Falcon GT By The Years: 1973

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Ford Falcon XA GT
The new production touring regulations for 1973 allowed quite a lot of modification to be done to the cars, but within limits. Broadly presented, the modifications allowed were as follows:
  • The electrical system - free except that the voltage could not be changed, nor could the battery be relocated.
  • An oil cooler could be added if not standard equipment.
  • Camshafts were free.
  • The valve train could be modified, although valve sizes  could not be altered.
  • Wide wheels and tires could be fitted, and for the Falcon, a maximum rim width of 10in. was allowed. The track width of the car must remain the same as for the standard car.
  • Body seams could be flattened to accommodate the larger tires, although the body work could not be changed. Therefore, no add-on air scoops, spoilers, brake cooling ducts, undertraps or flared guards could be fitted.
  • Seats could be replaced provided the new units w' ere made by the same company.
  • carburetors were free, as long as there were no more than the number fitted as standard.
  • Suspension could be modified extensively, as long as the same basic system was employed as on the standard car. That is for the Falcon, front struts and rear leaf springs.
  • Brake discs, drums, callipers and pads could be changed as long as the basic format (eg, discs front, drums rear) remained the same.
  • The normal safety equipment had to be added - roll bar or cage, laminated windscreen, fire extinguisher, wired oil drain plugs, etc.

In addition, the gearbox and final drive ratios must remain as offered as standard equipment on the cars. Along with these changes came new rules on which type of cars were to contest which series, The most important was the Australian touring car championship, which from 1973 was contested by cars from the production touring class; that meant the Falcon GTH0’s, Torana XU-1’s, Chrysler Charger’s would be racing alongside the smaller Ford Escorts, Mazda’s and Alfa Romeos.

The Grace Brothers/Toby Lee series at Oran Park was now for the sports sedan, nee improved touring cars, such as the Trans-Am Mustang of Allan Moffat, the Porsches, lightweight Mini’s and a whole new breed of high-powered hybrid cars, like John McCormack's V8 Repco Charger, V8 Torana’s and Bryan Thomson's V8 Volkswagen. The manufacturer's championship (including the Bathurst race) would remain for the production touring/series production cars, as would Amaroo Park's Sun-7 Gold Medal series

Most Falcon drivers, including those of the works cars of Moffat and Gibson were content to modify the GTHO Phase 3’s to the new specifications, but one, John Goss, appeared with an XA GT in the first series of the year, the South Pacific touring car series, run in conjunction with the Australian rounds of the Tasman Cup.

The car was a two-door hardtop version of the XA GT, this new model being introduced by Ford late in 1972. The Falcon hardtop was built on the same wheelbase as the four-door models and had the same length and track, but it was two inches lower in overall height and had widened rear wheel arches, which increased the width of the car by three inches.

A major problem developed with the Falcons in 1973 with the new regulations, particularly on John Goss's hardtop, and that problem was “oil surge”. The problem wasn't new to the Falcon drivers, as it had come to light when proper racing tires had been allowed on the cars in the days of series production. The racing tires allowed the cars to be cornered at higher speeds than before, and the resultant centrifugal forces pushed the oil in the sump to one side of it, away from the pickups.

This was exaggerated under production touring regulations, as not only did the cars have a greater cornering speed potential `through their extra power, but the wider tires permitted further increased the cornering speed, thus increasing the oil surge - the result being that an oil-starved engine would destroy itself.

The reason for the oil in the sump being able to move at all was simply that, in the Falcons, the capacity of the sump is only seven pints. When the engine is being run at race revs, five pints are suspended in the engine, leaving two in the .sump, both of which were very free to move around and away from the pickups under high G-forces.

The ideal and only permanent solution was to increase the capacity of the sump more than two-fold, or to fit a dry sump system. Both methods were not allowed under the regulations by modification, and to incorporate them in new production cars would have been impractical and very expensive.

John Goss and his chief mechanic, Bruce Richardson, attempted to solve the problem by fitting baffles into the sump, designed to prevent the oil from flowing away from the pickups. None of these baffled sumps worked particularly effectively, with the result that Goss blew a great number of engines during the first half of 1973. Under the direction of Howard Marsden, the Works GTHO Phase 3’s were modified to the new regulations, and reliability, apart from the oil surge problem, was not much worse than it had been under the series production rules.

The engine came in for a lot of development, as the valve train and head were reworked, special head gaskets were introduced to the modified inlet manifolding, a full extractor system was fitted, as well as a heavy duty radiator, an oil cooler and a baffled sump, and a full race camshaft. The result was 440 bhp at 6000 rpm, which we don’t really need to explain made the GT’s a rather rapid automobile. To top it all, four-pot aluminum calipers were fitted to the front 11.24in diameter disc brakes, and the rear suspension was modified to take double trailing arms and panhard rods. Carburation was from an enormous 1150 cfm Holley four-barrel with a 5in ram tube.

The 1973 championship, now run under new regulations and with different (production touring) cars proved to be an exciting and controversial series, with almost every round featuring an extraordinary occurrence of some description. The first round, at Symmons Plains saw Allan Moffat the victor in a somewhat dented Falcon GTHO Phase 3, as he had had a collision with a slower car in practice. The defending champion, Bob Jane, rolled his Torana in practice after losing his brakes, but after a hasty overnight rebuild, he managed to come home fourth.

Of the other Falcons, John Goss in the hardtop GT came in third and Murray Carter (GTHO Phase 3) was fifth. Round 2 at Calder was also won by Moffat, but only after Bob Jane was disqualified for having a car which didn't meet the regulations. He brought out his 1972 championship winning Chevrolet Carnaro, had then reconverted it to a state somewhere near production form, and was allowed to race. After the race, however, he was excluded from results and Moffat received the points for first place. Peter Brock and John Goss were among a number of drivers also excluded for not being on the grid at the one-minute board, as they were changing tires at the time.

Rounds 3 and 4, at Sandown Park and Wanneroo Park respectively, also went Moffat's way, his nearly two-year-old Falcon proving to be not only very fast,' but also reliable. In both races, Peter Brock's Holden Dealer Team Torana XU-1 was a constant shadow to the Falcon, but at Sandown Brock ran out of petrol, and at Wanneroo he just couldn't get past the Ford.

John Goss, who was having a very difficult problem with oil surge in the hardtop, retired from rounds 3 and 4, and the ever-consistent Murray Carter placed third at Sandown and fourth at Wanneroo. The fifth round of the championship, at Surfer's Paradise, saw the end of Moffat's winning run, when Peter Brock, after a race-long dice with Moffat (including a loss from both drivers), ran out the victor, carving some 3.5 seconds off the lap record in the process.

At 4am on the morning of the sixth round at Adelaide, Allan Moffat was woken with the news that his Falcon had been stolen from the premises of Adelaide Ford dealer B.S. Stillwell. Stillwell offered him a Falcon GT hardtop off the showroom floor as a substitute, but there was no time to prepare it, as the race was only hours away. The organisers postponed the race until 3 p.m. in order to give Moffat a chance to get into the race, but there was still no sign of his Falcon as race-time approached.

Finally, Murray Carter offered Moffat his Shell-sponsored Phase 3, the offer being gladly accepted, although Moffat had to start from the rear of the grid, despite his fastest practice time in his own car. He ultimately came in a brilliant second behind Peter Brock; he had to cope not only with a strange car, but also with being black-flagged to have a loose exhaust pipe looked at.

Two days after the race, the stolen Falcon was found abandoned and bogged in the foothills near Adelaide. Some damage had been done to the front suspension, a couple of tires and a headlight, but generally it wasn't too bad, although a four-barrel carburetor was stolen from the back seat.

The thieves left a note which said: “My apologies to Allan. Sorry we inconvenienced you, but what a beaut car it was. I hope you go on to beat the Torana’s, Allan. Sorry about the spare carby but we had to hock it for fuel. What a thirsty beast it was - the Phantom Hunter". Two weeks later, a 22 year-old labourer was arrested and charged with the theft.

The final two championship rounds were held at Oran Park and Warwick Farm respectively, Moffat being declared the winner of the former after Brock's Holden Dealer Team Torana was excluded for having oversize manifold castings. Fred Gibson brought his Phase 3 home in a good third place, Murray Carter was seventh, and poor old John Goss was out again, his hardtop running out of oil pressure for the umpteenth time. Oran Park sealed the series for Moffat, so the final round at Warwick Farm was only a formality. As it turned out, it was just as well, because it definitely wasn't the Falcon's day.

John Goss crashed in practice and couldn't start; Allan Moffat, after an engine change carried out in Warwick Farm's infield was completed just in time for the race, had to retire with a blown radiator hose; and Fred Gibson, who was suffering from bad oil surge, retired to save his engine from blowing. The only Falcon to feature in the results was the Phase 3 of Murray Carter, who placed fifth.

It was perhaps a disappointing end to the championship, but taken overall, the series, particularly Allan Moffat's performance, was a triumph for the Falcons, considering the Phase 3's were two years old by the time the championship was over in mid-July, and there had been a number of problems following the change in regulations. The most serious of these, the oil surge problem, did not trouble the Phase 3's nearly as much as John Goss's hardtop, but was nevertheless always there, as Warwick Farm reminded everyone.

Overall, the touring car championship had Falcons placed 1st (Moffat), 7th (Gibson), 8th  (Carter), 13th (Goss) and equal 14th (Dickson), Torana’s finished second (Brock), 10th and equal 13th, plus - surprisingly - Ford Escorts third (Ritter), fourth (Holden) and equal 11th (Arnel). For their assault on the 1973 manufacturer's championship, the Ford works team introduced the XA Falcon GT hardtop. The introduction of the hardtops had not been made particularly easy as Howard Marsden's crew had to contend with a two-month strike at the Ford factory, which meant the cars had to be developed at a rushed pace.

Despite this, an advanced GT Falcon was released onto the market under the name "GT Special", featuring a number of bits and pieces which would make the race cars faster, and also more reliable. The car was introduced behind a very complex security screen, the idea being to avoid another "supercar" outburst, and in fact the general public were never told the car existed. It was sold at the same price as normal GTs - $4857 in the case of the manual hardtop.

The GT Special, which was called RPO83 (Regular Production Option 83) featured certain GTHO Phase 4 bits such as the 780 cfm Holley carburetor and the exhaust headers, but it did not have the camshaft and valve gear modifications of the Phase 4, or the special "finned" sump of that car. The result was a bit of extra power (about 330 bhp at 5400 rpm), most of which came in at the higher rev ranges, but the scope for race development was much greater than the standard GT’s. Some of the GT Specials featured four-wheel disc brakes, as did the last batch of normal XA GT’s, the advantages of these in racing being obvious.

To achieve homologation of the new brakes, 250 cars had to have them, and Ford argued that their Landau model, a fully optioned and dressed-up hardtop with 351 cu.in motor and four-wheel discs was a variant of the GT Falcon. The rules stated that if a particular component was to become part of the future standard pr6duction car, its incorporation in the race cars was within the regulations. Ford's 1974 Falcon GT was to get four-wheel discs, but Ford built enough XA GT’s with the new brakes just to make sure they were covered.

The works hardtops, complete with a new blue-and-white color scheme in place of the familiar overall red, made their debut in round one of the 1973 manufacturers' championship over 250kin at Adelaide International Raceway in the hands of Allan Moffat and Fred Gibson. Also representing the marque were Kevin Bartlett, the former Gold Star champion and current Lola Formula 5000 driver in John Goss's McLeod Ford entered hardtop, by now updated to the latest specifications, and Murray Carter, who was also appearing for the first time in a Falcon hardtop.

This first outing for the cars was to be a most successful one as Falcons took first, second and third places (Gibson, Bartlett, Moffat) in appallingly wet conditions. For the Holden Dealer Team the result was far from good, as Colin Bond crashed his Torana XUA and Peter Brock was forced to retire with wet electrics. In round two at Sandown Park, over 460km, the results were reversed, with Brock and Bond taking the top two positions and the Falcons of Goss. Gibson and Carter coming home third, fourth and fifth respectively.

Allan Moffat retired from the race with a blown engine after being well in the lead, and John French, making his debut in the hardtop, also had to retire with oil pressure problems. The other Falcon in the race was another works car in the hands of Ian Geoghegan and Barry Seton. This car was the first racing Falcon to feature the new four-wheel discs - as all the world saw when the car shed its offside rear wheel on the second lap.

The 1973 Bathurst classic was run for the first time over a distance of 1000 kilometres (630 miles) rather than 500 miles, due to Australia's conversion to the metric system. It was also the first to be run under the new production touring regulations, and there was some doubt as to how many cars would finish, because of the dual threat of more highly stressed components and the extra distance.

For 1973, the classes were based entirely on engine capacity:- Class A, 0-1300cc; Class B, 1301-2000cc; Class C, 2001-3000cc; Class D, over 3000cc. This put the XU-1 Torana’s and the Falcons in the same class, together with the four E49 Chargers which were running. In all, five Falcons and 17 Torana’s faced the starter. To turn back the clock a few years to 1969, co-drivers were required for all the cars because of the extra length of the race.

Crewing the Falcons were Allan Moffat and fan Geoghegan in the number one works car, and Fred Gibson and Barry Seton together again in the number two car. In the privately entered Falcons, John Goss was with Kevin Bartlett, John French with Bob Skelton, and Murray Carter with Laurie Nelson. For the Hoiden Dealer team, Peter Brock was sharing with Doug Chivas, and Colin Bond had Leo Geoghegan as his co-driver.

Other strong challengers were Bob Jane and John Harvey, plus Don Holland and Max Stewart, all in XU-1 Torana’s. Race day was warm and sunny, in direct contrast to 1972's pelting rain, and as the flag fell John Goss, who had won pole position, leapt to an immediate lead with Moffat, French and Carter filling the next three places.

Freddie Gibson's was the first Falcon to retire with a cooked engine after less than an hour of racing, his fifth did-not-finish in a row. Meanwhile, Goss had increased his lead to 10 seconds over Moffat, with French next, about to be overtaken by Peter Brock and his XU-1. A very rapid pace was being set by the leaders, and after only 90 minutes Goss, Moffat, Brock and Bond were the only drivers on the same lap.

At this stage things were looking rosy for the Fords, especially since a number of Torana’s were having troubles with conrods letting to and valves bending. The problem was that most of the privately-entered Torana’s were using 3.08 to 1 final drives, which meant they had to use a lot of revs to stay with the Dealer Team cars which were using a taller 2.78 to 1 final drive. The Dealers Team Torana’s were pulling 6500 rpm on Conrod Straight for a top speed of 1-50 mph. To match this, the lower-geared Torana’s would need to have revved to around 7000, a speed of revolution at which point things start to break.

As the race progressed, the Goss/Bartlett car maintained its advantage, but two things happened which changed the face of the race: first, the Torana’s of Bob Jane and George Garth (in a GTR) came into contact, causing the Garth car to roll right into the path of John Goss. The resultant damage not only wrecked a tire but also damaged a radiator hose. Goss pitted, changed the tire and went out again. Secondly, Doug Chivas, who had taken over from Peter Brock in the XU-1, ran out of petrol, and had to push the car unaided up to the pits.

The time lost possibly cost the Holden Dealer Team car the race. Soon afterwards, the Goss/Bartlett Falcon retired. The damaged radiator hose caused severe overheating, ultimately resulting in a well-fried piston. Understandably, Goss was a little savage about the whole thing, especially when remembering that the offending GTR Torana should not have been on the track at all, as it had been towed to the pits earlier in the race and was therefore ineligible to restart.

All this drama put Allan Moffat into a comfortable lead, a lead which held to the finish, giving him his third Hardie-Ferodo victory and "Pete" Geoghegan his first. Toranas filled the following four positions, headed by Brock and Bond, with the Kaleda/Granger Charger sixth, and the only other Falcon to finish, the car of Carter and Nelson, in seventh spot. The Falcon of John French and Bob Skelton, which was well up with the leaders in the early stages, blew its motor to pieces in Pit Straight at about two-thirds distance.

It was a very pleasing result for Ford, with the combination of Moffat, Geoghegan and Howard Marsden demonstrating a fine tactical plan and an equally fine execution of that plan. The two remaining rounds of the manufacturer’s championship were both disasters for the Fords and the series went to Holden.

At Surfer's Paradise Gibson, Moffat, Goss (driving the spare Ford works car with hastily applied McLeod Ford decals) and French all withdrew with problems ranging from blown engines (Gibson) to tires (all the others); in fact Goss ;s car was one of several which spun into long dry grass and started a fire. Moffat's drama started as the flag fail when ' he could not engage first gear, and the Fiat 128 of Lakis Manticas ploughed into his boot. Both cars, however, were*able to continue. The only Falcon to finish was Murray Carter's, who came home sixth.

In the final round at Phillip Island it was even worse. John Goss suffered a damaged radiator, Fred Gibson blew yet another motor and Allan Moffat rolled at 120 mph when a tire blew. Moffat escaped with bruises and-a' fractured sternum bone. Again, all the Falcons were suffering tire troubles and were pitting to replace them with sickening monotony, and again the only Falcon to finish was that of Murray Carter, a gallant but miserable 14th. It was a bitterly disappointing end to the year, and even more so as it was, as we found out later, the end of an era.

Also see:
GT Falcon Race Results 1973
Bathurst Race Results 1973
Bathurst Race Program 1973
Bathurst Memorable Moments

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