Ford had 400 bodies left¦ So they created a beast
What you’re looking at here is one of the rarest muscle cars ever to come out of Ford Australia. The Falcon XC Cobra has taken a little longer than the other performance Aussie Fords to be recognised by enthusiasts, but this has all changed now. Cobra coupes are now up there, fetching similar prices to the much sought-after XA and XB Falcon GT coupes, and even so more in some cases.
Perhaps one of the reasons Ford collectors ignored the Cobra for so long was because it is not a GT. Like any true muscle car, a competition pedigree and factory input into racing always increases its value, and the greater the manufacturer’s input, the greater the car’s value. On-track success adds further to the value. Hence the huge figures GT-HOs (Grand Touring-Handling Options?) now fetch. The GT and GT-HOs have direct motor sport links, and other than the XT, XW GT-HO Phase¯I, and XB, all have won the coveted Bathurst 500-mile or 1000-kilometre endurance race.
There are several reasons GT-HO Phase¯IIIs fetch such huge sums of money now, but perhaps the greatest is that Ford Australia was utterly committed to Bathurst success, and the Phase¯III was the result of that commitment. By mid 1972 the company had cut back on its racing involvement, and in January 1974 it pulled the plug altogether. The company would put some weight behind Allan Moffat’s racing programme on and off throughout the remainder of the 1970s, but this support would be nothing like the no-holds-barred assault of the XW and XY GT-HO days.
The current value of a ’60s or ’70s Australian muscle car usually reflects the on-track success of the model. However, this alone does not complete the story. After all, the GT-HO Phase¯III only won Bathurst once, while the XA GT won it twice, yet Phase¯IIIs fetch far higher prices than XA GTs do. So an important factor must also be how closely related the race cars were to the road cars. The Phase¯II was, effectively, a road car, and competed at Bathurst under the Series Production rules, which allowed for virtually no modifications at all. For a manufacturer to be successful, it had to build an all-out race car, which could be driven on the road and purchased by any ordinary person.
The XA GTs won Bathurst under Group¯C rules, which were introduced in 1973, and which removed the race car somewhat from the road car, so the manufacturers did not have to build a race-focused car which could be driven on the road. Group¯C rules allowed for racing upgrades in areas such as wheels/tyres, exhaust system, carburetion, safety features like a cage, race seat, steering wheel, some brakes upgrades, and some suspension upgrades. However, there was still the requirement to build a car, at least in limited numbers, which was race-focused in the areas in which it could not be modified for racing.
Ford slam dunk
The Allan Moffat/Colin Bond Ford one-two form finish at Bathurst in 1977 is famous. Moffat, his car crawling with brake trouble towards the end of the race, was caught by team-mate Colin Bond, who was told by the boss to drop in behind the ailing number one machine, and cruise to the finish. The overhead helicopter shot of the two Falcons trundling down Conrod Straight on the final lap has been played over and over, and it has to be said, Ford simply crushed its Holden opponents.
However, while Moffat knew Holden was rocked by the hammering it received, he also knew it would come out fighting in 1978, and would be hard to beat. So he pleaded with Ford to increase his budget for 1978. Ford, of course, laughed this off, still smug from the hiding it had just given Holden. Not only had its XC 500 GS finished first and second at Bathurst, Moffat and Bond had finished first and second in the Australian Touring Car Championship. So not only did Ford not increase Moffat’s 1978 budget, no new homologated upgrades were made for the Falcon for 1978.
Moffat was right, of course. Holden dealt to Ford in 1978. The Toranas went faster, and the Falcons fell apart trying to keep up with the pace. And when Ford built the 30 special Cobras required for homologation of the model, rather than upgrading — apart from a couple of exceptions — they simply specified the modifications homologated for the 1977 XC 500 GS race cars.
At Bathurst, despite impressive early race pace, Bond was soon in the pits with a broken gearbox, while Moffat’s car caught fire during a pit stop, and was later retired with low engine oil pressure. Cobra Falcons competed in three other races during that season, with Bond managing a race win at Adelaide, but the car’s career was continuously struck down by reliability issues.
Ford Australia produced 400 Falcon XC Cobras. The first, 001, was a 302ci (4949cc) promotional car. Numbers 002-031 were, as mentioned, homologation specials, to allow the car to be raced in Group¯C competition; 032-041 featured 351ci (5752cc) manual with A/C (air conditioning) and P/S (power steering); 042-080 were 351 manual with A/C, P/S and P/W (power windows); 081-200 were 351 auto with A/C, P/S and P/W; 201-300 were 302 manual; 301-360 were 302 auto with A/C and P/S; and 361-400 were 302 auto with A/C, P/S and P/W.
Why were the Cobras built? Simple. Ford was due to release the boxy XD model in Australia in March 1979, and set about doing a special run-out of all XC models, as all manufacturers do when a new model is approaching. The four-door models were still selling well, but the two-door hardtops were trickling, at best. Ford no longer offered a GT in the Falcon line-up; the most sporting Falcon was the GS¯500.
Why were 400 Cobras built? Simple. There were 400 hardtop body shells left. And this is perhaps one of the reasons the Cobra was not as sought after as the GTs. It was not created as an aggressive, race-inspired model. It was created to get rid of the last remaining, unwanted hardtop body shells. That, and the fact its garish, clashing colour scheme was, for a long time, considered quite tacky.
Respected Australian motoring journalist Stewart Wilson said of the Cobra’s colour scheme in his 1993 book, Ford, that the car was “Not very subtle, the colour scheme looked better suited to the 1960s than the 1970s and very quickly dated.” Also, “They — especially the first 30 — attracted exorbitantly high ‘black market’ prices early in their careers, when everyone wanted one but none were around, but they didn’t carry on to become the genuine collector’s item expected. Perhaps the purists have been put off by the colour scheme, but even more to the point is the fact that the Cobra was never regarded as a ‘proper’ Falcon GT, just a paint job and an attempt to create an artificial exclusivity.” Wilson’s comments reflected the general feeling towards the Cobra in the early 1990s, but feelings towards the Cobra have since changed.
Firstly, the colour scheme, while bold, has now dated quite well, and several new performance Aussie and American Fords are now fitted with bold striping. Also, even though Ford Australia is now heavily involved in V8 Supercar racing, a road-going XR8 Falcon has nothing in common with its V8 Supercar brother, other than the silhouette of its body shape. The Cobra, however, barring the modifications allowed under Group¯C rules at the time, is directly related to the competition cars driven by greats such as Moffat, Bond, Fred Gibson, Jacky Ickx, Dick Johnson, Vern Schuppan, John French etc. The Cobra, therefore, has strong, direct racing ties. Not only that, the Cobra is also the last Falcon to race at Bathurst, with direct road car ties, and competition support from Ford Australia.
Many Ford performance enthusiasts were disappointed the Cobra did not receive any additional performance upgrades over the 500¯GS, making it, in effect, a marketing exercise, based on its bold paint scheme, which linked back to the famous Shelby Mustangs of the ’60s. Regardless, the Cobra was the sportiest Falcon you could buy at the time.
The colour scheme is credited to Edsel Ford, Grandson of Henry Ford. Edsel was working at Ford Australia at the time, and he was the one who pushed the designers to come up with something eye-catching to get rid of those last hardtop body-shells. There’s no way the more conservative Aussies would have come up with something so bold. Strangely, rather than having white bodies painted over with blue stripes, the Cobra’s bodies were actually all painted blue, and the white paint was applied over it.
ur NZV8 feature Cobra is owned by Darryl Lucas, and is number 121 of 400. It’s one of the 120 351s with auto, air conditioning, power steering and power windows. Of the 400 Cobras made, this variation is the most common. However, being a 351, it’s extremely desirable. That being said, there are thought to be only eight to 10 Falcon Cobras in New Zealand, so regardless of whether it’s a 302, or 351, manual or auto, if you want to own a Falcon Cobra, you have to grab whatever becomes available on the very rare occasions something does. Alternatively you could try to find one in Australia, but as the Cobra is now highly sought-after over there, you’ll likely pay more for one there than you will here. Of the 400 built, it is thought only 75¯per cent have survived.
Darryl’s car is extremely original. It has the vacuum-formed front spoiler, but he never has it on as it only takes one low driveway to waste it. So the spoiler is kept safe in his shed, along with the car’s original Globe wheels, which don’t fill the guards nearly as well as the after market items he currently has fitted. The car was repainted recently but everything else, including the interior, is all original.
This car was imported into New Zealand in 1985. One of its earlier Kiwi owners was John Pope. John had been living in Australia in the early ’80s and spotted a Cobra, which he took a photograph of. When he bought this car in 1987, he checked the photos he had of the Australian car, and discovered they were actually the same car!
Interestingly, not long after Darryl purchased this car, his wife Shelly bought him a Biante¯1.18 scale model of a Falcon Cobra. Like the real thing, the model is a limited edition. Shelly purchased it off the internet. She didn’t even bother bidding, she went straight for the Buy-Now price. Like the real thing, the Cobra models don’t appear for sale very often, so she had to jump at what was available. But this particular model, incredibly, was also number 121, just like Darryl’s car!
1978 Ford Falcon XC Cobra #121 of 400
Engine: (Original specs) 351ci (5752cc) Cleveland, four barrel carburettor
Driveline: Automatic and Ford nine-inch rear limited slip
Brakes: Power-assisted four wheel discs
Wheels: (Original specs) 15 by seven-inch Bathurst Globe alloys
Performance: (Original specs*) 217hp (162kW) at 4500rpm (*our feature car has several engine mods)
Occupation: Company director Supreme Blast and Paint
Other Cars: 1973 XA Falcon GT hardtop race car
Words: Steve Holmes | Photos: Jared Clark