Living Legends: Two Ford XA Falcon Phase IV

By: Guy Allen, Photography by: Mark Bean, Unique Cars staff

Presented by

It's incredibly rare to come across even one GT-HO Phase IV, so it was a big day when we got two together and had a chat with the owners

 

Ford XA Falcon Phase IV

Back in April 1972, Wheels magazine ran with a cover story on the new XA Falcon range from Ford. Fascinating as it is to read all these years down the road, it was the very last paragraph that really got our attention: "On the competition front a special Cortina 250 has been lapping the You-Yangs proving ground at up to 138mph. It is specifically designed to beat the XU-1s at Bathurst while the new Phase IV goes for outright. So 1972 might be the year to watch the Fords go by."

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And that, girls and boys, highlights the very real danger in making any sort of prediction – no matter how well-founded. On 25 June that year, a Sun Herald newspaper front page story headlined "160mph Super Cars Soon" threw a giant wet blanket over the whole GT-HO Phase IV project, effectively killing the model.

| Watch next: Rothmans Ford XA Falcon - rarer than a Phase IV!

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As has been recorded by us and others over the years, just four cars survived the mess – a prototype road sedan in Calypso Green, plus three would-be racers in Brambles Red. The owner of one of those cars, Paul Carthew, last April detailed the story surrounding his car…

"Ford by this time had run one production car down the line, not with a race engine but a QC production unit that was higher spec than the Phase III. It had the only GT-HO compliance plate. That Calypso Green car has been in long-term ownership in Sydney for many years. It’s seen a lot of restoration over the years and is now in beautiful condition – in fact it was displayed with mine at the last All Ford Day.

| Read next: 1973 Ford XA Falcon GT RP083

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"Meanwhile at Ford, manager Howard Marsden had to get rid of the three race cars. Two were converted to rally cars, some gear came out and the suspension was raised. One went to Bruce Hodgson who was a NSW rally driver, the other to Queensland driver Keith Goodall. The latter car is now in the Bowden collection.

| Read next: Ford Falcon XA GT-HO Phase IV review

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"My car was the one that Moffat was designated to drive. Not that it would have made much difference. They would have taken them to the track and he would have had his pick. But this was the last of them to be finished and there were differences in the cars, as they were getting better at it as they went. Little things like the fire extinguisher system is behind the passenger seat instead of the driver seat so it doesn’t limit movement of the seat and it helped the balance a little. It was the neatest of the cars they did.

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"By this stage all race rules were changing, and the decision was made that Ford was going to race coupes and they wanted everyone else to as well. They were getting away from the family sedan at Bathurst, to a dedicated race car. Because of all that this car sat at John Goss sponsor McLeod Ford for two years with a cover over it. One day Max (McLeod) came down and asked ‘What are we doing with it? Stick it out on the lot’. So they stuck a set of numberplates on it and, as you see it there, it was on the lot. It’s been in the hands of collectors ever since."

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Since then, we managed to get Paul C and his red racer together with Paul T, the owner of the green road car, at our inaugural Rolling 30 event at Sydney Motorsport Park. This was only the second time these cars have been shown together, and the first time ever they’ve circulated side-by-side on a racetrack.

Of course we took the perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interview the two Pauls about their toys and what it’s like to live with them. Here is what they had to say…

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Paul C (red Phase IV): They’re very special to us, as you would expect. The Phase IV, it was the end of the muscle car era. That was it, it was all over.

Paul T (green Phase IV): The mightiest of the mighty.

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Paul C: It was such a great shame that they never got to Bathurst and competed, because we’d probably be telling a very different story today. They’re just great cars.

Paul T: And it’s the intrigue that it brings. So many of us grew up with these cars and they were part of your everyday diet. To be in the position to own one and to meet people like Paul and share our life experiences.

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Paul C: It really isn’t a monetary thing and it never was. We’ve both owned these cars for a significant length of time. We’re really passionate motoring enthusiasts who love our cars. We have other cars besides these, and these are part of a collection that is part of our life. You buy these things because you want to enjoy them. Fortunately enough they’ve transpired into something that has gone up in value, but that wasn’t what was intended in the first place.

At first I thought they were a myth…

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Paul T: I agree…

Paul C: I didn’t think they existed – we’d all heard about them but had never actually seen one. And then I got offered one of the other race cars, in the eighties. Then I looked at the whole Phase IV thing and found out they did make Paul’s Calypso Green car and the three works race cars. I made my mind up that Paul probably wouldn’t sell me his, so I set about buying this one, which was the only unrestored example of the works race cars.

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Paul T: I was openly derided for buying an XA, because at the time I wasn’t sure it was an HO version and it took a little while to verify that. Then as time passed it started to sink in just what a unique car they were.

Paul C: We’ve got to remember this is 1972. Old cars drive like old cars. This particularly because it’s got race tyres on it and it’s set up for a track. It’s not the most pleasant thing to drive on the road and it’s difficult to get in and out of – you get a free subscription to the chiropractor every time you get in and out of it (past the roll cage). The race car is a little bit different to the road car, in that it’s been blueprinted, it’s got an enormous amount of top end and very little bottom end. It was only going to start at Bathurst once and then it was going to be working its backside off from then onwards.

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They’re still a very quick car. Remembering that the Phase III GT-HO was the fastest four-door production car in the world at the time, and that was the year before these. These were going to be a better car. With the wider track they handled better, they were going to be more aerodynamic, and hence they estimated the top speed down the straight was going up from 145mph to 160.

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What a lot of people don’t realise – and this is something the current generation has missed out on – is you had the opportunity, anybody did, to go to a Ford dealer and buy what they were racing. This was the philosophy, to buy it on Monday after they’d raced it on Sunday.

This was something that captivated our youth – we were glued to the TV, and you could go out and drive one of the things afterwards.

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Paul T: And it wasn’t only Ford, Chrysler and Holden that got involved.

I like the FGX that I drive during the week, it’s so comfortable and I could never complain. But there’s nothing like one of these. I’ve got a foot in a lot of camps and I do enjoy the Fords, the Charger and the Toranas. It’s just an outlet or a release and we’re very appreciative to have them. We can only try and look after them – we’re custodians.

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Paul C: I agree, they’ll all go at some stage.

Paul T: The Phase IV seems to have a lot more stick than the Phase III. A lot of Phase III owners won’t like that. I often use the analogy there was the Phase I, then when the Phase II came along it was a cranky car. Now the Phase III seemed to be milder in some respects and this Phase IV seemed to be built to race.

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Paul C: Yep, we went back to cranky again.

Paul T: They were evolving them. They’re a handful to drive in traffic, but once you’re on the open road, they can stretch their legs and there’s nothing like them. They just want to go.

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Paul C: What you’ve got to remember is that you get one of these things out on the Hay Plains or somewhere like that and get it somewhere near the top end and you’re talking about the take-off speed of Jumbo jet. Instead of weighing 300 ton, it weighs just 1300 kilos.

A lot of people came unstuck with these cars in the early days, because they didn’t have the driving experience. They went out and drove them fast on country roads and, believe me, I’ve been down the main straight at Bathurst in my Phase III and when you go over the hump it will vary half a car width. Unless you were careful on a country road, that half a car width meant you could end up in strife.

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Paul T: I’m sometimes told old men shouldn’t be driving these sorts of cars…

Paul C: I completely disagree with that!

Paul T: They cost you a lot of money and there are some disappointments along the way but I think it’s worthwhile, particularly on days like today.

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Paul C: The cars are there to be enjoyed and they need to be taken out and it’s really great to see the response today.

Rolling 30 happens again in 2020, at Broadford north of Melbourne on March 1, and again at Sydney Motorsport Park on June 14.

(Thanks to Muscle Car Stables for help with the arrangements.) 

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From Unique Cars #435, January 2020

 

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