A SHORT HISTORY OF HO PHASE AUTOS
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 GTHO Phase III in 1970 (his job was the GT stripe). A super fan of the GTHO’s, Wayne was part of a young group of fresh-faced 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.
Wayne Draper continued to develop his abandoned GTHO Phase 5 design, for the XD Falcon, and teamed up with drag racing guru, Bob McWilliam and racing drivers Garry Wilmington and Murray Carter to develop a Group C Falcon for the racetrack. They were a bunch of guys determined to race a Ford Falcon. Draper was a Ford stylist at the time, so with this all being done behind Ford’s back he kept his name off the books as much as possible, given FoMoCo's directive on racing the cars. Murray Carter pursued the homologation process with CAMS, Wayne recruited a few Ford modellers for some after-hours work and Bob McWilliam made the fibreglass bodykits, under Phase Autos for the road cars Murray Carter Racing for the race cars.
To ensure the XD was eligible to race, at least 25 XD Group Cs needed to be sold as a street-legal production vehicles. 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 to the likes of Garry Willmington and Murray Carter (Garry apparently still has his letter to this day). Still... Phase Autos sold 22 Phase 5 Falcons, enough to keep CAMS happy. Since Wayne's design had started as a prospective Phase 5 GTHO, Wayne named the XD Group C the Phase 5 in its honour.
The initial styling for the Phase 5 had radical box guards and a massive rear wing, but CAMS squashed it, 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 went with arched flares, and deemed it illegal to have a gap between the decklid and spoiler.
Wayne, Bob, Garry and Murray went to great lengths with huge financial cost to keep Ford on the racetrack. The Phase 5 & 6 (XE) were sold as dealership specials and designed and built by Ford employees, who, unlike Ford’s upper management, actually cared about motor racing and its fans (the XD Phase 5 was designed to be a GTHO after all). “These cars not only look incredible, but they represent that raw fighting spirit from those days. To me, these cars are anti-establishment Aussie grit on wheels,” says Rob Draper.
"We used to hide Wayne on testing days — but he was inevitably found out.", Murray said. "Ford rocked up to the track one day and said, 'Tell Wayne Draper we bloody know he's behind this'. Luckily, by the time Draper was caught, the XD was quick, so instead of firing him on the spot Ford agreed to help sell the Phase 5 as a dealership special to help us reach the sales numbers needed under CAMS law”. Wayne followed this up by saying, "Ford had realised they could turn a blind eye and stay in motor racing without spending any money. They left that up to the privateers like Murray, Willmington and later, the Dick Johnson. In fact, if Dick hadn't have won in that thing I'd probably have been fired. It was touch and go there for a while."
In fairness, Ford did end up supporting Johnson after he started winning on his own bat. Dick won in a car he built in his own garage at home, proving how good he was. Edsel Ford II was also inspired and famously matched Johnson’s relief fund after he hit the rock at Bathurst. Rob Draper says,"Dad always knew he owed Dick a lot for being the winner he was in that XD. Dick got it even lighter than Murray. Dad had already been fired in the mid-seventies for going against company policy... there were no second chances."
Homologation was the responsibility of the manufacturer, so the formation of 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. Ford aided in the sale of the Phase 5 until it came close to the number needed to race, then abandoned it.
Garry Wilmington and Murray Carter were responsible for defining the specification of the racing car, which Murray Carter pursued with CAMS on their behalf. The ridiculously-low homologated weight of 1367kg was a result of Wayne Draper determining that the lowest-weight model in the XD product range was the taxi pack, and he used that figure in the homologation papers. Wayne recalled, “CAMS didn't question it, and it wasn't raised as an issue until Johnson's Tru-Blu 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.”
H.O. originally meant Homologated Options, but Howard Marsden changed it to Handling Options so not to confuse journalists. Wayne later changed it back to Homologated Options when he became the custodian of the name. Wayne didn't use the HO name for the Phase 5 or 6 due to insurance costs.
H.O. also homologated the XE Falcon, the Phase 6, with the bodykit used on the race cars as well, although the rear wing design was altered for 1983 when most of the teams blamed poor aerodynamics for the handling issues. “We later realised it was a rear-end suspension issue. Wayne hated the birdbath wing, he thought it was just a sail and it slowed the car down. Could have been even quicker he reckons,” Murray said. When HO Phase Autos did the bodykits for the AUSCAR later on, they used the original XD Phase 5 wing for the XF, proving it's aerodynamic ability.
HO Phase Autos 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. They also worked with Allan Moffat to produce the Allan Moffat EB HO Falcon which was, for a while, the quickest sedan in the country.
HO Phase Autos then laid dormant for a few decades until 2009 when Wayne decided to reignite the fire and spend his twilight years building Falcons the way he had originally wanted them. After Wayne sadly passed away in 2012, his son Rob continued the legacy. “Those early days after Dad left us were tough for HO. I received a lot of help from many people. Namely, Dad's fabricator Denison Phillips, my brother David Wyles, good friend James Morrison, and the guys at 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 only died a few days later. Once he'd seen that he was ready to go”.
More recently, Rob sought out fibreglass gurus Fraser and Michelle Vincent from Alfa Motorsport Fibreglass, who are now a vital part of HO, making all the fibreglass parts. Together with Michelle and Fraser, Rob is taking HO into the new decade with eyes set on turning the brand into a local design studio, using legendary Ford designers like Steve Park. In 2020, HO was contracted to design a 1000HP electric vehicle for a Korean motoring manufacturer.
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.
Unique Cars, 2020