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…
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).