A model unique to Australia, the GT 500 was to be the car that took Ford to the top of the mountain at the Bathurst (formerly Armstrong) 500, hence the name. Something special had to be developed to mix it with the imported cars that were allowed for the first time in 1965. The Lotus-Cortina would have been more than adequate, but the elegibility rules required 250 be imported to qualify it, as opposed to the production of 100 cars to qualify a local model, so the GT 500 was born. The GT 500 was no Lotus-Cortina, but it certainly was a step up from the GT.
It was designed for Ford Australia by Ford's Works Team Manager, Harry Firth, wielding the spanners in his Queens Avenue workshop in Auburn, Melbourne. Starting with the GT's 1500, he added a new cam, reshaped the combustion chamber, raised the compression ratio to 9.5:1, modified the head further, lightened the flywheel, and fitted copper lead main and little end bearings for improved engine life at high revs, which was a good thing as the GT 500 was able to spin out to 7000rpm. He also stuck on a modified version of the GT's Weber carby. The chokes were enlarged a couple of mm each, up to 27 and 29 mm throats for primary and auxiliary respectively, with appropriate re-jetting, etc. (Thanks to Graham Leaver for this info.)
It had an 8.5 gallon aluminium auxiliary fuel tank that increased the fuel capacity to 17 gallons, with the two tanks interconnected, and fed through twin snap-on fuel caps, located behind the rear window. These twin fillers were the result of a bit of craftiness on Harry Firth's part, who realised that they would help reduce time spent by the car in the pits. This proved to give the GT 500 the advantage over the more nimble and zippy Mini Coopers, and was an idea that everybody pilfered for the 1966 race. With the GT 500, craftiness abounded. The car came with an air cleaner, but it wasn't fitted. Why? So it didn't have to be fitted for racing!
Large air scoops under the front bumper directed air to the front discs, which had no backing plates. The scoops also effectively collect water, which means a GT 500 is fun and games to drive in wet weather! The disc brakes used pads made from competition material, and wider wheels again were used. The GT 500 also featured a close-ratio gearbox used by Lotus (although originally a Ford effort) that was used in the Lotus Cortina and the twin-cam Escort. It used the following ratios: 1st 2.50 (GT 3.54), 2nd 1.64 (2.4), 3rd 1.23 (1.41), top 1:1, with the same 3.900:1 final drive ratio. All this improved the performance over the GT to 98 bhp at 6000 rpm, a top speed of 103.6 mph, and a standing quarter of 18.2 seconds ('Wheels' Apr. '66).
The car was released in July 1965, and cost £1498, about £500 more than a basic Cortina. Only a 2 door was available, with fixed rear windows that didn't flip open as on the 220/240. Only 112 were produced, all between May and August, which sold like hotcakes. For years this has been the 'official' production number, but these days if you ask Harry Firth about it, he'll tell you that about another 185 were built, with a lot less regard to following specifications, so if yours has an odd combination of parts, perhaps that's why. They achieved their intended destiny in the 1965 race, finishing 1-2 in Class D, and 1-2 outright, ahead of a Mini Cooper S, with the winning car being driven by Barry 'Bo' Seton and Midge Bosworth (now there's a name). The success of the GT 500 led to elegibility rule changes for the 1966 race. In an attempt to eliminate 'homologation models', the minimum number of cars produced to qualify a local model was lifted to 250, a number too high to make limited production runs viable. At any rate, Ford were investing their racing energies in their new Falcon GT, a car which was to become legendary in Australian motoring history.
As a rather bizarre footnote, I'd like to mention a small article in 'Sports Car World', January 1965. It seems that Harry Firth became so synonymous with Cortinas in Australia, that he was invited by the Mayor of the Italian city Cortina for a special celebration they were having there. I'm hoping that if I keep this page going long enough, I might get a similar invitation. And if you're reading this and you are the Mayor of Cortina, my Email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope to hear from you soon.
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