East Coast Legend – Ford Falcon GTHO-351 !

 –   As Seen In Edition 32 – the East coast Edition. Banner pic by Mark Rolls, Words: Anestis


Ford Falcon XY GTHO-351 !

In all our previous `Pole Position’ articles, we’ve brought you biographies and introductions to people who have worked hard and consistently enough to earn a Pole Position ! In our East Coast Edition, we feel it’s appropriate that the accolade of being right up front is deserved by an inanimate object. And although inanimate to most only through basic definition of the word, to those purists who understand what life really is, the East Coast born, Ford Falcon XY GTHO-351 comes to life; and it lives and it breathes as it tears up race tracks !

It would be a pub argument of the calibre of the best of them ! Imagine a purist academic up against a purist motoring enthusiast about whether or not the Ford Falcon XY GTHO-351 was alive let alone if it were a legend!

The only time this car can be classified as an inanimate object is when it’s sitting in a garage under wraps carefully placed by it’s adoring owner as if to keep the classic warm only so it can burst to life again on call. And even then, the body shape, the roof-line, the stance and the old school smell of petrol fumes and oil burning off the extractor heads are foretelling of it’s wild fury once awakened. For this is the car that any Australian with understanding of this country’s race history and Ford’s contribution to that heritage knows as a Living Legend!

The toughest race track in the country for touring car or muscle cars, is Mount Panorama in the otherwise sleepy country town of Bathurst on the South East coast of NSW ! This is a race track that even the modern technology of the current V8 SuperCars find challenging but in the early ’70’s, when horsepower was more important than brake power, it was literally deadly ! For a car to consistently conquer the mountain here, it had to be the best in class! Enter the Ford Falcon GTHO-351!

The GTHO came about during a time of power wars between Ford and local Australian manufacturer Holden. When Holden began using the Chevrolet 327ci and 350ci V8 engine it became a real threat to Ford’s production series dominance in Australia. Especially when the Monaro of the same series won Bathurst in 1968 and 1969.

The HO (Handling Options) Falcon, was Ford’s response and with it was born the real SuperCar Production Race era that dominated Australian motor-sports for decades! At the time the feud was three way between Ford, Holden and Chrysler with their respective SuperCar offerings – Ford Falcon GTHO, Holden Monaro and the Chrysler Charger.

There were 3 phases to the Falcon, but the one that everyone remembers was the Phase III, with trademark Shaker protruding from the bonnet and doing as the name suggests each time the throttle pulled on the 780cfm Holley!

It was said that the car that won at Bathurst on Sunday afternoon was the car that sold in the show-rooms on Monday morning. For a 10 year period from mid 1960’s through to the mid 1970’s, the Ford GT was King of the Mountain and King of the Show Room at dealerships around the country.

The Bathurst 1000 is a 1,000 km endurance touring car race track that climbs and descends Mount Panorama, with corners deadly enough to be called Widow’s Corner and Hell’s Corner, with one of the longest straights in the country, Conrod Straight where 300k/hr can feel more like 60 !

To win this race requires brute power to climb the steep mountain, precision steering and suspension stability to handle the `ESSES’ at the peak of Mount Panorama, and then enough brake power to pull the big beast up before Widow’s Corner after a huge gallop on Conrod Straight! When a car wins at Bathurst, it earns respect for having all those characteristics, whilst equal adulation is given to the driver for his endurance and ability to tame the savage beast.

Ford drivers have included Dick Johnson and Allan Moffat who won 4 times, once with team mate Colin Bond in a magnificent 1-2 each driving a GT Cobra (1977).

The car itself though, has it’s own tale to tell, and this could fill volumes, so beyond the scope we have here, but we promise GT Fans that a future edition will do proper justice to the GTHO.

1966 – First GT, XR GT – Bronze with black stripes.
The car featured an auto only, 289ci engine (4.7L). The XR Falcon used the American version as a basis. Ford Australia re-engineered the entire car by creating a new sub frame, bigger fuel tank, repositioned spare tyre, 100mm wider front bench, stiffer suspension settings and quicker steering to name just the obvious changes from the American Version. The XR GT, driven by Harry Firth and Fred Gibson, won Bathurst in 1967.

1969 – More Aggressive XW introduced.
Again modelled on the American version, the XW was more aggressive and beat the Monaro with it’s 351 Windsor V8 for GT. The 351 Windsor was used for the HO producing 216kw (290hp). That year, the XW GTHO won Bathurst.

1970 – XY model introduced in November. 
The XY model brought with it the hint of power and performance that Australian touring car circuits had been anticipating. But there was more to come ..

1971- The launch of the Legendary XY GTHO Phase 3.
The Phase 3 GTHO featured the 351ci 5.8L V8 engine with a 4 speed top-loader gear box and 9″ Detroit Locker Differential. With between 350 and 380bhp (270 – 280 kW) and 380 ft/lbs (513Nm) of torque, it was known as the world’s fastest 4-door production car. As mentioned already, Allan Moffat had great success on the track in the GTHO Phase 3 and eventually dropped his famed 1969 Mustang in preference to the GHTO.

He went on to win the following races:
– 1st 1971 Hardie-Ferodo 500, Bathurst
– 1st 1972 TAA 1 Hour Race, Calder Park
– 1st 1972 Australian Manufacturers’ Championship, Round 4, Phillip Island-
– 1st 1972 Australian Manufacturers’ Championship, Round 5, Surfers Paradise
– 1st 1973 Australian Touring Car Championship, Round 1, Symmons Plains
– 1st 1973 Australian Touring Car Championship, Round 2, Calder Park
– 1st 1973 Australian Touring Car Championship, Round 3, Sandown Park
– 1st 1973 Australian Touring Car Championship, Round 4, Wanneroo Park
– 1st 1973 Australian Touring Car Championship, Round 7, Oran Park

1972 – Launch of the XA Range.
Production of the XA Phase 4 GTHO commenced mid June, with enthusiasm fuelled by the success of predecessor models.

Production was stopped short however, when the now in-famous “Super-Car Scare” article was run in The Sun-Herald on front page with the title “160mph ‘Super Cars’ soon”.

By this time however, Ford had produced 4 Phase 4 GTHO’s, of which 3 were produced as race cars, while 1 was a production car painted in Calypso Green.

These four were quietly sold by Ford to customers who knew exactly what they were getting, although bough under the name of RPO 83 option coding.

Officially therefore, the Phase 4 unfortunately, was never produced, however, 130 sedans and 120 Hardtops were produced under the “RPO 83” coding, which effectively, was what the Phase 4 would have been.

The RPO 83 proved to be a success on the track with Alan Moffat and Pete Geoghegan driving to win Bathurst in 1973.

There have been many Ford Falcon GT’s that have won at Bathurst in the last 25 years since the big Falcon last raced there, but none as legendary as the GTHO-351 or the drivers that drove them!<













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