Ford Falcon XY GT-HO Phase III tribute

By: Mark Higgins, Photography by: Shaun Tanner

ford falcon xy gtho replica front angle ford falcon xy gtho replica front angle

Converting a collector into a tribute Falcon XY GT-HO Phase III

Some say they are tributes others call them replicas, whatever you wish to name them they’re a growing sector of the collector car scene and with many Aussie muscle cars too rare and expensive to drive, tributes make a lot of sense.

Once a cheap and cheerful way of getting your dream wheels, these days most replicas or tributes are painstakingly created to look, feel, sound and go like the genuine article and though prices are heading well into the six-figure territory, it’s usually a fraction of what the genuine article costs.


All new fifty-year-old car - T-code Highway Patrol to weekend HO

Often tributes are based on the hack version of the desired model, like a Falcon 500 becoming a GT or a Torana S into a GTR XU-1 or a bog standard Valiant morphing into a Pacer, you get the picture.

It’s very rare for a donor car to be a bona fide collector car, but that’s the foundation of Neil Wrigley’s superb Vermilion Fire Falcon XY GT-HO Phase III tribute bought from Muscle Car Warehouse in Sydney.


Nose-up stance, like new 

Neil’s car started life as a T-code XY, a factory-built special-order highway patrol car.

"I wanted a car that started its life as a V8," says Neil, "and this is a T-code car with all the correct stamps and ID plates. I started negotiating with Muscle Car Warehouse around eight months ago and they built it for me."


It’s all in the detail

So why a Phase III tribute? Neil, "Over the years I’ve had plenty of GT Falcons and a few Phase 1 and IIIs, XR GTs and the like. My first GT was back in 1973 was also Vermillion Fire the same as I’ve got now. You probably hear the same story you get married, have kids and I wanted to start my own business in the panel beating industry, so I sold off the cars to finance the business and buy a house.

"I was fortunate enough to go okay in the industry and started buying cars that took my fancy, mostly European, and some time ago I started seeing few XW and XYs out there and I sort of got the hunger again. I thought maybe one day I’ll go back there and buy another one. And I have. I am reliving my youth which I think a lot of us do that."


Although Neil admits to being a bit of a Ford nut his first car was an EK Holden bought during his panel-beating apprenticeship. Following this was an HG 308 Monaro, then he bought the GT Falcon from Eclipse Motors in Ballarat in late 1973 or early 1974.

"I owned it until 1977 and thoroughly enjoyed it but did something silly," confesses Neil, "I traded it on an XC Fairmont Rally Pack with a 351 dual exhausts and long-range fuel tank. I tried to emulate the GT in the updated model because they didn’t have a GT of course in the XC.


The shaker shakes Neil back to the 1970s

Like many at the time, Neil was a Bathurst regular, camping at McPhillamy Park with mates and reckons Colin Bond is one of the most gifted drivers in the country and his favourite.

Neil sold his panel shops that were dotted across Melbourne and now enjoys tinkering with his toys and driving them on nearby open roads.


T-code body with a D-code engine

He’d only just driven the Phase III tribute for the first time shortly before we spoke.

"I drove it yesterday for a while," says Neil. "I look back to when I had these cars 40-odd years ago with rose-coloured glasses on. I’ve waited for this car for eight or nine months and now I’ve got it and it drives like a 50-year-old car, what can I say?


"The dash is straight up and down, the steering wheel is in your face it’s completely different to a modern car. I’ve gotta say it was a bit of a shock when I first started driving it, I thought God – what have I done here, but after a little while it all settled down and it’s a lovely thing to drive. I wouldn’t like to do a long trip in it but it’s fun. You sure get a lot of looks.

According to Neil the motivation for buying the car was to relive his youth and the easier, simpler and fun times back then. He is enjoying the simplicity of the HO where you just get in, turn the key to start it up, put the radio on and if you want wind the windows down and off you go. "The vinyl smells like it did back then, the shaker shakes and it transported me back to the mid-70s," says Neil.


Reinforced radiator support

He reckons it makes a fantastic static display and recently had friends visit who all went right past his other cars and straight to the Falcon to have a look.

As for it being a tribute, Neil says, "I could buy a genuine GT-HO but I can’t justify the $1 million on these things. I may be wrong and in five years time they might be $2 million, who knows?


New boot rubber – times two

"But I’d rather spend a fraction of that on a car that is virtually identical that I am not scared to use and won’t be afraid to take somewhere and park it. Obviously I’ll keep an eye on it but I won’t be petrified that I’m leaving a million-dollar XY that people are going to lean on and look over.

"After a while they become too precious, and I didn’t want that. I wanted something I can drive up to the bakery on a Sunday morning, get some stuff, then go for little squirt and come home and not be too worried about a stone chip. It’s not going to be a garage queen I am going to use it."


Tribute or replica, what’s in a name?

Unique Cars' Uncle Phil gave his mate Neil Wrigley a hand in acquiring this car from Muscle Car Warehouse in Sydney and reckons it is as close to a 10 out of 10 as you can get.

"Being a T-code car originally makes all the difference," says Uncle Phil. This one has a 54H body with the reinforced radiator support and dual exhaust hangers, along with a close ratio Toploader four-speed manual gearbox and finned rear drum brakes that came with the T-code build. The engine in Neil’s car is a D-code 4V 351ci, unlike most other cop cars that had the K-code 2V 351.


No expense has been spared in the build of the car by Angelo Sarigiannis who manages the restoration work at Muscle Car Warehouse. Angelo has been playing with GT Falcons since he was 16 and has owned a couple of Phase III HOs, a Phase II and GTs from XT to XBs. Over the years he has completed around 20 nut and bolt restos and this one has taken not hundreds but thousands of hours and 18 months from the get-go.

"It started life as basically a Falcon GT without the seats, shaker, dash and spoilers," Angelo says, "It’s got a Toploader with a 9-inch diff and finned rear drums as well as a D-block 351 with 4V heads and a genuine 780 Holley carby.


"It also has the original Carter fuel pump, Autolite distributor, dual vacs, a brake portioning valve that only Phase IIIs had, the original radiator, original o’clock, it has dual exhaust hangers and everything a GT-HO would have.

"Everything underneath is brand spanking. It’s like a new car if not better with the correct ride height and nose-up stance," Angelo says.


New Vinyl smells great

According to Parry Bitsikas, of Muscle Car Warehouse tributes or replicas have their own market these days and demand is growing.

"The market has changed and buyers want cars with as much original standard equipment or new/old stock as possible, whether it’s a Phase III, a Monaro, or an A9X Torana.


Providing they are finished in factory colours with the right equipment, exterior and interior they are still pulling big bucks."

The final word goes to Uncle Phil who says, "when you’re driving along in a good replica nobody will know unless they ever see the ID tag."


Neil reliving his youth


BODY STYLES: Steel integrated body/chassis four-door sedan
ENGINE: 5763cc V8 with overhead valves and single downdraft carburettor
276kW @ 5400rpm, 515Nm @ 3400rpm
PERFORMANCE: 0-96km/h 6.4 seconds, 0-400 metres 14.4 seconds
TRANSMISSION: four-speed manual
SUSPENSION: Independent with coil springs, anti-roll bar and telescopic shock absorbers (f) Live axle with semi-elliptic springs, anti-roll bar and telescopic shock absorbers (r)
BRAKES: Disc front/drum rear with power assistance
TYRES: ER70H14 radial


From Unique Cars #473, Dec 2022/Jan 2023


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