Published in New Zealand Classic Car Issue No. 205

Words: Tim Monck-Mason Photos: Quinn Hamill

As the first of the line, the XR GT sired a series of iconic Australian muscle cars
Australia 1967. The Vietnam War dominated the foreign news and the citizens enjoyed a continuing economic boom. The mining boom was under way, and the drought of 1966 was now a distant memory. Consumer spending, housing construction, and the GNP were up. The Seekers were named Australians Of The Year, and Australia’s first national nightly TV current affairs programme, This Day Tonight, premiered.

Mark Skaife was born and Holden exported its 100,000th car and launched its first compact sedan, the Torana. Ford, however, did something altogether more momentous, though Henry Ford might not have agreed. History, according to a famous quote by the Ford Motor Company’s founder Henry Ford, is bunk. In which case this lovely car is really just an old Falcon that came out with a few goodies. Big deal.

Well have I got news for Henry. Ford Snr might have been a genius when it came to car production, but his comments on wider social issues were complete and utter nonsense. And this Ford Falcon GT, the first of the species, is just one example of how wrong he was. Because this car, a relatively restrained Falcon, is the grand-daddy of the Aussie V8 muscle car as we now know it. This was the first time a standard four-door Australian saloon was hotted up to go racing, and is the source of everything that was to come. If, like me, you find the Aussie V8 Supercar racing some of the best motorsport to grace our TVs then you must, as I do, pay homage to this car.

The world’s first four-door GT

History, then, is certainly not bunk, so here is some history. In ’66 a Mini won Bathurst, an event that became the catalyst for Ford Australia’s Bill Bourke to declare, “Well then, let’s make the world’s first four-door GT.”

A Cortina GT had won in ’65 but now Ford found it unsuitable for the new regulations, so a new car was needed to retain honour — there was a sense that a Mini was just too small to win Australia’s big race. The XR was already being promoted as the ‘Mustang-bred Falcon’, and shared a lot of undercarriage parts and styling themes with the American pony car, so it seemed an obvious choice to add more Mustang-like bits to the base car and make a Bathurst winner. Dearborn didn’t like the idea and took some persuasion, but by sticking to the four-door format it was, in truth, a small job to develop this historic car.

Harry Firth

Whilst Bill Bourke is credited with getting the idea and permission to do it, Harry Firth was responsible for developing the XR Falcon GT. ‘Old Fox’, as he was known for his wily tactics, was a Ford works driver and became the team manager for the 1967 Bathurst race, where he won with Fred Gibson.
From there he left to take up managing the Holden Dealer Team, where in 1969 he introduced two youngsters into the team by the names of Colin Bond and Peter Brock. With new drivers on board he set about developing the Torana XU-1, and the rest is history. He retired from the HDT and Motorsport after the 1977 Bathurst race.
Most of the development work had already been done, as it was common for Ford to make uprated parts-bin specials for the Aussie police forces, and indeed the police pursuit version had already been demonstrated to the Victorian Police Department. A little more work on the handling and a smidgen more power, and they had the GT. How simple life was a for a car-maker back then!

For the GT, a Falcon with the optional extra 4736cc (289ci) V8 was specced up and upgraded gently, but thoughtfully, with power steering and braking, and a mildly tuned V8. The job of making the car look good was given to Jack Telnac, Ford Australia’s first resident stylist. To create what in 1967 was a very snazzy bit of kit he specified a Fairmont interior with charcoal vinyl, Stewart Warner instruments, a Hurst-like manual ‘top loader’ gear shift, and a Mustang-style imitation wood-rimmed steering wheel. For the externals he specified the GT Gold colour scheme, GT badging, ‘side-winder’ GT stripes, grille black-outs, and chrome wheel covers. It was all relatively restrained — styling rather than hot-rodding.

Before its debut Ford promised: “A special series Falcon GT (grand touring) model with the performance and handling characteristics of a high-priced sports car.” And indeed, it hit a huge soft spot with the Australian press, who genuinely waxed lyrical in their praise for this new breed of car. The car had power, brakes, easy driving characteristics, a well-appointed interior, and a race pedigree on the cards.

In Honor of the XR GT

1992 year saw the GT’s 25th anniversary, and Ford made use of its involvement with Tickford to produce around 300 Falcon EB GTs. Again limited in colour choice, it was fitted with a 200kW 4949cc V8 — not that much progress for 25 years!

In 2007  we had a run of 200 Falcon GTs done up as a 40th anniversary model. Based on the regular FPV Falcon with fancy suspension and a coat of black paint, it gets gold Shelby-style stripes and Ford’s Boss 290 5.4-litre V8, with 290kW (that’s 390bhp) joined by 519Nm of twist through six gears whether by manual or automatic selection. Woohoo! But, it’s not a particularly good rendition of the original car, having a Shelby colour scheme that has nothing at all to do with the original Falcon GT. So it seems that FPV’s marketing department feel history can be manipulated to suit the market! In fact the standard GT model honours the original better, with stunning gold paint.

Terrifyingly fast

And in its day it was quick. Australian Motor tested the car in June 1967: “The Falcon GT is the fastest production car ever built in Australia. And it IS fast. Terrifyingly fast, in fact¦” Not bad for 168kW (225bhp)! Contemporary road tests generally gave the GT a top speed of over 193kph (120mph), a standing quarter mile time of 15.8 seconds, and a 0-96.5kph in 10.1 seconds.

Our feature car revels in its compulsory gold paintwork and cuts a remarkably subtle profile that’s so different from the later, more garish models. Really this was a European, rather than American-influenced GT, and all the better for it I say.

Its keeper, Chris Carr, is a Ford man and is well-known for a stunning MkI Cortina GT that he sold recently. The Falcon GT is its replacement, though he also owns a stunning Cortina MkII GTE that is worthy of a NZCC feature at a later date.

Winners: The Golden Era at Bathurst
1967    Ian Geoghegan, Ford Falcon GT in 3m.02.00s
1968    Bruce McPhee, Holden Monaro GTS in 2m.56.70s
1969    Ian Geoghegan, Ford Falcon GTHO in 2m.48.90s
1970    Allan Moffat, Ford Falcon GTHO in 2m.52.10s
1971    Allan Moffat, Ford Falcon GTHO in 2m.38.90s
1972    Allan Moffat, Ford Falcon GT in 2m.35.80s
1973    John Goss, Ford Falcon GT in 2m.33.40s
1974    Peter Brock, Holden Torana L34 in 2m.30.80s
1975    Colin Bond, Holden Torana L34 in 2m.27.40s
1976    Allan Moffat, Ford Falcon GT in 2m.25.00s
1977    Peter Brock, Holden Torana A9X in 2m.24.90s
1978    Peter Brock, Holden Torana A9X in 2m.20.00s
1979    Peter Brock, Holden Torana A9X in 2m.20.97s
1980    Kevin Bartlett, Chevrolet Camaro in 2m.20.97s
1981    Kevin Bartlett, Chevrolet Camaro in 2m.36.40s*
1982    Allan Grice, Holden Commodore in 2m.17.50s
1983     Peter Brock, Holden Commodore in 2m.16.20s
In 1984 George Fury won in a Nissan Bluebird Turbo
— the (temporary) end of an era.

South Island-new, the GT seems incredibly and strikingly original despite having once had a drag engine and wider wheels. Lovingly returned to original and refurbished it’s meant to be driven, not shown — it’s stunning but not concours, just how I like them. And this car’s spec is perfect — manual floor change and power steering.
Inside it’s remarkably sophisticated when you compare it with the then usual Aussie car diet of bench seats and column changes. The combination of the Fairmont’s seats and luxuries, and the sports-style steering wheel and shifter gives it a tasteful and, well, proper Grand Touring style. The front seats are comfy and wide, everything seems handy and easy to use, and starting her up is immediate and not at all noisy. There’s just a pleasant and bearable burble. You could cover serious distances in this.

Flooring the loud pedal

The clutch feels light with good bite and no nasty suddenness. No slipping is needed to get rolling and nothing dramatic happens — there’s no sudden lurching or stalling. The optional powered steering surprises, as it is quicker than the standard Falcon’s — it needs gentle movements rather than big heaves. The four-speed all-synchro ’box has closer ratios than usual, but first isn’t too high to use around town and top cruises easily. Despite its truck origins the ’box surprised me — I was expecting heaviness and notchiness, but although it’s no Alfa Romeo transmission, it moved easily, engaged with no hesitation or unpleasantness, and generally snicked home nicely.
Cornering is, for the era and unsophisticated suspension, stable and solid. Little roll occurs at road speeds, it provides good feeling and enough softness is available to absorb bumps — not something that can be said of later, further beefed-up models. The brakes proved quick and pulled the big car up fast, making the whole thing easy and very pleasant to drive.

A period road test approved when it did 10 panic stops from 129kph with no fade — quite an achievement in the days when most cars faded after one decent stop.
Floor the loud pedal and a satisfying, smooth urge propels the car with a lovely but socially acceptable sound track. No hoon stuff here. The power is there all right and, in its day it was considered ridiculously fast, but I guess we’ve got used to power, so now in 2007 it just seems quick and useful rather than mad and unnecessary. Australian Motor magazine put one on its dyno and found 101kW of the stated 168kW (135 of the stated 225bhp) made it to the rear wheels.
You could easily drive the length of the country in this car. It’s incredibly well sorted and very civilised indeed. To be honest it surprised me, and left me the thought that with the later quest for more power and race-ability, the cars got worse. I later drove an XT GT (next model along) in auto and 4949cc (302ci) spec, and it was nowhere near as nice to drive.

production and prices

Ford initially planned to produce just 260 vehicles to meet the homologation requirements for Bathurst, but demand was so great that some 600 or so were produced, with unfilled orders being transferred to the 1968 XT GT. The first cars didn’t even have a handbook or workshop manual as Ford was so unsure of the car’s viability! Actual production figures are debated, but it is generally accepted it was close to 600 — some claim nearer 700. Some of the last cars had the newer 4949cc V8 engine, which might confuse matters. It seems very few XR Falcon GTs survive, and stories abound of them being wrecked, stolen, faked, and horribly modified.
On sale in 1967, at A$3890, all but 13 special order cars were in GT Gold, and both the Victoria and New South Wales police bought some — plain clothes cars maybe? Come 1968 and the Falcon morphed into the updated XT, hence the small number of XRs.

How many are left I cannot tell, nor will I speculate as to its worth. At a recent Australian auction various GTs were asking well over A$100,000 but failed to sell under the hammer, whilst the GT-HOs are getting several times that ($683,650 at a March auction) so the GTs can only gain value. They may not be as outrageous as the GT-HO, but are much more usable and road friendly.

As reported in the August edition of this famed magazine, prices of these Aussie muscle cars are at fever pitch, and the XR GT is the grand-daddy of them all.
Yes a GT-HO might be faster and is certainly more outrageous, but it’s a recalcitrant beast compared with this car. In fact it occurs to me that it could have been exported to the UK as a sort of colonial Jaguar Mk2. There could have been a cocky Aussie con-man driving a well-used one in The Sweeney. Lovely. It’s now entirely possible, and increasingly likely, that the Aussie muscle car will die from a combination of not enough petrol, and too much cost involved in developing a dedicated rear-wheel-drive platform for such a small market.

Maybe Chris should put a brand new GT (in gold of course) to one side for 40 years — but I don’t know that he would enjoy it as much as its granddad. Stop Press: Chris is now considering selling this GT to make way for another car, call him on 03 544 9080 if you’re serious.

1967 XR Falcon GT
Engine V8
Capacity 4736cc (289ci)
C/R 9.8:1
Fuel system Autolite 4300 4-bbl carburettor
Max power 168kW (225bhp) at 4800rpm
Max torque 413Nm (305lb/ft) at 3200rpm
Transmission Four-speed all-synchromesh close-ratio manual with ‘Hurst’ shifter
Final drive 2.93:1
Suspension Front MacPherson struts;
Rear semi-elliptic leaf springs
Brakes Disc/drum
Steering PAS recirculating ball
Tyres 185 x 14
Wheelbase 2846mm
Length 4831mm
Width 1892mm
Weight 1429kg
Max speed 201kph+
0-96.5kph 10.1secs
1/4 mile 15.8secs