Ford Falcon XY GS panel van review

By: Guy Allen & Owner David Hontis, Photography by: Ellen Dewar

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It started out as a workday hack for a signwriter and is now a treasured tourer

 

Ford Falcon XY GS van

It’s funny how our perceptions of cars change across the years. Seeing the big black Ford rumbling down the road towards us for the first time was a weird experience – with two very different sets of emotions overlaid one over the other. The first was the memories of riding in cars just like this when I was a kid.

My dad had them as work vehicles, when they were new. Back then, an XY was nothing special, just something that got used for hauling all sorts of gear, then sold off again in favour of the next generation, the XA, and so on. Workhorses.

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But seeing former mechanic David Honti’s pristine example (a GS 302 with a four-speed) rumbling down the road, 50 years later, it presented as something entirely different. Now it’s a much-treasured classic – a handsome one at that – which any of us would be pretty damn pleased to have parked in the driveway. While time isn’t always kind to people, clearly it is to cars – or at least some of them.

| Watch the video: David's XY GS van

Back in 1970-72, the XY represented the last of the ‘square-rigger’ Australian Fords that started with the XR back in 1966. There was still a hint of the Mustang ‘hip’ that distinguished the lines of the XR, while the styling transition from the XW to the XY was relatively mild. Nevertheless it was enough to help build this series into arguably the most desirable of all the Falcons across its 60-year history.

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While the numerous cosmetic changes distinguished the XY, there were several upgrades under the skin. The six-cylinder engine range was now comprised of much-improved 200ci (3.3lt) and 250ci (4.1lt) engines, while the dual V8 offerings remained – 302ci (4.9lt) and 351ci (5.8lt).

| Reader Resto: 1971 Ford Falcon XY panel van

It was a hugely successful period for Ford, with XY production hitting 100,474 (more than the XW) and a trio of GT-HOs led by Allan Moffat taking the top three places at Bathurst in 1971.

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A quick calculation suggests that, of all those cars, roughly 5000 were vans. Of course nothing like that number has survived, for very good reason: they were work horses. So their life cycle (with exception to the odd Sundowner ‘surfie van’) consisted of lugging all sorts of weird and wonderful loads for a succession of trades before, eventually, it deteriorated to the point where it made more sense to sell if off for scrap than to try and keep it on the road.

| Read next: Home-built Falcon XY GT-HO Phase III tribute

With some obvious exceptions, like this one. Owner David takes over the story: It was in my mate’s wrecking yard in Charlton, Victoria, in the late 1990s or early 2000s.  

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The 302 has been kept pretty standard and does the job of a cruiser really wel

He had a lot of cars there, including commercials. This was sitting there – I liked it but never did anything about it.

Someone else I knew bought it and restored it to more or less the state it is now. About 10 years ago we made the deal and I’ve had it ever since. I love it and won’t really change a thing on it.

I’ve stuck mostly to light maintenance – a little bit of engine work. The biggest task was the gearbox (now a floorshift), tailshaft, and we upgraded the diff to an LSD but kept it as a Borg Warner. We lowered it a little.

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It’s a distance kind of car, so we’ll drive it to Bathurst, Mildura. We’ll go anywhere with it, even on dirt roads. It’s a really good thing to travel in because it’s so roomy. You can stop along the way and my wife loves its ability to load it up with whatever we decide to pick up along the way.

You can sleep in it, and we have quite a few times.

It’s really comfortable and quiet at 100km/h, which is great. It’s economical at around 14lt/100km. It’s running a standard 302 Windsor with a two-barrell Autolite and 292 diff gears, it hums along nicely. You end up stopping every three hours, because they have a fairly small fuel tank.

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It has a four-speed Top Loader. That’s not actually a factory fitment. It started off with a Windsor, but had a column shift manual in it.

I’d much rather drive one of these than a new car with cruise control where you risk falling asleep.

What I like about it is that it was painted black from the factory. It was ordered by a character called Mick Frawley of Frawley Signs in Ferntree Gully, from Coffey Ford in Dandenong.

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This GS interior is more luxury car than workhorse

He wanted a black car because he always had black commercial vehicles, but Ford didn’t want to do a panel van in that colour as it wasn’t standard. In the end, they relented and it was sent down the production line with a batch of taxis to get the non-standard colour.

I met Mick a while back and would like to make the time to go and see him again. He didn’t have the yellow stripe down the side when he owned it, and he colour-coded the bumper bars, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that.

It’s a surprise to drive in, with no squeaks or rattles or drumming from the over-sized rear canopy. It’s a testament to the person who built it, and you just need to keep on top of things.

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Older cars do need a bit of tweaking and a bit of love, and the rule is if something goes wrong fix it straight way before 10 things go wrong.

There are a couple of other projects on the go. An XA GT sedan, plus another panel van. I can’t let them sit and rust away, They need to brought back and have their history preserved.

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1971 Ford XY GS panel van specs

Body 2-door commercial
Engine 4.9lt V8
Power & torque 164kw@ 4600rpm, 405Nm @ 2600rpm
Performance 0-100km/h 8.0 seconds
Transmission four-speed, all synchromesh manual
Suspension
Front – independent coils, telescopic shocks;
Rear - live axle, leaf springs
Brakes disc front, drum rear power-assisted

 

From Unique Cars #442, July 2020

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