After spending 18 years building it, Dunedin’s Leigh Thompson can relax in the knowledge he now has the best XP Falcon in the country.
I’ve been building this car for literally half my life,” says Dunedin-based panelbeater Leigh Thompson of his beautiful 1966 Ford XP Falcon. “I’m not really sure what happened, but somewhere along the way things got a little out of control.” It is a story we hear often at NZV8 magazine, with about half the owners of feature cars telling a similar tale. Perhaps not in terms of build time, but in regards to the dynamics of a serious, ever-escalating car build. It’s a true labour of love for most, but for some, like Leigh, it’s also a lifelong obsession.
“I was 17 years old when I first saw the car,” Leigh explains. “It was sitting in a shed in Mosgiel with a blown gearbox, a boot full of hay and horse teeth marks all over it ” I loved it. Next thing I knew I was towing it straight home to my parents’ garage.”
Originally purchased from Alan Cofey Motors in 1966, the car made its way over to Mosgiel with the original owner in 1970, which is where it sat until September 1989, quietly waiting for Leigh to stumble upon it. Amazingly, this makes him only the second owner of the car since new. Now, at 37 years of age, Leigh has grown up considerably, and somewhere along the way the Ford deviated from its original path and diverted to tidy weekend cruiser-dom, growing up right alongside its owner to now grace the cover of NZV8 as a complete nuts-and-bolts rebuilt street machine.
“I think the trouble began when I started reading Australian magazines,” Leigh says. “Seeing some of the cars in there really inspired me, and instead of a quick tidy up, I was soon pulling every piece of the car apart until all that was left was a bare shell.” As a panelbeater, this wasn’t too much of a problem, and over time as the moment was right, Leigh would do a little more.
Soon enough the body was stripped back to the bare metal, every panel was 100 per cent perfect and a colour was picked. “I actually saw the colour on a car back in 1991 in Invercargill. It think it works well with the style of the Falcon, so I eventually got round to mixing up some PPG Wintermint Green paint, with a few little extras tossed in, and gave the car to Jason Bouzaid at Collision City in Mosgiel [where Leigh also works]so he could throw on the paint.”
Once the new glass, peep mirrors and a rear Venetian was sourced, everything was painstakingly put back together using new stainless steel fasteners throughout.
Mates In High Places
When it came to looking at the XP’s interior, there was only one man Leigh trusted, Reid McInnes at Stitch ’n’ Trim Interiors, who also just happens to be Leigh’s best mate. For the job Reid, who lives in Australia, sourced all the parts needed, re-upholstered them in stitch-by-stitch perfect white leather with pearl piping, and shipped it all over the ditch to the deep south.
He went to even further lengths. Reid wanted to help install the new Fairmont seats, trim, roof lining and carpet himself, so a flight was booked and all the new gear came with its own professional installer to boot.
Speaking of which, Leigh likes the odd tune when driving, so he took the Falcon to Russell Crammond at Audio Xtreme, who got to work building a nice, punchy sound system in the trunk of the car.
Custom kick panels, a parcel shelf and a full boot interior were fabricated specifically for the task, and now accommodate an amplifier, subwoofer and two sets of speakers from Sony Xplod. Russell went German for the head unit, however, installing a high-quality Blaupunkt deck up front next to the VDO tacho sitting in its custom stainless holder.
Clean Enough To Eat Off
Under the bonnet, Leigh wasn’t after huge power, just a nice, simple, period V8 that could burble away under the hood, yet put down a few ponies if possible.
A 289ci Windsor, first introduced by Ford in 1963, was chosen for the job. Although 90 per cent of the Falcon was built at home by Leigh and his mates, it was agreed that a motor rebuild is something to be handled by an expert. Enter Graeme Eaton of EAS Head Systems.
Once Graeme got hold of the motor, he pulled it down and began rebuilding for solid, reliable street power. Internally, the engine has been completely balanced, and now uses flat top pistons with a mild street cam and close-chamber heads, shielded with alloy Ford Performance covers. A 360mm K&N filter pulls air down into the Holley carb and Weiand Accelerator manifold sitting atop the motor. Spark is handled by a distributor and electronic ignition from Mallory, working with 8mm Taylor leads and NGK performance plugs.
On the exit side of the Windsor, tri-y headers dumping into a twin 2.5-inch exhaust system remove waste gases from the motor and drop them out behind the car. Cooling is handled by a simple Griffin alloy radiator and 305mm cooling fan setup, while the rest of the engine bay has been completely de-loomed, including all brake and fuel lines. Besides the de-looming, attention has been paid to every other little area under the car. The bonnet springs are stainless, as are the overflow tanks, shock tower brace and all fasteners.
Behind the motor sits a single rail manual gearbox, originally found in an XY GT Falcon. This strong old unit runs a 280mm clutch and feeds a custom driveshaft back to a nine-inch diff, running 3:1 gears and 28-spline axles. The axles in turn spin hubs complete with DBA slotted and cross-drilled brake rotors, XF and XA callipers and classic 15×8-inch Cragar Superlite rims.
The very tops of the Cragars are hidden from view by the perfect guards thanks to Monroe heavy duty shocks and Lovells springs in the front, and Rancho adjustable rear shocks working with a 75mm de-arched extra leaf rear end. A 25mm Whiteline front sway bar, 20mm rear sway bar and Nolathane bushes have also been used to tidy up any slop left over.
Nearly Twenty Years Later
Late last year, after nearly two decades of pottering around, Leigh finally had the car in a finished state. It ran, it drove and it was legal. After owning the car his entire adult life, now he is finally behind the wheel, could he ever sell it? Leigh thinks about this for a few seconds, before saying, “Honestly, no. It is a cliche but too much blood, sweat, tears and money have gone into this car. There is just no way I could ever see myself not owning it; it has been a part of my entire adult life. I can remember sitting in the shell on swappa crates in my parents’ garage, having a few beers with mates and pretending we were driving it. I can’t get rid of something with that kind of personal history. Who knew it would be half a lifetime before it would actually happen? But I’m glad it finally did.”
1966 Ford XP Falcon – Specifications
Engine: 289ci (4736cc) Windsor, flat top pistons, mild cam, engine balancing, 356mm K&N filter, Weiand accelerator manifold, Holley 600 vac secondaries, Mallory distributor, Mallory electronic ignition, GTHO coil, 8mm Taylor leads, NGK plugs, tri-y headers, twin 2.5-inch exhaust system, Griffin alloy radiator, 300mm cooling fan, Romac engine damper, alloy Ford Motorsport valve covers, stainless bonnet springs, de-loomed engine bay, hidden lines, stainless overflow, polished cylinders, stainless fasteners, stainless bonnet springs, stainless shock tower brace
Driveline: Single rail XB GT gearbox, 11-inch clutch, nine-inch Ford diff, 28-spline axles, heavy duty driveshaft
Brakes: XW booster, XA master cylinder, DBA cross-drilled and slotted front and rear rotors, XA front callipers, XF rear callipers, braided lines, heavy duty pads
Suspension: Monroe heavy duty front shocks, Rancho adjustable rear shocks, lowered Lovells front springs, 76 de-arched extra leaf rear end, Nolathane bushes, 26mm Whiteline front sway bar, 20mm rear sway bar
Wheels/tyres: Cragar Superlite 15×8-inch rims
Exterior: Bare metal respray, custom PPG Wintermint paint, alloy drop tank, peep mirrors, sprint fuel cap, rear Venetian, new glass
Interior: XP Fairmont buck seats, Fairmont rear seat, white leather interior, pearl piping, linear detailing, triple-layered padding, perforated hood lining, custom grey carpet, scuff plates, 2pak white steering wheel, custom-made gear knob, VDO tacho, custom stainless gauge mount
ICE: Blaupunkt head unit, Sony amp, Sony subwoofer, Sony speakers
Leigh Thomson – Owner Profile
Previously owned cars: Lots of Falcons
Build time: 18 years
Owned: 20 years
Andrew thanks: Malcolm, Alan Excell, Reid McInnes at Stitch ’n’ Trim Interiors, Graeme Eaton at EAS Head Systems, Russell Crammond at Audio Extreme, Shaun Horton & Jason Bouzaid at Collision City Mosgiel, Richelle Wood, Smith & Smith Glass, mum and dad, and all his friends who have helped along the way.
Words: Peter Kelly Photos: Sean Craig
This article is from NZV8 issue 52. Click here to check it out.