By Mick Haven
All text and photographs by, and copyright of, the Author. Photographs will be found at the end of the article.
As mentioned previously in MAR Online, Gateway Models near Brisbane, which Graeme referred to, is the trader I have dealt with the longest, probably seventeen years or so. I was fortunate enough to pay them a visit while down there in September 2017. From the outside it looks nothing like a model shop. Appearances are deceptive. It takes something special to keep me quiet but I was temporarily speechless there, and I didn’t see all of it. The place is stacked with model cars.
He also mentions the Falcon ‘Cobra’ GT, although I’m not sure that ‘GT’ is the correct title as I believe the correct designation is ‘XC’. The XC followed on from the very successful XA/XBGT ranges, produced from 1973 to 1976. The XC family was introduced in 1976, and would include a GS500 ‘Hardtop’, a large coupe, not dissimilar to the afforementioned Torino. In October 1977, Allan Moffat, partnered by Formula 1 legend, Jacky Ickx, would win the legendary Hardie-Ferodo 1000 at Bathurst in an XC GS500 Hardtop, in the famous ‘1-2 form finish’ for Team Moffat. By the end of the race his car was virtually brakeless and should have come second, but he was team owner and orders is orders.
By the end of 1977, Ford Australia had built 13 ‘special order’ XC GS500 Hardtops. The modifications on these cars would become the basis for the Cobra XC ‘Option 97’. The company decided to capitalise on the 1977 Bathurst result and wanted to go racing so they needed a suitable car. Four hundred examples of whatever they chose had to have been built to meet CAMS homologation rules. It just so happened they had four hundred XC bodies left over with no buyers when production of the big coupe ceased in April 1978.
Rather than scrap them, Edsel Ford II, who was Ford Australia Managing Director. at the time, suggested they be saved and could be offered to the public as a road going race car. Production began in July of that year. I believe I read some time ago that Carroll Shelby was approached for permission to call the car ‘Cobra’, and to use the familiar Shelby stripes and Cobra badging. By coincidence, the colour scheme was the international colours for American racing cars, as seen on the Le Mans Cunninghams of the 1950s, e.g. Britain had its British Racing Green, Italy was red, France blue and so on.
Four hundred blue and white road going Cobra XCs were built, in two variants, Option 96 and Option 97. Of the four hundred, only 30 were Option 97s. These were numbered from 002 to 0031, and would be known as ‘Bathurst Specials’. The first two hundred would have a 5.8L 351 cu.in. motor, the remainder would have a 4.9L 302 cu. in. Two exceptions were car number 001 which would have the 302 cu. in. motor, and car number 351 which had a motor of that capacity.
There are a number of differences between the two, mainly under the skin, but the most obvious externally is the addition of a ‘power bulge’ on the bonnet of the Option 97 in addition to the two ‘flared nostril’ intakes already in place on the Option 96, and on previous XAs, XBs and XCs, including four door saloon, estate, Ute and van variants. The XC Cobras would also have their own blue and black seats and ‘Globe’ alloy wheels. I’ve got three of these, one in 1:64th scale, one in 43rd scale and one in 1:18th, all by Biante. In model and 1:1 scale, Option 97s are sought after. A genuine full size Option 97 can command big dollars if and when one comes up for sale. Even the Option 96 doesn’t come cheap, but these do get offered from time to time, with prices usually around $100,000 AUD, some more, some less.
Graeme makes mention of its size, citing, ‘some views show it to be a compact’. I’ve referred to it as the ‘big coupe’. So how big were they? They are, or were, easily on a par with the Holden (Vauxhall) Monaro and Audi A5 coupe familiar on UK roads today. For comparison the XAGT coupe was 4808 mm L x 1969 W x 1369 H. The Monaro and A5 are 4789 L x 1841 W x 1397 H and 4673 L x 2029 W x 1371 H respectively, so compact they weren’t. It weighed in at 3500 lbs. I did see one at Ford Fair some years ago and compact it wasn’t. Also, some time ago, I exchanged e mails with a guy who lived in the Oxfordshire countryside and he had an XC Cobra. Negotiating those narrow country lanes with it was interesting to say the least. Attached are the pics he sent me. What I didn’t know at the time was that there were the two variants. Looking at the pics while writing this, I noticed that it’s an Option 97. How much is that worth today? I think he worked for TWR at the time as one picture shows the car outside TWRs premises. I know he emigrated to Australia taking the XC with him. There is much racing footage of them on You Tube. I imagine they were a real handful at racing speeds and they would clock up to 170 mph down Conrod Straight.
From a collecting perspective, the 1:43rd scale is one which I’ve had as long or longer than virtually of all my Australians, for at least fifteen years, possibly more. It almost certainly came from those good ol’ boys at Gateway. The 1:18th scale came next, bought at a Ford dealership near Melbourne, and the 1:64th example by Biante Minicars would eventually follow some years later. Even so, I’ve had that since at least 2011, as it was in a display of Ford models I showed when the club, South Hants Model Auto Club put on a display at Ford fair that year. I also had another one in 1:87 scale by Cooee Road Ragers (Made under contract by Oxford Diecast). The Biante Minicars 1:64 example is my only Option 97 Cobra XC in the familiar white with blue stripes colour scheme, the other two being Option 96s. The total number of Option 97s I have in three scales is eight, of which two are 1:18 scales two are 1:64 scale, and the remainder in 1:43.
One is the Allan Moffat/John Fitzpatrick GS 500 Hardtop ‘Federation’ car number 25 from Bathurst 1979, and I have one of those in 1:43rd scale and one by Biante Minicars. The other 1:18 scale is Biante’s Carter/Lawrence ‘Brian Wood Ford’ from Bathurst 1978, resplendent in its overall dark blue with red and yellow stripes with wide yellow ‘Magnum’ five slot racing wheels with slick tyres. Two of the 1:43rd scales are as raced in 1978 and 1979, by Dick Johnson, the latter a car which he co-drove with ex Formula 1 and Le Mans winner Vern Schuppan at Bathurst. The ‘79 car would be dubbed ‘reverse Cobra’, owing to the body colours being ‘the other way round’ i.e. with white stripes over blue, rather the more familiar blue stripes on a white body. A unique feature about the stripes was in their application and defied the norm. Apparently, rather than take a white body and then apply the blue stripes across the body and along the sides, the blue bits were applied first, then taped over and the car painted white. Very odd.
Another one is the 1978 Bathurst XC Cobra of once again, Moffat and Ickx, carrying race #1, relating to their win the year before. They couldn’t repeat the heroics of 1977 and the car was a DNF. The other model shown is of the Garry Wilmington/Jeff Barnes 1978 Bathurst runner. This model was produced by Trax in 1993, by whom I have two Falcon road coupes, one of which is an Option 97. Trax also released a Cobra XC Option 96 and a small number of other XBGT and XCs in 1:43 scale, including the # 25 Federation car and the ‘Brian Wood Ford’. They also produced a model of the Jack and Geoff Brabham car from Bathurst 1977. The total number of XA/XB and XC coupes in my collection is twenty seven in three scales, including, aside from the Moffat/Ickx ’77 car, the XAGT Bathurst winners from 1973 and ’74, plus one XBGT saloon by Trax from their Opal range. There are a number of XC Cobra models in other scales by other manufacturers. OzLegends have both Option 96 and 97 in 1:32 scale and these can be found on eBay. Dinkum Classics is another manufacturer of the popular coupe. Models of XA/XB GTs can occasionally be found on eBay, and some via dealers ‘down under’, of which I’m happy to report, there are still a large number. Biante’s XC Cobra in 1:43 scale is rarer, while an Option 96 in 1:18 scale, although slightly less rare, commands good money, see below. Those with deeper pockets may be interested in XA/XB and XCs in 1:18 scale. For example, at the time of writing, Hobby_Link have a Biante Auto Art Moffat/Ickx 1978 Bathurst XC in that scale, for a mere £462.56 plus just £13.11 shipping, or $809.95 + $22.95 AUD if you prefer. Gateway have an Option 96 for just £227.87 + £51.40 shipping, or $489.00 including shipping. Seen on eBay is the Moffat #25 car at £313.46 + £40.68 shipping. This model doesn’t even have the ‘Camel’ sponsor decals, owing to tough Australian tobacco advertising laws. They can be obtained from other sources. As with all internet buys, prices vary from seller to seller. Then there’s always the added danger of getting stung by Customs and Royal Mail. Ouch! Sometimes I’ve been caught, other times I’ve got lucky and paid nothing. As an owner of more than twenty 1:18th scales by both Biante and Classic Carlectables, I should add that they are superb and worth every penny.
When I first started collecting them all those years ago, I was astonished at the quality and detail to be found on them, and at the time, with a good exchange rate, great value for money too. Many have opening doors boot and bonnet, steerable wheels and fully detailed engines with plug leads etc, and detailed undersides and interiors, despite being well over ten years old. Biante’s FPV GT nee Falcon XR8, even has a carpeted boot mat and a fire extinguisher. Although a tad more expensive these days, they still make great value. The race cars are truly magnificent. Collectors of Scalextric are not ignored either. There are many fine slot car models of Australian race cars which would make great display models. There’s a plethora of them on eBay including the XA/XB XCs and V8 Supercars. Earlier in the year I took delivery of their Dick Johnson Sierra RS500 1989 Bathurst winner and very nice it is too. Shame about the driver figure. Is that really the great man? How fortunate I am that neither my house or my wallet are overly large.
Just for the record, for any MAR Online readers who may be interested in exploring the wonderful world of Australian die casts, I can thoroughly recommend the following traders; Biante, Gateway, Motorfocus, Kollectable Kaos, Jays Models, Pit Stop Models, Top Gear aka Trax, Ace Models, Replicars and Automodelli among many others. There’s always eBay of course from where I got many of mine, but beware, many sellers on eBay au, won’t post up here. If they do they’ll be on eBay UK. A model shop, where you can browse to your hearts content, still exists in Australia. In the early days, I was even ordering them from main car dealers, who usually stock a fine selection of models appertaining to the brand of car, e.g. Ford or Holden. DJR race car models can also be ordered directly from DJR/Team Penske. Classic Carlectables, another fine brand, cannot be sourced directly from them, but the XA, XB and XC doesn’t feature in their range. Their excellent web site does list every model they have ever produced, including a picture of each one and the release date. Biante’s web site does list all their releases since 1998 under the heading, ‘customer service’, then ‘view the list here’, but it stops at 2014 and there are no pictures. The coupes were released long before that.
Give the above traders and models, and eBay a look, you won’t be disappointed. Appreciation for some of the above goes to ‘Wiki’ and to Bill Tuckey from his book ‘True Blue’ 75 Years of Ford in Australia.
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