Ford Australia unleashed the XW Falcon GT in 1969. Powered by a 351ci (5760cc) Windsor V8, the GT was a truly quick car, but wanting to further improve the breed, and with an eye on winning at Bathurst, Ford went one step further, and in August 1969 they introduced a more brutal version of the GT – the Falcon GT ‘Handling Options’ or, more simply, the GT-HO. Those handling options included a heavier front roll-bar, uprated coils and shocks and, for the first time, a rear roll-bar. Engine modifications included a bigger four-barrel Holley carburettor, hydraulic lifters and a new camshaft.

The GT-HO hibernating in its East Hastings shed, surrounded by various parts, as it was when first seen by Don Gray

Allan Moffat would score the GT-HO’s maiden win at Sandown in 1969 and it all looked to be on for an epic Ford/Holden battle between the GT-HOs and the Monaros at the 1969 Hardie-Ferodo 500. However, despite Ian Geoghegan setting fastest lap in practice in his XW GT-HO, Ford Australia’s decision to use specially imported racing tyres turned out to be a disaster, with the Holden Dealer Team Monaro finishing in first and third, split by a Bruce McPhee’s privately entered GT-HO.

For 1970, Ford released an uprated version of the GT-HO, the Phase II. Although never named as such, the earlier cars soon became known as the Phase I cars. Instead of the Windsor V8, these cars were fitted with the 351ci Cleveland V8, an engine that featured solid lifters and the capability of being revved out higher than the outgoing V8. Further tweaks were made to the car’s suspension with strengthened control arms and stub axles plus stiffer roll-bars. Ford also widened the Falcon’s front track. In this form the GT-HO dominated the 1970 Hardie-Ferodo 500, taking out the top two placings.

In 1971, Ford upped their game even further with the XY Phase III and these cars are now recognised as being the most desirable versions of the GT-HO. Brutally quick, in its day the Phase III was the world’s fastest four-door production car. And, of course, once again it totally dominated the field at Bathurst, nailing down the top three placings in 1971.

The Phase III, driven by Jim Richards at the Glenvale 200 on the cover of Motorman (September 1974). The car arrived so late at Baypark that it missed official practice

In 1972, with the Holden Torana GTR XU-1 in ascendancy at Bathurst, Ford planned to build a Phase IV GT-HO, based on the then current XA Falcon. However, development of this car was effectively halted after four prototypes had been built, following a storm of protest about so-called ‘supercars’ and their potential to cause carnage on the public roads in the hands of untrained or irresponsible drivers. Fed by the Australian media, this controversy ended up with the Australian Government forcing local automakers to abandon all plans for producing high-performance ‘homologation specials’.

While this signalled the end of an era for Australasian motoring enthusiasts, the GT-HO remains the best example of a time when cars with awesome power were available to the man on the street at budget prices – and, with a top speed of more than 140mph (228kph), the GT-HO was essentially a race car for the road.

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