1970 Falcon XW GT vs 1968 Mercedes 300SEL: Oz vs Euro #5

By: David Morley

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Our gun against a German great

1970 Falcon XW GT vs 1968 Mercedes 300SEL: Oz vs Euro #5
Oz vs Euro: '70 Falcon XW GT vs '68 Mercedes 300SEL


1970 Falcon XW GT vs 1968 Mercedes 300SEL

> Watch the video here

Big cubic inches, big performance and big reputations – that’s the deal when it comes to the Ford GT-HO Phase II and the Benz 300SEL 6.3. But the brotherhood goes deeper than that, because without these cars, we simply wouldn’t have some of the best high-performance sedans that we’ve enjoyed over the past 40 years.

Without the trail-blazing work of the GT-HO Falcons of the ’60s and ’70s, there’d have been no FPV hot-rods today. And without this uber Benz, AMG probably wouldn’t have emerged from beneath the lace doilies and cuckoo clocks of a German village a few kilometres west of Brandenburg. Both are grandaddys of their genre and we owe them a big thank-you.

The Phase II XW Falcon’s big claim to fame was that it was the model that made the switch from a 351 Windsor to the celebrated Cleveland V8. Both Clevelands and Windsor blocks have their fans, but for racing purposes, the bigger ports of the Clevo make all sorts of sense. But there was more. The Phase II also scored a 750cfm carb, solid cam, better gear ratios, 31-spline axles, Detroit Locker diff, fat tailshaft, bigger finned drums on the rear and even detail stuff like a brake-proportioning valve and push-rod guide-plates. It all worked, too. Allan Moffat won Bathurst in 1970 in a Phase II, leading all the way from lap two.

The 300SEL 6.3, meanwhile, also started life as a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster with the simple expedient of cramming the 6.3-litre V8 into the SEL sedan. The initial work was done by a Benz engineer working in his free time, but once he showed the result to the company execs, they green-lighted the thing for production.

Elegant looks hide the beast within – the 6.3 will cover the standing 400m in a low-14 and clock 230km/h. Air-suspension, power-steering and central-locking are all standard and the vehicle is highly collectable now. But next to the Phase II’s build tally of 287, the Benz is as common as muck – more than 6500 built.

And the AMG connection? The 300SEL 6.3 was the basis for the very first AMG car, a race-car nicknamed the Red Pig. It finished second at the 24 Hours of Spa in 1971, despite a ferocious appetite for tyres and petrol.

Driving the 6.3 now, you get the impression it’d still devour consumables like rubber and fuel at a frightening rate, although, these days, it’s definitely more of a cruiser. The air suspension gives it a solid feel on the road and once you’ve tipped it into a corner and soaked up what little slack there is, it hangs on pretty well.

The backwards gear selector (Park is at the bottom of the console) is a bit weird, but anybody who feels the need to manually fiddle with the gearbox in a car with so much torque probably should have a good look at themselves. There’s mighty stomp from any speed and a subtle, bassy exhaust note to go with it. But it’s a big car and it never really feels like it’s going to shrink around you like some cars do.

The same could be said of the Falcon, but then it seems like a slightly smaller vehicle to begin with. Being a Phase II (our photo car was a regular GT), this XW doesn’t have quite the refinement of the Phase III, but it’s still a convincing road car. That said, like most things of this era, it could easily pull longer gearing for a more relaxed feel at speed. But, then, that was never the GT-HO’s agenda, was it?

As it is, the engine in this example is super-fit and has that ballsy, lopey idle that lets you know instantly that there’s plenty going on under that big bonnet with its offset air-scoop. Like a lot of these cars, the gearshift requires a bit of planning and a firm hand, but when the hammer drops and the nose lifts, you get a sense that it probably doesn’t matter what gear you’re in anyway.

The Falcon never has the polished feel of the big Benz, but neither is it as uncompromising as some of the performance cars against which it competed all those years ago. And for sheer exclusivity and a reputation in this country that is second to none, the GT-HO Phase II is a hard act to follow.

It also had – back in the day – something that the Mercedes definitely did not: relative affordability. Yes, at $4830 brand-new in 1970, the Phase II was far from a cheap Falcon, but it was still an attainable goal. The 300SEL 6.3, meanwhile, was three-bedroom-house money and its 1969 sticker of $20,850 put it beyond all but the super-rich of the day. All of that, however, has been turned on its head if you’re shopping in 2013, because the much rarer GT-HO is now the expensive choice. Rarity and a devoted following can do that.



1970 Ford Falcon GT-HO Phase II

Produced: 1970-71
Body: 4-door sedan
Engine: 5763cc V8, OHV, 16v,
Power: 224kW @ 4800rpm
Torque: 522Nm @ 3200rpm
Weight: 1500kg
Gearbox: 4-speed manual
Suspension: wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); live axle, leaf springs (r)
Brakes: discs (f), drums (r)
0-100km/h: 6.7sec*
0-400m: 14.4sec*
Top speed: 217km/h
Price new: $4830 (1970)

* Wheels November 1969


1968 Mercedes 300SEL 6.3

Produced: 1968-72
Body: 4-door sedan
Engine: 6332cc V8, SOHC, 16v
Power: 184kW @ 4000rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 2800rpm
Weight: 1709kg
Gearbox: 4-speed automatic
Suspension: double wishbones, air springs, anti-roll bar (f); swing axles, air springs (r)ums ums
Brakes: discs (f/r)
0-100km/h: 7.0sec*
0-400m: 15.0sec*
Top speed: 230km/h
Price new: $20,850 (1970)

* estimated



Our owners:


1970 Falcon XW GT: 


Upon buying his XW GT in 2006, John took it to a mate's panel shop for a quick cut-and-polish. Nine months later, it re-appeared having undergone a complete restoration. John would like to thank LT Bodyworks for its help with the restoration and brother-in-law Dino (pictured) for driving his baby on the day.


1968 Mercedes-Benz 300SEL


A desire for plentiful grunt drew 60-year-old accountant Locky to the 300SEL 6.3. That and a soft spot for the 'Red Pig' AMG race car. Nestled among about half-a-dozen other Mercs, Locky's Oz-delivered 6.3 is exercised fortnightly, reminding him of why he bought it in Sydney three years ago. "The power, the comfort, the stealth look." 



>> Watch the video here



The contenders:


> Oz v Euro homepage


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