Competitor shares remarkable story Ford Falcon GT replica at hill climb

A Neil Oatway Tbj 2756  TBW Newsgroup

A Neil Oatway Tbj 2338 TBW Newsgroup
CLASSIC COMBINATION: Neil Oatway and his classic Falcon GT replica have attended every Legend of the Lakes hill climb and has no plans to stop any time soon. Pictures: TREVOR JACKSON

THERE are always interesting stories to be found at the Legend of the Lakes hill climb.

Many drivers have competed in every event since it began, with one adding a bit more interest this year.

Neil Oatway hales from Goolwa and has been at all the Legends in his trusty 1971 Falcon GT replica.

But to add to the interest, it is possibly one of the rarest race cars in the country.

Oatway has owned the car since new, picked up as the family vehicle back when he was earning a pittance.

One-owner cars from that era can be found, but it would be hard to imagine many of them are raced – if any.

Oatway was happy to share a bit of the story of the car at the hill climb on Sunday morning.

“I picked it up in November 1971,” he said.

“I bought it as a Futura with a GS kit.

“In those days the GS kit gave you the GT dash with the 8000 rpm tacho, toploader gearbox, 351 motor, nine-inch diff, dual exhausts and away we went.”

Back then a GT version of the Falcon could be had for not a lot more money, but Oatway said his decision came down to simple economics.

“This was $4600 with all the options,” he said.

“I could have got a GT for $4800 and I could have got a GTHO Phase 3 for $5100.

“Back then I was only earning $80 a week and the insurance was $500, so I could not afford it.

“This was only $90 for the insurance and I had virtually a GT.”

Oatway enjoyed the Falcon for many years, driving to Bathurst for the annual endurance race and wherever else he needed to go.

A love of racing had always been with him and eventually the bug bit.

“I was always at Mallala standing on the mound watching the boys race,” Oatway said.

“We went across to Bathurst in 1965 when the GT Cortina 500s won, we were back the next year when the Mini Coopers won and in 1967 the XR Falcon GT came out and we were there.”

Eventually Oatway’s wife began to work for a man by the name of Robert Vandercamp, who runs a yellow Falcon at the hill climb each year.

They were already friends and one thing led to another.

“We forged a fair friendship being Ford boys,” Oatway said.

“He had an XB GT sitting in the shed and said ‘why don’t we go to the All-Ford day at Campbelltown oval’.

“Over in the corner was the Ford Owners tent.

“We went over there and they were trying to sign us up as members.

“They said ‘we hire the track at Mallala for three days a year’ – Bob looked at me, I looked at him and said I think we’ll sign up.

“That’s when it started.”

From there Oatway said the pair “chased” each other around Mallala for a few years, before he began competing in regularity.

He claimed the state title in 1999, then runner-up and a third place.

Vandercamp suggested he put a roll cage in it and start racing, which he said was not really a tough decision.

“Because I enjoy driving it so much, it was a fairly easy decision to make,” he said.

“But I get annoyed when someone bends me, because the panels are pretty hard to come by these days.

“It is not a race car to go out and go boof, boof.

“I have never bent it myself.”

But to race, the car needed to be modified slightly to bring it into line with the historic category.

“When we started racing it with Bobbie, they did not race Futuras with a GS kit,” Oatway said.

“It had to be a GT so we made it look like one.”

As it stands the iconic Falcon will be seen at the Legend of the Lakes for years to come, with Oatway a regular and not ready to hang up his driving gloves just yet, along with his mate’s yellow version, who Oatway would love to beat up the hill.

“I would dearly love to beat him, but I cannot,” he said.

“He is quick and a lot younger than me.

“I have only ever passed him once and that was at Mallala.”

Oatway said he will race as long as he can and when he is finished, the Falcon will go back to a road car.

“When I cannot get my racing licence any more and it goes back on the road it will be the fastest Bay to Birdwood car in the country,” he said.

“Then I can say it is only driven on Sundays.”