Ford Falcon XB GT review

By: Guy Allen, Photography by: Alastair Brook

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Matt's big black XB is proof that there's still value out there among Aussie muscle cars

If you fancy getting into a passionate debate, go to a local Ford show, look for the XA-XB-XC owners and ask them which one looks best. Take a fire hose, as you may need it to quell the resultant furore.

For many enthusiasts like Matthew Fitzgerald, the owner of this XB GT, the middle child is by far the pick of the litter. Certainly the production numbers back up that assertion, even if the differences between the three are incremental rather than radical.

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The XB represented a progression for the Jack Telnack-inspired series, with most of the effort put into making it easy to discern it from an XA. The snout was sharpened with the indicators moved off the outer edges, bonnet scoops for the upscale models were much more pronounced, while the GTs now scored colour-coded bumpers – though chrome was still available as an option. Plus there was a new grille split into two cells with a honeycomb mesh.

| Watch the video: Matt's XB Falcon GT

The rear of course got new treatment with wrap-around lamps now a feature on the sedans.

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The black-silver combo was not the most popular back in the seventies, but it looks great

The September 1973 launch also highlighted that front disc brakes were standard across the range, with power assistance on the Futura and Fairmont. Stump up for a GT and you scored power-assist discs all round.

Inside, the XB would have felt very familiar to the XA owner, with the distinctive wrap-around dash for the driver – still a big thing back then. A major move was the adoption of inertia-reel seatbelts.

| Watch next: Ford Falcon XB GT tribute build

Wander into your local showroom and you’d be confronted with an options list that looked like it needed a team of people to get their head around. Power windows, steering, air-con, sound system options, vinyl roof, limited-slip rear end…it was mind-boggling. Starter money for an XB was around $3300, but you could go close to doubling that.

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As for the heart of the matter, the powerplants, your choices were very competitive with arch-rival Holden, and arguably superior. Sixes were 200 (3.2lt) and 250 cubes (4.1lt), with the latter proving to more than adequate for most people and a genuinely good workhorse. The power hounds of course had the option of 302 (4.9lt) and 351 (5.8lt) V-eights.

| Buyers guide: Ford Falcon XA GT 1972-1973

You could match those to a pretty standard set of transmissions for the day: three-on-the-tree manual, four-speed floorshift, or three-speed auto with column or centre console shifter.

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XBs had the big bonnet nostrils

For Matt, by the time he went shopping some 46 years after the launch of the series, he had a very good idea of what he was hunting for. "I always wanted a car from the year I was born, It was at the change-over period from XB to XC and I’ll offend a few people by saying this: the XB looks better.

| 2019 Market Review: Ford Falcon XA-XB GT/Goss

"And I only bank at the bank – I don’t own it – so I couldn’t quite get to the XB coupe level. A black 1976 XB GT was ‘it’ and this one came up for sale, so I flew to Sydney and brought it home.

"Mike Selby at Australian Muscle Car Sales in NSW had it. We had a coffee, talked some money, then a semi-trailer pulled up out the front and the car rolled out."

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Unlike his other cars, which he’s played a big role in building, this was bought ‘off the shelf’.

"I’ve done some minor mechanical work and rebuilt the front end. Just a few things to make it safe and get rid of a few of the old Falcon groans."

It’s a 351 Cleveland with 2V heads with an FMX auto with a 9-inch rear. There’s a 750 Holley atop the engine at the moment, which Matt reckons is probably a bit too much, though the jetting seems pretty good.

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Globe-style wheels a and GT351 say it all

Matt points out that there was a transition with 351s in XB GTs, where early versions ran the 4V ‘big valve’ heads, while later versions like his run the 2V heads. However the latter cars show up on build and verification sheets (and air-cleaner cover stickers) as ‘4V’, because that label now referred to four venturi. It’s a detail that’s guaranteed to cause confusion and ignite debates all these decades later.

This is one of 58 black XB GT sedans, according to the ACCHS report. Black was not a popular choice at the time, though it’s much more in demand these days. "Until you have to get them out in the sun and polish them!" Matt quips.

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One of 1930 XB GT sedans made (and 941 hardtops), it was number 1713 and the only one with the particular mix of spec and trim. That was out of a total XB production of 211,981.

Weirdly, it was ordered with a Golde windback sunroof, but it was never fitted. "It was a dealer principal’s car," suggests Matt, "so maybe he got impatient and never sent it off to be fitted."

It was also ordered with the protection pack, which included the chrome rather than colour-coded bumpers.

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Something that has changed over time is the original wheels were replaced with a set of Globe look-alikes. They suit the car, but Matt wants to track down a set of originals as well.

Power-assisted brakes all round were part of the stock package. "Unfortunately for the purists I have put slotted rotors and decent pads on it so it will actually stop," says Matt, who has also tackled some subtle suspension tweaks.

"We do a lot of family miles in our cars, so I like to make sure they’re mechanically sound, safe, and they stop."

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What’s it like to drive? "It’s tight and right. For what they were, it drives as well as you’d expect. It’s a lovely car to drive and attracts a lot of attention. Being a little bit lowered and with decent suspension in it, it goes around corners as well."

He’s a bit wary of car shows and the horde of experts – real or delusional – that tend to descend on the XB, wanting to chew his ear over whether or not it’s a real one. It is. These days, he and the family lock the doors and walk away. Quickly.

Matt’s an interesting example of the great debate people have with themselves when it comes to a classic. Should I build one and enjoy the process, or buy one that’s done and get max bang for my buck?

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Cloth inserts were a practical idea

He’s done both over time, with two current projects in his well-equipped workshop.

"Absolutely people underestimate what goes into a car and what they cost to build. This car was what I consider to be a big-dollar purchase (in the mid-80k range). I couldn’t have built it for that."

"I’ve seen these advertised for $30-40,000 and need that much or more again just in panel and paint. That’s before you get into interior restoration or mechanical stuff."

He’s happy to work on and develop projects as well, but the XB was bought as a treat. Nice work…

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1976 Ford Falcon XB GT

Number built: 1930 (sedans only)
Body: integrated body/chassis four-door sedans
Engine: 5763cc V8 with overhead valves and single downdraft carburettor
Power & torque: 220kW @ 5400rpm, 510Nm @ 3400rpm
Performance: 0-96km/h: @8.0 seconds, 0-400 metres @16.0 seconds
Transmission: 3-speed auto or 4-speed manual
Suspension: (f) independent with coil springs, wishbones, telescopic shock absorbers; (r) livew axle with leaf springs
Brakes: discs f & r with power assistance
Tyres: E70HR-14

 

From Unique Cars #444, Sep 2020

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