XR Ford Falcon GT (1967-68)
The XR GT Falcon was Fords first high-performance production car in Australia. Launched in 1967, it would be the first in a long line of Falcons to proudly wear the GT badge. The XR GT would mark the beginning of an Australian-made Falcon GT heritage that would go on for the next 49 years.
With the release of the XR Falcon in 1966, Ford Australia added the 4.7L Windsor (289 ci) engine to the Falcon range. The 289 ci Windsor was the same engine fitted in Mustangs at the time with Ford advertising the XR as “the Mustang-bred Falcon.” The XR would be the first Falcon with a V8 engine available across its whole range of sedans, wagons and commercial vehicles.
The inspiration for the GT was simple – Bathurst. At the time, the annual 500 mile race at the now very well known mountain road course located at Mount Panorama, Australia attracted a wide variety of both domestic and foreign cars, including the purpose built Ford Cortina GT500. Unlike other events, Bathurst was different in that it gained a great deal of public interest due to media exposure – in particular live television coverage. This created a unique marketing opportunity for Ford Australia who knew that sales of the XR would strengthen, were they able to develop and produce a vehicle capable of lasting the 500 mile distance and winning the now iconic race.
The XR Falcon now available for the first time with a V8 engine made a great foundation as a high performance vehicle. Bill Bourke, the American-born marketing and sales manager for Ford Australia at the time, felt that the XR with the right development could be a winner. Mr Bourke being passionate about racing, discussed the idea with Harry Firth, who had been responsible for the development of the GT500 Cortina which had won numerous racing events. Coincidentally, at that time Harry Firth had been working with the Victorian police, assembling a number of XR Falcons with enhanced performance for pursuit use.
Firth taking inspiration from the Police pursuit vehicles, understood that by introducing more horsepower, improving the braking system, handling and suspension, the Falcon could become a true GT and race winner.
The Windsor 289 was modified with a four-barrel carburettor and an upgraded exhaust system, being capable of outputting 250bhp, which was an increase of 50bhp on the 289s fitted in stock XRs. The engine was combined with a four-speed manual, all synchromesh transmission and stiffened suspension. After Ford entered two XR GTs in the Bathurst 500 in 1967 (placing first and second respectively), demand for the XR GT soared.
Released only eight months after the initial launch of the base model XR, and having won Bathurst, the GT’s were selling as quickly as Ford could build them. The XR GT was available in one colour only and that was “GT Gold” with black stripes running down the sides and across the rear of the body. It had a blacked out grill and bore the now classic, red “GT” emblem on the grill, fenders and tailgate.
The interior was a charcoal version of the one fitted in the Fairmont sedan and included fully reclining bucket seats exclusive to the GT model. The dash and steering wheel were wood grain, and the instrument panel utilised Stewart-Warner gauges that included a speedometer that went up to 140mph.
The XR GT was available only with a four-speed manual transmission. It is the only GT model that would be fitted with a Hurst shifter as standard and had a wider console than the following XT model. Braking was provided by 11-inch discs on the front and 10-inch drums on the rear. The XR GT sat 1 ½ inches lower than the standard XR Falcon with chromed hubs and 185 radial tyres as standard. All this combined was enough to cement the XR GT as a favourite amongst Ford enthusiasts, making it a future classic.
Though it was available commercially in only one colour, there were a few exceptions. The rarest of all the XR GTs were the 13 promotional models that weren’t painted in GT Gold. Of these, eight were painted Gallaher silver, and five were one-offs painted in Avis White, Ivy Green, Russet Bronze, Sultan Maroon and Polar White.
Between March 1967 and February 1968, Ford Australia built only 596 XR Falcon GTs before replacing them with the XT Falcon GT in February 1968. The XR GT Falcon is regarded as one of the most iconic motor vehicles of Australian motor sports to this day.