1970 Ford Falcon XW GTHO – The Real Deal – 50

July 10th, 2010 by NZV8

This genuine XW Falcon GTHO Phase II has been winning shows recently, but go back 30 years and it was winning races

Although the full effect of the Australian muscle car war really hit its peak in mid 1972, it began getting into its stride back in 1963, when Holden released its S4 EH. The annual 1000-kilometre race held at Bathurst each year actually started out as a 500-mile race at Philip Island in 1960. There was no direct manufacturer involvement in that race, which was won by John Roxburgh and Frank Coad in a Vauxhall Velox.

That first race was fairly nondescript but it grew in popularity and, in 1963, was moved to the sleepy NSW town of Bathurst, where it was held on public roads. That ’63 event saw the introduction of Holden’s S4, the first Australian car built specifically to win that race. Although it failed to achieve its goal, it spawned a local performance car industry that quickly snowballed, but which was then all but snuffed out in 1972.

That little S4 Holden prompted Ford to retaliate, and in 1965 it hit Bathurst with its Cortina GT500. The rules at that time required either 100 locally built cars to be manufactured or 250 imported. Ford’s competition adviser, Harry Firth, set about building a small run, thought to be of around 120, of special Bathurst Cortinas, that went on to win that year’s event. However, the following season minimum production numbers for locally assembled cars was raised to 250, deeming the Cortina GT500 ineligible.

But Ford would return two years later with its new XR Falcon GT. The XR model range was released in Australia in August 1966 and marketed as ‘Mustang bred’. There were no firm plans initially to ever race the car, but a few Ford employees, and racers with close Ford ties, took particular interest in a special powder blue XR, fitted with a 289ci small block and stiffer suspension, which was built as a demonstrator for the Victorian police department as a pursuit vehicle.

By 1966, Ford V8-powered cars had been racking up race-winning performances all over the world, and local drivers Norm Beechey, Pete Geoghegan and Bob Jane were already racing V8 Mustangs in the Australian Touring Car Championship, the sporty pony cars taking the title in both ’65 and ’66.

International Connection

At that time Ford Australia was headed by American Bill Bourke, a car nut through-and-through. He was a huge believer in the company raising its sporting profile through racing, and demonstrating the durability of its products through Australia’s toughest touring car race. Bourke liked the idea of Ford producing a small number of high-performance Falcons, with the view to racing them at Bathurst in 1967.

The XR Falcon GT was released in May 1967. It was available in any colour you liked as long as it was GT Gold. However, two white versions were built by request for Ford racers Greg Cusack and Leo and Pete Geoghegan, who had Castrol sponsorship, plus there were eight silver versions built for Bathurst sponsor Gallagher cigarettes. The XR GT was fitted with Ford’s compact 289ci V8, a Ford Autolite 446cfm four-barrel carburettor, hot cam, and higher 9.8:1 compression ratio, producing 225hp (168kW). This was backed by a four-speed gearbox and eight-inch limited slip diff. Suspension was stiffened, 11-inch discs and 10-inch drums did the stopping, and it rolled on 14×5.5-inch steel wheels and 185×14 radial tyres.

The interior was that of the Fairmont, with a Mustang wood-rimmed steering wheel. It retailed for A$3890. Although Ford was only required to build 250 Falcon GTs to be eligible for Bathurst, a total of 596 were eventually made. The Falcon GT dominated the 1967 race, taking the top two spots, with Fred Gibson/Harry Firth heading the Geoghegan brothers.

The following year Ford was back with the new Falcon XT GT and its bigger 302ci engine. However, just a few weeks before the event Holden released its swoopy new Monaro GTS 327, which, with its bigger engine, dominated qualifying and led the early laps. But the Monaros began running into brake issues, which brought the leading Falcon GT, that of Gibson/Bo Seton, into contention.

Gibson was leading the Bruce McPhee/Barry Mulholland (Mulholland would do just one lap!) Monaro with 15 laps to go when the Falcon blew a piston, allowing Holden to snare its first Bathurst victory.

Comeback Kings

Ford would return in 1969, bigger and stronger, with its August ’69-released Falcon XW GTHO. The GTHO was based on the GT but built in smaller numbers and designed specifically for Bathurst competition. ‘HO’ stood for ‘Handling Options’. Outwardly, the GT and GTHO were by far the boldest-looking cars Ford Australia had ever produced. The subtle side striping of previous GT models made way for much more aggressive, bold black stripes, which ran vertically up the front guards, split by a colourful ‘Super Roo’ cartoon, then darting back down the flanks, ending at the tail lights. The bonnet, with its driver’s side air-scoop, which filtered cool air into the brake master cylinder, was fitted over matte black stripes, while chrome bonnet pins only added to the race car styling.

Externally, the only way to identify a GTHO from a GT was through a deep front chin spoiler. Under the skin, the GTHO featured stiffer front springs, a stiffer front anti-roll bar, rear anti-roll bar (the GTs didn’t come with a rear anti-roll bar), 3:1 final drive (the GTs had a more useable 3:25), and while the engine power figures for the 351ci (5752cc) Windsor were the same as the GT (290hp/216kW), they featured a new camshaft, alloy inlet manifold, heavy-duty alternator, 650cfm Holley four-barrel carb, and 11:1 compression. This made the GTHO horrible things to drive in rush hour traffic, but their power and torque were perfectly suited to Bathurst. The Phase II was fitted with 14×6-inch 12-slot wheels.

Holden came armed with its new HT Monaro GTS350, but the GTHO ” 14 of which were entered for Bathurst in ’69 ” was the superior car, at least on outright speed. But come race day things went pear-shaped for Ford. Firstly, a huge first-lap crash eliminated several cars, then the high-powered Falcons began destroying their Goodyear tyres at an alarming rate. Ford works racer Allan Moffat was the only Falcon driver to take care of his tortured rear rubber and should have won the race, but he was called in by his team to swap to new tyres and never recovered, handing the win to Holden.

A Refined Package

Ford released its GTHO Phase II in August 1970 (as pictured). Although still based on the XW Falcon model, the Phase II was a more refined version of the Phase I, and now fitted with the new Cleveland 351 engine. The Cleveland could be revved to 6500rpm, 1000 more than the Windsor. It featured a larger 750cfm Holley, twin-point distributor, high-performance cam and heavy-duty valve springs, and it produced 300hp. Handling that power was a ‘Detroit Locker’ nine-inch diff, with 31-spline axles. Wheels were Mustang five-slots, and the rear brakes now had wider finned drums. There were few aesthetic differences between the Phase I and Phase II other than the wheels, but as a race car the Phase II was the better package.

Despite its big Monaro winning the previous two Bathurst events, Holden chose to attack the 1970 race with its small, Viva-based Torana. This punchy little car, with its throaty six-cylinder engine, gave away plenty of power to the Falcons but was better on brakes and tyres, and was far more fuel efficient. However, Ford would drive away from the Holdens, and Allan Moffat won from the similar machine of Bruce McPhee.

Of course, Ford would release its mighty XY Phase III in 1971, and would win that year’s Bathurst race before the whole Aussie ‘supercar’ era collapsed in June 1972, when Sydney Sun-Herald motoring editor Evan Green approached NSW transport minister Milton Morris for comments on a story he was writing about the new 160mph Bathurst supercars being built by Ford, Holden and Chrysler.

Morris’s negative reaction was unexpected, and what should have been a story kept within the newspaper’s motoring section suddenly became front page news. The backlash had the three manufacturers reeling, and all quickly cancelled plans for their upcoming Bathurst weapons, choosing instead to revert to their 1971 machines. Australia’s motorsport governing body, CAMS, reacted by introducing Group C from 1973, which didn’t require manufacturers to build road-going race cars to be eligible for Bathurst. It took just one week, but that Evan Green newspaper report killed the Australian muscle car era dead.

Here And Now

Our feature car is one very special, very rare machine. It’s a genuine 1970 XW GTHO Phase II. It’s been in New Zealand all its life and it has a very desirable racing pedigree. Even though these cars were created to race, for many years prospective buyers sought to purchase examples with no race history, thinking their value would be greater and that they would have lived easier lives. Of course, these days the reverse is true; cars with race histories are far more desirable.

This particular Reef Green Metallic Phase II was bought new by South Island racing legend Ernie Sprague. Sprague was better known for racing a very fast MkIII Zephyr during the ’60s. He also teamed with fellow South Islander Leo Leonard on several occasions to win the gruelling Benson & Hedges 500-mile endurance race held at Pukekohe.

The Phase II was used by Leonard on the road, but also clocked up plenty of racing miles in South Island production racing events. In 1971, Castrol Oils sponsored a North Island-based production championship called the Castrol GTX series. The cars competing in it were similar to those competing at Bathurst. That same season, a three-round South Island series was formed for similar machines, with backing from Winfield cigarettes.

Sprague ran his GTHO in the Winfield series against stiff opposition from the XU-1 Toranas of Ralph Emson, Roy Harrington and Kerry Grant, along with the similar GTHO of Jim Kennedy and Tim Bailey’s Porsche 911.

The nimble Toranas were hard to beat. Sprague had his air cleaner turn on its mounts at Ruapuna, jamming the throttle open, which took a lap to fix. At Teretonga, from pole position he was charging away with the lead when, late in the race, the thirsty Ford ran out of fuel. Sprague’s only consolation was winning the six-lap preliminary race. At Timaru he placed third behind the Emson and Grant XU-1s.

In 1970 Sprague’s Phase II was also featured in a road test in Allan Dick’s Auto News magazine.

Pat Monaghan was the next owner. Monaghan also raced the big Ford, as did its third owner, John Gillard. From Gillard, the Phase II left the South Island for the first time when it was purchased by an Auckland collector, who put it into storage for 25 years. It was then purchased by current owner Nick Kale.

The Road To Perfection

Nick is a genuine enthusiast, and has made plenty of sacrifices to perform a stunning two-year restoration on the Phase II. Although still a very original car when purchased, the Falcon had been fitted with a few incorrect parts over the years, such as a Phase III shaker bonnet, with carburettor fed intake, and it had been repainted red. Nick decided to fit non-original Bathurst Globes to the Falcon, originally designed for the XA-based Phase IV, which was killed off following the ’72 supercar scare, then fitted to the Phase IIIs that were put back into duty for the ’72 Bathurst race.

The rebuild to get the car back to concours condition was a long one, and Nick cannot thank those involved enough. Ross Walker from Unique Auto Worx played a big part in ensuring the car was as original as possible, and is responsible for the flawless panel and paint work. Ross’s brother Brett (owner of issue 25’s cover Ford Mustang) was also involved. Nick can’t speak highly enough of either of these guys, and says the rebuild wouldn’t have been possible without them.

Wayne Grimmer from Western Auto Electrical rewired the vehicle, while Jason Loose from Cut Loose upholstery retrimmed it in the original fashion. Paul Roper was responsible for the engine rebuild, while many other businesses, family and friends have also helped along the way.

The Falcon has claimed its fair share of awards since its restoration, including top prize at the Kumeu Car Show, and Best Ford at the same event.

Despite owning one of the most desirable Australian muscle cars ever built, Nick has decided to sell it. It will be auctioned in June. Sadly, it is Australian buyers who are paying the big money for these cars now, so it may very well be that this magnificent piece of New Zealand motoring history leaves our shores for the first time since it was new.

1970 Ford XW Falcon GTHO Phase II – Specifications

Engine: Factory 351ci (5752cc) 4V Cleveland, solid cam engine, 850cfm Holley double pumper, factory 4V intake manifold, factory 4V closed chamber heads, 4V stainless steel valves, factory screw-in studs, factory guide plates, billet alloy roller rockers. Factory mechanical fuel pump, very rare factory twin-point distributor
Driveline: Four-speed close ratio big shaft Top Loader gearbox, factory twin-plate clutch setup
and flywheel, nine-inch diff, 31-spline axles, with factory diff head running 3.0 gearing with Detroit Locker
Suspension: Factory GTHO sway bars front and rear, factory GTHO front suspension arms, Super Low King Springs up front
Brakes: Factory GTHO front callipers with DBA Gold discs, factory rear drums
Wheels/tyres: Genuine date coded 15-inch Bathurst Globe mags, plus original 14-inch five-slot GTHO Phase II wheels. Red wall 215/15 tyres imported from Australia
Exterior: Restored to original
Interior: Restored
Performance: 450hp

Nick Kale – Owner Details

Age: 34
Occupation: Truck driver
Length of ownership: Eight years
Dream car: “The GTHO is my four-door choice for sure, but after owning the GTHO for eight years it is now time to sell it. I am aiming to purchase my dream two-door car, which has always been a Shelby Mustang. You just can’t beat factory muscle; it’s a lifestyle”
Thanks: “I could not have built the GTHO without these people. Ross Walker: Unique Auto Worx. Brett Walker: Surface With a Smile. Wayne Grimmer: Western Auto Electrical. Paul Roper: engine builder. Tim from Procoat. Nick Barton (my brother-in-law) from The Pallet Company. Thanks for the awesome display at the Kumeu Car Show. Dave from Grand Tourer in Melbourne, Australia for parts supplied. Jason Loose: Cut Loose Upholstery. Lance from Arrow Wheels. Lucas Kale (my brother) from Metro Plumbing ” for those ‘hard’ brake lines! Thanks to all my friends and family for the great support.”

Words: Steve Holmes Photos: Dan Wakelin

This article is from NZV8 issue 50. Click here to check it out.

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