Michael Stivala’s 1975 Ford XB GS Falcon Fairmont rises from the ashes to score a Summernats Top 60 berth
This article on Michael’s XB Fairmont was originally published in the April 2015 issue of Street Machine
A modified car can be a cruel mistress. In 2012, having poured his heart and soul into his beloved XB GS Fairmont for almost 15 years, Michael Stivala was cruising it home from a car show without a care in the world when the unthinkable happened.
“A concrete block fell off the back of a truck and I ran straight over it,” he says. “It did a lot of damage; bent the driver’s-side shock tower, damaged the firewall, kinked the sills and moved all the panels out of alignment.”
At the time of the accident the car was a tidy streeter powered by a tough 351 Clevo, and had won over 50 trophies. But rather than dwell on the negatives, Michael viewed it as an opportunity to take the car to the next level, setting his sights on the Summernats Top 60 hall.
He’s a spray painter by trade, and his brother John is pretty handy with a hammer and dolly, so repairing the damage and getting the car back on the road would have been all in a day’s work for the duo. But they chose a far more comprehensive approach than that.
“John spent about four months panel-beating it after hours,” Michael says. “We decided to remove the rear quarter panels and sills for better panel alignment and rustproofing, and a cheap wind-back sunroof came up, so we removed the roof skin and replaced that, too.”
The brothers placed the body on a rotisserie and went to town on the undercarriage and engine bay, which wasn’t without its hazards – Michael slipped with the grinder and sliced his wrist open in a big way. This is a true tale of blood, sweat and tears!
Only once the repairs were completed and the body was primed did Michael make the decision to mini-tub the car. He has long been a big fan of Simmons FRs, so he went out and bought the biggest he could feasibly fit underneath the rear – 20x11in wearing 325/30/20 Dunlops as it turns out – and set about modifying the inner rear guards to suit, extending them out to the rails. A sheet-metal nine-inch housing was fabricated, accommodating 31-spline axles and a 3.9:1-geared centre. Con at Pro Street Metal Fab then built the four-link rear suspension, and sprung it with Strange coil-overs.
When it came time to replace the damaged front suspension, Michael went all out. He had Pete’s Classic Garage in Melbourne modify a US-sourced Total Control Products tubular Mustang front end to suit the XB, then fit it with a BA Falcon power rack-and-pinion steering set-up. “The new front end moved the wheels in further so I could slam it without the tyres scrubbing and still get full lock,” Michael says. It also allowed fitment of some rather handsomely proportioned anchors – 355mm drilled and slotted rotors with Baer six-piston calipers. The same-sized rotors reside out back too, but with four-piston Wilwood calipers.
Inside, Michael has gone with comfortable, modern seats, but had them modified and trimmed in factory style for a traditional vibe. “As a joke I sat my mate’s 2004 BF XR6 seats in the car and liked the look, so I decided to get a similar set and make them fit,” he says. “I had to travel eight hours with the car on a trailer to take it to the trimmer, because I only trusted Angie at Angie’s Custom Trim with my car. She helped so much with the build and I can’t thank her enough.”
Angie fashioned the interior after the original XB Fairmont pattern. One-off door trims were made with billet GS insignias and billet strips through the centre, along with modern armrests and FG Falcon interior door handles. The parcel shelf was reshaped to follow the profile of the BA rear bench, which has been modified to fold down just like a late-model Falc. The standard instrument cluster was shipped to the States and kitted out with a full complement of Dakota Digital gauges.
But paint is Michael’s true area of expertise, and he spent two full months sanding the body and reapplying the original hue, Apollo Blue. “I’ve always liked the colour, and that’s why I wanted to buy this particular car in the first place,” he says. “A lot of people ask me what the colour is and what car it’s off, and when I tell them it’s the factory colour they often don’t believe me.”
Even the factory GS livery is painted on. “It took a whole day to mask the stripes and about five minutes to paint them!” Michael laughs. The fact that he stuck with the factory GS-inspired look rather than building yet another GT replica is what sets the car apart from plenty of other Falcons. “I was going to do a GT replica when I first bought it, but I’m glad I didn’t. With the latest build I definitely wanted to stick with the GS theme, because everyone knows me as GSHOON.”
Another aspect of the car that didn’t change as part of the overhaul is the Trick & Mansweto-built 351ci Clevo. Prior to the rebuild it had powered GSHOON to a 12.2 at an impressive 120mph over the quarter-mile, suggesting that if more traction was on offer – which it now is – the car would likely go deep into the 11s. The solid-cammed combo features a 4MAB crank, Hypatec pistons and ported 2V cast-iron heads topped by an Active high-rise manifold and 950cfm Holley Pro Series carb.
The Clevo did however benefit from a thorough aesthetic overhaul, with plenty of colour coding and bolt-on billet bling. The CNC-machined rocker covers are the first set ever produced for a Cleveland by Bliss Custom Machining, who also contributed the custom billet strut tops. The billet serpentine drive system, water pump, power steering pump, alternator and bonnet hinges all make for a cohesive under-bonnet look, but it wasn’t without its challenges.
Off-the-shelf hinges were available for XY Falcons but not for XB, so Michael had Damien ‘Chubby’ Lowe at Lowe Fabrications modify them to suit. “It took hours to get them right and we had the bonnet on and off I don’t know how many times,” Michael says.
The finishing stages of the build were completed at Lowe Fabrications HQ, and the car was unveiled to an appreciative audience at Summernats 28, where Michael’s Top 60 dream became a reality. But idle hands are the devil’s tools, and he already has plans afoot for a Mk1 Cortina build. If the GS is any indication, it’ll be something pretty special.