Master Blaster - 1977 Ford Falcon XC Hardtop GS500 Group C
By the late 1970’s, the Australian Touring Car Championship had established itself as the pinnacle of Australian motorsport. In a typically unusual deviation from the global norm, Down Under production based touring cars were far more popular than purpose built sportscars or single seaters. The championship started out as a single event in 1962 at Longford, but grew to a 5 round series in 1969.
The early days of the ATCC were dominated by foreign forces in the shape of the British Ford Cortina, BMC Mini Cooper, Jaguar Mark 2 and the American Ford Mustang. Australia’s motor industry was still in its infancy, making it unable to fight the invaders. As the years went by Ford Australia and GM Holden became stronger and stronger, allowing them to sharpen their knives.
As the Australian contenders caught up and beat their foreign overlords, a bitter rivalry ignited between the two factions. The spectator was left just one of two choices, Ford or Holden. Nothing else mattered. Holden scored first blood with Norm Beechey and his HT Monaro GTS scoring the first title for an Australian manufacturer in 1970. The win was a slap in the face of Ford, which concentrated all its efforts on beating the reds with the monstrously powerful Falcon GTHO series.
The Falcons lost out to GM's Camaro ZL-1 in 1971 and 1972, but were slowly being refined into ruthless killing machines. For 1973, Ford Australia received aid from an unexpected source. A kind Canadian immigrant by the name of Allan Moffat had to abandon his gorgeous but aging 1969 Trans Am-spec Mustang Boss 302 with the introduction of the new CAMS Group C regulations. The change resulted in a switch to the locally made Falcon GTHO Phase III.
Moffat and his Mustang had made something of a name for themselves in the Australian racing scene, winning 101 championship and non-championship touring car races from 151 starts between 1969 and 1972. His switch to the Falcon proved successful as well. Using the Aussie blunt force instrument, he gave Ford Australia their first ATCC title that season. The achievement made him the first non-Australian ATCC Champion, despite his car being stolen from Stillwell Ford dealership by a bunch of joyriders. The car was later found in the Adelaide hills, abandoned with an empty fuel tank.
That same season Moffat had also won the most prestigious race in Australia for the third time. Driving the new XA-generation Falcon Hardtop coupe, he took victory at the James Hardie 1000 at Mount Panorama Bathurst. The result made him the first to win the race in both its 500 miles and 1000 kilometer format.
The battle between Holden and Ford had intensified when Holden switched to using the compact straight six LJ Torana GTR XU-1, putting more emphasis on low weight, nimble handling and fuel efficiency. The tiny machine proved to be more than a match for the big Fords. In 1974 the bigger LH Torana L34 SL/R 5000 was released, incorporating a more powerful 5.0L V8.
The increase in power saw it come much closer to the 5.8L Fords, while retaining most of its weight advantage. The L34 won Holden two consecutive titles in '74 and '75 with Peter Brock and Colin Bond. Allan Moffat struggled to compete, suffering from the departure of Ford Australia after 1973. In 1976 he was back full time, and immediately won his second title. The season saw Allan Moffat's main car go up in flames on its trailer on the way to Adelaide, but he hung on by borrowing a car from John Goss for two rounds.
As the reigning Champion, Allan Moffat started the 1977 season in good spirits. His Moffat Ford Dealar Team regained support from Ford, which had returned to the ATCC after his success the year prior. In preparation for the season two brand new cars were to be built up. Ford Australia delivered two new XB Falcon Hardtop shells on special order, which were fashioned out of much thinner steel.
The new cars were being built to counter the imminent A9X evolution of the Holden Torana, which would eliminate known weak points in the L34's armor. Disc brakes on all four corners and an improved transmission were rumored make the Holden able to outgun its Blue Oval rival. The big Fords had to adapt to the new threat.
The lighter shells were fitted with the latest evolution of the 351 (5.8L) *Cleveland* V8, producing some 480 horsepower. A close ratio *Top Loader* 4-speed manual transmission made sure the power reached the massive rear wheels. Contrary to the all wheel independent suspension Holden, the Falcons still featured a live axle with leaf spring suspension at the back, providing less than ideal handling characteristics.
The car's sheer size further compounded the handling disadvantage over the comparatively tiny Torana. Even with the lightened bodyshells, weight was still at around the 1350 kg (2976 lbs) mark. Meanwhile, the Torana easily reached CAMS 1192 kg (2627 lbs) minimum weight. To try and combat the issue, the cars were fitted with big brakes from Porsche's 911 RSR, allowing the roaring titan to stop in a hurry.
Ford had brought out the updated XC-generation of the Falcon in July 1976. According to CAMS homologation rules this meant the model wasn't eligible for competition until a year later, forcing Ford to run the outdated XB bodystyle for most of the season. Fortunately Holden had released its A9X upgrade of the Torana at around the same time, which meant it also had to wait until July.
Naturally, Allan Moffat took command of the lead car. He was joined the freshly defected Colin Bond, who had committed a mortal sin by cjoining the team after 8 years with Holden. His decision ruffled a few feathers here and there, but the 1975 champ knew he and Moffat were some of the strongest drivers in the field. The pair would face off against Marlboro Holden Dealer Team's John Harvey and Charlie O'Brien. Also in the mix were fast Holden privateers Peter Brock and Allan Grice
The 1977 season quickly became a dream for Ford Australia. At the first five rounds, Moffat and Bond obliterated the opposition. Symmons Plains, Calder Park, Amaroo Park, and Sandown all resulted in 1-2 finishes for the Falcons. Allan Moffat displayed demoralizing dominance by winning 5 of the first 6 races, only coming second to Colin Bond at Adelaide. After four 3rd places early in the season, Holden's Peter Brock finally managed a win at Lakeside. Allan Moffat suffered an engine failure, which left Bond to score a 2nd place in front of John Harvey.
With the first part of the season now out of the way in spectacular fashion,Moffat's team concentrated on improving the cars for the final four rounds. The races at Sandown, Adelaide, Surfers Paradise and Bathurst were run on an endurance format, which presented its own set of challenges.
So in July the team set out to modify the cars to XC-spec. As this included little more than a change of sheet metal, Ford took the time to file an application for an Evolution package as well. The application stated the production GS500 version of the XC Falcon had incorporated the following performance and reliability enhancing features:
A new front spoiler, new rear spoiler, spring tower brace, spring tower reinforcement bracket, steering idler arm support bracket, twin row water pump and crankshaft pulleys incorporating an additional drive belt from the water pump to the crankshaft and a transmission oil cooler incorporating electric pump, lines kit and cooler. The changes came just in time, as Holden's feared A9X had also been declared legal to race.
The first endurance round of the season was the Hang Ten 400 at Sandown Raceway, Melbourne. There the potential of Holden's new Torana was made painfully clear by Peter Brock and Allan Grice, who finished 1st and 2nd. Allan Moffat managed to save face in 3rd, with Clolin Bond in 5th behind an older L34 Holden driven by Basil van Rooyen (ZA).
With the writing on the wall for Ford, the company tried to find ways to make the Falcon more competitive. In a desperate attempt, another Evolution request was made to CAMS. The request stated a hood scoop, a 12 inch radiator cooling fans and air ducting to front brakes were to be included on production Falcons starting from 1st October, just a day before the start of the renamed Hardie Ferodo 1000.
With the request pending, the team went ahead with fitting the modifications anyway. On arrival at Bathurst, they were told by CAMS officials to take them right back off again. The parts had not been produced in high enough numbers to qualify for homologation, so they were deemed illegal. Ford would have to wait until the numbers had risen, meaning they would be able to use the updates later in the season. The snub lost Ford a much needed edge against the Torana's, which left them on the back foot for Bathurst.
For the long 1000km race at Bathurst, Allan Moffat would be joined by genuine motorsport royalty. Former F1-driver and 4-time Le Mans winner Jacky Ickx (BEL) volunteered to become his co-driver. Ickx's limitless experience was bound to help the team along, but he was totally unfamiliar with the brutish Falcon. The legendary driver had only done a few test laps in the car to get comfortable. Meanwhile, Colin Bond was joined by veteran Porsche racer Alan Hamilton, another man with little experience in the world of Australian touring cars.
The Falcons fell behind the record breaking Torana of Peter Brock in qualifying, with Bond/Hamilton 2nd and Moffat/Ickx in 3rd. The speed of the Brock/Torana combination was a force to be reckoned with. In a 6 hour race though, anything could happen.
The two quickest Holdens of Brock and Allan Grice pulled away at the start, but the Falcons were never far away. Infighting between the two Torana's saw them slow down, allowing Bond to power to the lead after four laps. Not long after, Moffat was through, and the pair began to build a lead.
At the first pitstop, Allan Moffat arrived looking totally exhausted. His seat belts had released themselves just 100 meters into the race, meaning he had driven a full two hours without being secured to his seat. The strain of trying to muscle the massive car around the track whilst bracing himself to keep in his seat had been colossal, but Moffat had refused to stop and correct the problem.
He had planned a three stop strategy, and he was damn well going to stick to that plan. Jacky Ickx offered to take over the car to allow him to rest, but Allan was having none of it. It wasn't Ickx's stint yet, so the exasperated Moffat told him to sit tight and wait for his turn.
When Ickx finally did take over the car, he kept a murdering pace despite having no prior experience with the track. Sadly, the Belgian's over-eagerness to clock fast times took its toll on the mighty Falcon. Lap after lap, the heavy car's brakes were receiving a savage beating from Ick's hard jabs on the pedal.
At the end of the stint brake performance had faded considerably, forcing Moffat to slow down the pace in the final stages of the race. Infighting and breakages had prevented the Holden's from mounting a challenge to the Ford domination, so the only threat to Moffat was his team mate.
Colin Bond's well treated car took little time to catch up with Allan Moffat, but stayed behind. Bond might have been the faster man, but Moffat was the one running the team and paying the bills. Bond was to stay behind on team orders. On the final lap the two Falcons ran bumper to bumper and side to side, without Bond attempting a pass.
The cars traveled the length of Conrod Straight next to each other in a never before seen display of power. Colin Bond couldn't resist to show he could have won by edging ahead under braking, but he slowed to just let the boss through on the way to his 4th Bathurst victory.
The victory was a hallmark for Ford and Moffat. The Falcon had beaten the feared A9X Torana on its on terms, without the botched upgrades. Never before had the race been won with such an overpowering might. Their performance had been broadcast live into the homes of countless Australians, cementing it as a legend in ATCC lore. Ford fans had gained a new moment to cherish forever, while Holden blokes were filled with anger and resentment. Their time would come soon enough, but it was Ford left right and center in 1977.
Undeterred, Moffat and Bond picked up where they left off at Surfers Paradise. The proposed updates for Bathurst had by then become legal, so the competitiveness of the Falcon improved even further. Moffat recorded another commanding victory, while Colin Bond dropped out with a broken valve.
Allan Moffat missed the last race of the season at Philip Island, where Colin Bond took 5th. The late season slump did little to hurt the team's championship positions. Allan Moffat took his third title with an overbearing 106 points. Colin Bond classified 2nd with 75 points, leaving Holden driver Peter Brock trailing in 3rd with 65 points.
The Ford Falcon XC Hardtop GS500 was an unlikely success. It was nothing more than a massive muscle car with ancient rear suspension that had been painstakingly taught to corner. Faced with the prospect of a lighter, more efficient and better equipped opponent, it still managed to prevail.
Through the talent of its drivers the car was able to leave all others in the dust. Allan Moffat and Colin Bond's dedication and skill propelled the archaic machine into the stratosphere. The Falcon succeeded in deflecting and disarming the attacking A9X, and became a true motoring legend.