1973 Ford Falcon XA GT RP083 coupe + sedan - Buyer's Guide

By: Cliff Chambers, Photography by: Mark Bean

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Our car makers would discover that governments did decide the kinds of cars Australians were allowed to buy

 

Ford Falcon XA GT RP083

The year of 1972 was fateful for a number of reasons. It marked the accession of EG (Gough) Whitlam to the highest elected office in the land and official sanction of on-screen voyeurism when skin-fest Number 96 made its television debut. 

It was also the year our car makers would discover that governments really did decide what kinds of cars Australians were allowed to buy.

Following a front-page exposé of the Big Three manufacturers’ competition programs, complete with 160mph Cars Soon as its headline, those programs were abandoned in the face of fears that companies which pressed ahead would be banned from tendering for government vehicle orders.

| Read next: Ford Falcon XA GT RP083 review

ford-falcon-xa-gt-rpo83.jpgYellow Glow was among the most popular colour for RPOs

Had Ford, Holden and  Chrysler all stood up to the bullying from officialdom and risked de-listing, we wonder would police really have been driving Mini Mokes and the Prime Minister cruising around in an AMI-assembled Rambler. But it never went that far.

A principal player in the drama was Ford’s GT-HO Phase 4. Consigned to history after just four cars were completed, Ford still had enough parts sitting on shelves to build at least 250 more and no market. Unless of course it created one on the sly.

ford-falcon-xa-gt-rpo83-3.jpgGlobe wheels were a carry-over from the Phase 3 GT-HO

The RPO (Regular Production Option) 83 was announced via a downbeat memo to dealers, issued in October 1973. There was no launch function or even a media announcement and no official press-test car, although tests were conducted using privately-owned examples.   The statement confirmed ‘variances’ to the specification of some GT Falcons produced during preceding weeks. These changes included a Holley 780cfm four-barrel carburettor with manual choke, extractor-type exhaust manifolds (as had been fitted to the superseded GTHO Phase 3) and shields to deflect exhaust heat away from the clutch slave cylinder’s hydraulic pipe.

| Read next: Ford Falcon XA GT & Torino 429 SCJ review

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No mention in the memo though of rear-wheel disc brakes, the ‘baffled’ Phase 4 sump or special radiator, heavy-duty drive-shafts or0 other goodies that found their way seemingly at random onto a few RPO83 GTs and other 351-engined Fords.

The bulletin included a list of cars built to the amended specification. This contradicts some opinions that ‘nobody knows which cars were actually RPOs’. If Ford Australia or recognised GT authorities can’t confirm a car’s authenticity, it very likely is a fake. 

ford-falcon-xa-gt-rpo83-ontrack.jpgWe first laid eyes on this stunning XA RPO83 hardtop back in 2012. It was used in our huge OZ vs USA feature at Eastern Creek Raceway

The issue that arises most often isn’t whether a car was built to RPO specifications but whether it has remained in that form. Engine swaps, colour changes, even complete re-shells are entirely possible, occurring because for many years these cars weren’t seen as anything particularly significant.

ford-falcon-xa-gt-rpo83-coupe-interior.jpgThe cockpit was light years ahead of the XY

Had the Phase 4 not been stifled at birth, this most successful of Ford’s local competition cars might never have existed. In their original form, Phase 4s were destined to use four-door bodies, with no plan for a competition-spec hardtop even when they did make a belated appearance.

By 1973 and under Improved Production regulations, Ford abandoned the idea of competition four-doors and ensured that its runners, be they factory-backed drivers or privateers, were in the aerodynamically superior two-door cars.

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Bathurst 1000 racer and 1974/85 race winner John Goss scored one car to race and another RPO83 hardtop as his ‘company car’ from sponsor McLeod Ford. Wheels magazine wrangled a brief test of the Lime Glaze Goss car and while Ford denied that any changes had been made to the Cleveland 351’s internals, Wheels felt that it "ran more crisply" and performance was superior to a stock XA GT once the tacho wound past 3500rpm.

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Judged against purely logical criteria, an XA is the best Falcon GT to own and an RPO83 is the best XA. The XY with its evocative ‘shaker’ air-intake is the more recognisable car but an older design and today more expensive than an XA. The preceding GTs aren’t as fast or well balanced as the XA and have no show of accommodating the massive wheel/tyre packages that easily fit beneath the hardtop’s bloated wheel-arches.

The XA sat on a wider track than the XY but used the same 2819mm wheelbase. The sedan was marginally lower than an XY but when the XA hardtop arrived it shaved almost 60mm off the height of a four-door.  Weight was similar without any discernible effect on body rigidity. In fact the XA hardtop was said to be the quieter car due to improved rear body rigidity and additional sound deadening.  

ford-falcon-xa-gt-rpo83-engine-bay.jpgOne of Henry’s finest with eight cylinders placed in a vee and 351ci

Top speed from a basic XA GT sedan was 203km/h, with 210km/h available from the more aero-effective hardtop. That was predicted to increase by 15km/h for the RPO83 two-door, with race-kitted versions able to top 270km/h. There, finally, was your ‘160mph super car’.  

The steering without assistance required effort at lower speeds and only 39 of the RPO83-equipped GTs had power steering as an option. Once on the move though the throttle could be effectively used to help steer the car. Disc brakes that found their way under the rear end of an odd few RPOs were never homologated for use in the XA however. GT Falcon researcher Mark Barraclough who has exhaustively documented the XA GT and its RPO83 option pack confirms that there were indeed 250 cars built and not the 259 previously believed to have existed. All of them left Ford’s production line during August 1973 and most would have reached dealers and possibly have been delivered to owners well before the RPO83 Memorandum (dated 2 October) was even sent.

ford-falcon-xa-gt-rpo83-sedan.jpgOne of a kind. The only genuine Oynx Black 4-door RPO83. Beware of imitations

"Most had sat on the line for six weeks during a strike but by August cars were being completed and sent on their way," Mark confirmed. "Not all GTs built during August 1973 will have RPO equipment and not all cars that came with non-standard parts were RPOs, some were not even GTs.

"Because components fitted to RPO83 cars were being homologated for racing the build numbers had to be recorded and that is the best way to authenticate one of these cars."

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Mark confirmed that Yellow Glow and Polar White were among the most common RPO83 colours, with black one of the rarest and these are the colours carried by our two and four-door examples of the RPO83.  

Owner of both these magnificent and significant Fords is Perry Bitsakis, whose Muscle Car Warehouse business is located in the southern Sydney suburb of Kogarah. Perry since the age of 18 has owned performance models and our featured RPOs rank high on his list of very special cars.

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"Like several of the early-build RPOs, the yellow hardtop was supplied to a prominent racing driver. It was supposed to compete at Bathurst but never did," Perry said. Later in life it would be owned by drag-racing identity Des Leonard but still wasn’t used as a competition car. In fact, so much store was placed in keeping the car authentic (apart from an external respray some years ago) that when Unique Cars first saw it in 2012 when photographing a USA vs Australia muscle-car feature, the coloured bands identifying a competition-spec driveshaft were still visible. So were production-line markings on the differential.

Perry Bitsakis’ all-black sedan is acknowledged by RPO authorities as the only one ever produced. It is made more significant (if that’s possible) by a black vinyl roof and white interior. Yet this truly unique vehicle came very close to being lost prior to Bitsakis’ involvement.

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"It was delivered by Anderson Ford in Western Australia and obviously to a special order," Perry explained. "It over the years found its way to the northern regions of Western Australia where it was repainted and finally parked in very neglected condition by the owner who had it prior to me."

The car had been sold to that owner many years earlier for a reported $9000 and increasingly generous offers hadn’t convinced him to sell. By the time Perry Bitsakis became aware of the car’s plight it was suffering significantly from rust. However the internal shell and rear quarters were still sound and he was confident the car could be saved.

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"Once I heard about the car and verified that it was indeed the only all-black RPO sedan I blew the owner out of the water with an offer that I was confident would be accepted."

As a passionate GT enthusiast, Perry knew that this very special sedan must be returned to showroom condition and sent it to Dean Hampton at RPO (Restoring People’s Obsessions) for a rotisserie rebuild that would take almost three years to complete. The work involved an obviously large financial commitment however Perry believes that these cars haven’t as yet come close to reaching their full potential.

"They were built in smaller numbers than GT-HO Phase 3s and the prices for what they are just haven’t kept pace," Perry commented. "You look at Phase 4s and people say they could be worth up to $3 million but we know what RPOs have sold for and it’s a lot less than that for a car that’s not all that different."

ford-falcon-xa-gt-rpo83-sedan-engine-bay.jpgCompetition parts slated for the Phase 4 wound up in RPO83s 

Ford Falcon XA GT RPO83 market

Current demand for verifiable RPOs remains strong and values are climbing in the wake of heavily-publicised GT-HO sales. Scarcity, as always, contributes strongly to price growth, as does the XA’s superiority over earlier GTs.

A major issue with cars of this kind is authenticity and not just the possibility that someone has created a fake, clone or ‘ringer’. A car can identify as genuine but missing crucial components or exist only as a set of ID plates riveted to a completely different car.

Colour is one area where the scarcity of an RPO can be quantified. Work undertaken some years ago by Mark Barraclough revealed that there was indeed only one sedan built in Onyx Black - plus four hardtops. The most common hardtop colour is Yellow Glow (22 made) with sedans not far behind at 20. Red Pepper is the most common sedan colour with 22 built plus 18 hardtops.

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Owners are often reluctant to advertise cars for sale, however as Perry Bitsakis proved when acquiring his sedan, almost anything becomes available once the right money is offered. And while you might need a Lotto win in order to re-home this pair of stunners, their combined cost will for the foreseeable future at least remain less than the money being touted for just one Phase 4 – or even some recently-sold Phase 3s.

Mark Barraclough believes that attrition due to rust and other factors has reduced the numbers of available RPO83 hardtops and this contributes to higher selling prices. "Plus", he added, "the normal situation where two-door XAs of any kind generate more money than sedans."

ford-falcon-xa-gt-rpo83-sedan-rear.jpg

Value range: Ford Falcon XA GT (RPO83 Sedan)

FAIR: $100,000
GOOD: $175,000
EXCELLENT: $250,000-plus

ford-falcon-xa-gt-rpo83-rear.jpg

Ford Falcon XA GT (RPO83 Coupe)

FAIR: $130,000
GOOD: $220,000
EXCELLENT: $330,000-plus

(Note: exceptional cars will demand more)

BUYER'S CHECKLIST

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BODY & CHASSIS

XA GTs weren’t immune from rust. Hardtops succumbed more than sedans. Rust repair sections are being made but for a long time the cost of replacing rusted metal and repainting could be uneconomical. Even today cars that were restored 20+ years ago may be suffering recurrent rust so look carefully at rear quarter panels, the rear pillars, boot floor, wheel-arches, inner mudguards and plenum area between the bonnet and windscreen. Also check discolouration to roof vinyl for damage to the metal beneath. Hardtop doors were shared with vans and utilities which might make the process of finding replacements a little easier. Hinge repair kits for two and four-door cars are available.

ford-falcon-xa-gt-rpo83-sedan-engine-bay-2.jpg

ENGINE & TRANSMISSION

V8 Ford engines are tough, simple and cheap to rebuild. Retaining and rebuilding the original motor is especially important when the car is as valuable and significant as an RPO83 but it wasn’t always that way. Check engine numbers match the car’s documentation. Oil leaks around the cylinder heads are standard fare, however main bearing seal failure is more costly to fix. The correct 780cfm four-barrel carburettor isn’t frugal but hardly any owners are going to care about fuel costs.  Be wary of a gearbox where down-changes easily bewilder the synchromesh and make crunching noises. The ‘top-loader’ four-speed was fitted to various Australian cars and is not difficult to find.

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SUSPENSION & BRAKES

Creaks and groans from soft springs and tired ball-joints are hard to avoid but not expensive to rectify. A complete front-end rebuild should cost less than $1500 for parts. Rear leaves crack and violent acceleration can bend the axle housing. If the rear tyres are edge-worn be suspicious. A soft brake pedal, pulsing through the pedal, dirty or leaking fluid are all signs that a major brake overhaul is due. However with cars like the RPO the issue can just be lack of use. Uprated disc rotors and replacement boosters are easily found. Cars with rear-disc brakes are very likely not authentic. If the car has non-standard wheels, check that the tyres aren’t in contact with steering components or the bodywork.

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INTERIOR & ELECTRICAL

Very few RPO83s are going to be displaying worn interior trim, however it is good to know if you do find a car showing the effects of neglect that replacement vinyl, carpets and headlining are available. Remoulded dash surrounds and refurbished fascias are available but expensive. New gauge lenses and surrounds are being reproduced and some switchgear is also available. Fuel gauges are unreliable so don’t assume the car has fuel. It is also important to ensure before test-driving that all the warning lights are connected. The correct GT starter motor is difficult to find.

1973 Ford Falcon XA GT RPO83

NUMBER BUILT: 130 sedan, 120 hardtop
BODY STYLE: All-steel integrated body/chassis four-door sedan or two-door hardtop
ENGINES: 5766cc V8 with overhead valves and single downdraft carburettor
POWER & TORQUE: 246kW @ 5400rpm, 515Nm @ 3800rpm
PERFORMANCE:
0-96km/h – 7.6 seconds
0-400 metres – 15.2 seconds
TRANSMISSION: Four-speed manual
SUSPENSION: Independent with coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers & anti-roll bar (f) Live axle with semi-elliptic springs, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar (r)
BRAKES: Disc (f) drum (r) power assisted
TYRES: ER70H14 radial

 

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