There's a truism in racing that 'To finish first, first you have to finish'. Without that truism, the John Goss Special you're looking at here could have even been an 'Allan Moffat' or 'Murray Carter' special. If things had panned out a little differently at Bathurst in 1974, it may have never existed at all.
It may be regarded as one of the best and most collectable Fords today, but the Falcon hardtop coupe was a hard sell for much of its life. The market was undoubtedly there, as proven by Holden's Monaro, but it was small, and getting smaller by the early 1970s. The fact that the Falcon hardtop came to market in 1972, a full four years after the two-door Monaro, didn't help, either. Seeing which way the wind was blowing, Holden was already developing a four-door Monaro in the same year the Falcon hardtop debuted, testing the waters with the 'SS' before the four-door GTS arrived in 1973.
To give sales of the XA hardtop a kick along (and recoup the money they'd invested in developing the two-door model), Ford brought out the 'Superbird' package in 1973. When sales of the XB hardtop, released in 1974, turned south soon after its debut, Ford looked for another showroom special to reignite interest. They found it in an unlikely place.
Oh, the Irony
In 1974, Allan Moffat was Ford's undisputed hero, but despite winning the previous year's Bathurst enduro, as well as in 1970 and '71, his success wasn't enough to stop Ford pulling their direct support of touring car racing in Australia. While more than a dozen Falcons lined up for the 1971 Hardie-Ferodo 500, that had been whittled down to five two years later. With Ford withdrawing their backing, that dropped to just three Falcons for the 1974 'Great Race'.
Those three starters were all Ford stalwarts: Allan Moffat partnering with German driver Dieter Glemser; Murray Carter partnering with Mike Stillwell (son of Bib Stillwell); and John Goss sharing the duties with Kevin Bartlett. Moffat had attracted sponsorship from Brut and a collection of Ford dealers, while Carter and Goss made do on shoestring budgets, the latter benefitting from his ongoing close association with Sydney Ford dealer, McLeod Ford.
The '74 Bathurst enduro (the second to be run under the 'metric' 1,000km format) was a litany of mechanical failures and crashes, compounded by rain. Against 20 Holdens - including a dozen L34 SLR 5000 Toranas piloted by the likes of Brock, Bond, Richards and Forbes - the trio of Falcon hardtops were up against it from the start.
Soon after the halfway point of what proved to be one of the longest races in Bathurst history, both Moffat and Carter were out with clutch failures. Goss was not without his problems, either, but at least he was still out there. Thanks to mechanical failures suffered by the Toranas of Bond, Brock and others, Goss's #5 Falcon hardtop had the leading Forbes/Negus Torana in sight in the closing stages. When Forbes had to pit for fuel, the McLeod Ford entry, with Bartlett at the wheel, took the lead and held it to the chequered flag.
The Goss/Bartlett win came in part thanks to the misfortune of others, but 'to finish first, first you have to finish'!
Goss the Star
While Ford provided nothing to make Goss's 1974 Bathurst win happen, they certainly had no qualms about capitalising on his success. To be honest, it was the only real track win they could hang their hat on that year, having been soundly beaten by GM-H in both the Australian Touring Car Championship and Manufacturer's Championship.
Goss was already something of a star on the motor racing circuit, but with a Bathurst win under his belt, that ramped up even more. In 1976, Goss won the Australian (non-F1 championship) Grand Prix, becoming the only driver, to date, to complete the AGP/Bathurst double.
In hindsight, Goss seemed a natural to attach to a special edition hardtop, given his loyalty to Ford since his 1969 debut in touring car racing. McLeod Ford had already used Goss in promotion for their 'Horn Car' range of modified Fords, with the grinning Goss featuring alongside scantily-clad models in a series of print ads for Aunger wheels, too.
So, John Goss was chosen as the 'name' for a limited edition XB hardtop released in 1975, but there's been speculation ever since that Ford's special XB was originally going to be a Moffat Special, with the switch to Goss only made at the last minute.
Goss the Car
Like the Superbird that preceded it, the John Goss Special was more about 'show' than 'go'. That was evidenced by the choice of powerplant - a 302ci V8 instead of the GT's 351.
The other 'show' elements included the twin scoop bonnet and non-functional side scoops from the GT, as well as 12-slot wheels, but the paint was the talking point. Buyers had the choice of Emerald Fire metallic or Apollo Blue metallic (on the bonnet, tops of the front guards, sills, wheelarches and tail section), over which was laid Polar White, edged with orange striping in both instances. Paint code 'Q' identified a green/white Goss, with 'S' for a blue/white. Complementing this were the white-painted bumpers and 12-slotters, with '302' callouts on the front guards and tail light panel. The colour treatment was supposedly inspired by Goss's racer, but compare the look of the Goss racer from '74 and Moffat's XA from '73 and the Goss Special bears a much closer resemblance to Moffat's car, lending some weight to the Moffat-to-Goss-switch conspiracy theory, as does the fact there's no identifying 'Goss' badging anywhere.
Inside, the Goss Special received high-backed, adjustable front bucket seats, which along with the door trims and rear seat, were trimmed in white vinyl. Full instrumentation (from the GS 'Rally Pack'), sports console, and a 3-spoke GT steering wheel were other elements of the package, with the choice of either a 4-speed manual or 3-speed auto transmission.
Performance wasn't a feature of the Goss, and thus, its 0-100 km/h figures and quarter mile times weren't that flash: around 10 and 17 seconds, respectively. That was well down on a GT hardtop, but the price was well down, too. Compared to a GT that sold in the $6,500 bracket, the Goss Special sold for around the $5,700 mark when new.
Released in August, 1975, the John Goss Special XB proved to be a hit, delivering the sales spike that Ford's hardtops desperately needed. For what was essentially a tarted up Falcon 500 hardtop, the Goss sold well. Total numbers are hard to verify, though, as the package didn't carry a unique VIN, but period magazine features from early 1976 talk about the initial 400-unit run selling out and a second-batch being released. So, anywhere between about 500 and 800 John Goss Specials may have been produced before the XC range arrived in mid-1976, but it's hard to imagine any more than that were built.
The car featured here is a little different from the norm, and like a number of Goss Specials over the years, has been subject to several changes. Purchased in 'barn find' condition in 2003 by Graeme Stevenson, the car was a genuine 2-owner Goss, but needed a LOT of work. Perhaps more interestingly, this car, indeed ANY Goss, wasn't even on Graeme's radar when he saw it for sale.
"I actually had no intention of buying the car," Graeme laughed. "I already had a hardtop to restore, but was interested to see what else was out there for the money."
The comprehensive restoration started with a full strip down to bare metal, which revealed a lot of rust in the usual places that afflict hardtops: ". . . rear wheel arches, lower rear quarters, boot floor, taillight panel, sill panels, doors, front guards, and plenum," Graeme explained.
Under the bonnet, Graeme decided to go for something with a lot more poke, so dropped in a worked 393 Stroker, which he built himself. With forged rods, pistons, a solid flat tappet cam, Parker 4V inlet manifold and Holley 850DP carb, Graeme says the engine makes 537.6hp and 499ft/lb torque.
"The engine is backed by a Tremec TKO600 5 speed manual and 9 inch LSD fitted with 31 spline Moser axles."
The brakes were upgraded with [Falcon] AU twin piston calipers from Hoppers Stoppers in Victoria. For the wheels, Graeme chose to replace the 12-slotters with a set of Simmons V5 rims, in 15 x 8 (Fr) and 15 x 9.5 (Rr) size, fitted with Yokohama 352 tyres - that's an upgrade from the 6-inch wide 12-slotters!
Back in the '70s, McLeod Ford added a bunch of their own unique touches on Goss Specials, as well as other Fords, with the Rockdale-based dealership somewhat notorious for their stripe and spoiler kits, as well as the custom paint finishes and interior trims. Now rare pieces, some of the goodies from the McLeod Ford 'Horn Car' catalogue had been fitted to Graeme's car.
"My car had front and rear 'Horn Car' spoilers on it when purchased. I changed the rear spoiler to a Bathurst Cobra version, added a Momo steering wheel and fitted the Simmons wheels. I tried to keep everything else close to stock, though, so I could return it to factory standard if I ever chose to."
The six-year resto was completed in September, 2009; just in time for the second ever Hardtop Anniversary event that year.
Sold just prior to this article going to press, Graeme's car is in the process of being converted back to an automatic, with hand controls for paraplegic use by the new owner in WA.
While it may have been mocked when new, the John Goss Special is a much-loved model today. Is it a collectable classic, though? We'd think the answer is a resounding 'yes'. For owners of a Goss Special, there's no doubt: it's a bona fide, high-value collector car.
Arguably as popular as the XC Cobra today, most Gosses still in circulation are babies pampered by their devoted owners. Make your way to this year's Hardtop Anniversary in Echuca (see breakout for details) and you're sure to find a bunch of Goss Specials like this to admire, along with plenty more examples of Ford hardtops from a golden era of Aussie motoring history.
Thanks to Mike Vati, David Marshall, Graeme Stevenson, Dan Smith and Roger Trezise for assistance with this article.
Special thanks also to Motorbook World for research material. Motorbook World, 243 Canterbury Rd, Canterbury, VIC. Ph: (03) 9830 2644
Words: Mike Ryan, Roger Trezise
Photos: Luke Oxley