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How an Australian legend missed out on factory Ford drive

Fred Gibson was a Ford legend before leading the dominance of Nissan during 1980s and 1990s as the Australian GT-Rs built under his guidance were acknowledged as the fastest in the world.

But if it wasn’t for another motor racing legend’s unavailability, Gibson’s big Ford break may not have come. Ford had invited Frank Matich to join Harry Firth for the 1967 Gallaher 500, but he was unable to take his spot due to commitments in the US leading to Gibson slotting in.

“Frank Matich was going to drive, but he couldn’t come back from America so I got the drive with Harry and I was very fortunate to do that,” Gibson said. “But the whole thing was, even back in those days, Harry built a very special car.”

This led to a successful opening race for the partnership as Gibson and Firth took the flag to secure the first win in the Bathurst classic for a V8 despite only meeting the Thursday before the race.

After the success, Firth was unceremoniously dumped by Ford and made the immediate switch to Holden where he tried to persuade Gibson to make the jump across of which he declined.

“He said to me one year, ‘cock, I’m going to Holden next year, how about you come with me?’,” Gibson recalled.

“I thought the best way to go about it as a person was to stay with someone in the sport, and that’s when Ford where in the sport, so I stayed. He went to Holden, then he picked up Brock.

“The thing is, the ’67 and ’68 Falcons were a good car against the Monaros. I suppose the pleasing thing to me as a driver was when the 350 Monaro came out, the year Bo [Seton] and I nearly won the race until we cooked an engine, that was a really satisfying race in some ways because the 350 Monaro had so much more grunt than what we had.

“It’d just blow the socks off us up The Mountain and down the straight.”

Gibson moved to race with Alfa Romeo once Ford had left the motorsport scene in the mid-1970s before aiding privateers as he joined Nissan in 1981.