The Untold Story
FORD COBRA - 25TH ANNIVERSARY
(As Written In Australian Muscle Car magazine, Issue 8)
"Thanks To Chevron Publishing"
Story: Mark Oastler
In 1978 the Ford Motor Company of Australia produced the Falcon Cobra. The one-off build of 400 cars, each an XC model Falcon Hardtop in white with blue stripes paint work and unique build number identification, included 30 'Bathurst' versions built specifically for race homologation. To celebrate the Cobra's 25th birthday, AMC takes an in-depth look at the Bathurst Cobra and reveals its foundation was laid almost a year before its release, via a complex and sometimes confusing paper trail, which represented Ford's 'hush hush' performance push.
GIVE 'EM THE OLD ONE - TWO
1977 had been a very special year on the race track for Ford Australia. The Moffat Ford Dealer Team XB Falcon Hardtops driven by Allan Moffat and Colin Bond had steamrolled the Holden opposition, in a crushing display of superiority over the L34 Toranas. However, Ford knew that Holden was hard at work on the A9X race homologation version of its latest LX model Torana, which was to make its race track debut at Sandown's 'Hang Ten 400' endurance race in September. The new Torana was designed to address the inherent weaknesses of the LH model L34, particularly in the areas of brakes and drivetrain. It would be available in either sedan or the new two-door 'hatchback' body styles, which had been released in February, 1976.
Meanwhile Ford had introduced its new XC model Falcon range a few months later in July 1976 so naturally it wanted to capitalise on any race track success for its new facelifted model range as soon as possible. The Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS) officially recognised the transition from XB to XC as being valid from July l, 1977. The change of model was limited to body and trim variations. The previous ''GT'' model designation was also replaced by '500 GS' in CAMS recognition documents.
However, cosmetic upgrades of grille, tail lights and interior would not have been enough to stay one step ahead of the new Torana opposition. Lessons learned during several years of racing the XB Hardtops gave Ford the ammunition it needed to make the XC an even tougher competitor. Later that year, CAMS rubber-stamped Ford's request for an 'Evolution' of the new XC Falcon 500 GS which incorporated a package of upgrades mostly designated to enhance race durability . Not surprisingly, this upgrade was valid from September 1977 - just in time for Ford's first confrontation with the new A9X Toranas at the Hang Ten 400 on September 11.
THE PAPER TRAIL BEGINS
The XC Falcon 500 GS Evolution package,
which it was claimed in the CAMS documents were 'now fitted as
standard equipment to Hardtop Model Falcon 500 GS' included the
The XC also carried over the shorter upper control arms and stiffer lower arm strut suspension bushes which had been homologated as a 'Production Variant' for the XB in July 1976. These shorter top arms, which had the same dimensions as the standard XC production items, allowed extra wheel and tyre clearance and greater degrees of negative cambur for the race cars.
The XC 500 GS Evolution Hardtops made their competition debut at the Hang Ten 400, which that year doubled as both the opening round of the Championship of Makes and round eight of the ATCC. However, it was not to be a spectacular debut for the Moffat Ford Dealer Team cars, which had dominated the sprint season in XB form. Moffat suffered an engine failure in practice, missed qualifying and started the race from the back of the grid. However, he put in a storming drive to finish 3rd. Teammate Bond qualified 4th and was running strong early but suffered a lengthy puncture which dropped him out of winning contention.
The race was won by Peter Brock in one of the stunning new A9X Torana hatchbacks entered by Holden dealer Bill Patterson. Allan Grice finished second in another A9X. The Moffatt's team problems at Sandown had made the new Toranas look stronger than they actually were at that stage, but there was no doubt FoMoCo had been rattled by what they saw. Although new and lacking development time, the new Holden with its rearward facing cowl induction bonnet scoop, was clearly a very potent package that was only going to get faster.
There was only a three week break between Sandown and the Bathurst 1000 but Ford was clearly determined to make sure Ford teams had everything they needed to topple the Toranas at the biggest and most important race of the year.
Immediately following the Sandown
event, Ford lodged an amended set of homologation papers which
requested another 'Evolution' of the Falcon Hardtop 500 GS. In
the document, it was claimed that 'the following items are now
fitted as standard equipment to Falcon GS Hardtop sedans with
effect from 1st October, 1977' with the intention of running them
at the Bathurst 1000 on October 2. The 'Bathurst Evolution' included
Although Ford planned to use this second 500 GS Evolution at Bathurst, and Ford teams even arrived at Bathurst with the bonnet scoops fitted, CAMS scrutineers ordered that they be removed for the race. Although the reason given at the time is unclear (such was the confusing nature of homological requirements in those days) it is believed the evolution components had not been produced in sufficient numbers to be eligible for Bathurst. Not that it mattered, because the Moffat team ran away with the race and staged the event's first 1 - 2 formation finish.
According to CAMS documents, this second evolution was made valid from 17th October, 1977, allowing Ford teams to use the new equipment to good effect in the remaining rounds of the ATCC.
At Adelaide's round nine, Moffat and Bond staged another dominant 1 - 2 finish, before Moffat stormed to victory at Surfers Paradise in round 10. Moffat chose to sit out the final round at Phillip Island but entered a car for Bond (who finished 5th) to ensure he held on to his 2nd place in the championship.
THE 'CLAYTONS' COBRAS
In December 1977 Ford built 13 XC Falcon Hardtops which all carried chassis numbers commencing with JG65TE (verified by Ford). These cars were equipped with all the body and mechanical specifications approved in the September 1977 and October 1977 evolution race homologations, which would later form the basis of the special build of 30 Bathurst Cobras built six months later in July, 1978. Considering the small number of cars and the timing of their manufacture, it is believed these 13 cars were built as a one off special order batch specifically for Ford teams which planned to race them in the 1978 season.
Victorian enthusiast Garry Gunn owns this car - JG65TE 71202 - perhaps the only one in that batch of 13 cars which escaped race track duty. The whereabouts of the other dozen JG65TE cars is unknown at this stage. The race-only plan for these cars was authenticated by Ford Australia historian Adrian Ryan, who responded in writing to Garry's formal request for factory information on his car. In the letter, Ryan confirms that "Ford built 13 XC Hardtops with Bathurst specifications, however several of these were scrapped and I don't know how many were sold to the public. I understand that these cars were made for the various race teams and for development use. Usually any prototype or development cars are scrapped but sometimes they are sold to employees or to dealers. This is all the information I can find on these vehicles."
As you can see, Garry's car is now under full restoration and provides a fascinating comparison with Mark Pividor's Bathurst Cobra featured in our studio shoot, The two cars are effectively blood brothers. Our thanks to Garry for making his car available to AMC and for providing some valuable documentation to go with it.
AMC: How did you come across such
a rare car for only $3500?
1978 - TORANA TERRITORY
Such had been the extent of Ford superiority in 1977, many expected a repeat in 1978. However, several things occurred in the off season which dramatically turned the tables. Surprisingly, Ford decided that the level of financial backing and technical support it had provided the Moffat Ford Dealer Team in 1977 would be adequate for 1978. This was despite Moffat's plea that the Blue Oval needed to redouble its efforts to stay on top of the new A9X Toranas and an angry General Motors-Holden hell bent on revenge.
Moffat also lost the services of his vastly experienced team manager, Carroll Smith. The American engineer had played a key role in the Moffat team's success in 1977 but, due to visa restrictions, he was only allowed to stay in Australia for 12 months. His all-round engineering and organisational skills would be sorely missed. There was also talk of a rift between Moffat and Bond over unpaid prize money from the crushing Bathurst 1 - 2 result, which didn't auger well for a strong season.
Badly stung by its Mountain mauling at the hands of Ford, The General's response for 1978 was swift and brutal. Its new A9X Torana had enjoyed considerable development since its debut at Sandown the previous year. The Holden Dealer Team also underwent some key changes. John Sheppard replaced Harry Firth as team manager and Holden's favourite son Peter Brock returned to the big budget factory team after a three-year absence running privately entered Toranas.
As soon as the 1978 season got underway, Ford's main strike force - the Moffat Ford Dealer Team - was plagued with engine unreliability as the venerable 351 Cleveland V8s were being revved harder and harder to keep pace with the lighter, more nimble A9X Toranas.
After suffering engine failures in the opening two rounds of the ATCC at Symmons Plains and Oran Park, plus another three in testing for the third round at Amaroo Park, Moffat claimed the only way to reclaim even a modicum of engine reliability at such high revs was fitment of roller rockers (ie replacing the standard pressed-steel fulcrum between the pushrod and valve stem with a machined alloy rocker arm fitted with needle roller bearings). However, CAMS stubbornly resisted the request.
As a result, things became increasingly ugly as the 1978 season unfolded. Out of sheer frustration, Moffat chose to fit the illegal roller rockers at Amaroo, arguing that the sway bar fitment on the A9X Toranas was also illegal. Moffat's persisted with his push for roller rockers by using them again at the following round at Sandown, winning what had been a thrilling race before being excluded and slapped with a six-week suspension by CAMS. This forced him to sit out two rounds of the ATCC and effectively ended his championship. Brock was also outed for a month over the sway bar fitment issue, but would go on to win the title. The 'Roller Rocker Affair' had highlighted the increasing fragility of the Falcons as they tried to keep pace with the A9X Toranas. And things were only going to get tougher from there,
ENTER THE COBRA
Ford's all new 'European look' XD Falcon, code named 'Blackwood' was due for public release in March 1979. Like any major car maker, Ford was keen to complete a successful model run-out of the XC model to clear dealer floors for the new car. This included the slow selling XC Hardtop, which even in 5.8 litre GXL form hardly excited he performance car market and had nothing like the cache of the earlier GT versions.
Credit for the Falcon Cobra concept goes to Edsel Ford, a great grandson of Henry Ford who at the time was working as assistant managing director of Ford Australia. This role was considered an important training opportunity for the young American, as part of his grooming to take a senior role in Ford's future global management team.
In typically brash American fashion, Edsel figured the 'rub off' from such a revered Ford performance name like 'Cobra', as used on the Ford V8-powered sports cars and Mustangs developed by Carroll Shelby in the 1960s, would be just the thing to inject some excitement into the brand and assist greatly in clearing Ford's remaining stocks of slow selling XC Hardtops. From a marketing viewpoint it was inspired thinking. However, many die-hard muscle car fans were disappointed the car's mechanical specs remained standard Ford fare already available. As a result, they saw it as little more than a cynical sales exercise built around the Cobra's distinctive twin stripe paint scheme, which unashamedly 'cashed in' on one of Ford;s iconic names from the halcyon days of the 1960s.
THE COBRA TAKES SHAPE
Ford chose to build the Falcon Cobra in a limited production run of 400 units, as that equated to the remaining number of Hardtop shells waiting to find new owners. All cars would be available with either the 302ci (4.9 litre) with Borg Warner rear axle or 351ci (5.8 litre) V8 engine with the more rugged nine-inch differential. 30 of the 400 cars to be built were designated as Bathurst specials to meet homologation requirements for the Hardie-Ferodo 1000.
The 400 cars carried chassis numbers
JG65UMOOXXXK (X being the build number between 001 and 400) and
al were built in July 1978. They were to be made available in
the following combinations of engines, transmissions and options:
According to Cobra enthusiast Mark
Pividor, who owns the Bathurst Cobra (No, 019) featured in our
photo shoot, this is the build number sequence for the Cobra production
Cobra build numbers 001 and 351 are odd pieces in the Cobra jigsaw. Ford Australia historian Adrian Ryan says 001 was a 302-engined automatic built as a promotional car that proceeded the 30 Bathurst Cobras (Option 97) which carried the build numbers 002 to 031. He says 001 was purchased by Ms Chris Noonan, who was secretary to Ford's Director of Manufacturing at the time, Ted Gardner. Mark Pividor's research shows car 351 (a very desirable number!) was a special order car for a Ford employee in South Australia. It was fitted with a 351 manual (even though its build sequence number means it should have been a 302 auto), long range fuel tank and intermittent wipers. It was first registered in SA on July 24, 1978.
All Cobras were based on the Falcon
500GS Hardtop. The Regular Production Options (RPOs) fitted as
standard equipment were:
To this base specification, the non-RPO
equipment unique to the 400 Cobras built was called 'Option 96'
and included the following:
According to Ford records, the first 30 cars (JG65UMOOO31) were equipped with the 'Bathurst' Option 97 to meet race homologation requirements for Bathurst (ie the minimum number required by CAMS to be eligible for the 1978 Hardie-Ferodo 1000).
There was plenty of noise made in the press at the time about these 30 cars featuring a whole list of new performance enhancements. In reality, the 30 'Option 97' Bathurst Cobras simply carried over all the race-developed modifications and components which had been integrated in the XC Falcon since its debut at Sandown way back in September 1977!
In fact, the Cobra Bathurst option
required only three additions to CAMS existing homologation papers
for the Falcon XC 500 GS. This amendment, validated by CAMS from
September 1, 1978, officially recognised the XC Falcon GS variant
'now known as the Ford Cobra' and included the following additions:
Proof of Ford's relatively straight
forward upgrade of its existing XC Falcon race specification to
create the Option 97 Bathurst Cobras can be found in one of the
company's confidential dealer bulletins. When listing the special
features and modifications made to the 30 cars at the factory,
reference is made several times to 'previous Bathurst units' as
The following items will be fitted
by P & A Garage as on previous Bathurst units:
Not listed in the official documentation,
but clearly evident on Mark Pividor's car, are the following items:
BUILDING THE COBRAS - PETER GILLITZER & IAN VAUGHAN
Peter Gillitzer was Ford Australia's
Vehicle Planning Manager during the Cobra's creation, working
alongside Product Planning Manager Ian Vaughan.
COBRA'S UNHAPPY SEASON
The Cobra Falcons didn't make their competition debuts until the second round of the 1978 Australian Championship of Makes (CoM). Round one in July was a 250km enduro held at Sydney's Oran Park. Toranas outnumbered Falcons by more that two to one. It was a Torana whitewash - Brock winning and leading home seven other Toranas. The Ford showing was weak with Moffat's single car entry and Dick Johnson retiring with mechanical failure while Murray Carter cut a tyre and crashed.
CoM ROUND TWO
Hang Ten 400 Sandown September 10, 1978 129 laps - 401km.
The Cobras made their debut at the
traditional 'Hang Ten' 400km Sandown enduro in September. The
two Moffat Ford Dealer Team cars of Moffat and Bond, resplendent
in their striking blue and white colour schemes, were not new
cars at all. Under the new paint, they were the same two cars
which had cruised to victory at Bathurst in 1977 and battled the
Toranas in the 1978 ATCC.
HARDIE - FERODO 1000 (non CoM)
This race saw the introduction of the 'Hardies Heroes' qualifying shoot-out, named after race sponsor Hardie-Ferodo. The format, which has become a popular fixture of every Bathurst race since then, consisted of single car qualifying runs to sort out the top ten grid spots. Each car was allowed two attempts, on a track which started out wet but began to dry as the session progressed. Brock, who for the first time had Jim Richards as his Bathurst co-driver, was in awesome form to claim pole ahead of Bond (teamed with Fred Gibson) with the Moffat/Jacky Ickx Cobra 3rd fastest. After some very exciting opening laps, Moffat soon took the lead with Brock cruising along behind him in 2nd place. The Cobras were soon in trouble. Bond had been slowing for a few laps before he pitted with no 4th gear. The only way to fix it was installation of a new gearbox. Moffat drove two more stints back to back, but when he pitted to hand over to Ickx a fuel spill ignited. A Moffat team member and a CAMS scrutineer both suffered some nasty burns as a result. Then Ickx overshot Hell Corner on lap 70. On lap 81, the Belgian ace brought the car in with low engine oil pressure and the car was retired. Bond was still circulating, although many laps down due to the gearbox change. After two more flat tyres and the engine starting to sound rough, Moffat couldn't bear to see the car being repeatedly lapped by the Toranas and told him to park it. Both Cobras out at half race distance. Again a Torana 1 - 2 with Brock powering to an easy victory ahead of the Grice/Leffler A9X with Murray Carter and Graeme Lawrence preserving some respect with Ford with a strong 3rd place finish in their XC Hardtop.
CoM ROUND THREE
Finally a victory to Ford and the only win recorded by the Falcon Cobra. Moffat claimed pole with Brock 2nd and Bond 3rd. From the start of the weekend, the Cobras were showing a good turn of speed. Bond and Moffat both took turns leading the race and after the final stops for tyres and fuel it appeared they were heading for a 1 - 2 finish. However Moffat's engine blew just 15 laps from the finish and Bond's car started sounding rough with the engine coughing and backfiring. Bond had enough of a lead over Brock and Harvey to be able to limp the car home with a sick engine and barely any tread left on his Goodyear tyres. It was a masterful drive, but only served to highlight how the big Fords were being stretched.
CoM ROUND FOUR
Adelaide had lifted Ford's spirits, the final round in Queensland was to finish the season on a desperate low. Again Moffat blew an engine during Friday practice. He blew up another one on Saturday after just three laps. He then 'borrowed' Bond's car to try and qualify but ran wide onto the grass, bumped along a safety fence and spun. Bond started 6th with Moffat back in a lowly 17th on the grid but it was a very unhappy race. Moffat was beset with tyre wear problems from the start, making three stops for fresh rubber which cost him bulk time. Bond's engine sounded progressively worse and finally blew on lap 48. It was to be Bond's last drive with Moffat - a sad end to what had been such a great driver combination. Moffat survived to finish 7th but it was yet another win to Brock with Toranas filling the first four places. Dick Johnson did well in his XC to claim 5th with Vern Schuppan - the Queenslander outclassing Moffat in both qualifying and racing.
The 5th and final round of the 1978 CoM was to be held at Phillip Island but due to track problems the race was switched to Melbourne's Calder Park on December 3. In comparison to the previous CoM rounds, the Calder event was poorly supported with many of the big guns choosing not to show, including HDT and the Moffat Ford Dealer Team. Torana racer Peter Janson led home another Torana whitewash in the big car class but the CoM title was awarded to Ford, thanks to the efforts of Rod Stevens in a 2.0 litre Mark One Escort and a crazy point system which favoured consistent class winners over outright race winners! Not surprisingly, the points structure was changed the following season.
MOFFAT TALKS COBRA
AMC: Most of the specifications of
the Bathurst Cobra were really introduced in September 1977 when
the XC debuted at the Sandown 400. Were all those bits that were
homologated back then, like the idler arm brace, spring tower
reinforcements, spring tower brace etc developed as a result of
your feedback from racing the XB?
The Bathurst Cobra featured in our studio shoot belongs to Cobra enthusiast Mark Pividor. It carries chassis number JG65UM00019K and Cobra ID number 019. It is one of the 30 built for Bathurst homologation. Mark's detailed records of his car's history shows it was sold new by Alto Ford on October 27, 1978. The original owner kept the car for around six years and clocked up only 11,460kms in that time. In July 1984 it was sold and the second owner didn't keep the car for long, selling it again in December that year with 18,600km on the clock. Its third owner kept the car for around 17 years before selling it to Mark in February 2002 having only added around 2,600km in that time. Mark says his Bathurst Cobra has now been driven a total of 23,560km in its 25 years of existence. That's less than 1000km a year, but its great to see such a rare factory homologation special in such unmolested, original condition. AMC would like to thank Mark for making his rare Cobra available to AMC and for his considerable assistance with this story.
AMC has already highlighted the growing number of XA and XB Falcon Hardtops which found homes in the US. It seems the mighty XC Cobra is going to be an equally popular export if our overseas reader interest is any guide. UK resident Nick Short is the proud owner of Cobra No. 257 which he imported in April 2000. Although in tatty condition when he bought it, Nick has completed a full back to bare metal repaint and interior retrim (in the correct fabric). Nick has a lot of fun squeezing his monstrous Ford down the narrow country lanes in Oxfordshire and parking it outside a local pub called 'The Cock Inn' (not a popular pub for female drinkers). Florida resident Chris Flocken is the proud owner of Cobra No. 226 which was formerly owned by Mark Pividor. As you can imagine, the sight of these great Aussie muscle cars on foreign roads turn more heads than any Ferrari!
As part of the Cobra marketing campaign, Ford also built several promotional vehicles that were used during pre-race activities in 1978. These included an F100 pickup, Transit van and four XC Falcon utilities tricked up with body kits and full Cobra graphics. We assume they all had Cobra paint code Z605. Whatever happened to these rare factory Fords?
Thank You AMC
Special Thanks to my Mum
for typing out this article.
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This Site Was Started in 1997,
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