Max Wright To­rana

The L34 To­rana was the weapon of choice for all the big Holden names in the mid 1970s, and plenty of pri­va­teers too. AMC pro­files a unique car that’s been on the scene for a while but, un­til now, we haven’t had a chance to stop and tell its story…

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

The L34 To­rana was the weapon of choice for all the big Holden names in the mid-1970s, and plenty of pri­va­teers too. AMC pro­files a unique car whose story has just been wait­ing to be told.

Men­tion the rac­ing ver­sion of the Holden To­rana L34 and in­stantly the names of Colin Bond, Peter Brock, Al­lan Grice, Bob Mor­ris and many more spring to mind. The likes of the cars from the big teams – the Holden Dealer Team, Ron Hodg­son’s squad and Grice’s Craven Mild crew – are all revered and cel­e­brated ma­chines in Aus­tralian mus­cle car his­tory.

Sadly, many of them have ei­ther gone to the car gods or their his­tory was so murky and not cor­rectly doc­u­mented that there is con­fu­sion over which is what and what is which. But there are plenty more of th­ese cars from this era that have lived on, but some­times their sto­ries have been glossed over. One of th­ese cars is the pri­va­teer Max Wright Mo­tors To­rana L34 that com­peted in the Hardie-Ferodo 1000 at Bathurst three times be­tween 1974 and 1976. It lives on to­day in the hands of Bal­larat­based car col­lec­tor Trevor Madden, who re­calls at­tend­ing the Golden Mile Hillclimb at Ararat in coun­try Vic­to­ria in the 1970s and see­ing pri­va­teer ace Peter Jan­son take his L34 up the long­est and fastest hillclimb in the coun­try. “I was 18 and I was so im­pressed with that L34, I said to my­self, ‘one day I’m go­ing to buy one of those cars and I’ll do the same thing’,” says Madden.

“I re­mem­ber see­ing it un­loaded off the truck in the pits, and it came to the start­line – he just buried it off the line and it just went up this moun­tain and ev­ery­one just said ‘Wow!’

“So that’s why I bought my car; be­ing an ex-race­car didn’t do much for me at that time be­cause I thought it had prob­a­bly been given a hard time. But it’s proved to­day to be ben­e­fi­cial be­cause it’s a very unique L34.

Madden’s car was orig­i­nally built in 1974 by Don Hol­land who raced it for the Sut­tons Holden deal­er­ship in Syd­ney.

Per­haps more known as a Mazda and Mini pi­lot in the small car classes, Hol­land teamed with the late open-wheeler ace Max Ste­wart for Bathurst

in ’74 but the L34 re­tired with brake dra­mas with 134 of 163 laps com­pleted.

“Don sold the car at the end of ‘74 as he reck­oned he went out of his class and the big V8 was a bit too ex­pen­sive to run,” says Madden. Hol­land sold the L34 to Rus­sell Skaife (father of fu­ture V8 Hall of Famer Mark), who only did a hand­ful of races be­fore it was sold to Syd­ney (Pen­rith) Holden dealer Max Wright.

Wright ap­proached Bob Skel­ton – who had co-driven with Colin Bond at the HDT at Bathurst the year prior in an L34 – to get in­volved.

“Bob teamed up with Ron Dickson and they raced it for that whole se­ries of 1975 and ran it at Bathurst and fin­ished fourth out­right,” adds Madden.

AMC fea­tured Skel­ton in our ‘Mus­cle Man’ sec­tion back in is­sue #67 in mid-2013 and he re­called a story of how one of their 1975 Bathurst spon­sors came to be.

“I was ac­tu­ally work­ing for Max Wright and I got spon­sor­ship from Vis­count Car­a­vans for the car,” he re­called. “Well, they de­cided to give us the deal­er­ship from an­other Pen­rith dealer who wasn’t go­ing too well and I soon started sell­ing car­a­vans off the lot!”

Cur­rent owner Madden made a con­nec­tion with Skel­ton some years later, who flew down from Syd­ney to have a look over the car (“he was very im­pressed” says Madden).

“They ran it again in 1976 and Bob drove it with Alan Hamil­ton from Porsche at Bathurst and they fin­ished sev­enth out­right with it,” con­tin­ues Trevor Madden.

“That was the year the car had had a huge ac­ci­dent with Colin Bond at Ama­roo Park (the ATCC round where Al­lan Grice and Bond came to­gether and set off a multi car pile-up). They both had ex­ten­sive dam­age to both ve­hi­cles.”

None­the­less the re­paired L34 fin­ished a fine sev­enth at Bathurst 1976 – its se­cond con­sec­u­tive top 10 fin­ish.

The car was road reg­is­tered in the early 1980s (still com­plete with roll-cage!) af­ter its rac­ing life had fin­ished in 1977 as the A9X came on stream. Madden even­tu­ally pur­chased it in around 1987, but that was ac­tu­ally a few years af­ter he’d first spot­ted it.

“It was bought by a guy in Lis­more in Vic­to­ria and that’s where I first saw the ve­hi­cle,” he says.

“He had it parked in front of his garage one day and I thought ‘that’s a good look­ing rig’. I en­quired then and fol­lowed the car un­til I was able to buy it.

“He sold the car to an­other guy from Bal­larat. It was on the side of the road with a ‘For sale’ sign on it, which would have been about ’87 and he’d had it out to the drags at Bal­larat and he’d blown the diff to pieces and he couldn’t af­ford to re­pair it.

“I saw it on the side of the road and knew straight away that it was that car again and I turned around and went back and bought it within five min­utes. I didn’t know what it was but I just wanted that car. I paid $6000 for it.

“It was pre­sented as an A9X be­cause it had

a bon­net scoop and all that sort of stuff on it. When I saw it I thought it was an A9X but then I dis­cov­ered it was an L34 so it made me more de­ter­mined to try and buy the ve­hi­cle and only ever to purely hillclimb.

“I put it in my shed for many years, think­ing that I’d get it out one day for some hill­climbs. I didn’t re­ally in­tend to race it.”

Come 2009, af­ter sit­ting in the shed for two decades, Madden fi­nally bit the bul­let and started on the road of restora­tion.

“It was funny be­cause I started to get some en­quiries about it, peo­ple had tracked the car – how they tracked it I don’t know!” he says.

“I started to get some en­quiries about whether I wanted to sell it and I said no I’d never sell it. In 2009 we de­cided that we’d re­store it. And un­til then I didn’t know how se­ri­ous the car was in his­tory. I didn’t even know it had done Bathurst races, to be hon­est.

“We knew no more than it had been raced. You could tell it was a race­car, but we didn’t know that it’d had such a great his­tory. There was some paint­work un­der­neath the paint. I was able to track down the guy that road-reg­is­tered it and he told me that when he got it, it was the Max Wright car.

“Once I re­alised I had a pretty good car I got CAMS in­volved, and we went through the whole team sce­nario (of find­ing peo­ple for­merly as­so­ci­ated with the car).

“Then we tracked the Max Wright spon­sor­ship and the colours, and it all worked out. The colours that we found traced back to the ’75 car.

“When I found the car it was white and that’s how it raced in ’76, as a white car with stripes on it. On the spoiler we found the red stripes and un­der­neath the paint on the front guard we found the Max Wright spon­sor­ship.

“The car’s Ab­synth yel­low now. When it was new and ran in ’74 it was blue. When we were rub­bing it back we went through all the colours. We started with white, then we went through the yel­lows and reds, and then we got through to the blues and that was the orig­i­nal blue in 1974.

“I got Bob Skel­ton to come down and have a look at the car and he con­firmed that it was def­i­nitely his old car then he men­tioned Don Hol­land and that he’s the guy who put it to­gether.

“So I got Don to fly from Syd­ney and he looked at the car and im­me­di­ately wanted to pur­chase it. I said I was sorry and it wasn’t for sale – he had thought it had gone to heaven many years ago.”

While Madden wasn’t will­ing to sell the car back to its orig­i­nal driver, he did en­gage his ser­vices for the restora­tion pro­ject, a nice way to com­plete a 35-year ‘round about’ cy­cle.

“He of­fered to re­build it to ex­actly how it ran in 1975, there’d been a few bits and pieces that had been taken off it over the year. He re­built it for me in Syd­ney over a six-month pe­riod,” Madden tells us.

The restora­tion was com­pleted in late 2009 and the To­rana’s re­turn to the track came at the His­toric Sandown that year, purely as a dis­play than an on-track run­ner.

“It’d had such a big hit in 1976 that we had to do quite a bit of work on it,” says Madden of the restora­tion job. “The ve­hi­cle re­ally wasn’t straight be­cause the chas­sis had been so heav­ily hit. The rails had been re­placed, so we had to do a good job and jig it and get it straight, so there was a lot of money spent on it.

“It had had a T10 gear­box fit­ted to it in 1977 so we changed that all back but we did leave the T10 tun­nel in there, but it was all changed back to an M21. Over­all the car wasn’t too bad, it was more that when it was re­paired af­ter the (1976 Ama­roo) ac­ci­dent that they’d done a fairly quick re­pair on it to get it ready for Bathurst. I’m a per­fec­tion­ist; I like things right so we had it all prop­erly re-done.”

An­other piece of the puz­zle even­tu­ally came through in the way of the CAMS logbook, which helps val­i­date the his­tory of the car, its time­line and rac­ing event his­tory.

Tony Saw­ford, owner/driver of the ex-Al­lan Grice/Craven Mild Rac­ing To­rana A9X in Group C His­toric com­pe­ti­tion in the Her­itage Tour­ing Cars cat­e­gory, proved to be a valu­able con­nec­tion in se­cur­ing this im­por­tant doc­u­ment.

“It was a real is­sue

that I didn’t have the logbook,” says Madden. “Tony hap­pened to be talk­ing to a guy in Syd­ney who had the log­books and I was able to buy them. I was able to ac­quire the orig­i­nal log­books for the car, which was won­der­ful. They fin­ished off the car, they’re great.”

All up, the restora­tion of this Bathurst To­rana has been an en­joy­able process for Madden.

“To think you buy some­thing that you don’t re­alise what it is and then sud­denly you find it’s an ab­so­lute gem, it’s a won­der­ful story,” he says.

“My mates (help­ing me) were im­pressed through this process as well, to find out what we fi­nally had. That car is my pride and joy. The most en­joy­able thing is to look at the car.”

But that’s not to say there aren’t a few prob­lems with own­ing a gen­uine L34 Group C tour­ing car.

Af­ter all, there’s an on­go­ing urge to turn over the five-litre en­gine and give the ‘pride and joy’ a rev. That’s where oc­ca­sion­ally Madden finds him­self in trou­ble in his neigh­bour­hood.

“It lives on a four-poster hoist in my shed. Once a month I fire it up, but the prob­lem I’ve got is that the neigh­bour hangs her kitchen pans on the wall in the kitchen,” chuck­les Madden. “When I fire it up it tends to vi­brate her home and she com­plains be­cause some of the stuff falls off the wall!”

If only Trevor’s neigh­bour had an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for a lovely re­stored L34 To­rana that tack­led our most fa­mous moun­tain three times in a golden era of Aus­tralian mo­tor­sport.

Here’s a sur­viv­ing L34 To­rana that had three dis­tinc­tive liv­er­ies in each of its three Bathurst cam­paigns. It started off in blue, not un­like the colour of the race win­ner John Goss, in 1974; then posted its best re­sult in 1975 in yel­low, again, the same colour as that year’s win­ner.

It wore this unique liv­ery in its third Bathurst 1000, in 1976, when it again fin­ished in the top 10. A fine re­sult af­ter sur­viv­ing a big hit at Ama­roo ear­lier in the year. Cur­rent owner Trevor Madden bought the car when it was pre­sented as a white A9X (bot­tom).

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