XA GT-HO Phase IV - The First Owner
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Words By Roy Velardi
Name: John Despard Hemphill (J.A Hemphill & Sons Pty Ltd)
Purchase Date: 26/3/1973
Purchase Price: $4220.07
John Hemphill was the first official owner of the Phase IV and he was 50 years-old at the time. His name is credited in the Ford factory logbooks/owner’s manual of which I have sighted and can confirm is original. Hemphill was a regular customer at Brabhams and had previously owned a Monza Green delete-stripe XY GT-HO and a Track Red XY GT-HO. Hemphill used to live in Bowral-Burradoo NSW and would commute routinely to his Sydney office. He was in the import/export game and dabbled in many things including farm machinery, maize and wheat. I got in touch with his family, who were kind enough to share some of their precious old photos of not only the Phase IV but of Mr Hemphill himself. In one of the photos, you will see the car parked on the street in Port Echuca.
Note that the front spoiler has brake duct cut-outs. This version of the XA spoiler was designed by noted Ford GT-HO designer Wayne Draper and was available as an aftermarket item. The spoiler was fitted to the car after the original one was damaged. In another photo, you can see the car was still wearing the original logbook-matching NSW number plates BJG-126, and can clearly see that by this time the original factory Calypso Green was long gone. Hemphill preferred a darker shade of green, so he had the car resprayed in Zircon Green. Max Douglas, who had a small paint and panel shop called MG Douglas Smash that adjoined Fred Gibson’s Road & Track mechanical workshop in Randwick, NSW, was given the task of repainting the car in 1975.
Max and his crew stripped the car down for a full colour change. They repaired some minor body blemishes that resulted from Hemphill’s long country drives, then set about applying the Zircon Green. The paintwork wasn’t a real flash job, as remnants of the factory Calypso Green could still be seen in various places such as the door jambs and the underside of the bonnet. The paint and panel work was completed and the car handed back to Fred to refit the mechanicals. Fred had fully rebuilt the 351 Cleveland, close ratio four-speed Toploader and 31spline Detroit Locker Ford 9in at Hemphill’s request. Fred had fitted lumpy top pistons to increase the compression ratio and performance further, again at the owner’s request. This required the mighty Phase IV to be fuelled by avgas to prevent detonation. Hemphill soon grew tired of this and had Fred replace the pistons with new flat-top pistons.
Fred had coordinated the repaint and mechanical rebuild of the car. I asked him why Hemphill decided to change the colour and he said, “John was a country fella, a bit of an introvert, the bright-green colour just wasn’t him, and it attracted unwanted attention to the car”. I believe that Hemphill, having served in the army in Borneo, was much more fond of a darker shade of green and he couldn’t order another Phase IV in Zircon Green, so he did the next best thing and modified it to suit himself. After speaking to his daughter Wendy Holloway, she recalled how he used to time how long it would take for him to travel from Bowral to Sydney in the Phase IV. He’d then try to better his time! Try doing that these days! :)
According to his other daughter Penny Hemphill (aka Billie Dean), “Dad was always crazy about his cars and loved driving them hard”. Former employee at Brabham Ford, Paul Lloyd, was a young and eager apprentice that was in awe each time Hemphill used to come and drop the car off for a service. One day he dropped it off and let young Paul take the wheel. Paul didn’t have a licence at the time. That didn’t stop him though. He slipped the clutch out a little fast, spun the car around and it stalled. Paul admits to being embarrassed, but Hemphill didn’t mind and laughed it off.
The service records for the car show that it had its first service on the 10/4/73 and was showing 1158 miles. Subsequent services occurred on the 28/5/73 where it had covered 4907 miles and finally on the 20/8/73 the odometer read 9631 miles. It can clearly be seen that Hemphill used to drive the car regularly, covering almost 10,000 miles (16,000km) in just four months. The traditional style ‘slapper’ traction bars were fitted by Fred Gibson for Hemphill. The same can be said for the aftermarket oil pressure gauge and under-dash air, which made those long interstate drives in warm weather much more bearable.
Sadly, Mr Hemphill is no longer with us. He passed away in 2005 aged 82. I would have loved to have met him and listened to the many wonderful stories he could have shared about his time with the Phase IV. He is survived by his children, grandchildren and siblings. Rest in peace Mr John Despard Hemphill, you will always be remembered by me, the Ford and greater muscle car community as the first owner of the mighty Ford Falcon XA GT-HO Phase IV 😎 👍