Sur­prise packet

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.

Australian Muscle Car - - Muscle Artefact -

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.

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