For many reasons this was a significant win.
It was the first Bathurst win by a Ford Falcon.
And the first win in the enduro classic by a V8-powered entry.
It was also the first win for Ford’s first-ever GT Falcon, the 289ci XR GT.
According to Gibson it was far from plain sailing, finishing in acrimony after the wrong car was given the win.
Gibson and co-driver Harry Firth’s main competition came from within the Ford factory team — brothers Leo and Pete Geoghegan in a sister XR GT.
The Geoghegans were given the win as the race timekeepers mistakenly credited them with an extra lap, after they drove into the back of the pits via an entry gate on Mountain Straight and onto pitlane for fuel, crossing the finish line which was located before their pit box.
The day ended with Firth protesting the result and a week later he and Gibson were declared the official winners.
What had made the win sweeter for Gibson was the last-minute call he’d received from Ford to join the factory squad.
“Frank Matich was supposed to drive with Harry (Firth) at Bathurst that year,” said Gibson. “But he couldn’t get back from the States where he was competing in the CanAm series. He suggested to Ford that they should ask me to drive.
“Max Ward from Ford PR then rang me and asked if I was interested in driving with Harry Firth at Bathurst and I quickly said yes.”
Prior to turning laps at Mt Panorama, Gibson’s only experience of an XR GT was a five-mile drive around suburban Sydney in a Ford press car!
Gibson had never met Firth and arrived at the hotel at Bathurst to introduce himself.
“I knocked on the door and Harry, in his pyjamas, invited me in,” said Gibson. “We spoke about the car and I asked him what chance we had. He said, ‘There’s no substitute for cubic capacity at Bathurst, Cock. The Alfa Romeos will go alright, but we’ll have more competition from the Geoghegans and Bob Jane in the other two factory Falcons’.”
In practice Gibson and Firth were on the pace, with Gibson beaten to pole position by 1000th of a second by the Geoghegan Falcon.
Firth put Gibson in the XR GT for the start and he quickly set a pace that saw him leading the race.
After both drivers had their stints, Gibson was in the car for the finish, but the Geoghegans were given the flag, triggering the protest from Firth.
Looking back on the race Gibson said, “Our car was a jet the whole day.”
Look for our in-depth feature on Fred Gibson and his Bathurst win in the next issue.