local touring car squads began gearing up for the international Group A category’s introduction, Bob Holden ventured to the UK for a scout around in early 1984. There he met with Ford Europe’s racing boss Stuart Turner to discover what the Blue Oval had planned. The short answer: nothing he could afford!
Turner pointed Bob towards an English team homologating the new Corolla for Toyota Europe. “By the time I came home I had the Group A homologation papers for the next three years,” Bob explains.
He stopped off in Japan on the way back to visit TRD (Toyota Racing Developments) for a day... and ended up spending two weeks there. TRD was building what was supposed to be Toyota Team Australia’s (TTA) first Corolla Sprinter, for team driver John Smith. Bob immediately noted that TRD hadn’t firmly grasped the Group A regs.
“It was like a sports sedan, with drop tank, cut outs in doors and no full dash. I couldn’t tell the Japanese they were wrong, but I told them it wasn’t a Group A car.”
Thankfully, he put the Japanese in touch with the trailblazing Brits. TRD then built a car that did conform to the new rules.
“I helped them build another car from scratch. I saved them a lot of face and then got looked after (by TRD) like you wouldn’t believe.”
Back home TTA offered Bob a job, but shifting to Melbourne wasn’t an option. Instead, he built his own Sprinter from a road car purchased at Bill Buckle Toyota and would prove a thorn in TTA’s side thereafter, despite the disparity in budgets. His engines were sourced from local Japanese imports wreckers, although TRD Japan was able to get him all of the new parts just like the TTA team had.
This Bob Holden-built Sprinter holds a most significant Bathurst 1000 record: the chassis with the most starts in the Great Race, nine.
The enduring little car headed to the mountain for no less than 10 consecutive Bathurst 1000 campaigns between 1984 and 1993 – every year the Group A cars were permitted to race in the October classic. There was, however, one year, 1991, when the car practised and qualified but didn’t race.
Highlights of this period include Bathurst 1985, when Holden had the wood on TTA, setting the fastest lap and leading the works car... before blowing the Sprinter’s engine after 123 laps.
1987 saw Holden snatch an unexpected class victory in the venue’s sole WTCC round. He may have had three unscheduled pitstops in the first hour and was 20 laps behind the leading Corolla, but both works TTA cars crashed in unison when the wild storm hit late-race. His Sprinter, co-driven by Bryan For the last 30 years it’s been mostly about Toyotas, first in contemporary racing and now in Historics. Bate and Garry Willmington, was the last classified finisher... in fact, the only finisher in class.
The international flavour of Group A allowed an easy transfer of both cars and drivers and the ‘Holden Sprinter’ raced several times in Europe, in the Spa and Nurburgring 24 Hour events.
In 1991 Bob invited Rauno Aaltonen to race his Corolla at Bathurst, 25 years after their historic Cooper S win. By way of comparison, on slick tyres the front-wheel drive Corolla AE82 qualified just under 2:50, whereas the Cooper S on the preChase circuit qualified in 3:13.
The 1992 rain-shortened Bathurst 1000 would be Bob’s last for some years as a driver.