XB Falcon GT: How The Spirit of Phase IV Lived On
The untimely death of Ford’s XA Falcon GT-HO Phase IV before its Bathurst debut in 1972 was a shattering blow for Ford fans. However, little did they know that the spirit of Ford’s stillborn supercar would be kept alive on the race track, as many of its high performance engine parts ended up in the XB GT which raced on with great success from 1974 to 1977.
In that time Allan Moffat won the 1976 Australian Touring Car Championship and dominated the first half of another ATCC title in 1977 in his XB GT Hardtop, before a mid-season update to the latest XC 500 GS specification. Even so, some rival Ford teams chose to stick with the venerable XB GT right through to the end of the 1977 season, thereby completing four seasons of touring car racing.
It was fitting that the final model of Ford’s original Falcon GT generation, which started with the XR in 1967 and spanned a decade of competition, also saved its best until last. That was when the XB GT gave its equally long-standing rival – Holden’s LH Torana SL/R 5000 L34 - a thumping it would never forget, thanks to the efforts of Allan Moffat, Colin Bond and the Moffat Ford Dealers Team in 1977.
It was a credit not only to Moffat’s dogged determination to keep racing against overwhelming numbers of Toranas; Ford staffers like Howard Marsden and Peter Gillitzer worked just as hard behind the scenes on parts homologation to ensure the XB GT got the best of the Phase IV’s Boss 351-derived components.
Following Ford’s shock announcement in January 1974 that it was ending its direct participation in Australian motor sport and shutting down its in-house works team, the latest XB GT Hardtop went into battle against arch rival GM-H relying on ‘back door’ support for Allan Moffat and a handful of private teams to keep it competitive.
In pure racing terms, the XB was basically a cosmetic face-lift of the XA, so mechanically it could continue to benefit from the XA’s mechanical package largely based on the Phase IV. The 1973 Bathurst-winning XA GT Hardtop already featured a more modified version of the Phase IV’s Boss 351-derived Cleveland four-bolt V8 engine, including its hand-made exhaust extractors, harmonic balancer, dual-point distributor, heavy duty cross-flow radiator and seven-blade fan.
There was also a choice of close or wide-ratio 31-spline top loader gearboxes, 3.5-inch tailshaft, nine-inch diff with 31-spline axle assembly/panhard rod/Detroit Locker/disc brakes (approved from Bathurst 1973), a choice of final drive ratios and a 36-gallon (165-litre) long range fuel tank.
The XB GT was officially recognised by CAMS on February 1, 1974 and former factory drivers Allan Moffat and Fred Gibson were each given an XA GT works car and spares to continue racing as privateers. Both cars were quickly updated to the latest XB GT bodywork.
Moffat and Gibson were joined by only two other Ford runners – Melbourne veteran Murray Carter and Sydney’s John Goss. Carter updated his XA to XB GT cosmetics mid-season. Goss also updated his car but decided that the new XB front clip added more weight to the front end along with inferior air penetration at high speeds. Goss would revert to the XA bodywork for Bathurst - a decision that would be vindicated come October when he won the race.
In the 1974 ATCC Moffat in his Brut 33-sponsored XB GT took up the fight to Peter Brock’s HDT Torana XU-1 but the Ford hero’s failure to compete in the last two rounds allowed Brock an easy ride to the first of his three ATCC titles. Moffat had good cause to drop out, though, as he was focusing on a major Bathurst attack.
Attention then turned to the annual five-round endurance race series to decide the Australian Manufacturers Championship (ManChamps). However it was looking like an increasingly lopsided battle with Fred Gibson now sidelined due to lack of funds leaving only Moffat, Goss and Carter to take on a swarm of new V8-powered LH Toranas. And these weren’t just SL/R 5000s, as Holden had developed a special ‘L34’ Bathurst competition upgrade package.
Even though Ford had officially withdrawn, head office was still willing to assist in getting homologation approval from governing body CAMS for whatever special parts Allan Moffat needed before the all-important Sandown (400km) and Bathurst (1000 km) endurance races.
From September 1, 1974 Ford homologated numerous parts which had originally been earmarked for the Phase IV including the Boss 351 four-bolt cylinder block, forged aluminium ‘lumpy top’ 12:1 pistons, Boss 351 ‘Buddy Bar’ dual-plane aluminium intake manifold, large capacity ‘winged’ sump (12 pints/6.81 litres) and special curved-vane aluminium water pump. Some of these parts had already been blooded in the XA GT Hardtops the previous year, so this was a mere formality.
From October 1, 1974 a second homologation package also included a rear deck lid spoiler and new design front spoiler with rectangular brake-cooling slots at either end. Two new special Ford top loader ‘white stripe’ gearboxes from the US were also approved, with tailored close-ratio and wide-ratio gear sets along with six new diff ratios.
All of these items were pushed through primarily to assist Moffat in creating the car he and Ford insiders hoped would blow Holden’s new Torana V8 off the face of the map. Built in great secrecy, Moffat’s XB GT had reportedly been flown to the US in the belly of a Pan-Am 747 in mid-1974. In Michigan it was stripped to a bare shell and given the once-over by former Kar Kraft chief engineer Lee Dykstra, who had also previously overseen the creation of Moffat’s legendary Boss 302 Trans-Am Mustang.
Some of Dykstra’s work on the XB GT included re-working of the front and rear suspension to find the optimum geometry, roll centres and ride heights, enlarging the wheel housings to fit extra wide tyres that were tailor-made for the car by Goodyear and stripping out as much weight as possible, including experiments with acid-dipping and use of lightweight front and rear bumpers stamped from thin-gauge sheetmetal.
Whatever the true extent of those modifications the hand-built Hardtop proved to be an absolute rocket, thundering around a US test track for more than 2000 trouble-free kilometres where it was regularly clocked at 160mph (260km/h).
Moffat’s reworked Falcon arrived home just in time to smash the new V8 Toranas at the Sandown enduro and was looking a hot favourite for Bathurst before being crippled by a litany of bizarre technical problems that saw it retire early from the race. Although the new Torana L34s convincingly won the 1974 ManChamps, one bright spot for Ford was the gutsy Bathurst 1000 win by John Goss and Kevin Bartlett in Gossy’s ageing but dependable XA GT.
If the 1974 season had seen few highlights for Falcon drivers and Ford supporters, the following year was a depressing one with Murray Carter’s Shell-backed XB GT the only Falcon to compete in all seven rounds of the ATCC and maintain even a modicum of respect for the otherwise vacant blue oval brand.
Carter was the only Falcon on the grid at most rounds, which at one stage prompted a tongue-in-cheek approach from Holden staffers who offered to financially assist the cash-strapped privateer to keep racing - just so the Toranas had at least one Falcon to beat!
In reality, the 1975 ATCC boiled down to a two-car fight between the Torana L34s of Colin Bond and Allan Grice. However, Carter finished no lower than third in all seven rounds to finish a deserving runner-up to Bond’s factory Holden entry, after Grice was excluded from one round on technical grounds.
There was only one homologation upgrade for the XB GTs during 1975 in the form of a special NASCAR-grade Boss 351 high volume mechanical fuel pump. By then the Cleveland V8s were being stretched to 7000rpm to keep pace with the lighter V8 Toranas; such high rpm demanded a greater fuel volume/pressure than the standard pump could supply.
The 1975 ManChamp title was again dominated by Holden, with the L34s winning four of the five rounds including the Sandown 400 and Bathurst 1000. John Goss debuted a brand new XB GT at Bathurst but like Moffat and Carter was forced to retire from the race due to mechanical problems. The only bright spot for Ford this time was Moffat’s win at the Surfers Paradise 300 ManChamp round.
Suddenly Ford had a change of heart about its two-year absence from motor sport and in 1976 was again providing financial and technical assistance (still through the back door only) for Moffat’s touring car campaign. No doubt the former Ford works driver’s decision to import a Chevrolet Monza from the US for local sports sedan racing was a major factor in Ford’s backflip!
Moffat’s almost single-handed Ford attack was backed up by the ever-present Murray Carter in his equally-dated XB GT, with occasional appearances by John Goss and his Bathurst co-driver Jim Richards.
With Moffat leading Torana arch rival Colin Bond by just one point after five rounds of an intense ATCC struggle, all eyes were on the leading Ford and Holden rivals as they headed to Adelaide for the sixth round where a series of dramatic events would unfold.
Firstly came the shock news that Moffat’s International race transporter, Falcon race car, plus spares and tools, had been engulfed in flames when the rig caught fire while travelling through the Adelaide Hills.
Ford marketing boss Keith Horner immediately made arrangements to borrow John Goss’s XB GT to keep Moffat’s title hopes alive. For a car which had never looked like winning a championship round prior to Adelaide, the Goss Falcon’s instant transformation into a race winner in Moffat’s hands was largely the result of fitting his superb tailor-made Goodyear tyres. A stunning overall win at Adelaide and second place in the following round at Lakeside in Gossy’s rent-a-racer gave Moffat a slender lead over Bond.
The first half of the season had seen more homologation activity by Ford mainly aimed at improved reliability. This included a Boss 351 twin-row water pump pulley, as the Cleveland V8 had a tendency to throw its standard single V-section fan belt on engine over-run during downshifts in racing.
There was also a new seven-blade engine cooling fan with the same number of blades as the proposed Phase IV item but 25mm larger in diameter for greater efficiency. It was also equipped with a thermostatically-controlled clutch which engaged the fan only when the engine reached its correct operating temperature to reduce warm-up time.
With only four long distance rounds remaining to decide the 1976 ATCC (which for the first time was combined with the ManChamps), Moffat’s team took full advantage of a two-month break in the championship to build a brand new XB GT.
It was appropriately dubbed ‘Project Phoenix’ because according to the Macquarie Dictionary’s description, Phoenix was “a mythical bird of great beauty (a Falcon in this case), the only one of its kind (can’t argue with that), burned itself on a funeral pile (the Adelaide Hills fire) and then rose from its ashes in the freshness of youth (a new car) and lived through another cycle of years.”
Turned out in a corporate red/white/blue Moffat Ford Dealers paint scheme, the new car claimed pole position at Bathurst and was leading the race handsomely until an engine fanbelt pulley (made brittle by the Adelaide fire) broke, resulting in a cooked engine. Moffat did however gather enough points in the remaining ATCC rounds to wrap up his second title.
There were surprisingly few brand new XB GTs produced by Ford specifically for race teams, considering the model’s long racing life. It’s indicative of how race teams would get multiple seasons out of one car in those days.
For example, Moffat’s original XA-GT-updated-to-XB-GT raced from mid-1973 right through to the Adelaide fire in mid-1976. Carter’s venerable XA GT served for much longer, with XB and later XC upgrades that saw it survive from mid-1973 until mid-1978!
John Goss was the first big name Ford driver to take delivery of a new XB GT for racing, which made a disastrous debut at Bathurst in 1975. Other new XB GT customers included Allan Moffat (1976 and a second car in 1977), Dick Johnson, Jim Richards and Ron Dickson.
New XB GTs destined for racing were supplied by the factory built-up to a level requested by each race team, from a basic rolling shell finished in black body primer to a complete car with full window glass and trim. These were walked down the line by special build teams, to bypass specific items not required for racing like sound deadener, joint sealer, various brackets etc. Extra spot welds for greater strength in critical areas could also be requested.
Allan Moffat and Ford certainly saved the best until last with the XB GT. The big coupe entered its fourth and final season in 1977 as Ford’s front-line fighter against the Torana L34, which was also into its fourth consecutive year of racing but with a much larger swag of championships to its credit.
However, the V8 Torana’s winning days were numbered after Moffat persuaded the Holden Dealer Team’s long serving race and rally ace, Colin Bond, to switch brands and join him in a two-car Falcon super team. This became possible due to Ford backing the expanded Moffat Ford Dealer Team with financial and technical support rumoured to be $1 million in 1977 (or more than $4 million today).
The Moffat and Bond XB GTs were prepared under renowned US race engineer/tactician Carroll Smith. As a result of the American’s clever rule interpretation in key performance areas, the Moffat cars faced allegations of illegality from various Holden teams, yet both cars were always cleared by officials.
Fact is, the highly developed Moffat cars were simply too good for the Toranas which, due to budget cuts as much as complacency, had seen HDT’s development work grind to a halt. The number of XB GTs also saw a healthy increase, with Ford stalwarts Murray Carter and John Goss being joined by another new Ford convert Dick Johnson (Bryan Byrt Ford) plus Ron Dickson (Pioneer), Jim Richards (Melford), Jim Keogh and Gary Willmington.
Just like the previous year, the 1977 ATCC consisted of 11 rounds with the Bathurst 1000 a stand-alone event. From round one Moffat and Bond dealt a crushing blow to the Toranas, storming away to convincing 1-2 finishes in four of the first five rounds before Bond crossed the line in front of Moffat at Adelaide International Raceway’s round six. As it turned out, Bond’s victory over Moffat that day - June 5, 1977 - was officially the last championship race victory by a Falcon GT.
Moffat had his only retirement at Lakeside’s round seven with a rare engine failure, which allowed Peter Brock in his Team Brock Torana to beat Bond to the line and finally break Holden’s drought.
Like the previous year there was a 10-week break between the final ATCC sprint round and the first of four point-scoring endurance events - the Hang Ten 400 at Sandown. In that time, the leading Holden teams hurriedly made the switch to the new LX Torana A9X, which featured critical improvements over the L34 in drivetrain, engine induction and cooling, brakes and suspension.
It was also during that break that the Moffat and Bond XB GTs were updated to the latest XC 500 GS specifications for their historic 1-2 formation finish at Bathurst. The XC range was the first Falcon line-up since the 1966 XP series not to feature a GT model, thereby ending Moffat’s incredible four-year career with the XB GT. And at the close of the 1977 season, the end of a decade of racing for the legendary Falcon GT.