The Ford Falcon GT Story - Ford Falcon Spotters Guide
If the name “Stewart
Warner” means nothing to you, then you have probably
found the wrong page. If, on the other hand, you recognize
the name as that responsible for the seriously elegant
instrumentation adorning the cockpit of the Ford Falcon
GT, then welcome, and read on…
The Ford Falcon GT Story
The GT Falcon is unquestionably the quintessential Aussie
muscle car, however we can thank the competition between
the big three manufacturers of the day, GMH, Ford and
Chrysler, for the evolution of arguably the most
collectable of all Aussie built cars.
While we could
easily go back as far as the Model T, which endeared
itself to many pioneering Aussie motorists with its amazing
durability, the real indication of great things to come
was shown with the XK Falcon’s Pursuit 170 engine.
At the time the Valiant sported the most powerful engine,
however the Ford engineers created the Pursuit engine
as something a little more specialized for the Aussie
Designed to be freely revving and
more tractable for Aussie conditions, the new engine
ushered in a time of innovation in Australia, rather
than the legacy of larger capacity lethargic engines
finding their way to our shores from the US. Holden counter
attacked with their 179ci six being introduced as an
option from September 1963 in the EH series, itself evolving
into the X2 introduced with the HD - a more spirited
performance on offer courtesy mainly of its improved
carburettor. Nevertheless there was certainly no panic
at Chrysler, their 225ci slant six still offering a class
leading 145bhp and remaining as the most powerful six
cylinder Australian sedan.
Chrysler also led the pack
by being the first of the big three to offer a V8 option,
but things were about to change – forever.
When the XR was introduced Ford decided upon the fitment
of the wonderful 289ci Mustang engine as an option across
the entire range – a
stoke of genius in no small part due to the marketing
talents of Bill Bourke, then Deputy Managing Director
of Ford Australia (later Managing Director). Collaborating
with the Victoria Police Force, the path to the Ford
Falcon GT was set. The police requirements were that
the car be able to outrun the top speed of an average
sedan (that being around 90mph), while having four doors.
Bourke’s answer was to equip the XR with the Mustang
V8, have it mated to a four speed manual gear box, improve
the suspension and throw in a handful of other refinements,
thus begat the car that would quickly garner legend status.
Don Dunoon was responsible for much of the engineering
work, and while we have not been able to question any
officers of the day that had the pleasure of driving
these first iterations, we are pretty sure they found
the new car a vast improvement to the six cylinder “three
on the tree” versions they had been used to.
XR VicPol pursuit special was obviously too good to be
kept away from an eager public, and Bill Bourke ensured
it would find its way to Ford showrooms. Sticking to
the traditions of the Model T, the first Falcon GT could
be ordered in any colour you wished, as long as it was
bronze. The decision on colour was brilliant, it remaining
timeless and now coming to immortalize the emergence
of Aussie performance cars.
If you think back to the
time, you will realize just how forward thinking Bourke’s
decision to bring the GT to market was; Australians used
liberal amounts of Brylcreem in their hair, pubs shut
at 6pm and the nation was shocked when the Melbourne
Herald newspaper ran a front page photo of new Prime
Minister Harold Holt with wife Zara holding a cigarette.
was a time when the British automotive industry had become
complacent, a stuffy nosed attitude of “tried
and proven” will win the day (and sales war) was
quickly losing favour with Australians who needed transportation
capable of swallowing up the endless miles as they sought
out their favourite holiday destinations. Bourke's vision
was supreme, he realizing that by taking the new pursuit
car, equipping it with a Fairmont interior, fitting the
dashboard with the green-glowing Stewart-Warner gauges,
adding a chrome “Hurst shifter” gearlever
and deeply dished wood rim steering wheel (not to forget
the sensational red GT badges), he could create a Unique!
Just how unique you may ask? Well at the
time a performance 4 door was unheard of, not only in
Australia, but throughout the world. But why a 4 door
performance car? There were quite a few reasons actually,
firstly the Victoria Police required their car be fitted
with four doors (and their requirement provided the impetus
for the cars development), in a period filled with baby-boomer
parents the need for a four door car was paramount, and
finally production car racing in Australia was garnering
an ever increasing allegiance of fans.
Jack Telnack supplied
the styling artistry that turned a standard Fairmont
into a GT. The stripes, the chromed wheel covers, blacked-out
grille, badgework and so on worked to maginificent effect,
especially in combination with the purposeful stance
conveyed by the GT's that sat one and a half inches lower
in ride height than their Falcon cousins. No such project
had ever been attempted before in Australia and Telnack
added aggression to the Falcon without undermining its
The GT started life as a true limited edition,
only two hundred and fifty five being built to the end
of June 1967 (the actual numbers broken down by month
being three in March, 105 in April, 115 in May and 36
in June). Demand was unprecedented, and a second batch
were quickly put into production, another 303 being constructed
by years end. The final 38 XRs were assembled in January
and February of 1968 and the GT's future as a model in
its own right was assured.
With the launch of XT in March
1968, the GT was made even more potent and attractive
and, thanks to its having taken a regular position in
the range, there was now a choice of colour; the original
GT bronze remained, along with Zircon Green and Candy
Apple Red, arguably the most evocative of the several
shades offered. It should be noted to those seeking out
a genuine GT that it was possible to order a GT in a
non-standard colour, and at least two were finished in
the delightfully subtle Springtime Yellow.
The 289 engine
was superseded by the 302, which brought a modest increase
in outright performance. Now very much a part of the
Ford model lineup, it was inevitable that a little rationalization
would be required to keep cost down. Very little was
given up, but the Hurst shifter was replaced by a shorter
more conventional model, and in the true traditions of
the GT name, (Gran Turismo meaning Grand Touring), an
automatic version was available as an option. The XT
was more subtle and elegant than the XR, and gave little
away in sporting nature.
The extroverted XW was to follow, it fitted with the brutal 351 Windsor engine, the pinned bonnet giving some indication of the potential top speed of the now legend GT. Just in case you didn’t notice the bonnet pins, Ford added “Super Roo” decals, fat stripes and “351 High Performance” chrome badges to its flanks. Simply put, the car looked so powerful that it never actually needed to prove itself at a set of traffic lights. The body adornments clearly stated to wanna be’s “nough said”.
The standing quarter mile time dropped from mid-16s to mid 15s, helped by a lowering of the final drive ratio as well as the giant increase in power and torque. The Ford engineers ensured the GT could stop as well as it could go, fitting fabulous 11.25” Kelsey-Hayes ventilated front disc brakes. The XW GT begat the wonderful XW GT HO Phase II, developed for the Bathurst 500 of 1969 and 1970 respectively, although these later iterations sourced the 351ci engines from Cleveland rather than Windsor.
Next came the “Shaker” – the most recognizable of the GT’s, the XY. Smoother, more refined, undoubtedly the best. The Phase III would punish any comers on the racetracks of Australia, garnering a reputation that has endeared to this day, and making the XY unarguably the most collectable of all GT’s (although we would be happy to own any of ‘em).
The XA retained much of the grunt of the XY, but the styling was far more restrained – no Super Roo decals and, so much is the pity, no Phase IV. Four examples would be built before the concept was abandoned at a time when the “Supercar Superscare” would see the media hype convince many that a Japanese 4 cylinder was the only answer to modern day transportation.
The XB’s would be the last of the genre, although many consider the XC Cobra part of the family – and one we at Unique Cars and Parts agree with. The XB continued the theme of increased refinement, and few other cars ever offered such an encompassing “cockpit” that would make you feel more a pilot than a driver. The addition of Kelsey-Hayes disc brakes to the rear wheels helped pull the brute to a stop, however there was no HO, and inevitably no future GT – for a time anyway.