My Classic Car – 1974 Australian Ford GT351

I only have a few blurred photos and a magazine feature of my classic car that I sold 30 years ago. But the passion still lives on … oh! And so does the car!!!

This story was described in the feature in the Survivor Car Australia magazine, but unfortunately the publication had a little bit of ‘artistic license’, perhaps due to the story being handed around. For some unknown reason, it was never noted that I owned the car in the ownership list published in the magazine.

My story begins when my father asked me what kind of car I was considering as a first car. I was 15. In the 1970’s in Australia, you could only apply for a driver’s license when you reach 17.

This was a confronting question for me as a 15 year old who was surprised at having to suddenly think so far ahead! Two years was over an eighth of my entire lifespan back then. It seemed like forever away and I hadn’t considered the idea at all. What a great question! At that moment I could only think of any 10 year old car that anyone around 17 might have as their first car in 1976. Buy for the price – not for the car.

“Hmmm, I’m not sure,” I answered, “maybe an old Holden or a Toyota or something.”

“You could do better than that, couldn’t you?” my dad replied. “If you could have anything you wanted. What would you really want to have?”

Wow!!! Now this conversation was getting even more mystifying. I had to think a lot deeper. I could have considered the amount of time I had to save, the money in my bank at the time, and how much I was earning. I think it was around $50 a week then.

Recalling that very moment, I can remember every detail, where we were at the time, even the time of day, and I vividly recall myself picturing my favorite car of the era … and I wishfully said: “A GT351, the XB hardtop. But that would be way out of my price range.”

“Why? It’s a year or so to go, isn’t it? You could do that.” he responded.

“Well … it would be nice,” I answered. Not much else was said, and it seemed way too early to be discussing anything about it, but this was the beginning of a life long story of my classic car.

 

Photos taken 40 years apart. The photo below was taken not long after I first bought this Australian Ford Falcon GT in 1976, the image further down is the same car featured in an Australian magazine in 2016, in the same condition, same paint, roof, body panels, engine, upholstery, even the original factory supplied redwall spare tire in the trunk.

Australian Falcon GT 351 XB Hardtop with a targa roof in burnt orange and walnut glowImage of the same XB GT 351 Hardtop 40 years later. Burnt orange and walnut glow with white upholstery. This is the original paint as applied by the factory.

The magazine pictures tell the story of survival and how much this car has been loved and appreciated by me for the 11 years I owned it, and by the next three owners since I sold it in 1987.

Photos of Australian Survivor Car magazine featuring my classic car which is now owned by a new owner in Victoria

Magazine images of the interior of my classic car - Ford XB GT 351 hardtop license number OHF351

Magazine images of the interior of my classic car - Ford XB GT 351 hardtop license number OHF351

 

The conversation with my father in 1975 inspired me to save as much as I could to buy the car of my dreams, instead of a traditional ‘first car’. I was able to save most of the $5,250 purchase price and was able to qualify for a loan of only $1,500 to make the final purchase just three months before my 17th birthday. My classic car had to be stored for three months while I waited to qualify for my driver’s license. Three enduring months before I could ever drive it on the road!!!!

 

Image of the author Alan O'Neill with is first car a Ford XB GT351 hardtop
Standing beside my old beast, 23 years after I sold it. I tracked down owner number four, John Duncan, in Alstonville, New South Wales. I presented John with a set of original keys. The spares that I kept as a reminder for so many years.

23 years had passed since the day I sold her and a close friend phoned me in 2010 to say he had seen a car online that looked exactly like my GT351.

I checked the website and contacted the owner at the time, John Duncan. He said he had been wanting to contact me for some time because my name was in the paperwork in the car and he wanted to ask some questions about why the sports coupe is in such great condition. I asked if we could meet and said I had a special gift for him. The original set of spare keys with the factory key ID tags.

It was amazing to see my old friend again after so many years, the car that is, and it was great to make a new acquaintance with the current owner, or ‘custodian’ as John described his ownership. It was a credit to Ray Morris, who owned it after me, and to John Duncan who now cared so much that he would never drive it outdoors in the rain or during the summer months to keep the classic protected from the hot Australian sun.

Neither Ray or John wanted to alter the originality of this car. They could see that it was kept as if it was delivered from the factory. Original paint, decals, engine decals, no modifications, no upgrades. With the original paint and the tiny nicks and scratches I remembered when I washed and waxed. Such memories!

John had bought new parts to replace some minor cracks in the grille, I remember that happened from a bird strike once, and a small crack in the right rear tail light cluster, (that was there before I bought it),  but he explained he could not alter the originality and wanted to see all the parts intact as from the factory. So the new parts remained in the boxes and this GT351 has all its original parts in place.

 

Image of the rear view of OHF531 my Ford Falcon GT351 hardtop not long after I first bought it in 1976

Many comment on the ‘531’ license plate similarity with the ‘351’ engine capacity and decal. Another 1976 photo of the rear end of this classic demonstrating Ford Australia’s unique styling of the Falcon hardtop of the early 1970s. The squared dual exhaust tailpipes were an original standard from the factory for the XA and XB Ford GT351. The original white on black 1974 Queensland license plates are still with the car, although the official Victorian plates have been replicated for the car when it’s on the road in it’s new home near Melbourne, Victoria.

Front side image of my Ford Falcon XB GT coupe with orange seating. Photo is estimated to be taken in 1976 in Palm Beach on Queensland's Gold Coast, Australia

Another 1976 photo showing the original highback seat colors. Many say the XB Falcon had the most comfortable seats of any Australian vehicle. The upholstery is still has the original white vinyl. The bright orange cloth seat inserts shown in this photo were changed to black fabric around 1979 due to some minor fraying in the original fabric. The ‘newer’ black fabric is still fully intact today.

The roof panels were fitted by the original dealership and were made of vinyl adhered to the roof. This resembled a targa roof, but wasn’t authentic to the model. This is how the vehicle was originally delivered to the first owner, so it has remained a rare option to the GT range.

Specifications

The XB Ford GT351 hardtop had some special performance enhancements installed right in the Ford factory. The high performance 351CID Clevland V8 was fitted with 4V heads and the Motorcraft 4300 four barrel carburettor. There was a noticeable power boost when the second stage venturi opened up in the carb just beyond half throttle. It wasn’t common to get to half throttle in normal daily driving. But the power was there when you wanted it.

The GT351s had suspension set an inch lower than the normal road sedans for enhanced handling with upgraded shock absorbers, which of course where one inch shorter for the lowered road height. Four wheel disc brakes were standard in the XB model GT351 too, a major performance breakthrough for the day in Australia. It is said to have been the first Australian car with four wheel disc brakes, and at the time, ahead of the American muscle cars.

GT351s had the Ford nine inch rear limited slip 3.0:1 differential and special torque links fitted to keep the massive torque of the 300hp engine on the ground. These links assist rear end stability for braking and acceleration. OHF531 has a top loader 4 speed manual connected to the engine with a heavy duty twin-disc clutch. All from the factory. John Duncan replaced the manual steering with a power steering upgrade. The original steering was a special low ratio steering box of 16:1. This was more direct than a standard road Falcon of the day, and a specialty for the GT351. The power steering upgrade would be a similar ratio of steering-wheel turns to wheel turn, so this would not have downgraded the on-road handling at all.

I remember changing the clutch at around 100,000 miles. It still wasn’t slipping or causing any problems at that mileage, but it was getting a little heavy under the left foot and the engagement zone was getting to be the last inch or so of travel, so it was time for the change.

In the 11 years that I owned this car, I replaced numerous exhaust systems and batteries, and just the clutch at 100,000 miles. The whole car was trouble free. I’m told it has had some minor engine repairs since then, like a water pump change, but that is about all in it’s 43 year lifetime as far as I know. The odometer in 2016 was showing 139,508 miles. When I sold it in 1987, I think it had around approximately 112,000 miles on it, so it’s only been driven 27,000 miles in the 29 years from 1987 to 2016.

What was it like to drive?

I remember a firm but smooth and quiet, luxury performance car feel on the road. The XB GT hardtop is large, but it’s wide track made it corner very well, particularly on the open road with tight sweeping turns. It wasn’t so great in tight city streets, but it was all about the open road feel for this grand tourer. 100 mph on an open highway felt like a comfortable cruise. And at that speed, you could tramp the gas pedal and the beast would lift and surge forward when the second stage of carburettor venturis opened up. Braking was so efficient that you had to keep a keen eye for other drivers behind who may not be able to stop as quickly.

From a standing start, the big 351 had unlimited torque to lift you off the spot. It would surge with power and push you back into your seat with Gforce. Leaving it in first gear and nearing around 4500 rpm would have you at 35 mph in just three seconds. Sometimes I would just shift from 1st gear directly to 4th gear at 35 mph, (the city speed limit), for ‘two speed’ convenience. The red line, 5250rpm, would result in 45 mph in first gear, 60 mph in second, 95 mph in third and depending on the road space, 124 mph in 4th gear. But that only every happened once. I liked to treat the XB GT with respect and never smoked the rear tires. I didn’t like to over-stress her, and that has paid off in the longevity of this classic.

The XB series GT351 was built from 1974 to 1976. It was the last of the Falcon GT marque of the 1960s and 1970s and was available in 2 door hardtop and 4 door sedan versions. At the time, all Falcon GTs were released with their special performance modifications to reach homologation standards for Touring Car racing. If the car wasn’t built with these standards in the factory, any extra modifications were not allowed on the racetrack. So many race car options were standard in my classic car of 1976.

Where is it now?

As mentioned in the magazine, Cliff Gray, the current owner of the beast has made minor restoration upgrades. These include new carpet, still the same shade of black, and a replacement of the cabin heater box which was leaking. Cliff keeps it garaged and treasures his hot ride like a baby. Cliff has been a keen collector of XB, XC series Ford Falcons and this XB GT 351 is the highlight of his collection.

Cliff has kindly invited me to visit the old girl at his property in Victoria. I may just have to take him up on his offer.

What would it be worth in market value?

At the time of writing, the market value of ‘my classic car’ would be around $75,000 USD or $100,000 AUD. This car has a unique place in the XB GT market. It is a genuine GT and not a replica. It is original and not restored. It is ‘unmolested’, meaning it has had no major aftermarket upgrades, and even the paint is original. All parts, decals, and documentation, even the keys are as they were from the factory. With collector cars there are different levels of appeal, depending on how you like your classic car, and this XB GT 351 may be appealing enough to put the market price well over $100,000 USD.

 

Reference: Survivor Car Australia magazine issue 13.

Post Author: Alan O'Neill

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *