ENTERING the Jubilee Pavilion for the first time over the 2019 Easter weekend is a breathtaking experience. Hundreds of Australia’s finest factory Ford muscle cars are on display, but photographer Troy looks worried.
“They’re all brown!” he says, exasperated. I gently inform him that we’ve stepped straight into XR Falcon GT-land, where all but a handful of the 596 units built were painted ‘GT Gold’.
A proper survey of the facility reveals that the colour palette is in fact much more varied, as are the shapes and vintages of the vehicles on display. Sitting in neat rows is the entire local history of the Falcon GT badge; gold XRs blend into stout and square XTs, followed by XWs and XYs, the latter with their menacing black shakers standing proud of their bonnets.
The curvaceous coupes and sedans of the XA and XB series are numerous, with every colour of the rainbow represented, including a one-of-two Yellow Sand coupe. Across the hall in the Goyder Pavilion, 11 once-forgotten EB and EL GTs line up, developed to celebrate the 25th and 30th anniversaries of the Falcon GT respectively. Their presence is now well accepted, and their star is on the rise, as they represent a time when there were few Ford products that could take an HSV to task. Rounding out the show are the BA and BF GTs that heralded the badge’s triumphant return under FPV, along with a handful of final-run, supercharged Coyote-motored FG models.
The Duncan Gallery splits the two halls, and it’s certainly named appropriately, as confined within its narrow walls is a display of pure art: the GTHO collection. To the untrained eye, they present like the XWs and XYs from which they were developed, but the mechanicals under their metal skins are pure race car, and this is their 50th anniversary.
As we wheel from thoroughbred muscle car to scintillating trailer queen, polished so that the very springs of their disassembled drum brakes are blinding, Troy and I spot a pair of dirty ’HOs, surrounded by camping gear and bugs. It is the Phase III Odyssey boys, who have just completed 16,953km from Melbourne to Adelaide via everywhere except the Western Highway, raising money for charity in the process. Leo Khouri, driver of the Ultra White Phase III, explains their decision to display their cars dirt and all: “We’ve got all of Australia on these cars; wherever we’ve gone, it’s here on the cars,”
he says proudly.
Read next: George Haddad's 945hp 1967 Ford XR Falcon
Astoundingly, Leo’s car is unrestored. “If it needed something done, it got done, but it’s never been pulled apart,” he shrugs. Conversely, the Yellow Glow Phase III of fellow participant David Frake had a concours resto just a few years ago. “I wasn’t nervous about chucking it around Australia; I drive it a lot,” he says. Aside from the Odyssey itself, David’s put around 20,000 miles on the Phase III since the restoration. “And you know what? I enjoy it, and I’ll wash it and it will come up almost as good.” Be sure to check out next month’s issue for the full story on these guys!
Similarly dirty, though accumulated in a different way, Stuart Davey’s RED351 XA Falcon GT coupe sits across the hall. The filth is not from thousands of road kilometres, but from several months of sitting, his car sprinkled liberally with mid-north barn dust.
But perhaps the downest and dirtiest Falcon GT on display is KAG003, the XT GT that claimed sixth outright in the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon. The grime it wears comes not from South Australia’s mid-north or anywhere else in Australia, but via Bulgaria, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
Yet, despite the gritty intrigue of these well-worn machines, it’s the concours vehicles that hold the judges’ attention and the reason that the event is being held here at Wayville.
“With the standard of the cars as they are today, we really felt this had to be inside,” says event media coordinator Kevin May. Surveying an indoor ocean of bent-eight Aussie muscle, he adds: “They’ve just gone to another level. I’d hate to be a judge.”
Peter Polson is head judge for the 2019 event, and he’s looking ragged. “Each year, the bar keeps getting lifted,” he says. “It’s making it really hard now, as everybody knows where the cars should be so they are all trying to strive for that. The standards have just blown out immensely.”
With no outright winner, entrants compete for tinware in their classes, divided by model and whether the cars were restored, maintained or modified. Given the soaring values of these seminal Aussie muscle cars, there are few mechanical monsters on display, with most cars presenting as original and, in many cases, better than original.
Troy and I are shagged from bouncing from car to car, hearing the stories, snapping the details, poring over the vehicles that essentially created the legend of the Australian V8 tourer. Upon completing this task, we have received an education, for all that glitters is not gold. Sometimes it’s also Candy Apple Red, Cobalt Blue, Diamond White and, in at least one case, Lime Frost Metallic.
RUNNING UP THAT HILL
Old Willunga Hill Road was bypassed in the 1970s by Victor Harbor Road, a four-lane highway slamming straight up and over the hills rather than wending its way through the topography. Thankfully, the original road remained and has become a legendary piece of tarmac, beloved by cyclists and motoring enthusiasts alike. Of course, to get the best out of it, you really want a car that can handle corners; there are more than 30 of them heading up the hillside.
The City of Onkaparinga council has been supportive of closing the old road for the purposes of frivolous motorsport, with the annual Willunga Hillclimb running for around six years and the Falcon GT Nationals event in addition to that for 2019. Cars hurtle up Old Willunga Hill Road, pass the finish line, then turn right across traffic onto the northbound lanes of Victor Harbor Road. A gentle coast down that road is a good chance to calm engines and cool brakes, with a couple more right turns seeing participants back in the centre of town, ready to line up and do it all again.
TOURING CAR LEGEND
FRED Gibson’s single Bathurst win, garnered in 1967 after a lap recount relegated the Geoghegan brothers to second, undersells Fred’s influence and importance in the history of the Great Race. After all, not many drivers can claim to have raced every single iteration of early Falcon GT.
“I drove Windsor-powered XR GTs to start with, then the XT GT, XW GTHO, Phase II and Phase III,” he said.
Fred went on to race both the XA and XB Falcon GTs as well as the XC Cobra, before finishing his time at Bathurst behind the wheel of a turbocharged Nissan Bluebird. He then became a team boss and tasted more Bathurst success in that role in the 1990s.
Yet despite his deep involvement in professional racing throughout his career, it was clear a grassroots hillclimb tickled Fred’s fancy just as much. “This is great; they’ve closed the road, then when you get to the top, you drive back down the main drag to come back in again!” he said with a chuckle. “It’s blown me away that these cars remain so popular 52 years after they came out.”
As the GT Nationals guest of honour and surrounded by the vehicles that launched his career, Fred got misty-eyed. “They’re beautiful cars, they’re history,” he said. “This is where it all started, especially in Australia. Suddenly Ford was in motorsport and the muscle car wars began.”
1969 FORD XW FALCON GTHO
BEN Chesterfield has five XW Falcons, and each one has a story. “I originally tried to buy this car in 1983 when I was 18 years old, but the bank wouldn’t lend me the money,” he explained. “It went through a few owners before ending up with Darren Fleming.
“Funnily enough, I met Darren when I pulled out in front of him during a club run in 2010. I was in my Reef Green GT and he spoke to me at the next stop, suggesting I’d not given him enough room. We got talking and went through some of the history of his car; sure enough, it was the same car I’d try to buy when I was 18! Naturally I tried to buy it again, but Darren wasn’t yet keen to sell. But we became mates, and four years later, I got the call; the GTHO was on offer. I couldn’t believe that I’d chased this car for 34 years and in December 2017, it was mine!
“This car is so special; it’s one of 19 made in Candy Apple Red with this specific build combination, and is the 39th GTHO made. It’s been looked after its whole life and is unrestored.”
1. Perry Bitsikas is the lucky owner of two 1973 XA GTs in RPO83 guise, one a sedan and the other a coupe. “The yellow coupe is another level above a regular RPO83, as it was ordered by drag racer Des Leonard with some extras such as 31-spline axles,” Perry said. “He was open to racing at Bathurst, but pulled out. Because of this, the car was spared a hard life. It’s won four GT Nationals in a row for Best Unrestored”
2. Perry treated this black four-door to a full nut-and-bolt restoration. “There’s not one aftermarket bit in it; everything is new-old stock,” he said. “The Onyx Black-with-black-vinyl-roof/manual transmission is a one-of-one combo. Someone must have ordered this combination specially”
3. Sunday’s quickest hillclimb time went to Brian Luckraft in his XA Falcon GT. Drivers had to put together eight runs up Willunga Hill to be in the running for a trophy
4. Stewart Perry double-entered his XB Falcon GT with brother Ross, who had great fun on the Hillclimb. “So far, it’s been a bit slippery up there, but it looks like it might fine up. It’s a great piece of road,” Ross said of the track leading up Willunga Hill
5. The ‘McLeod Ford Horn Cars’ stripe package was available to a bunch of select dealers, with this car coming from Adrian Brien Ford in SA. It’s travelled only 126,000km from new, with nothing more done to it than a change of brake pads and new exhaust
6. David Frake and Leo Khouri aren’t madmen, although some may think otherwise. They’ve been driving their near-priceless GTHO Falcons around Australia for charity: “We just wanted to show people what these cars were built for – and that’s Australian roads,” Leo explained. Full story in the August issue!
7. The 25th Anniversary EB and 30th Anniversary EL Falcon GTs are finally coming of age, with six of the former and five of the latter on display at the GT Nats. Bridging the gap between the chrome-bumpered classics and Boss-powered BA/BF/FG, they took the much-needed fight to HSV when Ford’s muscle catalogue was looking thin
8. Chief judge Peter Polson’s XW Falcon GT does the hard yards; aside from being an active participant in the annual Aussie Muscle Car Run, he makes sure he gets out in the car a couple of times per week. “I’m in the building trade, so I put sheets over the back seat and boot and throw my dropsaws in,” he said
9. When Harry Hatsi ran into the first owner of his Ultra White XY Falcon, he asked why his GT was singled out for a bunch of GTHO upgrades. “The guy had no idea!” Harry laughed. “I didn’t know myself until I restored the engine bay.” Harry’s GT has the ‘buddy bar’ inlet manifold and 780cfm four-barrel normally reserved for GTHOs, along with extra welds in the body
10. Jeff Gilbert’s XR is not one of the eight famed Gallaher Silver GTs, but it certainly looks the part. “It was built up out of a Falcon 500,” Jeff said. “It’s got a Cleveland V8 and a 9in. I put a four-speed in it to bring it closer to a proper GT.” Jeff’s replica punches out 400rwhp, enough to net him ‘Quickest Special Interest’ at Sunday’s Willunga Hillclimb
11. This old Falcon may look rough as guts, but for good reason; prepped by Harry Firth, KAG003 was driven to sixth place in the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon by Bruce Hodgson and Doug Rutherford
12. Ford might not have built an XC Falcon GT, but the Cobra was the next-best thing, even if it was just to rid Ford of 400 or so coupe bodyshells. Britain’s Nick Short was backpacking around Oz when he discovered our local muscle cars, and was so enamoured that in 2000 he had Cobra #257 shipped to the UK. He moved to Australia recently, bringing his Cobra back to its spiritual home
13. Stuart Davey’s dust-laden GT coupe was liberated from a Tanunda paddock in 1995 and pressed immediately into hoon duty. “Being young and stupid, I put a rod through the bore within 12 months,” he said. Although it sat for nearly 13 years, it’s been back on the road for around a decade. “A couple of mates dared me to see how much dust and cobwebs it could accumulate before the Nationals,” Stuart explained
14. According to legend, around 35 final-build XR Falcon GTs copped secret 302s, rather than the factory-spec 289. Phil Grant’s car is one of those. “It’s still badged as a 289 but it has the ‘Powered by Ford’ rocker covers,” he said. “In about October ’67, Ford ran out of 289s and some other stuff, so the interior is also a little bit different”