James Gwilt’s 1970 Ford XW Fairmont

Former AFL player James Gwilt now gets his kicks behind the wheel of this 1100hp, turbo Windsor-powered XW Fairmont

Photographers: Ellen Dewar

THERE are certain events in everyone’s childhood that help shape the person they grow up to be. For former AFL player James Gwilt, a ride in a friend’s muscle car as a young tacker sparked a love for power on four wheels that eventually led to the gold behemoth you see before you.

This article was first published in the September 2020 issue of Street Machine

A former AFL footballer, James has played for Essendon and, notably, St Kilda during the club’s most successful seasons of the modern era. He isn’t the first AFL player to grace the pages of SM, either. We’ve featured Sydney Swans premiership hero Barry Hall’s wild Holdens before, and last issue we spoke to Port Adelaide Power forward Charlie Dixon about his love of building bonkers street machines. It’s great to see these on-field heroes sharing our passion!

“My friend Sam took me for a ride in his 500hp XY GT Falcon when I was 12,” James explains. “Ever since then I’ve been hooked on XW-XY Falcons!”

Unfortunately, James’s first fling with a classic Falcon of his own ended prematurely when his XW was hit by someone running a red light. “It destroyed the driver’s side of the car and it was declared a write-off,” he says.

Ford XW Fairmont side

The X-dub had been repainted in the original Grecian Gold before James got his hands on it, so all he had to add was the reverse-cowl bonnet and a set of GS stripes to top it off

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for him to find a replacement, snatching up this tidy XW Fairmont locally in Melbourne. “It was already a good car,” says James. “It had a decent 408ci Windsor with a ’Glide, and it’d already been resprayed in the factory Grecian Gold.”

James spent a few years enjoying the Falcon in that form, taking some of the goodies from his wrecked XW – including suspension and brakes – to help create a mint streeter. But in mid-2015, things changed.

“I’d been and seen Danko [Knezevic] at Adicted Performance before to get a few little upgrades done here and there with the car as it was, but I really wanted a single-turbo V8,” says James. Before he knew it, he was up for a whole new level of XW goodness.

The aspo Windsor was ripped out and sold off, and Danko set about concocting another one of his blistering turbo Ford V8 packages. A Dart Iron Eagle block copped a whole bunch of goodies, including a Callies DragonSlayer crank, Oliver rods, Diamond pistons and a custom-grind solid-roller bumpstick. Oiling is taken care of with a Peterson belt-driven pump and ASR sump.

The top-end menu consists of a pair of AFR 205 heads using some beefy valvetrain gear and breathing through a pair of custom-fabricated stainless turbo exhaust manifolds. The Garrett GTX4508R feeds the 411ci donk via a Plazmaman intercooler, using a Wilson throttlebody and elbow bolted to a modified Edelbrock Super Victor intake manifold. “I was going to use a blow-through set-up, but the more we priced up suitable carbies, the more it seemed better to just go with EFI and the Haltech,” says James.

Leaf springs are still used underneath, but the mammoth 15×10 beadlock wheels with 295 M/T ETs sit further inboard thanks to a set of mini-tubs. The Waterman cable-driven fuel pump also hides underneath, along with the twin 3in exhaust

With the Haltech Elite 2500 as the brains and drinking E85 (and the ability to run flex-fuel), the mill comfortably made well north of 1100hp on the Adicted Performance engine dyno on 20psi, before running out of fuel system. But Moran Motorsports injectors and a Waterman cable-driven fuel pump ensure there won’t be any fuel problems in the future.

“We haven’t got a final power figure since we dropped the engine in the car; we’ve just been playing around with it on low boost, and it’s been great so far,” says James.

James provided the boys at Adicted with a new fuel cell, so Danko and the crew flattened the boot floor before it also copped a lick of matching gold paint. The CO2 bottle helps keep the party going

Backing up the angry Windsor is a Powerglide housing a 4500rpm TCE converter, with a two-step system and CO2 to make sure James is always ready to party.

The rest of the car also got a minor makeover at Adicted while the boys prepared the engine. A new Competition Engineering nine-inch diff was slotted in underneath some fresh mini-tubs, making room for the big 15×10 spinners wearing 295 Mickey Thompson radials. “I’m so glad we did the tubs,” James says. “It drives super straight and hooks up really well.”

The crew at Adicted also sorted a rollcage to keep things safe, while still retaining the retrimmed factory Fairmont interior.

With the way plans changed and snowballed during the build, it took roughly five years to complete – but the wait was well worth it for James. “I just pinch myself when I go into the garage and see it,” he says gleefully. “I couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out, and it’s an animal with even just 2-3psi.”

While the exterior didn’t need new paint, the engine bay was one area that got some attention before the new 411ci single-turbo Dart Windsor was slotted in. The Garrett GTX4508R hairdryer feeds the bent-eight with the help of a Tial 1.31 rear housing and Turbosmart 60mm external gate and blow-off valve

Sadly, at the time of writing, the restrictions in Victoria mean that James’s mad machine has largely been shackled up in his garage. “I only got it back a few weeks ago, so I haven’t had much time in it just yet,” he says. “But it does drive really well. The turbo is super responsive; it hooks up and cruises well.”

ames opted to keep things simple inside, re-trimming the factory Fairmont gear to make for a comfortable cruiser. The only major giveaway to what lies underneath the bonnet is the rollcage, shifter and Haltech IQ3 dash

James does plan on heading to the strip with it once we’re allowed to go racing again, with hopes of a low nine or high eight if things go his way. “I’m certainly keen to hit the track and see what we can do, but at the end of the day the main goal was to build a tough street car – and we certainly got that.”


Paint: Grecian Gold

Brand: 411ci Dart Iron Eagle Windsor
Induction: Edelbrock Super Victor
ECU: Haltech Elite 2500
Turbo: Garrett GTX4508R
Heads: AFR 205
Camshaft: Custom solid-roller
Conrods: Oliver
Pistons: Diamond
Crank: Callies DragonSlayer
Oil pump: Peterson belt-driven
Fuel system: Waterman cable-driven pump
Cooling: Race Radiators
Exhaust: 4in dump into twin 3in system
Ignition: MSD

Gearbox: Powerglide
Converter: TCE, 4500rpm
Diff: 9in, 35-spline, 3.5:1 gears

Front: King springs, Pedders shocks
Rear: Calvert mono-leaf springs, QA1 shocks
Brakes: VT Commodore (f), Wilwood twin-piston (r)
Master cylinder: Standard

Rims: RC Comp Exile; 17×4.5 (f), 15×10 (r)
Rubber: Mickey Thompson 26×6 (f), Mickey Thompson ET 295/55R15 (r)

Danko Knezevic at Adicted Performance, as well as his boys Zack, Dylan and Levi and his lovely wife Jo; Sammy and Kenny at Adicted; my friend Sam for introducing me to muscle cars as a kid; my wife Shayne for her support during the build