It was Allan Richards’ dream to own a cool Falcon coupe, now he’s got two… just don’t tell his wife.
Buy or build, that’s the dilemma faced by many of us, but when your love is for early Falcon coupes it becomes simpler. A rare vehicle when produced 45 years ago, if you find one now you just grab it, whatever you can find, as you never know when you will have the opportunity to buy one again. That’s exactly what Allan Richards decided to do many years ago, having always admired the classic shape of the XM and XP coupes but never managing to find one for sale. Allan had built a few nice cars over the years, of GM origin, but the early Falcon coupe was always his dream. The dream was interrupted for a few years, spending 12 years working in the UK where he met his Kiwi partner Robyn. They returned to Australia, settling in Allan’s home town of Melbourne where the coupe search began in earnest.
Persistence finally paid off when in 2003 an unfinished but tidy XM Coupe with XP front sheetmetal was bought from a work colleague. He was looking to offload it to fund another project, the price was right so the cash changed hands and Allan’s dream project was underway. The coupe was already part-built with a Castlemaine Rod Shop V8-conversion kit already installed in the car. A strong rebuilt 302 and C4 were also part of the deal, as was the narrowed 9-inch and Detroit Locker. Whilst a mate, Keith Symes, sorted the rest of the mechanicals, the bodywork was not going so easy.
Many body shops these days seem to be panel change and re-spray shops, with the art of actual body repairs escaping them. A frustrating time followed with several shops promising, then starting, but not actually completing the required tidy-ups, which left Allan’s wallet lighter and him majorly frustrated with the whole deal.
Fast forward a few years, the XM is in storage in Melbourne and Allan and his family are now living in Pukekohe. Early 2010 Allan was missing his XM and, while surfing Trade Me, typed in ‘XM XP coupe’. He was amazed at what popped up, a V8 XP fully built and here in Auckland. A few questions were asked and answered online, phone calls were made and then came the tough conversation. Honey, you know that old coupe I’ve got in storage back home in Melbourne, well I’ve decided to sell it. After Robyn’s initial shock of Allan talking of selling his pride and joy, he then dropped the bombshell about the XP he had found. Buying online from overseas can be fraught with risks, but being local Allan checked it out before cash changed hands and what a great car the XP turned out to be, everything he wanted and more!
The car has an interesting history, with the builder, Gerard Leef, being a Kiwi who tracked down the XP while living and working in Melbourne. The car belonged to Gerard’s boss who was the second owner, and no, it was not for sale. Gerard’s persistence paid off and eventually the XP ended up in his garage and was shipped back to NZ when Gerard returned in 1997. Built with a plan similar to Allan’s XM, Gerard had set about fitting the XP with a Castlemaine Rod Shop V8 conversion kit, 289 with C4 and a 3.5:1 LSD Borg Warner rear. When Gerard finally got it on the road here in ’99 it was finished in silver and, with 12-slot wheels, it was a nice tidy cruiser that did everything asked of it, until a Commodore left him for dead at the lights.
A re-power was in order, along with another tidy-up that turned into a full rebuild which saw the XP off the road for another five years.
Gerard is a true-blue Ford man, so only a tough Windsor was going to do the job, enter fellow American Muscle Car Club member and race engine builder Peter Callen.
Options were discussed and a stroker 347 was decided on, and just to make it a bit different it would be LPG dedicated. LPG gave the additional benefit of higher octane, which meant options including higher compression and bigger cams were more viable than on a pump gas motor. The 347 they built is a nasty little unit that certainly gets the job done.
A Mexican 302 block was sourced and built for both power and longevity, with apparently no expense spared during construction. Bored to 4.030-inch, the bottoms of the bores were scalloped to allow the fitment of the SCAT 3.42-inch throw steel crank and a custom-machined main cap girdle. Fitted to this are the H-beam rods fitted with Keith Black hypereutectic pistons and topped off with World Products heads, which – as with the rest of the engine – are held down by studs rather than bolts. They topped the engine off with an Edelbrock Torker II intake and twin Gas Research LPG carbs. With dedicated LPG, compression was bumped up to 10.8:1 and a staunch hydraulic roller cam was fitted to maximise the performance. An ICE ignition system with rev limiter and Castlemaine Rod Shop headers with twin 2.5-inch exhaust system complete the package.
While the engine was being built Gerard decided to do a little tidy-up, and we know how those little tidy-ups go. Before long the XP was stripped out with no glass or interior and repaired with new patch panels fitted and all the little body blemishes fixed prior to the BA Falcon ‘Acid Rush’ paint being applied. The flawless paintwork is complemented with the re-polished trim, the bumpers were polished and re-chromed, and a new reproduction grille fitted. Gerard then set about giving the coupe the handling and stopping power to match the planned power upgrade. A rack and pinion steering kit was sourced from Australia, a strut brace was fabricated and the battery was relocated to the boot along with a remote brake booster and vacuum tank to ensure reliable stopping power.
Gerard spent much time and care fabricating the numerous custom pieces for the XP and it is a testament to his efforts and skill with so many trick one-off pieces that just look right, which is not always an easy thing to do.
Another thing that is right is the way the car performs. LPG is often seen purely as a cost-saving measure but the XP proves that built right it really can perform too. I was lucky enough to be thrown the keys to the XP and the little 347 starts with a just flick of the key and settles down to a nice lumpy idle. There is none of the lack of torque found with many of the big cammed vehicles I have driven, it makes big power from idle and just wants to rev. Gerard and Peter have built a great little motor that really punches above its weight, proving that it is possible to build a big-horsepower engine while being really driveable, reliable and reasonably economical to drive. This pretty much sums the whole package up and is what made the XP a ‘must have’ for Allan. Gerard was a master of understatement when he built this car, with nothing over the top. Everything put into the XP is clean, functional and from the outside stock-looking, which totally belies its performance. The car’s rebuild and re-power were well planned out, then executed perfectly and as a result it corners and stops as hard as it accelerates!
Since acquiring the coupe a year ago Allan has added his own finishing touches to his dream car. A few calls home to Melbourne eventually had a factory radio on its way to fill the gap in the dash. While it looks great, the radio lights up when the headlights come on, and the tunes actually come from a late-model stereo in the glove box. CARS in Pukekohe have remounted the rack and pinion steering to improve the steering geometry, which makes the steering very light with no bump steer or other bad habits, and makes it a real pleasure to drive. Allan has also rewired much of the engine bay and had a new thermo fan fitted to help keep the hot little engine cool during the slow street cruising. Also fitted are a full set of seat-belts so the whole family can get out and about and share in Allan’s dream car. As for the XM coupe, well, we best not talk about that as it was never sold and is still sitting in Melbourne in storage awaiting panel and paint. After all, if owning one early coupe is good, then the dream of having two on the road must be better?
1966 XP Falcon Coupe – Specifications
Engine: Mexican block 302 Windsor, stroked to 347ci, SCAT stroker kit, steel crank, custom main cap girdle, H-beam rods, Keith Black hypereutectic pistons, hydraulic roller cam, World Products heads, Edelbrock Torker II intake, Gas Research LPG carbs, ICE ignition system, Castlemaine Rod Shop headers, 2.5-inch exhaust system
Driveline: C4 3-speed auto built by B&N Automatics, Valiant Centura LSD 3.5:1 BorgWarner diff
Suspension: Modified strut towers with strut, RRS rack and pinion steering kit
Brakes: Disc front and drum rear, remote brake booster and vacuum tank, line lock
Wheels and tyres: 15-inch wire wheels, 205/60R15 tyres
Interior: Stock-looking re-trimmed factory interior, Auto Meter gauges
Exterior: Ford Acid Rush paint
Performance: Untested as yet, but after a recent trip to Fram for the Father’s Day Drags it may soon be revisiting Fram in anger
Allan Richards – Owner Profile
Age: 40 (ish)
Previously owned cars: HT Premier Station Wagon, HG Sedan
Dream Car: Finally got it (although the XM coupe is up there too!)
Why the XP: Love the shape and lines of this model and really impressed with the quality of workmanship that has been carried out by Gerard
Length of ownership: 1 year
Allan thanks: The team at Graham Crisp Auto Electrical in Pukekohe, Steve Sankey at CARS, Keith Symes in Australia for tracking down a few hard to source parts including a factory radio, and most of all Robyn for allowing him to drive his dream
Words: Kevin Shaw Photos: Duncan Rourke