John French XY GTHO Phase 3
John French XY GTHO Phase 3
Norm Beechey in a GTHO Falcon?
Yes, it did happen in a strange group of events. Holden's hero driver was given one of the factory prepared GTHO Phase III's to race under the Shell Racing team. The story all begins in May 1971 with 3 Brambles Red XY shells being walked down the line under instruction of Fords racing division, Ford Special Vehicles. Each car was to have no body filler, no underseal and no felt under the carpets or installed in the roof. The first car was for Queenslander John French, the second Fred Gibson and the third for Canadian Allan Moffat. From the factory it was a short trip to lot 6 Mahoneys Road for the HO's to be massaged by the team at Ford Special Vehicles. They emerged some three months later for Moffat to test at Calder Raceway. The race was on to have them prepared for their first race meet at the Sandown Series Production Touring '250' in September.
Sandown was French's first time in his new HO, and ominously the car went back to the workshop after the first practise run to fix a few of its teething problems. On the Sunday he had to start from the rear of the grid, yet by lap 3 he was in 3rd place. Quite uncharacteristically both factory cars of Moffat and French had to retire after the cars were overfilled with oil causing, at first the plugs to foul, and later the bearings to fail.
The Ford brass were looking for a better result in the following race, the Hardie Ferodo 500 at Bathurst. By the time the October enduro was on, the HO's were prepared. Both works cars of Moffat and French qualified on the front row, Moffat got away first and led with French in close behind. That was the way it stayed till lap 111 when French's engine started to miss. He flew into the pits but he was quickly sent back out so they could get time to prepare for him on the next lap.
When he finally came back in, it took them two costly minutes to find the problem, the factory fuel filter was blocked! For the first time, the fuel tanks were filled with foam that was installed to help stop the tanks fuel load exploding in an accident. The foam had begun to break down, thus blocking the filter on the pick up unit. The only way to fix it was physically blow the fuel back into the tank to partially unblock the filter.
It was during this stop that the pit commentator for Channel 7 approached the frustrated driver for a report on the Falcon's trouble. Frenchy told him in no uncertain terms that he was busy and to push off. (That's putting it real nicely!) What he didn't realise was that it was on live TV as well as being broadcast on the circuits sound system!
A long two and a half minutes later he was back out but now in 4th and a lap behind the leaders. Moffat thankfully did not suffer the foam breakdown and went on to win the race. French was not as lucky, having to repeat the 'blowback' procedure every pitstop. (The Australian sourced fuel foam was later replaced with a variety from the USA to ensure there were no more problems.) French eventually finished in 6th place. The race did however prove to be a success for both Ford and the new Phase III.
French's next outing in the big Falcon was in his home state of Queensland. Moffat was late in getting to the Surfers Paradise track, so it was up to French to sort out both the works cars. He must have done a good job as Moffat managed to do a time two seconds better than anyone else could muster, putting himself on the front row of the grid.
French was back in the third row but had a fantastic start and by the time they hit the first corner he had worked his way into 2nd place behind Moffat. Both the works cars then stayed in formation while they opened up a sizable lead on the field.
Surfers Paradise was renowned for its ability to eat tyres; this reared its head when thirty minutes into the race French's Falcon blew a tyre. The limp around the circuit and consequent pit stop put him way back in the running. He eventually crossed the line in 5th place. The tyre conscious Moffat won. (Frenchy told me that both him and Gibbo (Fred Gibson) could only ever make the race Goodyears last maybe 15 laps at Surfers while Moffat could go 25 laps before needing a change. "I was always amazed that Moffat could be so smooth and save the tyres yet at the same time be so fast".)
The Falcon spent the next few months living under French's home in Brisbane where his young son Wayne would, once his parents were gone, invite all his mates over and indulge their fantasies by starting the grumbling beast in the garage!
On New Years day 1972, French won a ten lap series production race at Surfers Paradise with the car. Two months later, again at Surfers, it was the South Pacific Touring series, he finished way down the order after yet more tyre trouble with the Falcon. They had tried a few different things to make the car easier on tyres but it was fruitless on this coarse circuit.
Ford took the car back with them after the race for the next round at Sandown. This was a famous race where John Goss won the series under somewhat controlled circumstances. Moffat was winning the race when on his final pitstop he was told in the interest of gaining maximum points for Ford, he had to let the second placed Falcon of Goss win. Moffat never liked to lose and left the pits in a hurry not saying a word to confirm he would do this. Goss was then in front, yet Moffat rounded him up once again taking the lead, then building up a sizable lead. On the third last lap the slow down boards went out to Moffat, he did not acknowledge them. Panic went through the Ford pit as they realised Moffat did not wish to finish second to Goss. And his next lap time verified it by continuing in his race winning pace. Then on the final lap he stopped on the start finish line momentarily before taking off again. If he did not let Goss pass the series would go to Holden and a nervous Ford pit crew waited by the pit wall till Moffat came down to take the flag, once again he came to a complete stop just before the start finish and waited for Goss to pass and take the win. He trundled across into 2nd with Gibson 3rd and French in 4th. It was a pretty decisive, yet nervous win for Ford.
French's final race with the HO was the final round at Adelaide International Raceway. It wasn't really the best swan song when tyre troubles had him clout a wall and finally cross in 7th place.
It was around this time Ford decided to cut back the race team and approached Holden hero Norm Beechey about running a GTHO in series production, all the while continuing with his HT Monaro in Improved Production. Money changed hands and he was given the French Falcon. French moved on to the Bryan Byrt privateer team with their distinctive purple GTHO. Beechey only raced the HO three times; the first was at Winton raceway on March the 12th. The car was given the 'Shell' racing treatment being hastily painted yellow (straight over the Brambles Red factory scheme) with two red stripes over the top.
Beechey won the first race beating the Holden Dealer Team XU-1 Torana of Peter Brock but in the second he had to replace the supplied Goodyear tyres with second hand Bridgestones that could not be expected to last the distance. He blew a rear tyre near the end of the race and retired.
The second meeting was in early April at Albury's Hume Weir track. In the first race it was driven by Bruce Hindhaugh, while Beechey commuted from a meeting at Bathurst. Hindhaugh finished in 4th place. In the main race it was Beechey at the wheel when the clutch let go thus retiring the car from the race. The third and final race was at Calder and once again he had clutch trouble and retired.
By this stage a lot of in house pressure was being put on the Ford racing division to stop Beechey racing the car. They asked him to return the car and the money they paid him, a handy sum of $10,000, from when he initially received the car. Beechey said no and after a bit of jostling with Fords lawyers it was decided that Beechey could keep both car and money.
Beechey sold the racer to a sign writer in Wagga Wagga who used it as a road car before selling it to an ex-speedway racer and keen Ford lover, again from Wagga. There it sat for the next 25 years. It was used reasonably regularly at the start of his ownership but towards the mid eighties when HO prices (and theft rates) became substantially higher he became justifiably protective of this special car.
In the late 1990's, wanting to see it go to a good home, he approached David Bowden about purchasing the car. A deal was struck and David went to Wagga to drive the car back to Queensland. The owner was very concerned about his baby being driven that sort of distance. (He was that protective of the car that he never even let anyone even sit in the back seat!) David reassured him it was okay and set off for home. The HO performed beautifully, never missing a beat the whole trip home.
The car, being the only known surviving Factory Race Phase III out of those special first three cars, is in amazingly original condition. It still has a lot of its original Ford tricks, including light weight bumpers, panels, rev- limiter cut out switch, and the lowered upper control arms.
Re-united with John French at Lakeside. Shot by Mark Pryor.
It was sympathetically restored back to its original Ford Racing livery of Brambles Red and 64E as it raced at Bathurst in 1971. Letting it once again proudly show its providence of being one of the Ford Factory's greatest surviving racecars.
Historic race images in this article can be found at www.autopics.com.au