1968 Ford Falcon XT GT review

By: Mark Higgins, Photography by: Ellen Dewar

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1968 was the first time Ford and General Motors faced off at Mount Panorama, both armed with V8s

Seventeen lousy laps.

That’s all that stood between the Falcon XT GT writing itself into the record books and Bathurst folklore in 1968.

But it never happened.

You see 17 laps before the chequered flag Fred Gibson and Bo Seton were in the lead and staring at back-to-back Bathurst wins for the Falcon GT, but a rock went through the radiator, cooking the engine. A long plume of white smoke from the back of the car as it coasted down Conrod straight with the chequered flag in sight was all she wrote.

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The XT GT was a beaut cruiser

Nineteen sixty eight was the first time that factory-supported teams from Ford and General Motors faced off at Mount Panorama, both armed with V8s.

Holden’s new 327GTS Monaro filled the top three spots with the first Falcon home an XR GT in seventh, one spot ahead of the first XT GT, a privateer entry. The best the factory team could do was 12th.

| 2020 Market Review: Ford Falcon XR-XY GT/GT replica

According to Fred Gibson the XT GT at Bathurst was a gem and he was confident he and Bo Seton could drive it hard all day long without a worry, thanks to the preparation by Harry Firth and lessons learnt from the XR the previous year.

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"The XT GT was a much better and more refined race car," said Gibson. "We were looking so strong for most of the day and would have romped it in, but a rock went through the radiator, probably flicked up by a backmarker, holed the radiator and cooked the engine. Until then it was going like a jet."

After the race Gibson bought XT GT from Ford, took it back to his Road and Track Automotive business in Sydney, repaired the engine and used it as his road car for many years until selling it to a customer.

| Ford Falcon V8s: 1968 XT Falcon GT

Bathurst and Australian muscle cars are inextricably linked, and, from the late 1960s the big three locals – Holden, Ford and Chrysler – would duke it out in a very public arena, watched on television by millions.

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Unlike the XR, XW, XY, XA and XC Falcons the XT didn’t taste success at Bathurst and its only major victory was at the 1969 Rothmans 12 Hour race at Surfers Paradise Raceway, driven by Bill Gates and Jim Bertram.

However a couple of months after the Bathurst disaster the Falcon XT GT arguably claimed the biggest of all Falcon GT (and HO) wins, when it won the teams prize in the punishing 1968 London to Sydney Marathon finishing third, sixth and eighth outright.

| Read more: London to Sydney marathon Ford Falcon XT GT

The Falcon GT story started with the XR in 1967 when charismatic American Bill Bourke, then Ford Australia’s marketing guru, conceived the concept, spawned from a pursuit car being sold to Australia’s law enforcers.

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New grille, fog lights for the XT GT

In March 1968 Ford rolled out the XT, a tweaked version of the previous model. The most noticable changes were a new full-width grille and rectangular indicators in the middle of the round tail lights. Other less obvious improvements were new safety features such as split-system brakes and, for the first time, electrically operated windscreen washers.

Two months later the highly anticipated XT GT rumbled into showrooms across Australia.

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Distinguishing it further from the XT range the GT wore wider six-inch wheels, a black boot panel, driving lights – (that became a common theme for all GTs), heavier springs and a front anti-roll bar to improve the handling and, for greater traction, a limited slip differential was fitted. Another first was the option of a three-speed automatic transmission. 

Broadening the appeal of the GT further were luxurious touches like reclining bucket seats, seatbelts, exclusive door trims and fake wood on the dash. The colour palette was also expanded.

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By far the biggest change to the XT GT was lurking under the bonnet with the the 302 cubic inch Windsor V8 engine replacing the 289ci of the previous model.

While the 302 V8 powered the Mustangs in Improved Production Touring Car racing for many years, the XT GT was the only model to run that engine.

The slightly larger capacity of the 302 with an increased compression ratio to 10.0:1 produced 230 horsepower (172kW), five more than the 289 with a boost in torque from 305 to 310 ft/lbs (420Nm)developed 600 rpm higher at 3800 rpm.

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230 horsepower live here

The 302 was fed fuel by a single four-barrel carburettor and had to make do with a single exhaust, albeit a low-restriction design.

It had servo-assisted brakes with discs up front and drums on the rear, independent front suspension with wishbones, coli springs and the new anti-roll bar, while leaf springs and shockers took care of the live rear axle. Steering was via recirculating ball and the driver was kept informed on the mechanical conditions with a full set of gauges.

The XT GT rode on 14x6-inch rims with 185x14 tyres. Top speed was 200km/h, zero to 100km/h took 8.5 seconds and it ran a quarter mile in 15.8 seconds.

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The interior was a step up to broaden appeal

The 230 horsepower of the V8 formed the backbone of the XT GT advertising and a link to the Mustang with many ads featuring galloping horses in the background.

Now retired, David Morgan was Ford Australia’s Marketing Manager at the time of the XT GT and I asked him if it was a hard act to follow after the first.

"We tied the XR GT to the Mustang as we were selling the Mustangs the year before that and we related them mainly due to their shape and you could have it any colour as long as it was gold," said David referring to the Ford tradition from the T-Model days. "We realised that the extent of interest in the GT was quite high, but many people wanted it in a different colour so the colour range was expanded quite significantly for the XT GT.

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"The XT GT was a lot more refined than the previous model but it was one of those things that people couldn’t see so you had to experience it to tell," David said. "It was probably an easier car to drive as well and with the XT GT it virtually became a separate model."

"The GT gave an aura to the Falcon range that we didn’t have before."

Touching on the London to Sydney Marathon David stated, "When the marathon arrived in Australia interest became quite substantial and then the fact that the Falcon was doing so well. It was a local car and that raised the level of interest even further. It gave us something to talk about that no other brand could and it gave us the opportunity to again promote that Falcon wasn’t just a working class car. It was a range of vehicles with the top one being the GT.

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Woodgrain wheel in a sea of black

"The result we got was unbelievable and it very much became a marketing and publicity tool for us that included one of the vehicles going around the countryside to dealerships to attract people to showrooms and sell cars."

By the time the XT GT came out, Holden had introduced its two-door Monaro, a car totally unexpected from a company like Holden, and one that also captivated enthusiasts. So how did Ford flog a high performance four-door sedan against this new coupe?

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David takes up the story once again, "To some degree they were two different types of vehicles and therefore attracted two different types of buyers. The Monaro was seen as a muscle car where-as the GT was more sophisticated, so we were trying to sell to different markets.

"The XT GT Falcon was deemed a success as it was a more sophisticated car that was more readily available for buyers and it gave us a way of expanding sales at the top end of the range."

According to renowned Falcon GT Mark Barraclough, "The XT GT Falcon is considered one of the best cruiser GT Falcons built, with far greater refinement over the XR GT and to some extent over the later models. The feedback from XT GT owners is they are a better driving car and less raw than the XR GT."

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The XT GT is sought-after with prices well north of $100,000 but they are also closely held and don’t come on the market very often.

Barraclough stated that some of the last XT GTs built in 1969 did end up with some XW features on them, like the gearshift. At the time, the carry-over of old models or early introduction new model parts was the norm, with some early XT GTs having XR features.

While the Falcon XT GT may be somewhat forgotten, it proved to be very successful selling 1062 manuals and 353 autos in 13 months between May 1968 and May 1969.

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1968 Ford Falcon XT GT

Number produced 1415
Engine 4942cc 8cyl, OHV, 16-valve, Windsor, Autolite 4-barrel carburettor
Power 172kW @ 4800rpm
Torque 420Nm @ 3200rpm
Weight 1444kg
Gearbox 4-speed manual/3sp auto
Wheels 14 x 6.0-inch
Brakes discs (f), drums (r)
0-100km/h 8.5sec
0-400m 15.4sec
Top Speed 203km/h
Price when new $3200

 

From Unique Cars #448, January 2021

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