Even the most ardent Holden and Chrysler fans would have to admit that, when discussing the greatest locally-built muscle cars to prowl the streets back in the early ’70s, there wasn’t a bigger stick than a ‘HOey’.
From the iconic ‘shaker’ cold air induction to the fat racing stripes, Coke bottle hips, driving lights, spoilers, heavy duty Top Loader four-speed manual and the heaving Thee-Five-One in front, the GT-HO is the poster child for the golden era of Australian-built performance cars.
The original XR GT Falcon wasn’t anywhere near as lairy, despite having launched a scant three years earlier in 1967. Australia’s first performance V8 sedan, the XR GT was no slouch, but the Mustang-derived 289 was replaced with a larger five-litre for the 1968 XT GT. It suffered defeat at the Bathurst 500 mile production car race thanks to Holden’s new 327 Chevy-powered Monaro GTS, kicking off a stink that will sadly come to a close – at least in Australian-made terms - in 2017.
XW – Getting Warmer
Ford’s new XW Falcon for 1969 was a much tougher looking, US-inspired affair and the hi-po GT variant scored a major shot in the arm with an “HO” option above the regular GT.
Along with many handling upgrades, the homologation-spec GT-HO scored a 300hp 351-cubic-inch Windsor V8, making 10hp more (as delivered) than the regular model thanks to engine breathing tweaks. Poor tyre choice cruelled the Phase I’s chances at The Mountain in 1969, but Ford came back strongly the following year.
The XW GT-HO Phase II replaced the Windsor V8 with a much more potent 351 Cleveland, and it helped Allan Moffat take his first Bathurst 500 win in 1970. But even then, Ford were planning a far nastier surprise for the General’s little Torana XU-1s come 1971 – the XY GT-HO Phase III.
The Icon Arrives
Actual figures vary, but in HO-spec, the XY’s 351 Cleveland spat out around 380hp, some 80 horses more than a regular GT, and all 300 Phase IIIs were equipped with Ford’s tough Top Loader 4-speed manual transmission. The boot was chock full of 164-litre fuel tank to help it get through the Bathurst race with a minimum of stops, and it could do over 227km/h flat-out. Back in 1971, this made it the fastest four-door car in the world, and it would also burn down the quarter mile in a then-scintillating 14.4 seconds.
Countless kids have grown up idolising these fantastic, rare, fast and legendary machines (including yours truly), and the mystique wasn’t lost on a young Anthony Rozsahegyi.
Anthony’s first taste
“The first time I took an interest in cars was when my dad brought home the new family car when I was 6 – it was a brand new XW Falcon,” says Anthony.
“It had no radio, no carpet, a bench seat and a three-on-the-column manual. He kept it ’til I was 23 and when he traded it in he got much more than he’d paid for it 17 years earlier.”
Today, even in the aftermath of the heady pre-GFC muscle car boom, rotten base model XW and XY Falcons can command huge prices. Cars that were once considered ripe for landfill are now being dragged into “collectable” status simply due to the huge demand for these Fords, which has been driven from the top of the tree, down.
“My first car was an XW Fairmont; factory 302 with a factory Top Loader. I kept that for eight years,” Anthony explained. “I paid a lot for what was already an old car, but I sold it for twice what I’d paid – not that that’s why you’d buy it in the first place, it’s just how it happened.
“After the XW Fairmont I wanted a GT. I wasn’t fussy on what type, but I ended up with an XY, Track Red with a sunroof. I was hooked. I kept that for about 5 years and sold it to a New Zealand undertaker, thinking ‘When I retire; I’ll buy myself an HO’.”
Highs, Lows and Banks
The only issue with that plan was that GT-HOs have always been highly valuable and by the 1990s values for genuine HOs had far outstripped even GTs. Sale prices for Phase IIIs were at their highest shortly before the GFC - at the peak of the muscle car boom - going as high as $750,000 before readjusting in recent years to around half that for a concourse-ready example. Thankfully, Anthony had an understanding bank manager.
“I discovered banks had a redraw facility and the HO came early, again Track Red with a sunroof. I’ve had this for 15 years,” Anthony explained.
“I got it from a guy in Gympie who had bought six of them over the years and was in the process of restoring them one at a time then selling them off when finished.
“This one is a pre-production build, built for promotional and media use. There were six built, all using XW GT-HO body shells. I’ve spoken to an ex-racing driver who owned one from new and read a few articles specifically on these cars, but otherwise it’s hard to get info on them.
“We had a surprise visit from Allan Moffat one day to do a tour of where I work. I ducked home and drove the car in on the off chance he might see it. Not only did he see it, but he grabbed a permanent marker and asked ‘where do I sign it?’” Very cool!
More than the Blue (Oval)s
Given his history with early 1970s Falcons, you might think Anthony is a one-eyed Blue Oval supporter, but he’s actually much more open-minded, admiring the whole era when Australia loved these petrol-guzzling, in-your-face and loud muscle cars, rather than individual brands or models.
“Although I’m very biased towards Ford, I still have a great appreciation for older cars of all makes. Yes, even Holden – especially of the early ’70s era,” says Anthony.
“I planned on getting this car when I retired. I’m not retired, but I managed to get it early and I’m not planning on giving that privilege up anytime soon.”
This article originally appeared in JUST CARS ‘Muscle Car Special’ - #219, April, 2014.