Greens'-Tuf XE Falcon

By: John Bowe, Photography by: Scott Murray

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John Bowe takes flight in one of Australia's most famous touring cars, reborn to give fans the full Dick Johnson experience

 

Greens'-Tuf XE Falcon

- See the video

One of the most exciting times in Aussie motorsport for Ford fans was Dick Johnson at the peak of his powers. In the early eighties, his cars were seriously fast and loud enough you could never not hear him out on a racetrack. His efforts at Surfers Paradise, Amaroo Park, Wanneroo, Mallala, Philip Island and Sandown were essential to his success, but his trials and tribulations at Bathurst put him with the greats. I had the pleasure of watching him on the telly in those days, as I raced in open-wheelers before my foray into touring cars. Dick was always one of my idols and remains one of my closest friends.

I was having a conversation with Harry Volkmann and Greg Evans from V8 Race ride and drive experiences where I offer my expertise on their Ford and Holden race cars. We agreed that historic motorsport has never been more popular. People want to jump in the old cars they know and loved when they were younger. I’m one of them!

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So Harry set about building the XE Greens’-Tuf Falcon as it was before that fateful Saturday shootout when Dick was lucky to walk away with his life. Dick roared across the top of the mountain on a flyer – some reckon he was on for the lap record. The car exited Forrest’s Elbow and brushed the tyres with the front right wheel. He flew off the road at over 150km/h and smashed into the trees. The only part of the car left semi-intact was where Dick was sitting. I remember him saying on telly afterward, "If I didn’t believe in the bloke upstairs after that, there was no chance I ever would."

But what Harry’s done is not just stick some decals on a mock-up XE clunker from the wreckers. He’s re-built it exactly as Dick and his crew built the genuine article back in ’83. I can tell you, it’s absolutely on-song! The engine is of course, a 351 Cleveland V8, with 850 double-pumper Holley carby, 2V heads, an Edelbrock Torker manifold and roller cam and rockers. It’s actually an original Phase III XY engine which Harry’s squeezed well for over 400kW and about 600Nm of torque to spin the enormous fat 18x11-inch rubber at the back. It’s the biggest tyre Hankook could make, as used for the Porsche Carrera Cup category. Dick’s original car had staggered 16x10s at the front and mental 19x14s at the back.

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The gearbox is a four-speed Muncie dog box and was one of the crucial elements of Dick’s original car. The day I drove it, it was living up to its name a little, but that’s just down to testing. Harry’s had it sorted and I can tell you it didn’t take away from the experience. I could feel all those memories and heroic moments Dick gave us in the day come flooding back.

The suspension is made up by Bilstein which Harry tells me cost $4000 per corner on the original car in its day. The four-wheel disc brakes are six-piston AP Racing calipers up front and Territory fronts on the rear to pull the big Falcon up and turn in accurately. You won’t crease the tarmac, it must be said, but you just have to learn when, where and how hard to jump on them – just like Dick hard to learn his original race car.

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The most impressive aspect with Harry’s Greens’-Tuf race car is the theatre of driving it, helped by the three-inch exhaust and extractor arrangement that makes all the right noises. The only thing missing from the experience was a pair of Skinny sheepskin seat covers which he tells me are ‘in the works’. Dick has even had all the original stickers re-made and sent down from Queensland to help him prepare the car. Harry’s left all the original XE dashboard in place with exception of an enormous rev counter.

At Sandown, the hairiest part of the track is probably coming off the back straight into Dandenong Road. Greens’-Tuf felt quite composed and light enough in steering feel to tip it in without feeling numb – you still have to work at it once you start pushing harder. These old Falcons feel as wide as they look, they’re very masculine. They did have power-steering making them easier than the older cars, but they had to remain original with pitman arms and things that mean it’s still hard work.

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V8 Supercars and other modern race cars have become so perfectly engineered, from nuts and bolts to plastic windows. But these things have great character and you have to really drive them. They’re absolutely not aerodynamically designed to reach high speeds – it really earned the ‘quick brick’ moniker! But that’s exactly the ethos they built and raced them with in the good old days. You’ve got to grab hold and make them work, and keep your wits about you! They were called ‘Big Bangers’ for reason; they were raw, brutal and properly loud. There was nothing better than watching these legends fly around a racetrack and now punters get a taste of those glory days.

My advice is when you hammer Greens’-Tuf down any track’s main straight at over 200 clicks, preparing to brake for turn one, you need to be 100% focused on what you’re doing – eyes wide, feeling the grip, and feeding in the power. Don’t be the next bloke who puts Greens’-Tuf into the trees!

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Want to get behind the wheel of the tribute Greens’-Tuf XE Falcon? Give V8 Race a call on 1800 887 223 or visit hotlaps.net.au and pull the skin off a rice pudding, just like Dick.

GREENS'-TUF OWNER: HARRY VOLKMANN
Volkmann Motorsport, Victoria

I’VE been in motor sport all my life. I was at Bathurst in ‘83 when Dick crashed and I loved that car.

I bought a tidy, rust-free XE sedan; stripped it right back to start again as they did in ATCC. So there’s plenty of Falcon left.

I was going to race it myself as a normal race car, but then the idea came to Greg Evans at V8 Race to make it something special.

The heroic status of #17, DJ and Greens’-Tuf meant I couldn’t build a half-arsed replica. So I asked Dick for input and he gave it, including sending me original decals! Bilstein also chimed in on how they built Dick’s original 1983 setup.

Dick’s cars were brilliantly engineered and that made them such weapons on-track.


SPECIFICATIONS

Greens'-Tuf
1983 Ford XE Falcon

ENGINE 5760cc V8, 2v, 850 Holley four-barrel carburettor
POWER 430kW@5500rpm
TORQUE 600+Nm@5500rpm
WEIGHT 1250kg
GEARBOX 4-speed Muncie dog box, 11-in ceramic clutch
DIFF Ford 9-inch, ratio 3.7:1
BRAKES Discs (f) /discs (r)
TOP SPEED 245km/h est

 

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