A SHORT HISTORY OF HO

For the origin story, and more about the Phase 5 that started it all, read below.

THE STORY OF... THE PHASE 5 FALCON

It all started with a love of Aussie Motorsport. Wayne Draper’s first rookie job as designer at Ford was with Howard Marsden on the XY Phase III in 1970 (the GT stripe). A super fan of the GTHO’s, Wayne was part of a young group of fresh Australian designers who expected to carry the GTHO flame into the 70s and 80s. So Wayne was devastated when Ford dropped the GTHO program and then later dropped out of motorsport altogether.

Never one to give up, Draper developed his abandoned Phase 5 design after-hours and teamed up with drag racing guru, Bob McWilliam and racing driver Murray Carter to develop a Group C Falcon for the racetrack. Draper was a Ford stylist at the time, and with this all being done behind Ford’s back he kept his name off the books as much as possible, given FoMoCo's directive about racing the cars.

To ensure the XD was eligible to race, twenty-five modified XD’s needed to be sold through official Ford dealerships. Since the design had started at the prospective Phase 5 GT, before Ford dropped it, Wayne named the XD Group C the Phase 5 in its honour. The Phase 5 then needed to be sold as a street legal production vehicle. The problem was, Ford Motor Company had no interest in seeing the XD race, and actively discouraged drivers from pursuing the idea of racing it, including stern letters from Edsel Ford II to the likes of Garry Willmington (who apparently still has it to this day), stating the XD is not to see the race track.

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So Wayne Draper, Bob McWilliam and Murray Carter had to build and sell the Phase 5 in secret. Murray would even hide Draper on testing days — but he was inevitably found out. Murray said, “Luckily, by the time Draper was caught, the XD was quick, so instead of firing him on the spot, Ford sold the Phase 5 as a dealership special to help him reach the sales numbers needed under CAMS law”. Ford had realised they could turn a blind eye and stay in motor racing without spending any money. They simply left that up to the privateers like Murray, Willmington and later, Dick Johnson.

Homologation was the responsibility of the manufacturer, so the formation of HO Phase Autos was to "manufacture" the XD-based Phase 5, in the same way that HDT Special Vehicle claimed manufacturer status on the Holden side of the fence. Contrary to popular belief, Draper never bought the HO name off Ford. They gave it to him to aid in the sales of the car, to make sure the Phase 5 made it to track. It originally meant Homologated Options, but Howard Marsden changed it to Handling Options so not to confuse journalists. Wayne changed it back to Homologated Options.

The initial styling for the Phase 5 had radical box guards and a massive rear wing, but CAMS squashed it, mainly as they'd already knocked Holden back on a similar styling exercise for the VB/VC Commodore. CAMS wanted to follow Europe’s lead and deemed it illegal to have a gap between the deck lid and spoiler.

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Draper and McWilliam were responsible for defining much of the specification of the racing car, which Murray Carter pursued with CAMS on their behalf: the ridiculously-low homologated weight of 1360kg was a result of Wayne determining that the lowest-weight model in the XD product range was the taxi pack, and used that figure. Wayne recalled, “CAMS didn't question it, and it wasn't raised as an issue until Johnson's Tru-Blu car was weighed at Calder at the ATCC round in 1981, and was found to be on the money at around 1381kg, where Carter's car was about 1600kg. Things got a bit more serious from then on. Some people think it was the ute weight, but it wasn’t, it was the taxi pack.”

HO Phase Autos also homologated the XE - the Phase 6 - with the bodykit used on the race cars, although the rear wing design was altered for 1983 when most of the teams blamed poor aerodynamics for the handling issues. “They later realised it was a rear end suspension issue. The birdbath wing was just a sail to slow the car down”, Wayne said.

After the Phase 5 came the Phase 6 for the XE Group C. HO then produced the XF Millennium Falcon show car, Indy Pace Cars, the rare Phase 7 and 8 E-series Falcons, and other show cars for Ford after Wayne went to be chief designer at Nissan in 1991. HO Phase Autos also worked with Allan Moffat to produce the Allan Moffat EB HO Falcon which was, for a while, the quickest sedan in the country.

After Wayne sadly passed away in 2012, his son Rob decided to continue the legacy. “Those early days after Dad left us felt were tough for HO. I received a lot of help from many people. Namely, Phase Autos fabricator Denison Phillips, David Wyles, James Morrison, and Blue Power Racing Developments who made sure Dad saw his final build before he passed away. I remember getting Dad out onto the porch and we all wheeled out the big red Phase 6 and started it up for him. He died a few days later”.

Most recently, Rob sought out fibreglass gurus Fraser and Michelle Vincent from Alfa Motorsport Fibreglass in Victoria, who are now making all HO parts. “It’s been a long haul, with a bunch of speed bumps along the way, but now HO Phase Autos is as strong as ever”, says Rob.

Wayne, Bob and Murray went to great lengths with huge financial cost to keep Ford on the racetrack and the HO dream alive. Wayne named the first Group C’s the Phase 5 & 6 in honour of their history. The Phase 5 & 6 were sold as dealership specials by Ford, and designed and built by Ford employees, who, unlike Ford’s upper management, actually cared about motor racing and its fans (the Phase 5 was designed to be a GTHO after all). “These cars not only look incredible, they represent that raw fighting spirit from the early days. To me, Dad’s cars are anti-establishment Aussie grit on wheels.”

......in fairness, Ford did end up supporting Johnson and other privateers on track after Johnson started winning on his own bat. Edsel Ford II also changed his mind and famously matched Johnson’s relief fund after he hit the rock at Bathurst.

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Wayne Draper was part of the Ford Australia Design team from 1970-1991, which took him to Japan, Detroit and Cologne. He worked on the Falcon programs from XY to EB, the Laser programs, as well as Telstar, Capri and Ford show cars up until 1995. He left Ford to become Chief Designer at Nissan Australia, he lectured Automotive Design at RMIT, and continued to run HO until he passed away in 2012.

Rob Draper keeps the flame burning at HO, along with Fraser & Michelle Vincent from Alfa Fibreglass, who do all of HO’s fibreglass work.

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