More than 50 years after the boss of Ford Australia had engineers build a Falcon GT with a bigger V8 than the Bathurst race cars, the surprising truth behind the legend has been revealed.
One of Australia’s muscle car mysteries – the ‘Bill Bourke Special’, a Ford Falcon GT equipped with the largest V8 to leave the factory – has been solved after researchers unearthed documents here and in the US, and tracked down the vehicle to a shed in Queensland.
The ‘Bill Bourke Special’ – named after the boss of Ford Australia in the late 1960s and early 1970s, American Bill Bourke – built in 1969 was a Ford Falcon GT like no other, equipped with the biggest V8 prepared by the Ford Australia factory.
Bill Bourke, who is credited with being a driving force in the Ford Falcon GT’s journey to motorsport greatness – in what would become the golden era in Ford-versus-Holden rivalry – had Ford engineers build him a one-off special.
It was equipped with a massive 428 cubic-inch V8 which dwarfed the 351 cubic-inch V8 fitted to the Ford Falcon GT sedans sent to win Bathurst.
However, it was not financially viable to build the Ford Falcon GT with 428 cubic-inch V8s in sufficient showroom numbers to be eligible to race.
So instead it became the vehicle Bill Bourke drove to work when he wasn’t being chauffeur-driven in his Lincoln company car.
The ‘Bill Bourke Special’ made occasional appearances in car magazines at the time to reassure Australian performance fans they had the support of the man in the top job.
For decades it had been speculated the ‘Bill Bourke Special’ was shipped to the US.
However, contrary to recent reports, the author of the upcoming Ford Falcon GTHO Phase 1 Register, Ross Vasse, has discovered the vehicle never left the country – and revealed why there is a perfectly good explanation for the confusion.
“Over the years, much has been written about the ‘Bill Bourke Special’, the gold flecked black Falcon XW GT 428 that was allegedly shipped to North America on behalf of Ford Australia in 1969.
“Well, in what might come as a bit of a shock to some fanatics, the ‘Bill Bourke Special’ has never left Australia. And it never went to North America.”
Automotive historian Ross Vasse says the confusion started when two other Falcons were sent to the US about the same time – where one was fitted with the 428ci V8.
When both vehicles came back to Australia, Bill Bourke had the 351ci V8 in his Falcon GT company car swapped for the 428ci V8 from one of the Falcons that had been in the US – to create what is now known as the ‘Bill Bourke Special’.
“Prior to being customised as the ‘Bill Bourke Special’, (the vehicle) was ordered with a standard 290hp GT 351 Windsor V8 engine and the car was Onyx Black, had a black interior, a floorshift automatic, power steering, integrated air-conditioning, deleted side-stripes, deleted hood decals, and deleted Super Roo decals (which were factory options at the time).
“Bill Bourke’s car was then taken to the Ford engineering garage where it had its engine and gearbox switched with 428ci V8 from the XT Fairmont that had just returned from the US,” says Vasse.
“Police records show the car – once the conversion was completed – was declared to be worth $5105 when it was registered on 17 September 1969, five weeks and one day after it came off the production line with the original 351ci V8.”
Adding to confusion around the story behind the ‘Bill Bourke Special’, when the former Ford Australia boss was interviewed about the car three decades later by Australian Muscle Car Magazine (Issue 14), his recollection was the vehicle was sent to the US.
However, it’s now accepted Bill Bourke was mistaken with this recollection and was in fact thinking of the other two Ford Falcons that did go to the US for modifications.
So where is the car now? It is owned by a Ford collector in Queensland and, thanks the efforts of a local automotive historian, much more is known about the vehicle’s history, filling in many of the gaps dating back to 1969.
As with the previous sold-out books from the Register series – GTHO Phase 1.5, Phase 2, and Phase 3 – the upcoming Ford Falcon GTHO Phase 1 Register details each of the 260 examples of the breed.
Details include every car’s colour and trim options, never before seen historical photos from Ford’s archives, pre-delivery paperwork, original sales receipts, photos of stolen and crashed cars, and insight into how many Ford Falcon GTHO Phase 1 sedans survive today.
The 351 limited edition hard cover versions of the Ford Falcon GTHO Phase 1 Register have already sold out online. Customer orders for the soft cover ‘Blue Edition’ close at midnight on 31 October 2023 and the publisher is only printing the exact number of books that have been pre-sold.
“Once the orders are in, that is how many copies we will print,” said Mr Vasse.
“Next year we will be releasing the XC Cobra Hardtop Register – and the long awaited XA GTHO Phase IV Register, which will reveal more about that car than has ever been published to date.”
The Ford Falcon GTHO Phase 1 Register ‘Blue Edition’ costs $275 plus shipping, with deliveries due to commence from 30 November 2023.
Author: Joshua Dowling