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1971 Ford FalconXY GT HO Pahse 3

24 January 2016

Copywrite - Survivor Car Australia


'The fastest four-door production saloon in the world'

Surrounded by murder, mystery and intrigue the thread of survival for this uniquely special Ford Falcon GT-HO unfolds on a distant continent and includes uncanny coincidences, some bad luck and some good fortune, with more twists and turns than an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.

On a miserably cold and windy winter’s morning in June 1971, the Ford Motor Company’s assembly plant in Broadmeadows cranked up yet another day of production. Along the line, production workers assembled the XY model; mostly Falcons, Futuras, and Fairmonts. In a line of bodies coded as ‘54H’, a batch of Falcon GTs were being assembled, a few of these were destined to become much more. You see, some months prior, management had given their approval to build the third installment of the mighty GT-HO, the Phase Three. A vehicle built with one purpose in mind. To win races, to conquer Bathurst. One car in particular in amongst this batch on the production line, a Raw Orange GT-HO was earmarked as a special order, and was fitted with a 240kph speedometer instead of the standard 140mph type. This car had marked ‘For Export’ on its windscreen. This car had another destiny.

Mr Dennis Smith was the Sales and Marketing Director for Ford in South Africa who specially ordered the GT-HO Phase Three primarily to evaluate it for the local market. He chose the Raw Orange colour because it closely resembled the Gunston cigarette brand orange which sponsored other racing Fords such as the Perana V8, a Ford Capri.

Whilst the car was still en-route by vessel to the Republic of South Africa, Mr Smith was unfortunately found murdered in Port Elizabeth. Mr Spence Sterling who was Ford’s Product Engineering Director then took the car as his company car, but handed it back a few months later as it was too hard to handle in traffic.

Mr Andrew Cave was a good friend of Spence Sterling, and was heavily involved in Ford motor sport at the time. Drooling over the GT-HO for months, Andrew Cave kept nagging his friend to help him buy the car from Ford. Finally, Spence Sterling used his clout and the car was sold for R4 600 (Sth African Rand) which according to Andrew was about $1,000 Australian dollars back then. “The GT-HO was almost impossible to drive in traffic, which put a lot of people off” recalls Andrew. Because the car was sold without warranty, it didn’t come with owners’ service books.

“A few months after I bought this vehicle, Ford tried to make me pay the import duty which someone forgot to add to the price I paid. They’re still waiting for that money!” says Andrew jokingly.

Andrew used the HO for quarter mile sprints, recording a personal best of 13.91 seconds running the factory installed 3.25:1 ‘Detroit Locker’ differential. “This was with a full tank of fuel to try and stop the wheel spin, which, I might add it was bloody good at” laughs Andrew. “If one could stop the savage amount of wheel spin it would have got down to about the 13 sec mark.”

He also raced the car on the old GP circuit in East London (Sth Africa) where he beat all-comers. “The brakes overheated and I finished using the handbrake and gears to slow for corners. The HO gave the people of East London a good show of power with the car sliding through corners sideways and smoke pouring off the tyres” says Andrew smilingly. “The HO had a rev-limiter which cut out around 6,000rpm. I disconnected it and regularly revved the engine past 7,000rpm.”

The local dealership, Pioneer Ford was equipped with a dyno that could handle 300bhp at the rear wheels. “The GT-HO destroyed the dyno in 3rd gear at 7,000rpm!” exclaimed Andrew. He began to wonder if this was a freak engine or whether there was something else behind the incredible amount of raw horsepower this GT-HO could unleash.

Australia’s Wildest Ever Production Car

After a year or so, Andrew decided to sell the GT-HO to a fellow named Mr Groenewald from Bloemfontein who owned a used car business, who called back a few weeks later stating he’d lost the car in wet weather and hit a pavement damaging two wheels. It was then on-sold to Jack Meyers who used the car as a daily driver. It’s during this time in the mid ‘70s that the Falcon was taken to Windsor Motors in Cape Town which specialised in performance tuning. Mr Loots, the owner of Windsor Motors recalls the owner boasting that the motor could easily be revved beyond 7,000rpm with the rev-limiter disconnected. This was met with scoffs, raspberries and replies that no factory V8 could safely be revved past 5,500rpm. The HO was promptly fired up on a cold motor with the accelerator floored “the poor thing was screaming beyond 7,000rpm until it blew” recalls Mr Loots. A replacement engine was sourced from a Diamond Blue Fairmont GT, with the original GT-HO engine thought to have been discarded.

Enter the final South African owner, Mr Arthur Fotiu of Cape Town. “In 1980, I had just sold a motorcycle and had a few bucks burning a hole in my pocket” says Arthur. His friend George Michael (not the singer) had one of the few Holden Monaros with the 350cid V8 engine and manual transmission at the time. An Aussie car freak, George had heard of a rather tatty GT-HO Phase Three for sale. “Practically no-one in this country knew what a rarity and great performer this car was” commented Arthur. “The owner said that he was battling to sell it and if he couldn’t get the R2, 500 (approx. AUD$500!) asking price he’d enter it in the next stock car (‘hell-driving’) race and use it to put the local champion into the wall!” After this comment, nothing was going to stop Arthur from saving the GT-HO from certain death.

One hell of a car!

On a limited budget, Arthur set about tidying the car up. The Gunston (Raw Orange) paint was faded but improved surprisingly well with a buff. The sunroof had collapsed on one side and the bumpers had surface rust, so they were painted black. George invited Arthur into a special car club, the ‘Australian V8 Owners Club’ which consisted of the Falcon GT-HO, George’s Holden Monaro GTS 350, two Chev SS’s, two XY utes (badged Rancheros is Sth Africa) and a Fairmont GT. “We all fitted CB radios which was handy for a natter while the club members were on the move.” says Arthur. “We had lots of fun. That was one hell of a car!”

In the mid ‘80s, with pending family commitments, Arthur decided to sell the GT-HO. He advertised it in the local classifieds as ‘Australia’s wildest ever production car’ for R14 000 (approx. AUD$3,600) but received no calls. Sometime later he advertised it for sale in the American motoring publication; Road & Track magazine where a keen eyed Australian by the name of Mr John Smith became aware of the car.

It’s worth mentioning here that it’s somewhat of an uncanny coincidence that the person who initially ordered the car new was also named Smith, and here it was about to be repatriated back onto Australian soil by a Smith! What are the chances of that occurring?

“I sadly drove it off to the container dispatching station and said goodbye to what was without doubt the most exciting vehicle I have ever driven” says Arthur regrettably.

Repatriated on Australian soil

After 15 years on a continent 10,000 kilometres away, the big Falcon left Cape Town, South Africa on the 10th of September 1986 sailing home on the ‘Safocean Mildura’ container ship via Singapore, a forty day voyage before being unloaded in Adelaide, South Australia. The GT-HO Phase Three was finally back on Australian soil. It was then loaded onto a transporter and brought to Melbourne, Victoria to its new owner John Smith.

John is a car enthusiast who appreciates all different makes and models including older Rolls Royces. His plan for the GT-HO was to enjoy driving it but firstly it needed some freshening up. Used sparingly over the next 14 years, John decided to sell the HO.

Enter now Jack Darzanos from South Australia who instantly fell in love with the GT-HO and bought it. He then set about rattling the chains of history in order to piece together the complete history, contacting all the previous owners and the Ford Motor Company. Adrian Ryan, the then Ford Australia historian claimed there was no record on official Ford production data that this car was ever built, however he had no doubt and did his best to find out more. Ford South Africa were more helpful, placing Jack in contact with the previous Ford employees who had owned the GT-HO Phase Three.

From this, rumour had it that the original engine was not discarded but rather ended up in a Diamond Blue Fairmont GT.

In 2004, Jack onsold the GT-HO to Joe Barca, a respected Falcon GT collector. Joe had owned another Raw Orange GT-HO Phase Three previously which he regretted selling. He’d heard about the South African GT-HO and decided to try and persuade Jack to sell it to him.

“When first I saw this car in the flesh, I knew I had to have it” recalls Joe. “There were very few Phase Threes made with a wind-back sunroof, and this is the only one known to be alive in Raw Orange.”

Joe has owned more than 28 GT-HOs, about 15 of these have been Phase Threes. His first car when he was just 16 years old was a Polar White XT GT. Although Joe bleeds blue, he does appreciate other classics, “Ford, Holden or Chrysler, we’re all brothers in arms now” says Joe. The South African GT-HO is the nucleus to his collection which contains some of the best and rarest GTs and GT-HOs in the country.

The reunion

Being involved in GT world, it doesn’t take long for rumours to get around. One such rumour was the possibility of an imported red Fairmont GT from South Africa fitted with a GT-HO engine. The importer, Jan Williams discovered the engine number belonged to a GT-HO Phase Three. Not just any Phase Three though, but to a Raw Orange one that was once in South Africa.

You see, with the muscle car boom at its peak in 2007, there were many South African Fairmont GTs imported to Australia. The story goes that the GT-HO engine was fitted into a Diamond Blue Fairmont GT belonging to the brother-in-law of a previous owner. This Fairmont GT then passed through two other owners who were oblivious to the fact that it had anything but a standard GT engine. During this period, the blue GT was colour changed to red which was the colour of choice in South Africa. The next owner drove it for a year before parking it in hibernation in an old barn on the rural outskirts of Johannesburg. Here it sat for more than a decade before being discovered by a young South African named Fernando who believed he could turn a profit in the heady days of 2007 (before the GFC). Through a network of contacts, the car was sold to Jan Williams who, unbeknownst to any of the South African owners, recognised the unique origin of the engine, and imported the Fairmont GT to Australia.

On arriving to Australia, the original GT-HO engine was removed from the Fairmont GT and sold to a collector who hoped one day he might be able to purchase the ex-South African GT-HO. Eventually Joe was approached to sell the car which didn’t eventuate. Instead, in yet another twist to this story, Joe bought the original matching numbers engine and reunited it back into the GT-HO. After some 35 years apart, the engine was back in its rightful place. The car was now almost complete.

“We found X215 stamped on the block, and with the help of Mark Barraclough the Ford GT Historian (www.acchs.com.au), worked out that there was a possibility this was one of 20 or so specially built QC (Quality Control) race engines hand-built by the Ford Motor Company” remarks Joe. This could explain why this GT-HO had an unbelievable amount of power that no other high-performance production car in South Africa could match. It’s quite possible that this is the only GT-HO Phase Three equipped with a handbuilt QC race engine that was registered for regular road use!

To add to this uncanny chain of events, around late 2004, a representative of VIP Automotive Solutions who performs pre-purchase inspections on classic and unique cars stumbled upon another rare find belonging to this GT-HO. Whilst inspecting a 1951 Chevrolet, the retired owner of the Chevy, Mr Hussey made a comment regarding a Phase Three imported from South Africa. He said that he’d unloaded the GT-HO from the transporter when it arrived in Melbourne, and went on to say that he had kept the original South African number plates rather than throw them in the bin as he was told to do. Recognising the historical significance of these number plates, the VIP representative promptly did a deal which involved a bottle of Johnny red. By a chance conversation later, Joe mentioned to the VIP representative that he owned the South African GT-HO and was surprised to learn that the original Cape Town number plates had survived. The plates were then gifted to the current owner, in order to complete the full history of this very unique car.

Joe intends on continuing to enjoy the GT-HO to its full extent, driving it on weekends and showing it at concours events. Although somewhat restored, we at SCA still consider this a Survivor given what it has endured to still exist.

There are rumours of a second Falcon GT-HO Phase Three that was also exported to South Africa back in 1971, however these have never been confirmed. Could there be another one of these rare beasts hiding in the jungles of deepest darkest Africa?

Story courtesy of Survivor Car Australia magazine