Heady HO days - Rob Blackbourn and his Phase III days at Ford

By: Rob Blackbourn

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ford falcon xy gtho 1 ford falcon xy gtho 1

A brand spankers Phase III for $4500, what was I thinking?

At Ford Australia in 1970 all you needed to remind you that you were part of something special was catching a glimpse of Bill Bourke arriving in his sensational 428 Cobra-Jet powered XW GT. Although Bourke would soon move on to head up Ford Asia-Pacific, the influence of his up-tempo Super Roo era lingered on at Broadmeadows, making the everyday business of producing Ford family cars continue to feel just that bit exciting.


Phase III company cars? Wow!

What ratcheted up the excitement factor was any info you got wind of from behind the closed doors of "Lot 6" – the anonymous-looking rented factory a couple of kays from Ford’s manufacturing plant. It housed Ford’s Special Vehicles operation where Al Turner, then Howard Marsden, produced the most muscular Falcons – the GT-HO series.

| Read next: 50 years of GT-HO Phase III

While I had no involvement with the Phase I and II GT-HOs (I was still at GMH during the Phase I’s gestation), I was very happy to make minor contributions here and there to the "Big Mutha" Phase III version. Howard Marsden and his team of specialists didn’t require much help from people like me who supported the launches of Ford’s bread and butter models, and I had a lot on my plate at the time with future model programs – the XA/ZF program was huge with the addition of hardtops to the range and I would have been working on the time-consuming little XY 4x4 ute program as well.


Ultra rare 4x4 XY ute

Anyway when Howard did come knocking it was a pleasure dealing with him. For a bloke working under real pressure with so much at stake, he was a lovely fella – always calm, polite and reasonable. My memory is that I gave him some guidance with sourcing headers, HM Headers I think, and some aspects of producing the windage trays.


I enjoyed a few trips in Howard’s personal Phase III HO, a development car – a purple one as I recall – but sadly, always in the passenger seat. He was a lovely fella, but not lovely enough to flick me the keys to his heavy-breathing hot rod.

With the Phase II’s victory at Bathurst in 1970 behind us, I wished Howard well before the team headed north again in 1971. For reasons I can’t remember I couldn’t get to Bathurst that year, meaning I missed out on being on the spot for the Phase III’s stunning 1, 2, 3 result (as well as the chance to join in the team’s celebrations). Another bitter-sweet aspect of looking back now is realising that Ford’s employee discount scheme would have enabled me to get myself a brand spankers Phase III for about $4500! What was I thinking?


From Unique Cars #455, July 2021

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