HARD & FAST!

HOW COULD FORD COUNTER HOLDEN’S SUCCESSFUL MONARO COUPES? WITH ITS OWN EXCITING NEW XA HARDTOPS. THAT’S HOW.

WORDS CLIFF CHAMBERS DR JOHN WRIGHT PHOTOS BEN GALLI

FORD FALCON – XA-XC

HOW COULD FORD COUNTER HOLDEN’S SUCCESSFUL MONARO COUPES? WITH ITS OWN EXCITING NEW XA HARDTOPS. THAT’S HOW.

“A 351 FAIRMONT COMPLETE WITH AIR-CONDITIONING, POWER WINDOWS, VINYL TOP AND MAYBE EVEN A SUNROOF DELIVERED STATUS BY THE TRUCKLOAD”

More than a decade after the Falcon arrived, Ford Australia finally had the opportunity to market a model that was pretty much of its own making. With the US Falcon disappearing in 1969, Ford Australia was obliged to design its own platform and did so with restrained influence from the parent company.

The XA Falcon launched in February 1972 was different in shape and character to the square-edged and conservative XW-XY series.

Six months later came a Hardtop version, with swooping roof and bulbous flanks that took several design cues from the US-made Ford Torino Hardtops were initially available at every price-point in Ford’s extensive model range. Want a six-cylinder, three-on-the-tree two-door without even a radio? You could have one. At the other end of the spectrum came the GT in Hardtop form and Fairmonts which could be optioned to extraordinary levels.

Fairmont two-doors were fairly common sights in 1970s corporate carparks. Not even senior execs could convince the Board to slip a full-on GT into the salary package – and possibly didn’t want the attention they attracted – but a 351 Fairmont complete with air-conditioning, power windows, vinyl top and maybe even a sunroof delivered status by the truck load.

Playing the options game with a Fairmont or lesser version also allowed buyers to sidestep insurance company agro towards anything with a GT badge.

Two-door Falcons were similar in size to the four-door cars but headroom was crimped by 30mm and rear passenger leg-room by a massive 122mm. The doors were longer, the glass, rear sheet-metal, turret and body embellishments all different. It will be a fortunate restorer who today can find new, authentic body panels for a two-door Ford.

Ford’s XA-based race weapon should have been the four-door GTHO Phase 4 but that plan was

scuppered by political interference. Its demise left the XA two-door with the task of battling Holden’s compact Torana V8 for the greatest prizes in Australian motor sport. It didn’t let the brand or fans down.

Bathurst in 1973 saw the endurance race distance extended to 1000 kilometres and it fell to the Ford of Allan Moffat/Jackie Ickx. A year later as the heavens opened an XA crewed by John Goss/Kevin Bartlett did it again, followed in 1977 by the most famous win of all as Moffat and Colin Bond crawled their cars across the line for a now-infamous ‘form finish’.

The wider Touring Car Championship saw the Falcon take longer to find its feet but once that happened success was exceptional.

During 1976 and 1977 Allan Moffat was untouchable; on the latter occasion winning seven of the ten races and swamping team-mate Colin Bond by more than 30 points.

Despite the cars’ on-track success, Hardtop sales were never astonishing. But given Ford’s exceptional sales performance during the 1970s they well may have enticed a lot of people into Ford showrooms who then drove out in a four-door.

Reliable sources suggest that XA Hardtop production including GTs was 8689 units, narrowly surpassed by the XB with 9731. With the two-door programme winding down, XC production was a skimpy 1048 including the 400 bodies allocated Cobra build numbers.

Ford hoped that its bare-bones XA Superbird might entice enthusiasts who wanted a GT but couldn’t afford to buy or insure one. The duo-tone 4.9-litre did okay with 700 reportedly sold but hardly anyone loved them enough to preserve them. We were lucky to find our featured car among a very small flock of survivors.

Ford had never built an official ‘Special’ until 1975 when the XB range also needed a boost. What better way to move a few surplus two-door bodies than with a John Goss Special

“IF YOU SIT LOW OR SUFFER FROM CAR-INDUCED CLAUSTROPHOBIA, AN XA-XC FALCON HARDTOP MAY NOT BE THE CAR OF YOUR DREAMS”

to acknowledge the Tasmanian stalwart’s 1974 Bathurst 1000 win?

The mildly-restyled XB model was the first mainstream Australian car available with body-coloured bumpers plus improvements including cabin carpet for the base model and a column-mounted headlight dipper/flasher across the range. It also matched Holden by offering full synchromesh on the basic three-speed transmission.

By 1976 when Ford announced a very slightly updated XC model, the day was almost done for two-door versions. GT production had ended with the XB and sales of other Hardtop versions being slow. Magazine articles appeared showing hundreds of coupe bodies ‘out to grass’ in open fields. If you’ve got a rusty two-door Ford there could be a reason.

Despite the memorable 1977 Bathurst win and Touring Car Championship, Ford couldn’t shift its last few hundred Hardtops. That was until visiting boss Edsel Ford II suggested a Cobra promo pack like the company had offered on Mustangs and Torinos in the USA.

Of the 400 XC Cobras built, just 30 were designated ‘competition’ versions with Scheel seats and reverse-intake air scoops.

The rest came variously with 4.9 or 5.8-litre engines, mostly automatic transmission and few prospects – or so it seemed – to become collectable. More of that later.

Plenty has been written about the XA RPO83 but a review of 1970s Hardtops isn’t complete without mention of these special-build cars.

As was widely speculated at the time, Ford had bought in parts to build the GTHO Phase 4 in significant numbers. Once the project was abandoned, all of this now-useless stock needed to be liquidated and the easiest way was by attaching it to existing cars.

That is how XA GT sedans and Hardtops came to acquire 780cfm carburettors, GTHO manifolding and a heat-shield for the clutch hydraulics. Some came with other competitionoriented features and the odd one even turned up with rear disc brakes.

ON THE ROAD

If you sit low or suffer from car-induced claustrophobia, an XA-XC Falcon might not be the car of your dreams. A rear window that allows the driver to see almost nothing that’s happening behind the car makes the optional left-hand mirror a must for those keen to change lanes without incident. Seat belts in the two-door models are badly mounted as well; slashing across occupants’ throats like an executioner’s blade.

“XB WAS THE FIRST MAINSTREAM AUSTRALIAN CAR WITH BODY-COLOURED BUMPERS”

XA-XC MARKET GUIDE

WITH ALMOST 20,000 Hardtops of all types produced, you would think finding a survivor in good condition wouldn’t be difficult. If your budget is $80-150,000 then that is to a degree true, with the market for excellent GTs and 5.8-litre Cobras opening ahead of you. If the budget is significantly less you could struggle.

A decade ago, 4.9-litre Cobras couldn’t reach $30,000 then suddenly doubled in value. 5.8-litre, four-speed cars did spectacularly better and in some instances were topping $100,000. Other versions did their best to follow in the Cobra’s wheel-tracks but about the best a 351 Fairmont could manage prior to the 2008 market ‘correction’ was $45- 50,000.

Values at that point plunged back below $35,000 but since that time have regained lost ground.

Very good Fairmonts can now reach $55,000 and even ordinary ones cost $25-30,000. Basic 500 two-doors cost less than $30,000 but have become difficult to find.

Model identification prefixes are JG65 for 500 versions and JG67 for Fairmonts.

Some XCs were used as police pursuit cars but have probably been repainted or turned into Cobra replicas.

Once behind the strange ‘beaked’ dash and three-spoke wheel, everything starts changing for the better – especially if you bought a 5.8-litre car.

With three-speed automatic and basic 2V engine, Fairmont 351 Hardtops will still run from rest to 100km/h in about eight seconds.

Handling is very much dependent on how a car has been maintained and perhaps modified during its lifetime.

Having evaluated many years ago a virtually unused Goss Special (11,200 kilometres since new) it was interesting to experience just how badly an untouched 1970s suspension could behave. Journos testing basic Goss cars when new were savage about body roll and understeer but then add shock absorbers that had done nothing in a long time and bushings suffering the rigors of age made taking bends at even moderate speeds quite a struggle.

The point being made here is that low-kilometre, visually pristine cars might not be a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity but rather an unexpected opportunity to spend lots of money replacing items that no longer work as they should.

Fuel consumption from the 5.8-litre automatic won’t get much below 18L/100km but then not many people will buy a V8 with economical motoring in mind. 98 Octane fuel with a leadreplacement additive will protect valve seats if they haven’t yet been hardened to cope with Unleaded fuel.

“NOT MANY PEOPLE WILL BUY A V8 WITH ECONOMICAL MOTORING IN MIND”

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XA-XC

Its mine... CAMILLO COLANTUONO

WHY DID I get into buying Ford hardtops? Easy.

You can blame Mad Max, the movie. I’ve wanted one ever since I first saw it, though it took a fair while before I could afford one.

The first car I bought, in 2007, was the GS. It’s a very early example, according to the ‘single’ or ‘big’ compliance plate - probably the first produced in that Lime Glaze colour and it was stock when I bought it, including a toploader transmission.

I ended up respraying it, and luckily there wasn’t much rust to deal with. We also got it re-upholstered. It’s been kept pretty standard - even the rocker covers have been switched back to stock since the photos were taken.

And it was a few years later the Superbird was added. It’s likely to be a one-off colour combination: with the highlights done in Calypso Green as a special order, instead of the usual Jewel Green.

The previous owner had done all the hard work with restoration on this car, so really it was just a case of looking after and enjoying it.

They might be 40-year-old cars, but to me they don’t seem to have aged. They’re still a good-looking thing today and they certainly get noticed.