – until the two HDT Toranas went down with valve failures. There went any chance Holden had of a surprise victory with the six-cylinder XU-1. At the same time it provided some welcome relief from Bathurst tended to follow the Sandown script - lots of Phase IIs had lots of problems, but up front Moffat and Bruce McPhee in the works cars were untroubled.
Despite questions over the Phase II’s durability, Ford went to Bathurst as the hot favourite. With 14 GT-HOs entered (plus another two listed as reserves), it was going to take a catastrophic attrition rate to prevent a Ford win.
the pressure on the Ford factory team – even if Al Turner claimed later that things were always well under control.
But then, even while Moffat seemed in cruise mode and headed for an easy win, the lead Falcon began to trail whisps of smoke. This continued for some time, not that it had any effect on Moffat’s pace. It may simply have been, according to Al Turner, that the engine had a small oil leak, and that a crew member had been a little over zealous when topping it up at a pitstop.
With the last stops completed, Moffat led McPhee by half a minute, with daylight back to third place. That looked likely to be lled by Tony Roberts, which would have made it a Phase II one-two-three. But just after Roberts had overtaken Chivas’ Pacer for third place, with only
ve laps to run, the previous year’s race winner (with Holden) miscued over Skyline, the big Ford hitting the fence and barrel rolling down the mountain. The car was destroyed but Roberts was unhurt.
McPhee dutifully held station behind Moffat to complete what in the end was a comfortable one-two for Ford. Leaving aside the heavy attrition rate that saw more than half of the 14 Phase IIs retire due to either mechanical failure
A job well done... Moffat scores his first Bathurst win and the new Phase II proves its worth as it makes amends for the nightmare of the original GTHO at Bathurst 12 months prior. or accidents, things had gone to plan. Moffat’s
rst win in only his second Bathurst start made amends for the embarrassment Ford had suffered the year. And the Phase II ultimately had delivered as intended. After something of a false dawn with the original GT-HO, the Clevelandpowered machine laid the foundations for a future that would start with the following year’s Phase III.
Of course, it didn’t go on much further from there, with the Supercar scare killing off the planned Phase IV in 1972 and then Ford pulling the pin on its racing effort at the end of ’73.
But Moffat’s win in the Phase II in 1970 did set the scene for something that would be more long-lasting: the beginning of the rivalry between himself and Peter Brock. Between them, they would win no less than eight of the 10 Great Races of the 1970s.