IT WAS never supposed to win the inaugural Rare Spares Rockynats. The lush Opal Green XR Fairmont was lucky to even get to Rockhampton following a snap COVID lockdown. Then, on day one of the event, it was in pieces – on Good Friday of all Fridays – as owner Paul Hart and wife Jade seemed destined to become unwilling spectators, despite making the impromptu nine-hour towing mission north. A trophy didn’t seem just unthinkable but ridiculous, especially given that the car was initially bought as a quick money-spinner.
First published in the June 2021 issue of Street Machine
“This XR popped up on Facebook – a factory Fairmont; six-cylinder; really nice condition,” Paul says. “The first thing I thought was, ‘Well, I’ll go grab it and flip it.’”
Paul nabbed the clean 1967 sedan for a paltry $7500, including a spare 302 and second interior. “I threw it on Gumtree for $12K, thinking I’d make some dollars – and my phone went nuts!” he laughs. “I started to think maybe it’s worth holding on to.”
At that point, all the Fairmont needed was a fresh set of tyres, new exhaust and obligatory rego, but Paul put the XR under the knife after a fateful Winternats weekend. “I was sitting there on social media between rounds and I’m like, ‘Man, there’s a mini-tubbed XR here and it looks mint!’ My mate Dave Small, who runs Laser Cut & Press in Ipswich, said, ‘Bring yours in on the hoist, mate; let’s tub it!’” Job done, Jade was unimpressed – not with the quality of the job, but that Paul had started to cut up the XR. She cheekily nicknamed Dave’s garage ‘The Butcher’s Shop’. “It almost cost me my marriage,” Paul laughs.
Even at this point, there was no plan to go too much further. “A 347, some stock hubcaps – that’s all we were thinking,” says Paul. Of course, now it was tubbed, it’d need new wheels, and with fatter rubber, naturally a 347 was no longer going to cut it. You can see where this is going.
Yet the build was anything but typical. Expensive? Yes. Hard work? Of course. Was it painful? Not one bit. “We were very lucky,” says Paul. “We just had great friends around us who were brilliant at what they do. I don’t have a single bad story about anybody who’s done work for us.”
Part of that painless process comes from Paul’s organisational mindset, which goes back to his days as an aircraft engineer on – get this – RAAF F-111s. “When he pulled the car down, everything was labelled, in tubs or zip-lock bags,” says Jade. Friend John Amos worked with Paul to dismantle, bag and tag parts. “John is the XR whisperer, I’m telling you,” says Paul, as they carefully noted the original bits and pieces to get the car back together easily later on.
That meticulous approach enabled work on the Fairmont to continue smoothly even while Paul and Jade moved house – not once, but twice – during the build.
The body prep and Opal Green paintwork was done by Brett Cooper – impressive given that this was his first full build since starting his own shop. “I must have driven him crazy, as I had him spray out six or seven mixes,” Paul says, admitting his initial preference was gloss black. “When he sprayed the colour that’s on the car now, I was like, ‘That’s awesome; how’d you figure that out?’ He said, ‘You’ll never believe it, but that’s the factory mix!’”
Colour chosen, Paul wanted a street look, with the original bonnet uninterrupted by cowls or intakes, but there was still room for a potent powertrain. A 427ci Ford V8 with Dart block and 950 Quick Fuel carb was built by Tremaniac Racing to shake things up. “I have to talk up Aaron Tremayne here; he is just brilliant,” Paul says. “I asked for 600 and it makes 630 horses and 570lb-ft, and it’s all done by about 6400rpm. He delivered on price and over-delivered on power.”
Craig Barber helped plumb the entire car front-to-rear one Christmas with exquisite attention to detail, including the Pacemaker headers sprouting from the 427 to a twin three-inch system and growl resonators. “Craig’s bailed me out so many times, and all he’s taken from me is a carton of beer,” Paul says.
With a C4 transmission sending power to the Truetrac nine-inch locker in that tubbed rear end, the Fairmont now smokes its fatter rubber with ease. “It’s gone 11.0, but it’ll go a 10, as I was only getting about two-thirds on the secondaries,” Paul says.
Critically, the car also had to remain low-maintenance, driveable and well-mannered for weekend cruises and the occasional trip to work. “I could get my mum to drive it, it’s that well behaved,” Paul jokes.
In a neat twist of fate, the Opal Green exterior and Parchment interior is the actual colour combo the XR left Broadmeadows with in 1967. Paul hated the Fairmont trim though. “It was like your nana’s sofa, just terrible!” he says. Reid McInnes suggested the XR Falcon GT interior that went in, with charcoal carpet, dash and door-top finishes contrasting with the Parchment door trims and seats. “On top of that, Reid came around to my house three weekends in a row to help me fit it,” Paul says. “When the interior for your XR rocks up in the back of an XW ute, you know this dude’s on point!”
Looking back, the XR was never built to be a trophy winner. It’s a fun-to-drive streeter put together brilliantly, and has been duly recognised. “I think one of the biggest things with the car is, the day Paul saw it on Facebook, it all just sort of happened by chance,” says Jade, who has now finally come to terms with the tubbing. “We just didn’t expect to get what we’ve got now.” That’s a feat that can never be repeated: the first ever Rockynats Grand Champion.
Stop press! Paul recently broke into the 10-second zone in the XR, running 10.87 at 122.8mph at All Ford Day 2021.
IT WAS a miracle that the XR even made it to Rare Spares Rockynats, so it’s an absolute fairytale to be Grand Champion. After Rockynats 2020 was cancelled, a snap lockdown was called days out from the 2021 event. “On the Monday of that week, we weren’t going,” Paul says.
Come Thursday, lockdown was lifted – six hours early – at midday. The Fairmont, on a trailer, was pointed north for nine hours. Job done? Not quite. Reverse gear was gone, and on the street cruise, first gear started playing up. It was Good Friday. Game over? Think again.
“Michael Titmarsh opened his shop at one o’clock on Good Friday,” says Paul. “I picked the car up at five o’clock and the ’box was in, out, fixed, serviced, the car road-tested – honestly, mate, for what he charged me, it was like he did it for love. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Now that’s a Grand Champion.
1967 FORD XR FAIRMONT
Paint: PPG Opal Green
Brand: Ford 427ci built by Tremaniac Racing
Induction: Quick Fuel 950cfm
Heads: CHI 3V
Camshaft: 246/250, 600 lift
Pistons: SRP, Dart block
Oil pump: Melling
Fuel system: Holley billet inline
Cooling: Race Radiators alloy, twin thermos
Exhaust: Pacemaker 17/8in headers, twin 3in system, growl resonators, Hooker Aero Chamber muffler
Gearbox: C4, manualised, B&M shifter
Converter: TCE 4800rpm
Diff: 9in, Truetrac, Strange aluminium centre; 3.77:1 gears, Altra 9 31-spline axles
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Front: King Springs, Calvert shocks
Rear: MotorFab split-mono leaf, Strange billet shocks
Brakes: Wilwood 280mm cross-drilled discs, four-piston calipers (f & r)
Master cylinder: Wilwood
Rims: Enemies Racing Australia Titan; 17×4.5 (f), 15×10 (r)
Rubber: Mickey Thompson Sportsman S/R 26×4.5 (f), Mickey Thompson E/T Street SS 275/50 (r)
Dean Goodingham for help with the engine installation; Dave Small for tubbing it with me at Laser Cut & Press; John Amos for bringing the purity on the Fairmont stuff; Craig Barber for the help and use of a hoist to do the plumbing; Brett Cooper from Coops Resto Co for panel and paint; Reid at Muscle Car Interiors for getting the interior on point; Aaron Tremayne for delivering exactly what I wanted; Craig at Custom Extreme Engineering for doing the nicest exhaust; Ash at Wiring & Tuning Solutions; Luke Kestle at MotorFab for the ongoing support; Brian at Prestige Metal for the stainless trim; my lovely wife Jade