With the look of old and the performance of new, Philip Macey’s immaculately finished Falcon is a dream come true
If you can’t have the genuine item, a tribute car is the next best thing. And like our Aussie cousins, Kiwis love nothing more than building tribute cars, especially when it comes to race cars. And it’s pretty much the same famous themes that crop up every time. If it’s a Holden, from a Torana XU-1 through to a Commodore, it’s a Peter Brock tribute. If it’s a Falcon, from an XW GT-HO through to an XC hardtop, it’s an Allan Moffat tribute. And if it’s a Falcon XD or XE, it’s a Dick Johnson tribute.
Most Dick Johnson tribute cars are based on either his famous Tru-Blu XDs or Greens-Tuf XEs, but not many people know that Johnson also raced an XE in Tru-Blu colours. However, Taranaki’s Phil Macey does, and as you’ll see on these pages, Phil’s XE is absolutely one of the best you’ll see, regardless of which side of the pond you’re on.
Although Johnson had been battling away for 15 years, trying to make a name for himself outside of his native Queensland, it wasn’t until the 1980 Bathurst 1000 that he burst into prominence. It wasn’t his success at the event that did it, but bad fortune, when comfortably in front, and already a full lap ahead of pre-race favourite Peter Brock, Johnson’s challenge came to an abrupt end. When avoiding a rock that had been rolled onto the track by spectators, he slammed his Tru-Blu XD Falcon into the outside wall at the exit of ‘The Cutting’. Johnson’s wall of death antics were seen on TV sets all over Australia, and his emotional television interview an hour or so later over ‘the rock’ incident really set him on the path to national fame. People all over Australia offered to send money to help get Johnson’s career back on track, AU$74,000 in fact, of which half was contributed by Ford Australia.
With that, Johnson set about building an all-new Tru-Blu XD, and with this car went on to win the 1981 Australian Touring Car Championship (ATCC), the 1981 Bathurst 1000, and the 1982 ATCC. Then, with Ford’s support and the release of the new XE model in Australia in 1982, Johnson and his team built a brand-new XE Falcon for the 1982 Endurance Series, which included Bathurst. The XE, incorporating a coil-spring rear suspension set-up for the first time, was finished up in the same Tru-Blu colour scheme as Johnson’s previous XDs, along with a red front valance, advertising Red Roo Pipe, another of the products made by Palmer Tube Mills, Johnson’s main sponsor.
By the start of the 1983 endurance races, the XE was resplendent in the bright-green paint scheme of Palmer Tube Mills’ Greens-Tuf advertising. Johnson had unravelled the mystery of getting the arse-end to stick to the ground (see brakout box), and the brief XE Tru-Blu period of late 1982 was soon forgotten. But for many fans of Dick Johnson, the ’82 XE was one of his best-looking race cars, and this was the car Phil Macey wanted to replicate.
This project, in a way, started back in 1980, when Phil was watching his first Bathurst race, and saw the relatively unknown Dick Johnson dealing to the big-name drivers with their big budgets in his Tru-Blu XD. Phil has been a Dick Johnson fan ever since, and decided that one day that he’d like to build a Dick Johnson tribute car …Then a few years ago, while scouring Trade Me, Phil stumbled upon the perfect starting point, an unfinished project XE Falcon someone was building as a race car. Ironically, the seller was also building the Falcon as a Dick Johnson tribute car, but in the more famous 1983–’84 Greens-Tuf guise. Phil made the transaction, and pushed the Falcon into a corner of his shed while he focused on other projects.
Eventually the Falcon’s time came, and Phil chose the less known, more unique 1982 XE Tru-Blu guise for his Dick Johnson tribute car. He also ordered a Group C bodykit from Phase Autos — including the infamous Moonraker rear spoiler (see brakout box) — to really make it stand out.
To build the project, Phil got in touch with Danny Fabish, a fabricator who has spent many years in the racing scene. Danny’s business, Fluid Fabrications, is a one-stop shop for race and road car work, and with Phil having known Danny for years, he was well aware of Danny’s talent and lofty standards, so the decision to use him was a no-brainer.
In building the XE, Phil wanted something that was fun to drive, but also practical. As well as being a circuit car, his plans were to run it in the Targa too, for which it needed to remain road legal. In fact, as wild as this car looks, Phil could drive it to work each day if he wished! As Danny says, “You could take it to get the groceries,” and after building the car up from what was essentially a shell with a diff in it, Danny should know.
The Falcon runs a 351ci Cleveland, built by Rod Allen, the father of Phil’s co-driver, and a staunch Chev fan with plenty of engine-building experience. The 351 is a mild build at this stage, fitted with a Holley 770cfm Street Avenger carb on top of an Edelbrock manifold. All up, it’s good for around 400hp. Backing the 351 is a McLeod twin-plate clutch and flywheel, Tremec TKO-600 five-speed, and Ford nine-inch diff with Romac floating hubs, along with Schreiner axles and drive plates.
The suspension on the car retains the ‘KISS’ approach, keeping the standard front double A-arms, while a custom three-link sits in the rear with rod-ended chromoly arms. QA1 adjustable shocks dampen the rear, while the front shocks remain standard, with coilovers soon to be fitted. King Springs are fitted all-round along with heavier sway bars to keep the Falcon sitting flat through the corners.
One departure Phil has taken from exacting the Johnson car is the wheels. Rather than go for the small BBS wheels of the original, Phil opted instead for these awesome-looking, one-off (three-off actually, as he ordered three sets) custom 18-inch wheels, with the unmistakable XE Fairmont ‘snowflake’ style centres. The wheels were custom-made by Harry Witham in Australia and measure a massive 9.5-inches wide up front, and 13.5-inches wide in the rear.
Eagle-eyed readers who know their racing history will have spotted that the roll cage has been painted silver. Back in the 1970s and early ’80s, Aussie touring car teams were more interested in weight saving than rigidity, so alloy roll cages were common, which was the case in all of Dick Johnson’s Falcons. These days you can’t fit an alloy roll cage into a newly built race car, so instead Danny went to the trouble of painting the cage silver, so it looks like it’s alloy. Motorsport Engineering originally built the cage about eight years ago, but on building the car, Danny added more bars for even greater safety.
So instrumental in the build was Danny, that he even painted the car himself, in the spray booth of his other business, Fluid Coatings!
At the time of writing, Phil had competed in just one event following the Falcon’s recent completion. That event was Rod Millen’s Leadfoot Festival, where not only did Phil have a blast, but the car ran flawlessly all weekend. Better still, the car had a crowd of people around it all event long — quite a feat at an event like Leadfoot, where all the cars are impressive. But then again, with the XE’s iconic looks, modern performance and amazing build-quality, that’s hardly surprising!
1982 Ford Falcon XE
Engine: 351 Cleveland, Holley 770cfm Street Avenger carb, Edelbrock manifold, JAZ fuel cell, Holley Blue fuel pump feeding surge tank, mechanical fuel pump, -8 braided fuel lines, MSD 6AL ignition, billet MSD distributor, MSD Blaster 2 coil, MSD 8mm leads, modified 1 7/8th-inch Pacemaker headers, three-inch custom exhausts, Flowmaster mufflers, aluminium radiator, twin 10-inch fans
Driveline: Tremec TKO-600 gearbox, McLeod RST twin-plate, McLeod steel flywheel, Ford nine-inch diff, Romac floating hubs, Schreiner Axles, 3.5:1 ratio, Nodular iron head
Suspension: Custom three-link rear end, rod-ended chromoly arms, QA1 two-way adjustable rear shocks, King super low front springs, King Pro Sport rear springs, urethane bushes, oversize sway bars
Brakes: Tilton floor-mounted pedal box, short Tilton cylinders, hydraulic handbrake, Tilton pedal box adjuster, Wilwood rear pressure adjuster, 13.5-inch Wilwood front rotors, six-pot billet Wilwood Superlight calipers, 12-inch Wilwood rear rotors, four-pot Wilwood Dynalight calipers
Wheels/Tyres: 18x9.5- and 18x13.5-inch custom Snowflake rims, 275/35R18 and 335/35R18 tyres
Exterior: DJR Blue paint, Phase Autos spoiler kit, Moonraker rear wing, jack stand points in sills
Chassis: Custom chassis connectors, floors cut, lowered and braced for seats
Interior: Racetech seats, Momo steering wheel, fabricated gear lever and knob, Auto Meter gauges, MoTeC shift / oil pressure light, inbuilt fire suppression system, Stilo intercom, pit-to-car radio and Monit Rally Meter
Performance: Approx. 400hp
Previously owned cars: Too many to list, but still not enough
Dream car: ’68 Shelby
Why the Falcon? I grew up watching these cars race at Bathurst and always thought they looked good. I wanted something I could have fun in but that also was different
Build time: Six years
Length of ownership: Six years
Philip thanks: Danny Fabish at Fluid Fabrications and Fluid Coatings, Carl Baker at Signworks, Rod Allen for the engine build, Nigel Swan at Ignition Motorsport for the electrical work, Wayne Draper and family at HO Homologations for advice, specs and bodykit, Keith Chesterton at DJR Racing for advice and specs, Harry Witham for the wheels, Steve Hildred Motors for the diff, Alan Hooper at NZ Panel & Paint for the bodywork
This article originally appeared in NZV8 issue No. 99 — to get your hands on a print copy click on the cover below