SL/R F500

HDT's ul­ti­mate race­car

Australian Muscle Car - - Front Page -

It had all the right el­e­ments. A built-fromthe-ground-up Holden Dealer Team To­rana Sports Sedan pow­ered by a mid-mounted Repco-Holden For­mula 5000 5.0-litre V8, with sus­pen­sion de­vel­oped by one of the coun­try’s lead­ing open-wheeler en­gi­neers, and clothed in wild flared-guard body­work de­signed by none other than Holden’s in-house stylist him­self, Leo Pruneau. It would be driven by Holden’s num­ber one fac­tory driver, Colin Bond, who at the time was the reign­ing Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pion.

And yet some­how all th­ese in­gre­di­ents did not com­bine to make a suc­cess­ful recipe. Dur­ing the two-and-a-half years it ran as a fac­tory Holden Dealer Team car, it did not win a sin­gle race.

“It looked a mil­lion dol­lars when it was fin­ished!” Colin Bond chuck­les as he re­calls the HDT LH To­rana SL/R 5000 Sports Sedan’s public un­veil­ing in mid-1976.

But ap­pear­ances can be de­ceiv­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, the To­rana’s stunning looks weren’t matched by any de­cent amount of ac­tual dol­lars set aside to cover run­ning costs, at least dur­ing Bond’s brief time be­hind the wheel. How­ever, a lack of bud­get was not the only un­ex­pected hur­dle this car would face.

The LH-based HDT Sports Sedan was Bond’s idea. In a way it emerged out of the ashes of ‘The Beast’, the HDT To­rana XU-1 Repco-Holden Sports Sedan, although it was to be a very dif­fer­ent, much more tech­ni­cally so­phis­ti­cated ma­chine than the XU-1 ever was. The other im­por­tant distinc­tion was that it was built not by HDT boss Harry Firth in Mel­bourne, but by Bond’s team in Syd­ney. In fact, Firth had al­most noth­ing to do with the car. Colin Bond takes up the story:

“With only the tour­ing car races on my plate and not much else in 1975, I had some spare time to look at do­ing other things. Hav­ing driven ‘The Beast Mk 2’ a few times – and sur­vived! – I reck­oned it was pos­si­ble to build a bet­ter To­rana Sports Sedan around an LH shell, so I put the idea to Harry. When he said there wasn’t enough money in the bud­get to do it, I sug­gested we build the car in Syd­ney and run it separately, which was OK by Harry.”

By then Bond was al­ready run­ning a kind of semi-au­ton­o­mous satel­lite HDT in Syd­ney, main­tain­ing one works To­rana L34 which Bond him­self would run in lo­cal NSW – and some­times Queens­land – tour­ing car races. For the big­ger events Firth would fly up to over­see things; at other times Bond would be left to his own de­vices. To help with the Sports Sedan build, Firth sent one of his young me­chan­ics, Ge­orge Smith, to join Bond in Syd­ney.

“The team was still run from Mel­bourne, though,” Bond points out. “Harry never let us for­get that.”

Ge­orge Smith would later go on to form Den­car, the en­gi­neer­ing com­pany which for a while was re­spon­si­ble for most of the chas­sis on the V8 Su­per­car grid. But on the LH Sports Sedan project, Smith was very much the ap­pren­tice serv­ing un­der the ‘mas­ter’, Henry Nehry­becki, then one of the coun­try’s top rac­ing car en­gi­neers.

“I knew Henry from my brief time with Frank Matich’s For­mula 5000 team,” Bond re­calls. “I talked to him about help­ing Ge­orge and me put the car to­gether, us­ing the work­shop at his Lam­borgh­ini deal­er­ship in Crows Nest. When I say work­shop, it was re­ally just an old shed out the back.

At the time Ge­orge Smith had been work­ing at Harry Firth’s HDT head­quar­ters in Mel­bourne, but in the road car sec­tion of Firth Mo­tors, un­der the di­rec­tion of Frank Lown­des.

“Ge­orge had come over from Launce­s­ton be­cause he wanted to be­come a mo­tor rac­ing me­chanic,” Bond ex­plains. “It was a pretty brave thing to do: he was very young, and he came all the way from Tassie with his wife and young fam­ily, with no real prospect of a job – but I guess it turned out pretty good for him in the end!

“Ge­orge ended up stay­ing with me when I went off to join Mof­fat. He learned a lot when we were build­ing up the LH Sports Sedan. He learned a lot about fab­ri­ca­tion, and he learned a lot from work­ing with Henry, who was a top class en­gi­neer.”

Henry Nehry­becki had learned his trade in the UK work­ing for Lola in the late 1950s. When he re­turned to Australia he de­signed and built the first of two ‘Lolita’ sports-rac­ing cars (Henry adopted the Lolita name not from the saucy 1955 book by Vladimir Nabokov, but rather as a dis­tor­tion of ‘Lola’.) A mas­ter fab­ri­ca­tor, he worked with Frank Matich both on the SR se­ries sports cars and Matich’s For­mula 5000s in the early ’70s. With a back­ground like that, and at a time when the Sports Sedan scene had long since left its backyard-me­chanic ori­gins be­hind it, Nehry­becki was just the man for the job of designing the new HDT car. He would bring a level of en­gi­neer­ing so­phis­ti­ca­tion to the LH that had been con­spic­u­ously ab­sent from the XU-1 Sports Sedan.

Com­pared to the old car, the LH was, Bond re­calls, in a whole dif­fer­ent league: “It was built bet­ter, it looked bet­ter, and it went bet­ter.”

Of course, it needed to be all those things, be­cause by the mid-’70s Sports Sedan rac­ing had just about reached its com­pet­i­tive peak. Amid a string of se­ri­ous con­tenders – V8pow­ered heavy hit­ters such as the McCor­mack/ Ed­mond­son Valiant Charger Repco-Holden, Ian Geoghe­gan’s Craven-Mild HJ Monaro, Al­lan Mof­fat’s Chev Monza and Jim Richards’ Sid­chrome Mus­tang – the tar­get car iden­ti­fied by Bond and Nehry­becki was Bob Jane’s HQ Monaro GTS 350.

In fact, the LH was con­sciously de­signed with beat­ing Jane in mind. Part of the rea­son for this was that the main fo­cus for the car would be the rich Marl­boro Sports Sedan Se­ries at Calder, where Jane was es­pe­cially dom­i­nant. This was an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion: since there was noth­ing al­lo­cated from Firth’s HDT bud­get to ac­tu­ally run the car, Bond hoped to cover costs with prize­money won at the big-dollar events such as Calder’s.

Con­cep­tu­ally, the new car wasn’t so dif­fer­ent from the old XU-1 V8. Like the XU-1, it had Repco-Holden F5000 power, although in this case a flat-plane crank ver­sion pump­ing out around 370kW.

“The ex­haust note was more of a howl in­stead of the rum­ble big V8 en­gines usu­ally have,” says Bond of the flat-plane crank. (For an idea of how it would’ve sounded com­pared to its con­ven­tional V8 op­po­si­tion, think of the dis­tinc­tive note of the 5.0-litre flat-plane crank en­gine in to­day’s Volvo S60 V8 Su­per­cars.)

Like the XU-1 ‘Beast’, the LH’s 5.0-litre V8 would be mounted well back in the chas­sis – by about 30cm. In­ter­est­ingly, the XU-1’s en­gine had been mounted even fur­ther back.

“We learned with the orig­i­nal Sports Sedan that to have the en­gine back too far up­sets the brak­ing po­ten­tial,” Bond told Rac­ing Car News when the car had its first public show­ing in May, 1976. “We’ll mainly be run­ning the car at Calder, and that’s an ac­cel­er­a­tion and brak­ing ex­er­cise.”

The Repco-Holden V8 drove through a Borg & Beck F5000 clutch and GM-Mun­cie four-speed gear­box. A short fab­ri­cated tail­shaft con­nected the Mun­cie to what might be called the car’s cen­tre­piece, the CAE quick-change dif­fer­en­tial.

The CAE rear end, ba­si­cally a NASCAR and drag rac­ing item, had a drop gear ar­range­ment that al­lowed for fi­nal-drive gear ra­tios to be changed quickly at the track. As the only Sports Sedan to fea­ture this type of quick-change rear end, Bond and Nehry­becki be­lieved it would give them a cru­cial ad­van­tage when set­ting the car up at each cir­cuit.

The diff served a stress-bear­ing mem­ber, con­nected to the chas­sis by a tube-frame sec­tion. All of this was Nehry­becki’s work, along with the For­mula 5000 style rose-jointed, dou­ble wish­bone sus­pen­sion and spe­cially fab­ri­cated up­rights. As was the fash­ion at the time, the car fea­tured in­board rear disc brakes, with big 295mm F5000-type ro­tors. On the front, it ran Lock­heed four-spot calipers on 305mm ro­tors.

The rear track was 50mm wider than stan­dard, while the front track was un­changed. Un­usu­ally, so also was much of the rest of the front end. In its orig­i­nal form, the car used the stan­dard To­rana front cross­mem­ber, while the wish­bones and front hubs were also in vir­tu­ally stan­dard trim.

It seems sur­pris­ing that an en­gi­neer of the qual­ity of Nehry­becki would elect not to re­design the front sus­pen­sion along proper rac­ing car prin­ci­ples, just as he had done on the rear. When quizzed by Rac­ing Car News about this, he said his think­ing was in­flu­enced by what had hap­pened on the Jane Monaro. When Jane’s team had con­verted the HQ from its orig­i­nal Im­proved Pro­duc­tion Tour­ing specs to Sports Sedan rules, they took ad­van­tage of the freer rules and changed a lot of things. How­ever, Nehry­becki told the mag­a­zine, since then a lot of the car had been al­tered back to more or less the stan­dard spec­i­fi­ca­tion and, he noted, in this form it was the fastest Sports Sedan in the coun­try.

The new HDT To­rana might have been de­cep­tively stan­dard around the front but, thanks to the cre­ativ­ity of Holden’s style guru Leo Pruneau, it was cer­tainly no plain-Jane LH four­door on the out­side.

Pruneau’s body­work de­sign was in­flu­enced by the 1974 Cologne Capri (such as the one Al­lan Mof­fat im­ported for the start of the ’75 Sports Sedan sea­son) and in par­tic­u­lar its dra­matic boxshaped flared guards. Orig­i­nally the idea with the To­rana was to house twin ra­di­a­tors in­side the box sec­tions of the rear guards, in front of the rear wheels. In the end, though, they opted for the sim­plic­ity of a con­ven­tional front-mounted (stock Holden States­man) ra­di­a­tor.

The body­work came in two main sec­tions, made of fi­bre­glass (by GS Mo­tor Bod­ies in Syd­ney – Bond had to get moulds taken off Pruneau’s clay model pro­to­type in Mel­bourne, which were then sent to Syd­ney), for the front and back. They were de­signed to lift off the chas­sis to make work­ing on the car eas­ier, and of course they weighed a lot less than the orig­i­nal sheet metal pan­els. Alu­minium doors con­tin­ued the weight-loss theme, and the orig­i­nal To­rana chas­sis sec­tions were holed out like Swiss cheese where ever they could with­out it af­fect­ing struc­tural in­tegrity.

To com­plete the pic­ture, Bond asked Globe Wheels to do a spe­cial or­der of wheels in the same style as those on the HDT Group C To­rana L34s – only wider (13 inches wide and 15-inches in di­am­e­ter).

Weigh­ing in at 1000kg, the To­rana was, com­pared to most of its op­po­si­tion, a light­weight ma­chine. But it needed to be, be­cause un­der a par­tic­u­lar quirk of the Sports Sedan rules, the LH was limited to a max­i­mum en­gine size of 5.0-litres – while its Monaro/Mus­tang/Monza op­po­si­tion could (and most did) run up to 6.0-litres.

Even though Al­lan Mof­fat had some years ear­lier shown it was pos­si­ble for a good 5.0-litre Boss Mus­tang to beat a 7.0-litre Ca­maro, it was go­ing to be a tough ask for the smaller ca­pac­ity LH in a field as top-heavy field as this.

What Bond could not have known it at the time, how­ever, was that it was all about to get even tougher.

Lit­tle time to Bond

To­day Colin Bond doesn’t re­mem­ber all that much about his time driv­ing the HDT LH To­rana Sports Sedan. That’s per­haps not sur­pris­ing, be­cause it was truly a whirl­wind cam­paign, with Bond rac­ing the car at six meet­ings across four states, over a fran­tic sev­en­week pe­riod.

The car wasn’t ready in time for the open­ing round of the in­au­gu­ral Aus­tralian Sports Sedan Cham­pi­onship at Surfers Par­adise in May, 1976, but it made round two at Sandown in July. And what a de­but – Bond put the car on pole with a whole 1.1 sec­onds to spare over the next best, Ian Geoghe­gan.

In the first of Sun­day’s two heats, Bond bat­tled with Mof­fat for the lead but went down to the Monza, the two cars sep­a­rated by less than two sec­onds at the end. Heat two went to Geoghe­gan, with Mof­fat sec­ond and then the HDT To­rana.

A good start, then, but things soured two weeks later at Ama­roo Park, where the car’s chief Achilles Heel – the diff – was ex­posed for the first time.

“The diff just wasn’t strong enough,” Bond says. “It was rated to about 1000bhp (745kW), but the prob­lem was that it wasn’t de­signed to take a sud­den load from a stand­ing start, be­cause they use rolling starts in the US. The drop gears had holes in them to make them light, and they just kept break­ing off the start line. I had to let in the clutch re­ally gen­tly, but even then half the field usu­ally went past be­fore the first cor­ner!” Top: Colin Bond fires the new LH Sports Sedan through Oran Park’s Esses. Above, be­low right: At Ama­roo Park, Bond’s To­rana and Geoghe­gan ‘s Monaro are locked in battle try­ing to put all that V8 power to the road. Be­low right: The new To­rana made a big splash on de­but at Sandown, tak­ing pole and lead­ing the race for a while - and also pro­vid­ing in­spi­ra­tion for car­toon­ist John ‘Stonie’ Stone­ham (inset top). Left: Bond with Harry Firth. A dis­agree­ment be­tween the two over fi­nances left Bond with no funds to run the car...

The diff failed again at the car’s next out­ing, Oran Park’s cham­pi­onship round. Bond fin­ished fourth in the open­ing heat, and un­til the diff in­ter­vened he’d looked a real chance in the fi­nal heat. Even so, Bond was only in a po­ten­tially win­ning po­si­tion be­cause Frank Gard­ner’s new Chev Cor­vair had been black flagged, and front row starters Richards and Mof­fat had both re­tired with me­chan­i­cal is­sues.

Above, right: Front chas­sis de­tail shows how far back the Repco-Holden 5.0-litre V8 is mounted – al­most flush with the orig­i­nal To­rana fire­wall! Orig­i­nal To­rana chas­sis sec­tions have where pos­si­ble been ‘Swiss cheesed’ to re­duce weight.

If the threat posed by Gard­ner’s rad­i­cal mi­dengined Cor­vair hadn’t been ob­vi­ous at Oran Park, then it was ham­mered home a week later at Calder. Along with most of the other cars, the HDT To­rana was sim­ply out­gunned, with Bond claim­ing a fifth and third place re­spec­tively. But the Cor­vair had com­pletely changed the Sports Sedan game.

At the fol­low­ing week’s Wan­neroo round, Bond qual­i­fied fourth be­hind Geoghe­gan, Richards and pole­man Mof­fat, this time driv­ing the Cologne Capri (the Cor­vair was ab­sent). But it was all for naught, oil pres­sure is­sues caus­ing the LH to re­tire from both heats. That was the last time Bond raced it. “It took longer to fin­ish than ev­ery­one hoped – like most new rac­ing cars! – and the year was half over by the time it was ac­tu­ally up and run­ning,” Bond re­mem­bers. “And of course the tour­ing cars had top pri­or­ity. Still, I think we would have given them a real shake if we’d been al­lowed to use a six-litre en­gine – and if we’d used a bet­ter diff!”

Not that there’d have been the re­sources to do any fur­ther up­grades – be­cause Colin’s plan to fund the car on prize­money had hit an un­ex­pected snag.

“Orig­i­nally Henry was go­ing to be a part­ner with me in the project,” Bond says, “but it didn’t quite work out that way af­ter a mis­un­der­stand­ing over the fi­nan­cial ar­range­ments with Harry (Firth).

“We all agreed that the car would be paid for by the HDT, but they didn’t pay for me build­ing it on the con­di­tion that we got all the prize­money. But then Harry went and did a deal with all the cir­cuit pro­mot­ers that they pay him ap­pear­ance money, so in re­turn they didn’t have to pay prize­money. So we lost out on that one!

“Look­ing back, yes, the diff was a prob­lem ini­tially but… the real prob­lem was that we didn’t have a bud­get to run it.”

A month or so af­ter Bond’s last start in the LH Sports Sedan, came the news that he was leav­ing the HDT and Holden to join Mof­fat and Ford for 1977. Bond says the ap­pear­ance money is­sue with Firth wasn’t what caused him to jump ship, but with Mof­fat of­fer­ing a more at­trac­tive deal, the LH Sports Sedan saga surely can’t have helped dis­suade him from the de­ci­sion.

Har­rop en­gi­neered and driven

Colin Bond’s ‘de­fec­tion’ to Ford at the end of 1976 was a cause of some up­heaval at the Holden Dealer Team. Sud­denly there was an LH Sports Sedan sit­ting in Firth’s Hawthorn work­shop that not only needed some­one to pre­pare it, but also some­one to drive it. More press­ingly, a re­place­ment for Bond was needed in the team’s tour­ing car rac­ing ef­fort, which was ex­pand­ing to two cars for the new sea­son.

Firth acted quickly to fill the driver void. John Har­vey and Char­lie O’Brien were im­me­di­ately re­signed, along with Wayne Ne­gus, who would run a HDT L34 in West­ern Aus­tralian events be­fore join­ing the oth­ers at Bathurst. The fi­nal en­duro drive seat would be filled by Ron Har­rop.

Firth and Har­rop were al­ready well ac­quainted – Har­rop’s en­gi­neer­ing shop had been mak­ing spe­cial-or­der parts for Firth for some years (he had, for in­stance, de­signed and man­u­fac­tured the brake cal­lipers for the To­rana L34 per­for­mance up­grade). But just as Har­rop was a skilled fab­ri­ca­tor

it had been.

Har­rop ran five of the seven rounds that made up the cham­pi­onship. The cam­paign be­gan in far­ci­cal cir­cum­stances at Surfers Par­adise, where he qual­i­fied on the front row, even if an omi­nous 2.1 sec­onds slower than the Cor­vair, now with Al­lan Grice at the wheel.

But Har­rop never got the chance to test him­self against the mid-en­gined Chev in race con­di­tions, be­cause by race morn­ing he’d been dis­qual­i­fied. The penalty re­lated to the car’s en­trant, the HDT, whose CAMS en­trants’ li­cence had been suspended. The is­sue had noth­ing to do with Har­rop, but rather was over a sway bar irregularity on the HDT’s To­rana A9X tour­ing cars. The HDT’s ap­peal was dis­missed on the Fri­day be­fore the Surfers week­end, and so the HDT’s en­trants’ four-week li­cence sus­pen­sion was im­me­di­ately reim­posed.

A be­mused Har­rop was left to pack his things and re­turn to Mel­bourne, pre­vented from rac­ing by an is­sue that had noth­ing to do with him, and one of which he was only vaguely aware even as the Ste­wards told him the bad news…

Mean­while, the com­pe­ti­tion was get­ting even hot­ter. As if things weren’t be­ing made hard enough by the dom­i­nance of the Gard­ner/Grice Cor­vair, which had ren­dered the HDT LH and ev­ery other car ob­so­lete, the se­ries had just re­ceived a new and po­tent ad­di­tion in the form of Jim Richards’ light­weight Fal­con.

In the sec­ond round at Ade­laide, Har­rop qual­i­fied third be­hind Richards and Grice. The Cor­vair’s day was done af­ter it suf­fered a rear end fail­ure in the first race, leav­ing Har­rop to chase Richards home in both heats. It was a near

iden­ti­cal story at Wan­neroo, with Grice and Richards shar­ing the spoils, with the HDT LH trail­ing in their wake. This was to be the LH’s lot: faster than most, slower than the two dom­i­nant cars.

Sandown was the scene of the cel­e­brated ‘sand­bag’ episode, in which the rear of Grice’s Cor­vair was laden with 100kg of sand in an ef­fort to im­prove its trac­tion on the wet track. Per­haps the HDT To­rana could have done with sim­i­lar treat­ment, be­cause it was well off the pace in the wet, fin­ish­ing a dis­tant fifth in race one (be­hind Garry Rogers in the ex-Geoghe­gan Monaro) and claim­ing sec­ond later in the day.

This was Har­rop’s last start, be­cause HDT boss John Shep­pard de­cided that Peter Brock would drive in the Calder round in Au­gust. This was also its last start as a Holden Dealer Team car.

As to the rea­son for the Brock cameo, Har­rop says: “I think they wanted a sec­ond opin­ion as to the car’s po­ten­tial. But I don’t re­ally re­mem­ber: maybe it was be­cause Peter ex­erted a bit of in­flu­ence and said that he wouldn’t mind hav­ing a drive.”

That Brock only qual­i­fied fourth be­hind Grice, Richards and Jane sug­gested that maybe Har­rop hadn’t been do­ing too bad a job. But Brock looked a strong chance in the 40-lap race, hav­ing taken an early lead af­ter Grice had a flat tyre and Jane slid off and bogged in the mud. Noth­ing came of it, though, with Brock hav­ing to re­tire the car barely 10 laps in with a bro­ken half-shaft.

Look­ing back, Har­rop, like Colin Bond be­fore him, won­ders how the car might have gone had it been al­lowed to run a 6.0-litre en­gine.

“It wasn’t too bad, and it def­i­nitely got bet­ter, but whether it was ever go­ing to be good enough as a five-litre, in that con­fig­u­ra­tion, I don’t know.

“It wasn’t bet­ter than the other cars, as the re­sults show, but it was unique in that had a bet­ter weight dis­tri­bu­tion than most of the other ve­hi­cles, plus it was a lot lighter than many.

“But it was a five-litre en­gine, and the oth­ers, apart from the Cor­vair, were six-litres. But the Cor­vair was re­ally just bet­ter in most ar­eas. In re­al­ity the LH prob­a­bly lacked torque, in re­la­tion to the weight of the car. That’s prob­a­bly the area where it was most de­fi­cient. It was in­ter­est­ing, in its time, though.”

Wall to Wall

The HDT LH Sports Sedan was sold to Queens­land Holden dealer/racer Barry NixonSmith in 1979. Nixon-Smith drove it for a while un­der his South Coast Mo­tors ban­ner be­fore it was taken over by Ge­off Rus­sell, fa­ther of cur­rent V8 Su­per­car/GT driver David Rus­sell.

It was dur­ing this pe­riod that the car scored its first wins, although not at cham­pi­onship level, but rather in lo­cal Queens­land Sports Sedan races (in­clud­ing the State Sports Sedan ti­tle) and also the Co­ma­lco-Wun­der­lich se­ries at Ama­roo Park. Nixon-Smith sold it to fel­low Queens­lan­der Dave Wat­son, who had Greg Wright drive it dur­ing 1982 and ’83.

The car was ad­ver­tised for sale again, in the De­cem­ber 30 is­sue of Auto Ac­tion in 1983.

At the time Des Wall and his fam­ily were en­joy­ing a sum­mer hol­i­day in the Sun­shine State. David Wall doesn’t per­son­ally re­mem­ber it, be­cause he was barely a year old, but, as he tells the story to­day:

“We drove up there in the fam­ily car for the hol­i­days – and came back with a race­car.

“Dad was sit­ting there read­ing the pa­per one morn­ing, and he saw this car was ad­ver­tised for sale. It hap­pened to be an hour or so from where we were stay­ing, so we all jumped in the car to go and have a look at it. We ended up buy­ing it and tow­ing it home – and it’s been part of the fam­ily ever since.”

Des Wall had at the time been look­ing for a car to re­place the EH Holden Sports Sedan he’d been rac­ing. The LH ticked all the boxes.

“At the time it was just a car which the team be­fore us had fin­ished with,” David Wall says. “Prob­a­bly nei­ther us nor they would have known what it would be­come to­day. For my fa­ther, at the time it was just a step up in buy­ing a faster car, and do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent from what he was do­ing. He was go­ing from the six-cylin­der EH to the V8, which was what he was af­ter, and he was a To­rana fan through and through.

“He did the Aus­tralian Hill­climb Cham­pi­onship in it and won, and did what rac­ing he could af­ford while he was start­ing up a busi­ness and look­ing af­ter two kids.”

One of the rac­ing ad­ven­tures with the LH, which David re­mem­bers vividly, was their trip to New Zealand.

“There was an op­por­tu­nity for a group of Sports Sedan guys to go and race their cars in New Zealand. So we stuck the car on a jumbo on a pal­let, and we went over there and hol­i­dayed around New Zealand in be­tween go­ing to the

race tracks. I was about six at the time.”

It goes with­out say­ing that for David Wall, this car is both part of the fam­ily and a part of his child­hood. He lit­er­ally grew up with this car.

“When we did the restora­tion,” he says, “for me it was a labour of love. As a kid I grew up ly­ing un­der­neath it – not that I knew what I was do­ing! – just ‘help­ing’ dad work on it.

“We used to live in Bankstown and we had a lit­tle sin­gle-car garage, and dad would do all the work on the car him­self in there. When­ever he was work­ing on it, I used to lie un­der­neath it with him. Mum used to come down with the cus­tom­ary cup of tea, and she’d open the garage door and out from un­der the car would come two big legs and two lit­tle legs! What­ever dad was do­ing, I was try­ing to do the same.

“One day when dad took the car out for pri­vate prac­tice, I’d hid­den some span­ners and sock­ets in the car, from when I’d been ‘help­ing’ work on it. Af­ter a lap or two he was back in the pits to re­move the tools that were fly­ing around in­side the car…”

Des stopped rac­ing the LH some time in the late 1980s. But he did not sell it. In­stead, he sim­ply ‘re­tired’ it.

“At the time they were talk­ing about chang­ing the rules in Sports Sedans,” David Wall ex­plains. “They wanted Sports Sedans to change from the box guards of the era and have more rolled guards so they looked more stan­dard, and they asked him to change the guards so he could con­tinue to run it. He re­fused. He liked the car as it was and wanted to keep it as it was, so it lit­er­ally got pushed into the cor­ner – and it’s stayed there all that time. Why didn’t Des just sell the To­rana? “Mainly, I think, be­cause like all of us, you fall in love with th­ese things,” David says. “They be­come part of your life. Ev­ery week­end you’re ei­ther rac­ing or work­ing on them, or you go to work to earn money to put back into them, to try to make it faster. It’s just what you do in mo­tor­sport.

“Also, back then, in the ’80s, you didn’t get much for old cars like this, they weren’t seen as valu­able. It was just an old race car, and it was prob­a­bly also a case of him think­ing, ‘well, if I’m only go­ing to get that much for it, I might as well keep it’.

“But it very much is a part of the fam­ily, and that’s one of the rea­sons why we wanted to put it back to the way that it is. We al­ways spoke about do­ing this, but things evolved, other cars came into the fam­ily, and it got pushed aside a lit­tle bit.

“There just wasn’t ever quite enough time to do it, but when dad got sick, I promised him that we’d get the car back to­gether like we al­ways spoke about.

“Un­for­tu­nately, he never got to see it, but it sits here to­day ex­actly as he and I had al­ways spo­ken about.”

Wall restora­tion

Be­tween 1990 and 2012, the LH Sports Sedan lay dor­mant in the back of the work­shop. David Wall re­mem­bers, as a kid, help­ing his fa­ther strip the car so it could be stored away.

“When we fin­ished, it was lit­er­ally a chas­sis with noth­ing on it. Ev­ery­thing else was in pieces in boxes and on shelves. It all sat there frozen, if you like, for all that time.”

Dur­ing that time Des and David Wall had many dis­cus­sions about restor­ing the LH, and re­turn­ing it to HDT trim. The pe­riod they set­tled on was 1978, Ron Har­rop’s last year with it.

Com­pared with the Wall fam­ily’s ear­lier restora­tion of the Jane Monaro, the To­rana was rel­a­tively straight­for­ward. While the few Sports Sedans which do sur­vive a long pe­riod of time nor­mally end up heav­ily mod­i­fied and far re­moved from what they’d been orig­i­nally (as was the case with the Jane car), re­mark­ably this car re­mained close to the specs it last ran in HDT colours – which, David Wall says, was also more or less in the form it was when Des raced it, so that made things eas­ier. Of course, a big part of the rea­son for this is that it’s been locked in a 22-year time warp in the back of the Wall work­shop…

“It wasn’t a sim­ple restora­tion,” David Wall says, “but it was eas­ier than most.

“The en­gine was prob­a­bly the most in­volved part. Ev­ery­thing else was sort of there, and non- butchered, so it was mostly a case of re­build­ing and re­assem­bling it.

“There were some mi­nor cracks in the chas­sis, which we re­paired, but as far as, say, pulling it apart and chang­ing it back to the way it was, that didn’t hap­pen, be­cause it still was as it was.

“It only had a fairly short his­tory of rac­ing be­fore we got it, and dad did some se­lected races, and that was it. By the time dad got the car, the bugs were all ironed out. Apart from ser­vic­ing it, he ran it ba­si­cally as he re­ceived it.

“It still has the en­gine that came with it, the gear­box, diff, even the gauges and the gauge panel, ev­ery­thing in­side was as it was, so it was just a case of find­ing some­one to do things like ser­vice the gauges.

“It had a red SAAS seat, but they no longer ex­ist. The only com­pany who could build us an equiv­a­lent seat was Racetech. So it now has a seat es­pe­cially made by Racetech, to look like an old SAAS seat.”

Orig­i­nally the car fea­tured a Momo steer­ing wheel. Re­mark­ably, the Momo range still in­cludes the ex­act same wheel, so they were able to re­place the old one with an ex­act equiv­a­lent new item, David tells us.

The things that took the time aren’t the ob­vi­ous items. There were, David Wall says, a lot of hand­fab­ri­cated parts on the car that were very fid­dly to get right.

“The rear tail­lights, for ex­am­ple, took a full day to make. The stan­dard rear tail­light doesn’t fit in the car; it’s just a lens cover with a light be­hind it, to make it look like an orig­i­nal SL/R 5000 tail­light. It’s a hand-bent mod­i­fied piece. There are a lot of things like that on the car that took a lot of time, that you wouldn’t no­tice just look­ing at it.”

Most of the work was done by Wall him­self and David Fyfe, who helps man­age the work­shop at Wall Rac­ing. Most of it was done in-house, although the body­work restora­tions and paint­work was farmed out to Gas 250 Restora­tions.

While a spe­cial­ist was needed to re­store the To­rana’s ex­te­rior, the orig­i­nal Leo Pruneau-

de­signed body­work re­mained more or less un­al­tered – thanks largely to Des Wall’s re­fusal to bow to CAMS’ pres­sure to change the box guards back in the ’80s.

The en­gine was a chal­lenge. Repco-Holden For­mula 5000 en­gines aren’t ex­actly thick on the ground th­ese days, and re­build­ing this one proved to be a big and, at $60,000, an ex­pen­sive job.

“We could have put in a Chev with a carby for about ten grand,” David Wall says. “But that’s not what it is. It was all about putting it back, as best we could with the knowl­edge we could find, to

make it ex­actly what it was.

“Even the spe­cial two-piece pushrods the Repco-Holden uses, it didn’t need to have that, but that’s what it had, so we re­made those items. The fuel pres­sure is 135psi – that’s dou­ble what a com­put­erised car would run th­ese days, but that’s what it ran. There’s $20,000 in the fuel sys­tem be­fore you even start with the en­gine.”

Then there was the $5000 it cost just to have the sus­pen­sion arms and anti-roll bar brack­ets nickel-plated.

The shiny gold-coloured com­po­nents look trick, but the elec­trol­y­sis process used in nick­elplat­ing comes at a cost in ad­di­tion to the 5K, as David Fyfe ex­plains:

“It’s de­signed for show and it’s not some­thing any­one would do to­day. They’ve since learned over the years that the acid used to clean the metal, to make the process work prop­erly, can’t be evac­u­ated out of the arm com­pletely. What hap­pens then is that it ac­tu­ally eats the metal. This process used to be com­mon but through time they’ve learned that this is not the best way of do­ing it.”

How­ever, the car had nickel-plated sus­pen­sion arms back in the day, and so it would have them again…

Work on the restora­tion be­gan at the end of 2012. The car was fin­ished two days be­fore the Aus­tralian Mus­cle Car Masters 2013, Fa­ther’s Day in Septem­ber. It wasn’t yet run­ning; it had lit­er­ally been just bolted to­gether.

“We ran it for the first time at last year’s Mus­cle Car Masters,” David Wall says. “I was ac­tu­ally quite ner­vous – this car is re­ally part of the fam­ily. I took it very easy over the first few laps, then I gave the en­gine a bit of a go at the end – and it was sen­sa­tional!

“I was think­ing of dad when I drove it, no doubt, and I def­i­nitely had a tear in the eye when I stopped at the end of it. I’m sure he’s around some­where look­ing at it.

“Dad and I used to drive home in the Syd­ney traf­fic sit­ting there for two hours talk­ing about what we were go­ing to do with the car. I think it’s come out awe­some. I’m sure it’s turned out to be ev­ery­thing we’d spo­ken about.”

HDT To­rana – a fac­tory This is one spe­cial

with a F5000 en­gine; Holden rac­ing ma­chine

by the iconic op­er­a­tion. the fastest car run

Main: All smiles at the 1976 Syd­ney Mo­tor Show as Colin Bond proudly shows off the shiny new HDT To­rana SL/R 5000 Sports Sedan. Top: Build shots show some of the ex­ten­sive mod­i­fi­ca­tions made to the orig­i­nal To­rana shell. Note the holed out chas­sis rails (top right) and spe­cially de­signed rear end. The en­gine was moved back and in­side the cabin, though not as far as in the old XU-1 Repco V8 (inset left).

Top: Ge­orge Smith (later to head up V8 Su­per­car en­gi­neer­ing firm, Den­car), learned his craft on the HDT To­rana build with Henry Nehry­becki. Above: Two years in the mak­ing, the car was ready to go in June, 1976. Be­low: Of­fi­cial launch of the car in Syd­ney, ac­com­pa­nied by the HDT rally Gemini and Group C To­rana L34.

Above, top: In­te­rior and rear sus­pen­sion de­tail show­ing the unique quick-change CAE diff, in­board brakes and spe­cially an­odised sus­pen­sion arms.

By the time Har­rop took over the HDT LH Sports Sedan, it had (along with ev­ery other Sports Sedan) been ren­dered ob­so­lete by Frank Gard­ner’s Chev Cor­vair. Be­low: It says Har­rop on the side but in fact it’s Peter Brock. Brock’s one and only start in the car, at Calder, was also the LH’s fi­nal race as a HDT car.

1983

Above: Des Wall re­tired the car from rac­ing in the late ‘80s, with the in­ten­tion of one day restor­ing it to its HDT era spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Be­low: Des never got to see the fin­ished ar­ti­cle, but the mag­nif­i­cently re­stored LH is a wor­thy ad­di­tion to the Wall Rac­ing sta­ble along­side the Geoghe­gan Mus­tang and Jane Monaro.

Main: David Wall proudly shows off the HDT LH To­rana, mag­nif­i­cently re­stored and re­turned to 1978 spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Des Wall passed away be­fore the car could be fin­ished, but he would surely have ap­proved of his son’s ef­forts. Top left, be­low: Ev­ery­thing was stripped back to bare metal for the restora­tion. Note the de­tail pho­tos (be­low cen­tre) that Wall’s team ref­er­enced dur­ing the re­fit.

Top: The Leo Pruneau-de­signed front and rear body sec­tions were re­paired by Gas 250 Re­tora­tions. Left, be­low: Ap­proach­ing the fin­ished ar­ti­cle. David Wall says that through the car’s rac­ing his­tory the ba­sic struc­ture re­mained lit­tle changed from HDT spec.

Above: David Wall ran a few laps in the car at last year’s Mus­cle Car Masters event. It was the first time the car had hit a race track since the late 1980s.

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