All good things come to those who wait. Like the Torana SL/R 5000 L34 that Gary Bartlett finally made his own – and which continues to slowly reveal the part it played in Holden history.
This 1974 Holden Torana SL/R 5000 L34 is a bit like that attractive girl you’ve already known for yonks before you ‘officially’ start dating. You think you know her well when you start going out, but it’s not until you’re well-and-truly hitched that her past is fully revealed.
Gary Bartlett had known and coveted this car for 21 years before he finally bought it in 2005. It was another two years before he discovered surprising details of its early life.
No skeletons in this closet, though. When Bartlett went digging a decade ago he learned the L34 he had long lusted after played a significant part in the famous model’s racing history – as we will explain over the following pages.
Kind of like being married for two years before discovering that wifey had inherited a brewery or a gold mine as a child and neglected to tell you.
Gary has now known the car for 33 years and he’s still finding out snippets of information from its first 10 years. He hopes some gaps in its history might just be filled in by someone reading this story.
The Victorian first encountered this Chrome Yellow beast back in 1984 when he was travelling past a Traralgon caryard and he and his mates stopped to look at it.
“It wasn’t pristine but everything was there and original. I went off to organise some money to buy it, but lo and behold, my next door neighbour had spotted it too and he bought it. So I missed out on it back in ’84.”
His neighbour Paul bought the car to take it drag racing and started making plans to modify it, much to Bartlett’s horror.
“I pleaded with him to keep it standard,” he explains. “But he pulled the original motor out. I said to him, ‘Since I’ve missed out on the car, can I buy that engine?’
Purchasing the engine prove to be an astute move on Bartlett’s behalf. It would tether him to this L34 thereafter and pay handsome dividends when appreciation for matching numbers muscle cars grew many years on.
That L34 engine was installed in his HJ Monaro for a couple of years and during this period he kept a close eye on the rest of the Torana, too. In the early days he helped his mate Paul at the drag strip and even towed the yellow Torana behind his L34-engined Monaro to Victorian venues.
When the Torana’s drag racing days were over, Paul returned the car to the road. It received a new coat of paint but he quickly lost interest and the rolling shell went up for sale.
Bartlett was again unable to raise the funds to buy the car but encouraged another mate of his, Steve, to purchase it. The sweetener was being able to buy the car’s original powerplant from Gary and thus reuniting both chassis and engine.
Bartlett says Steve was over the moon with his new ride but spent the next 12 months chasing a vibration in the driveline that was eventually traced to a worn spigot bush. Disheartened by this episode, Steve pushed the yellow Torana into the back corner of his shed, covered it and left it there.
“This owner left it in the shed for close to 20 years,” Gary says. “He was waiting for his passion for it to come back, but it didn’t happen. So he gave me a call. I had the passion and was waiting for the opportunity.”
A carpenter by trade, Bartlett also finally had the ready cash to take possession.
That was 2005, when little was still known of its early life, and Gary set about returning the car to the road after 17 years of inactivity.
“I put it in the shed and put new gaskets, exhaust valves and valve springs in it because it had been sitting around so long.
“It was a bit of a risk to run it as it was, but the bore checked out and it’s still got the original pistons and bearings in it.”
Missing was the Torana badge from the nosecone following a minor nose-to-tail accident in the 1980s.
More serious was a non vehicular work accident Gary suffered in 2007 that injured his back and left him virtually bedridden for a spell. A positive to come from this was the time it gave him to investigate the car’s early life. He was eager to track down the car’s first owner and any other custodians between 1974 when the car was built and ’84 when he first came in contact with it.
His initial enquiries saw him quickly unearth info that, with the help of knowledgeable Torana enthusiasts, would show that his car to be something extra special.
Bartlett’s first port of call for info was Holden to find out which dealer his L34 was originally assigned to.
Each dealer is identified in Holden’s records by a three-digit code number. For instance, Eagers at Breakfast Creek in Brisbane is 888, Suttons Chullora in Sydney 562 and Patterson Motors in Melbourne 452. Then there are codes for cars destined for other purposes either internally at Holden or big fleet customers like the police.
Holden informed Gary that his car was assigned to 214.
“I learnt that 214 was an internal Holden code for promotional cars, but I didn’t know what that meant. Someone put me in touch with the chap who has a register for L34s, Wayne Quine, to see what light he could shed on this. Wayne’s records showed there was only one L34 assigned to this internal Holden code. What that meant we weren’t sure, but it certainly got us thinking about what role or roles this car may have played at
Top: Gary Bartlett (seen below, holding Wheels) drove his L34 ‘artefact’ to this year’s Phillip Island Classic, where Rod Hatfield’s ex-Dustings Torana was contesting Heritage Touring Car events. History lives and races on! Fishermans Bend.”
Adding to the intrigue was the fact the code indicated it was used for promotional purposes at a time Holden went out of its way not to promote its latest homologation special to the public. After all, the L34 came on stream just two years after the Supercar scare that killed off plans for the first V8-powered Torana, the LJ. This may explain why there was only one L34 assigned with this number, whereas for the A9X’s release three years later there were five 214 code cars.
Hence the lack of L34 brochures, print advertising and dedicated press test cars, although Wheels magazine managed to twist the arms of Holden’s PR operatives hard enough to make a car available for a photoshoot at Calder Park that appeared on the cover of its October 1974 issue.
Gary had this issue of Wheels in his collection and, upon learning his Torana was Holden’s sole promotional L34, realised his car was most likely the Chrome Yellow example on the cover.
“When we worked out it had to be mine, I wondered why the black piping between the flares and the bodywork was off the car at the time of the shoot,” Bartlett explained.
That little mystery was soon solved courtesy of a document that Quine had collected and passed onto Gary: the L34 model’s CAMS homologation papers. These showed a roadgoing L34 photographed sometime before the model’s competition debut on August 25 that year.
This car was shown in the paperwork with crudely-fitted wheelarch
flares minus the black piping that should have provided a buffer and sealant between the flares and bodywork! Of course, this pointed to Gary’s being the one shown in those homologation papers and he was soon able to confirm this. The 1974 documentation included shots taken that same year with the flares removed, showing rudimentary cut bodywork underneath.
“I then took the flares off my car to clean in behind them and took some measurements of one of the rear guards and lined it up with photos in the homologation paperwork. The cut-out imperfections were identical. And there was a mark and a crease on my guard that you can see in the paperwork.” Bingo! “The Wheels article says the test took place four weeks before Bathurst, which is about the time my car was listed as being first registered, September 10, 1974. So it seems that CAMS had the car first and somebody left off the piping when the flares were re-attached. Then the car was first registered to enable a Holden PR staffer to drive it to Calder Park for the Wheels test.
“We’ve since found out the car was kept by GM-H until June 1975, but what became of it after that is unknown.
“My car was built on July 22, 1974, about the 80th of the 260-odd L34s built and the only one built that day.”
Now he’s keen to find out what other jobs this car performed inhouse in the 11 months Holden kept it before it went to auction, and learn details of its first private owner or owners prior to 1984.
In the meantime Bartlett continues to drive it on special occasions and to Torana club events. He added to the 144,000km on the clock with a trip to the Phillip Island Classic historic motor racing meeting in March this year, where our photography was taken. Its latest magazine appearance included being shot with the only L34 Torana racing in the Heritage Touring Car ranks that weekend, the Dustings Holden-liveried machine now owned and driven by Rod Hatfield. The red, white and blue LH was competing at the same circuit where it finished third in the hands of the McRae brothers in its very first race – this chassis replaced the Dustings Torana written-off at Bathurst in 1974, see AMC #83 – no less than 43 years earlier, the 1974 Australian Manufacturers Championship decider. The ’74 ManChamp was the first major title won by the SL/R 5000 L34, repeating the feat the following two years. The L34-equipped Colin Bond also won the 1975 Australian Touring Car Championship, backed up by the Peter Brock/ Brian Sampson and Bob Morris/John Fitzpatrick combinations wins in the ’75 and ’76 HardieFerodo 1000s.
It’s not too much of stretch to link those achievements back to the very Torana in the all-important paperwork that allowed the Holden Dealer Team, Ron Hodgson Racing and privateers like Rod and Russ McRae to go racing with L34s.
Gary Bartlett is rightfully chuffed to own the car that handled the admin formalities.
“I’m proud to own a piece of Holden history and try to be a good custodian of it. The engine still has all original pistons in it. It’s a good fun car.”
Not only is this Chrome Yellow car significant in Holden’s storied motorsport history, it also holds a special place in Gary and wife Kym’s relationship.
It was in this machine, when still owned by his mate Paul, Gary travelled to a blind date with Kym in Paynesville, Victoria. Thus, many years later it proved easier to convince Kym that they should buy this particular Torana than may have been the case with any other car.
“That was an ace up my sleeve, for sure,” Gary laughs today.
Above: How Bartlett’s stunning Chrome Yellow L34 looks today is in stark contrast to how it was presented in the soulless CAMS homologation document in 1974.