1973 Ford Falcon XA GT RPO83

By: Guy Allen, Photography by: Mark Bean, Muscle Car Warehouse


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After languishing in a shed for years, the first RPO83 hardtop is on the market

Australian muscle cars are surrounded by all sorts of legends, some true, some wildly exaggerated and some that remain fiction. That’s all part of the fun of owning. For us, however, one of the stand-out stories, which is part tragedy, is that of the RPO 83 Ford Falcons.

It’s a yarn that’s been told before but bear with us as we at least walk through the basics.

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Pitched by Ford as "The Great Australian Road Car", the new for 1972 XA Falcon was to be led into the sales battle with a new hero version: The Phase IV. It took up where the all-conquering XY Phase III left off and was by all reports potentially a significantly quicker car. Of the latter, just one production and three race versions were built before the whole plan was brought to a screaming halt, by a sensationalist newspaper story (June 25, 1972) essentially accusing makers of building overpowered death traps.

In response, race governing body CAMS switched its premium category from Group E production to Group C modified, while manufacturers found themselves back-pedalling on future high-performance products.

| Read next: Falcon XA GT RP083 review

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The hysteria and politicking killed off the Phase IV project, leaving Ford with an interesting problem. It had enough ‘kit’ to build 250-or-so cars which wasn’t about to be thrown away. And people still wanted fast V8 Fords. So the RPO 83, aka Regular Production Option 83 or sports pack, was born.

It was all done with zero fanfare. Just one dealer bulletin seems to have been sent out, in October 1973. It mentioned "variances" to some 351 four-speed GTs produced in the preceding weeks, with no mention of exact numbers. Among the numerous goodies were Holley 780cfm carburettors, manifolds, winged sumps, alternative clutch slave cylinder set-up, drive shafts and even rear discs. In the end, 130 were sedans and 120 hardtops. Some sources say it was 131 and 121 respectively.

| V8 Falcons: XA GT RP083

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Louvre is a nice touch

Incredibly, they cost the same as a regular GT and so you can understand how the whole RPO thing just wasn’t on the market radar for years to come.

What car got which parts varied a little, but in essence what you were more than likely getting was a ‘Phase IV lite’ that was a little more lively than a stock GT. In an earlier story on this series we noted: Staffer ‘Uncle’ Phil Walker (who has owned a string of GT Falcons) reckons that while the RPO 83 might be down a touch on horsepower when compared to a Phase III, the later-generation Ford more than made up for it by being a better handling package. "The XA’s got better brakes and steering, cuts through the air a bit nicer – it’s just a better car," he said.

| Read next: Ford Falcon XA GT hardtop

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Rear wing needed at Bathurst

While there can be detail variations from one RPO83 to another, you can nevertheless establish if the car you’re looking at is such a beast, all these years later. The funny thing is, though, many RPO 83 buyers it seems were blissfully unaware they were getting something a bit special. In fact, that has remained the case for many examples over the years – like this hardtop.

Believed to be the first hardtop RPO 83 off the production line, it’s now on the market via Muscle Car Warehouse in Sydney. The vendor, Frank, has a story that will be familiar to other RPO owners. He bought the car over 40 years ago for his wife because she liked the look of them. They in fact had no idea what it really was until he commissioned an ACCHS report in 2014.

| See more details on the RP083 for sale here

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The only reason the real identity of the car was discovered was that Frank decided to restore the thing after it had been languishing in a shed for most of its life.

In the end, he decided the Ford was worth putting effort into and, over an eight-year period, gradually brought the machine up to its former glory. He went right back to basics, including a full strip back to bare metal, soda-blasting the engine bay and hand-rubbing the rest.

| Living legends: Two XA Phase IV Falcons - video

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It seems that pretty much everything was overhauled and you have to say the result is spectacular. The paint is Red Pepper and the interior trim is a W2 option.

It’s worth looking back at the market history of these hardtops. The overall styling was by Brian Rossi, who also led on the sedan. However it was a relatively late arrival to the XA project. Former production planner David Ford revealed in a Mark Higgins XA story in issue 450 (available at tradeuniquecars.com.au): "Sales and marketing believed we needed one because Holden had one. It was purely an image thing as you had to invest money creating a new body style but you weren’t selling any more vehicles.

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"Because the hardtop was coming along after the sedan it was actually modified in the rear wheel arches at the design stage after a request from Competition Manager Al Turner, so it could be fitted with larger wheels and tyres for racing and remain legal on the bodywork, so the racing program did actually influence the two door design at the rear."

There was a time, up to around 10 years ago, when old Falcon hardtops were cheap.

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Of course the market has done a complete 180-degree turn on hardtops in the last decade or so, and we’re seeing record prices for that classic dramatic seventies shape (with more than a hint of Ford Torino in the lines) that just screams for a big engine and lairy colours. For us, this one is nicely topped off with the period spoilers front and rear, and the hinged rear window louvre. There’s absolutely no mistaking the era this belongs to!

 

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1973 Ford Falcon XA GT RPO83 specs

NUMBER BUILT: 130 sedan, 120 hardtop
BODY STYLE: All-steel integrated body/chassis four-door sedan or two-door hardtop
ENGINES: 5766cc V8 with overhead valves and single downdraft carburettor
POWER & TORQUE: 246kW @ 5400rpm, 515Nm @ 3800rpm
PERFORMANCE: 0-96km/h – 7.6 seconds 0-400 metres – 15.2 seconds
TRANSMISSION: Four-speed manual
SUSPENSION: Independent with coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers & anti-roll bar (f) Live axle with semi-elliptic springs, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar (r)
BRAKES: Disc (f) drum (r) power assisted
TYRES: ER70H14 radial

 

From Unique Cars #470, Sep/Oct 2022

 

 

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