I first met David Bowden in February 1987 when he was fresh out of bankruptcy and had just one car from his previous collection, a beaten-up 1971 Falcon. Despite its extraordinary provenance, this car was unsaleable. The lightweight panels and most of the magnesium components were there, but the full-race Lucas fuel-injected engine was missing. A complete restoration was required. When David began to make money in the commodities market, this car became the start of a project. He wanted to save Australia's sedan racing heritage. "Going broke made me far wiser, as it does most people, and I could define parameters for what my collection was to be," he later admitted.
The old Ford was not just any GT-HO Phase III, but one of two hand-built Super Falcons which cost Ford Australia $125,000 each in 1971. "You can add a nought to that," says David, to equate it to today's currency. "In 1971, a GT-HO cost about $5000; now an equivalent new car would be at least $65,000."
Most muscle cars are valued largely by their closeness to the sacred places of racing history. A standard Falcon XY six-pack sedan is worth little because its links with the Australian Touring Car Championship (ATCC) or the Hardie-Ferodo 500 are remote. An XY GT is worth a fair sum, but a Phase III very much more again. An actual Bathurst winner might command three times that. And if such a vehicle came up for sale, the chances are David Bowden would be the buyer - he certainly has the best collection of race cars in Australia.
The two Super Falcons competed in the 1971 and 1972 ATCC. This one, in the big and incredibly gifted hands of Pete Geoghegan, beat Allan Moffat's Mustang home by six-tenths of a second in the Easter 1972 round at Mount Panorama.
"In 13 laps, the lead changed six times," says Bowden, who was, of course, there. "Pete was doing 9000rpm which is 187mph [300km/h]. To get an idea of how fast they were going, Moffat set a new, improved touring-car lap record of 2min 24.4sec, but the series-production Phase III did 2min 38.5sec in 1971."
According to Bowden, the Super Falcon is a gorgeous car to drive, whereas a standard Phase III feels like an old truck. "It's got hand-built front and rear suspension," he says. "It's like a Formula 4000 car with headlights, it's so good." Consider the weight difference alone - 1185 to 1500kg. If a pristine Phase III with no racing provenance goes under the hammer for $683,650 (including buyer's premium), what's this worth? You'd start at $1.7 million.
In value, as in performance, the ATCC cars outshine their series-production equivalents. Allan Moffat's Mustang has, arguably, superior provenance to the Super Falcon because it was the machine that brought professional racing to Australia. The other drivers - Norm Beechey (whose yellow, 1970 ATCC-winning HT Monaro Bowden owns), Bob Jane, Alan Hamilton (second in 1969, and Bowden has this Porsche as well, and it's a personal favourite) - all had jobs, but Moffat had to win to make money.
In 1995, the Mustang was on sale in the US because that's where Moffat believed he would get a higher price. But the Canadian was not prepared to let it go to someone who would change its livery. Bowden bought it. He has since refused offers of more than US$2m from American collectors keen to turn it into a US race-car replica.
David Bowden cannot tell you off the top of his head how many Bathurst winners are in his collection, let alone how many iconic also-rans. Before lunch, a truck is adroitly backed down the steep driveway to finish a few feet in front of a Marlboro Torana. Kevin Bartlett climbs down and greets us before walking over to the ex-Brock 1978 Bathurst-winning A9X. KB spends much of this time spannering for Bowden. He is fettling the Torana for the upcoming Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK, where David's son, Dan, will drive it as part of a tribute to Brock.
Bartlett's Channel Nine Camaro is part of the Bowden Collection. "KB refers to it as Number Six," he says (because nine reads six when rolled over). So are six Dick Johnson Fords, purchased in 2006, including True Blue (winner of the foreshortened Bathurst race and the ATCC in 1981), the Greens Tuff Falcon, and Johnson's 1988 and '89 Sierras.
Other cars that catch your eye are the Richards/Longhurst '86 JPS BMW 635 CSi, and the 1977 Goss Falcon hardtop, still just as it was at the finish. And there, among all the other legendary machines, is the immaculate VL Commodore in which Brock controversially won his last Bathurst touring car race in 1987. But the most special car is the A9X in which Brock unforgettably won the 1979 Bathurst 1000 by six laps.
It is probably that Bowden has played a large part in driving prices up, as people remember how distinctive and vivid our local tin-top racing has been. But it's not about money, or investing in the future - it's about saving memories. These cars are not on the market.
In early 1987, with David's help, I was researching the history of the only four Phase IV GT-HOs ever built. There was one pre-production car in Calypso Green, and three Brambles-Red racers being prepared by Howard Marsen and his team at Ford Special Vehicles, when the '160mph supercars' tabloid story by Evan Green brought the fun to a rapid halt.
David Bowden owned the first car built. The second got written off in a crash and the third is in the hands of a New South Wales collector. Bowden had been forced to sell his Phase IV just months before I met him that February in '87. One of the many highlights in the Bowden Australian muscle-car collection today is a row of GT-HOs - Phases I, II, III and IV.
In the shed, they all appear to be the same colour, but in fact, the Phase III is Vermilion Fire and the others are Brambles Red. It took a few years, but eventually Bowden was able to buy his Phase IV back again and it is now a car worth well into seven figures. There could surely be no safer place for it to be preserved.
For more reading on Classic cars, see the below features:
The Golden Age of Australian muscle cars
Survive and Revive:
HSV and FPV have played their part in reigniting the still-smouldering embers of the 70s muscle cars
Back in the day:
Peter Robinson recalls three epic road trips in the bred-for-Bathurst supercars
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