SNAKE EYES

THE XC COBRA IS ONE THE BEST-LOOKING CARS EVER TO WEAR THE ICONIC WHITE AND BLUE LIVERY. WITH JUST 400 PRODUCED, IT’S THE ULTIMATE EXPRESSION OF THE HARDTOP PLATFORM. JOHN WRIGHT HAS THE BACKSTORY

John Wright

FORD FALCON – XA-XC

THE XC COBRA IS ONE THE BEST-LOOKING CARS EVER TO WEAR THE ICONIC WHITE AND BLUE LIVERY. WITH JUST 400 PRODUCED, IT’S THE ULTIMATE EXPRESSION OF THE HARDTOP PLATFORM. JOHN WRIGHT HAS THE BACKSTORY

When it came to the timing of its two-door Falcons, Ford Australia got its timing wrong on both occasions. The XM Hardtop was a car ahead of its time in 1964, a gorgeous, beautifully proportioned Detroit-themed Aussie that made other locals of the day seem almost gawky (I’m picturing a blue and white Hardtop parked beside a Yellow Top EH Standard!). But as much as the XM and its XP successor were futuristic, the XA, XB and XC Hardtops which followed in the 1970s attempted to catch a wave that was already subsiding.

Arguably, 1968 – the winter, pre-Bathurst season of the year – when Holden launched its Monaro was the sweet spot for local coupes. Ironies abound. One is that Australia’s first true GT was the four-door XR Falcon of 1967. Another is that although the XR was supposedly ‘Mustang-bred’, the Mustang itself was actually Falcon-bred and there was no two-door Falcon GT when the Monaro swanned on to the scene.

The Monaro was immediately successful and it is possible that this buyer response spurred Ford Australia’s decision to develop a two-door version of its next generation XA Falcon. There’s a big clue in the timing. A trio of Ford Oz designers had been sent to Detroit to develop the first entirely Australian Falcon ever. Jack Telnack, Brian Rossi (who later headed the EA styling team) and Allan Jackson packed their bags for the Trans-Pacific flight when news of the demise of the US Falcon was fresh. It was early 1968.

Head Office was not prepared to trust the Aussies to go it alone, in much the same way that General Motors Overseas Operations boss, Ed Riley had told Holden managing director Laurence Hartnett that he wasn’t ‘willing…to plunk down our blue chips… on your crowd…for this first job’; like the first Holden, the first Aussie Falcon was to be designed in the US. Telnack, Rossi and Jackson would be closely supervised. (Apart from anything, Australia didn’t have the clay-modelling capacity for such a major task.)

The Falcon was vital to Ford Australia’s future. Nobody at Geelong, Broadmeadows or Campbellfield was slighted by the Americans’ involvement. Rather, this was seen as a great opportunity for Ford Australia to demonstrate its credentials to the parent company.

Initially, the feeling at Ford’s Dearborn headquarters was that an abbreviated version of the Fairlane/Torino – a car of which they were proud – would be the answer. But the Australians reckoned the effectiveness of this machine

was largely a consequence of its long, flowing overhangs and long wheelbase; a foreshortened version might look dumpy. When a clay model was made the Americans agreed and an all-new design began.

In July 1968 when the Monaro was released, the final touches were being done for the XA sedan, wagon and ZF Fairlane programs. Two months later the three designers came home. Their next task was to develop utility and panel van variants.

The decision to create the Hardtop is likely to have been a consequence of the Monaro’s success.

When the Aussies jetted out, there was almost certainly no Hardtop on the agenda.

GMH cashed in on the huge success of the Monaro, thanks to getting its launch timing right, and its subsequent victory in the 1968 Bathurst 500. But when the XA range was launched in 1972, demand for the Monaro had slowed significantly and GM-H had long since transferred its underthe- counter racing money to the Torana XU-1.

Chrysler Australia’s gargantuan VH Valiant Hardtop was being heavily discounted. By contrast, the short-wheelbase and altogether stubbier Valiant Charger was a great hit. Hey, Charger!

How easy to be wise these multiple decades later, but the XA Hardtop never had strong sales prospects. Brian Rossi later lamented the beancounters’ decision not to allow him to equip the car with the wider track he had envisaged when flaring out those rear flanks. Equipped with the standard rear axle (a wider one was initially mooted and rejected on cost grounds), skinny wheels and tyres as any old XA sedan, the Hardtop looked bulbous in the rear guards – a fat person skipping about in ballet shoes. (Few Australian cars have ever been so easily improved cosmetically by bolting on a set of wider wheels with low profile tyres.)

Had the XA Hardtop been given heroic status in the lineup, sales might have been stronger.

Even the GT variant could have been more boldly detailed. The decision to build a two-door Falcon for the 1970s had been taken and the Hardtop would soldier on until the end of 1978.

“400 WERE BUILT AND, THANK THE LORD, THE 5.8 LITRE ENGINE WAS ON THE MENU AND 30 CARS WERE HOMOLOGATION SPECIALS”

Brian Rossi thought the XB was the best looking of the three Falcons of this basic design. It’s difficult to disagree, although I think the XA has a more distinctive character (especially the sedan’s bullet taillights, lost on the Hardtop!). The Hardtop was much criticised for rear vision.

The seating position was low in relation to waistline. The rear window was small and steeply angled. The C-pillar gave the Hardtop presence at the expense of rear vision.

For a while there was a plan to revise the Hardtop with an extra side window incorporated into the C-Pillar for XB, but this was dropped, doubtless due to slow sales. Instead the XB Hardtop was essentially an XA with whatever XB bits could be included. So it did not get the facelift model’s wraparound rear lights, for example. The John Goss Special (quickly dubbed the John Goose, not in disrespect to the great man but the car’s pretensions!) celebrated Goss’s 1974 Bathurst win (with Kevin Bartlett), but with the 4.9-litre V8 didn’t really fly, despite looking hot with its GS Rally Pack and 12-slotter wheels.

The XC Hardtop was not released until five months after the rest of the range. Again, the timing was somewhat unfavourable, with GM-H having built its last Monaro coupe only a few months beforehand.

Naturally the XC Hardtop benefitted from the April 1978 XC ½ ‘Update’ answer to Holden’s Radial Tuned Suspenion HZ Kingswood/Premier. Then, in August, came the last ever Falcon Hardtop carrying the evocative Cobra name.

Four hundred were built and, thank the Lord, the 5.8-litre engine was on the menu (as well as the 4.9), and 30 cars were homologation specials complete with long-range fuel tank, oil cooler, twin thermatic fans, heavy duty radiator and suchlike. So, at least the second generation Falcon Hardtop drove out in a blaze of glory (even if the cars that ate Bathurst were actually XBs in disguise!).

4.9 COBRA #167 & FPV BF COBRA #167

CHARLIE VACCA

WHEN I was 16 years old a guy down the road used to drive past in an XC Cobra every day, and I said to my brother I’m gonna buy one of those cars.

Many years later, at a New Year’s Eve party, there was talk about a local guy, who I knew from school days, who was interested in selling one. I’ve owned it for about eight years now and I finished it in 2012.I haven’t had to do a lot to it – just the interior, and buffed it up and put some nice mags on it.

The interior was a complete refurbish, done by Global Trim (Wodonga). They seemed to be the only people with the right material and it took them years to develop it. It’s exactly the same as the original.

The XC is pretty special to own. You get the thumbs up as soon as you leave the driveway.

What’s it like to drive?

Soft, smooth, loud! It’s not fast, but it’s just beautiful, like they’re from another world.

Mine isn’t quick. It cruises well enough but I’ve left the engine stock and it’s not what people would call fast these days.

With the BF, Ford brought out 400 numbered Cobra editions to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the original hardtop. It was a good idea, but I had no intention of buying one.

Some years later I was looking at cars for sale online, as the insurance company (Shannons) told me the XC was underinsured.

While there was only one XC for sale, there were several BF Cobras.

One of the pictures showed serial number 167 and I thought no, it couldn’t be – the same build number as my XC!

I rang the owner but wasn’t convinced I was going to buy it – he pushed me into it! When I asked if it was for sale, he said not really as he’d agreed to sell it to a car yard in Melbourne (the car was in Brisbane) and he was just about to sign the paperwork.

So I asked if he got what he wanted and he said not really. When I told him about the matching serial numbers, he said I had to have it and put the two cars together. So I flew up (Charlie is based in Gippsland, Vic) and had a look and we did the deal. He turned out to be a major Ford nut, which is why he wanted to see the two cars matched up.

Are there any other matching number pairs out there? Maybe not.

The BF is beautiful. It’s fast, it handles the road, but it doesn’t get quite as much attention as the XC.

Camillo, my cousin, bought his GS about 10 years ago and restored it. By the time I bought my XC, we and a few guys at work were talking and realised we weren’t getting our cars out much and really needed a club. So we started up the Unique Cars Club – yep, named just like the magazine!

We started off with just six people. Then the word got around and we started to grow. We now have around 65 members.

“ARE THERE ANY OTHER PAIRS? MAYBE NOT”

XA-XC BUYERS CHECKLIST

VALUE RANGE XA-XC FAIRMONT 351

76 FAIR $20,000 GOOD $44,000 EXCELLENT $60,000 (Note: concours cars will demand more)

VALUE RANGE JOHN GOSS SPECIAL

FAIR N/A GOOD $38,000 EXCELLENT $55,000 (Note: concours cars will demand more)

VALUE RANGE XC COBRA 5.8 MANUAL

FAIR N/A GOOD $82,000 EXCELLENT: $125,000 (Note: concours cars will demand more)

VALUE RANGE XA-XB FALCON 500

HARDTOP 4.1-LITRE FAIR $11,000 GOOD $21,500 EXCELLENT $32,00 (Note: concours cars will demand more)

1972-78 FORD FALCON

XA-XC HARDTOP

SMART BUYER'S TROUBLE SHOOTING Checklist

BODY & CHASSIS

Low survival rates especially among the basic models confirm that XA-XC Hardtops succumbed quickly to rust and only the rarer variations were deemed worthy of saving. Rust repair sections are being made but the cost of replacing rusted metal and repainting can still be uneconomic.

Even well-presented cars and those restored 20-plus years ago can again be starting to rust so look carefully at rear quarter panels, bubbling at the base of the rear pillars and discolouration to roof vinyl (where fitted).

Check wheel arches and inner mudguards, the panel between the rear window and bootlid, door bottoms, sills and front mudguard attachment points.

Hardtop doors were shared with vans and utilities so bear that in mind when scouring wrecking yards or the classifieds for replacements. Being long and heavy they stress their hinges and can be hard to close.

However repair kits are available.

ENGINE & TRANSMISSION

Ford engines from the 1970s remain easy to rebuild with available parts or to replace with a ready-made reconditioned unit.

Oil leaks around the cylinder heads on six and eight cylinder engines are standard fare however main bearing seal failure is more serious and costly to fix. Altered manifolds and bigger carburettors are commonplace but don’t go for a 780cfm fourbarrel unless you’ve got a big fuel budget.

Be wary of four-speed manuals that beat the synchromesh and make crunching noises when downshifting or an automatic that takes more than a couple of seconds to select reverse. Reconditioned C4 autos and threespeed manuals are available from just $1000. The ‘top-loader’ four-speed was also fitted to Valiants and Leyland V8s but is still difficult to find.

SUSPENSION & BRAKES

With Falcons of this age, creaks and groans from soft springs and tired ball-joints are hard to avoid but not expensive to rectify.

Basic parts needed for a complete front-end rebuild should cost less than $1000. Rear springs crack and in extreme cases the axle housing can bend. If the rear tyres are edgeworn be suspicious.

A soft brake pedal, pulsing through the pedal, dirty or leaking fluid are all signs that a major brake overhaul is due. Parts including uprated disc rotors are easily found. If the car has been fitted with larger than standard wheels, ensure the tyres aren’t being damaged by contact with steering components or the rear bodywork.

INTERIOR & ELECTRICAL

Worn cloth or vinyl seat trim (Global Trim in Albury can supply Cobra seat inserts) carpets and headlining can all be replaced at a reasonable cost. Be tough when negotiating on a car with a seriously cracked dash because new replacements aren’t as yet being manufactured and a damaged dash is fiddly to repair. New gauge lenses and surrounds are being reproduced and some switchgear is available. Fuel gauges are unreliable so don’t assume the car has fuel.

It is also important to ensure when test-driving that all the warning lights are connected.

Power windows that are slow to move, noisy or shudder also demand a price discount because parts are scarce. Ford starter motors are noisy by nature, however units that jam or clatter really loudly when engaged will need replacement.

NUMBER BUILT: 19,468 (including GTs) BODY STYLE: all-steel integrated body/chassis two-door hardtop ENGINES: 3278cc & 4089cc in-line six-cylinder, 4942cc & 5766cc V8 with overhead valves and single downdraft carburettor POWER & TORQUE: 179kW @ 5000rpm, 412Nm @ 2600rpm (XA 5.0-litre V8) PERFORMANCE: 0-96km/h – 9.7 seconds 0-400 metres – 17.2 seconds (XA 5.0-litre V8 automatic) TRANSMISSION: three or four-speed manual, three-speed automatic SUSPENSION: Front: independent with coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers & anti-roll bar Rear: live axle with semi-elliptic springs and telescopic shock absorbers BRAKES: drum/drum, disc/drum, disc/disc power assisted TYRES: 6.95x14 crossply or ER70H14 radial