It’s 50 years since one of the most iconic and highly sought-after Australian-built cars dominated at Bathurst. Allan Moffat’s Ford XY Falcon GT-HO Phase III crushed the opposition at the Mount Panorama Circuit in 1971, making a legend of the car and driver, as we reflect back on in SupercarXtra Magazine issue #123.
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Fifty years ago, the Ford XY Falcon GT-HO Phase III was breaking records on the race track. Today, it’s breaking records off the track. In February 2021, a fully restored 1971 Phase III set an auction record for an Australian-built road car when it sold for $1.15 million.
The Phase III is one of the most iconic Australian cars of all-time, a road car built primarily for success on the race track that made Allan Moffat a household name and put Ford at the forefront of the Australian automotive market.
Ford gambled on going its own way with an Australian designed and built Falcon heading into the 1970s, to not only counter the threat of Holden’s Monaro but also to differentiate from the American-built Mustang.
The brainchild of Al Turner, with the backing of Bill Bourke, there were only 300 Phase IIIs made. Success at Bathurst was the focal point for Ford as the battle between the Blue Oval and rivals Chrysler and Holden intensified.
The Phase III may have looked just like the Falcon GT version it was based on, but it featured an upgraded engine, improved four-speed top-loader gearbox, a nine-inch differential, a larger fuel tank and race-ready brakes.
With an engine output in excess of 350 bhp, producing more than 7000 rpm, it was generally considered to be the fastest four-door production car in the world.
There were 13 GT-HOs in the field for the 1971 Bathurst 500, including the factory-backed entries of Moffat and John French and privateer entries for the likes of David McKay, John Goss, Kevin Bartlett, Murray Carter and Bob Morris.
The challengers were the recently developed Chrysler VH Valiant Charger R/T E38 and Holden’s nimble XU-1 Torana, with works teams from Toyota, Datsun, Mazda, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors highlighting the growing status of the race.
Moffat stamped his authority on the event with a crushing time in the opening practice session that was more than 13 seconds under the lap record from 1969, with that level of performance continuing throughout the race meeting.
The Phase III filled the top seven places on the grid with Moffat three seconds clear of the rest on pole position and the first non-Ford, the Charger of Leo Geoghegan, almost seven seconds off the time set by the polesitter. The Holden Dealer Team Toranas of Peter Brock and Colin Bond were a distant 11th and 15th respectively.
Moffat raced away from the start. His only threat was a stray beer carton that lodged itself on his GT-HO’s radiator grille, as a result of windy conditions on race day. The Ford team signalled to Moffat to pit so they could remove the debris, but Moffat drove on with a close eye on the car’s heating.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the other Falcons. Bill Brown survived one of the most spectacular crashes in Bathurst history when a tyre blew on his Phase III at McPhillamy Park.
The Falcon rolled several times along the guard rail, which cut into the Falcon with the roll bar saving Brown’s life. He suffered bruising, cuts and a concussion, but it could’ve been so much worse.
Moffat took the chequered flag to claim his second consecutive Bathurst win, with a new race-time record and the first average speed in excess of 130km/h. Phase IIIs completed the podium with Phil Barnes/Bob Skelton in second and McKay in third. Bond was best of the rest in fourth with the Chrysler challenge never materialising with the top Charger in seventh place.
The biggest concern for the Phase III at Bathurst was whether its brakes would survive the race distance. But new pads developed by Bill Collins were so good that the leading Phase IIIs went the distance without a change of pads, for the first time for the winner of the event.
The stunning performance of the Phase III is best illustrated when comparing the times set by Moffat in the XW Falcon GT-HO Phase II in 1970. The pole time from 1971 was almost 10 seconds quicker than 1970, while Moffat’s race time was lowered by 33 minutes. He called the Phase III “one of the best cars in the world,” comparable to GT cars of the time.
Moffat drove the Phase III to Australian Touring Car Championship title success in 1973, the first championship run to the locally-derived Group C regulations.
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