A9X 2: Never raced

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

To­day, Greg Hayes’ stun­ning Palais White To­rana sits some­where be­tween the sur­viv­ing rac­ing A9Xs and the 405 fac­tory-spec road cars pro­duced. We pho­tographed it on the shores of Can­berra’s Lake Bur­ley-Grif­fin, but per­haps it would have been more ap­pro­pri­ate to shoot it out­side the nearby Na­tional Mu­seum of Aus­tralia, or, bet­ter still The Trea­sury!

For­mer Great Race win­ner Barry Se­ton was the undis­puted king of the gi­ant-killing Ford Capris when the A9X To­rana first lobbed at Bathurst, in 1977. For the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year Se­ton and his trusty side­kick Don Smith won class B and fin­ished well in­side the top 10. The Se­ton/Smith Capri fin­ished an in­cred­i­ble sixth out­right in the ’77 HardieFerodo 1000, four laps ahead of their clos­est class com­pe­ti­tion, led home only by the Mof­fat team XCs and a trio of the new V8 To­rana hatch­backs.

So what tempted him back into the out­right ranks for the 1978 sea­son? Was it purely the ob­vi­ous po­ten­tial of the new Holden hatches?

“I got the A9X for noth­ing,” Barry Se­ton dead­pans when AMC called him for this story. “[And] I got $20,000 to run it from the Holden dealer in Liver­pool – McGraths.” Hel­luva deal!

Se­ton is re­fer­ring to the A9X (pic­tured right at McGrath’s launch in ’78) that he raced for two sea­sons and not our fea­ture car that never hit the track in anger. We’ll get to the spare in a mo­ment.

He says his front­line-fighter was one of the cars walked down the pro­duc­tion line at Dan­de­nong.

“They took a lot of the heavy stuff out when they built the bod­ies. They didn’t put ev­ery­thing in them, so they were a lot lighter. It was walked down the line and they said, ‘leave that off, put this on, leave this off, put that on’.”

Why buy a back-up chas­sis when he only planned to con­test a hand­ful of races in ’78?

“You know how much an A9X rolling chas­sis cost in those days? $4000!

“I owned that spare [as op­posed to McGraths]. There were a lot of them around. They were bloody cheap, so every­one was buy­ing them up.”

Se­ton says one prom­i­nent racer “ru­ined it for every­one as he was buy­ing ev­ery one that they had and sell­ing them on to race teams. He was buy­ing them up be­cause he could make such a good dol­lar on them. All you had to do was put a mo­tor, gear­box and race seats in them.”

Those spe­cially-built race chas­sis have be­come known rather con­fus­ingly as ‘GMP&A race shells’ when they were ac­tu­ally nearcom­plete rolling chas­sis mi­nus en­gine, gear­boxes, front seats and other com­po­nents not needed for rac­ing.

Be­ing equipped with a spare was a lux­ury by late Seven­ties stan­dards, es­pe­cially for a racer con­cur­rently run­ning Capris in sprint races. Also kick­ing the tin was joint spon­sor AMCO jeans.

Barry Se­ton’s rac­ing A9X hit the track in time for the 1978 en­durance sea­son, with he and Smith com­ing home eighth at Bathurst, al­beit 11 laps down hav­ing bat­tling through var­i­ous dra­mas.

It was a sim­i­lar story in the ’79 Great Race, when the now Uni­part-backed hatch­back was the sev­enth To­rana home in the A9X’s top eight sweep of the re­sults. De­spite fin­ish­ing 15 laps down on Peter Brock and Jim Richards, Bo and his race A9X fea­tured promi­nently in the tele­cast, largely cour­tesy of their star­ring role in Uni­part’s

com­mer­cials (ED: Search for ‘Barry Se­ton Bathurst 1979 promo’ on YouTube).

If Se­ton’s time back in the out­right class didn’t net the re­sults he was seek­ing, at least he fin­ished his A9X era on a high, with third place in the 1979 Aus­tralian Cham­pi­onship of Makes round at Surfers. As a bonus he had two straight A9Xs in his Liver­pool work­shop to sell.

In 1980, with the A9X no longer el­i­gi­ble to com­pete, the car Se­ton raced was sold to a teacher in Wagga Wagga and put on the road.

This brings us to the sec­ond of the Se­ton A9X race­cars… a chas­sis that never came un­der starters or­ders in the Group C era. In 1980 this spare Se­ton car was fit­ted with an en­gine and gear­box and had an ADR com­pli­ance plate is­sued so it could be regis­tered as a road car. It was fit­ted with a Group C-spec en­gine built by Se­ton em­ployee Hec­tor Ben­son, with a Group C sump, and quoted as putting out 400bhp. It was backed by an up­graded M21 box rather than the T10, re­tain­ing its orig­i­nal trans­mis­sion tun­nel. It was also fit­ted with a drop-tank sim­i­lar to the yel­low Wayne Ne­gus GMP&A car built to road specs, con­structed by weld­ing two bot­tom halves of a stan­dard fuel tank to­gether, then us­ing an ex­tra pair of straps to ex­tend the orig­i­nal ones.

Once com­pleted as a road car it was sold to a John Howard of Bega, NSW, who lov­ingly main­tained it for al­most 20 years. To­day the car is owned by Greg Hayes, who is just its third owner, hav­ing pur­chased it over 20 years ago. The un­re­stored A9X has only ever been used spar­ingly and still re­tains its orig­i­nal paint­work.

“I knew of this car when it was in Bega,” Greg ex­plains. “It was known as the ‘fastest car on the South Coast’. I had owned a red hatch that I re­gret­ted sell­ing, so I rang up John and asked if I could buy his car. Even­tu­ally I did.

“I knew it was one of the rare GMP&A race­cars when I bought it and as it turns out it’s prob­a­bly a bet­ter car than the red one that I sold.

“Every­one gets con­fused and calls it a ‘GMP&A shell’, but they were ac­tu­ally a near-com­plete race­car, mi­nus en­gine, gear­box, etc.

“It’s a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that the 33 GMP&A cars were just bodyshells and some peo­ple try to tell you it’s not re­ally an A9X. But they were built on the pro­duc­tion line; they were is­sued a full pro­duc­tion broad­cast sheet and a safety com­pli­ance sheet, which I have.

“Bo Se­ton never pressed it into ac­tion as he never sig­nif­i­cantly dented the main race­car.” What does Greg es­pe­cially love about this car? “The fact that I’ve had it for well over 20 years and it hasn’t ever been messed with. It hasn’t gone through nu­mer­ous own­ers and had var­i­ous things pulled off it. It hasn’t been ma­nip­u­lated.

“Be­cause it’s one of the rare 33 GMP&A cars, it makes it even more de­sir­able to own. Back when I bought it, none of this crossed my mind. I just knew it was a well-looked-af­ter A9X. To­day I love the fact it was a Se­ton car – a car owned by a Bathurst great, whose at­ten­tion to de­tail when it came to prepa­ra­tion and pre­sen­ta­tion was peer­less. He was a metal fab­ri­ca­tor by trade and this car re­flects his high stan­dards. For in­stance, the body­work un­der the wheel arches is beau­ti­fully rolled and you only have to look at the en­gine bay to see his hand­i­work.”

Back in 2008 Greg asked AMC for as­sis­tance in con­tact­ing for­mer GM-H pro­duc­tion con­trol su­per­vi­sor Mike Prowse to help de­ci­pher in­for­ma­tion on the car’s pro­duc­tion broad­cast sheet (ie: the de­fin­i­tive in­struc­tions given to pro­duc­tion line work­ers), safety com­pli­ance in­spec­tion card and an­other card which reads: ‘Rac­ing unit spe­cial unit 8VD77 spare No.4 att. M Prowse.’

Mike was only too happy to oblige, ex­plain­ing the ‘spare No.4’ on the doc­u­men­ta­tion.

“Dur­ing the pe­riod of A9X pro­duc­tion we built a num­ber of GMP&A cars (full rolling chas­sis) as spares, to put aside for race teams who would come in and say they wanted to in­crease their or­der from one to two cars, or two to three cars or what­ever,” Mike ex­plained in AMC #37. “Or theyʼd badly creased a car and needed a re­place­ment straight away. It was an idea I came up with to help the pro­duc­tion line keep up with nor­mal A9X pro­duc­tion. There was al­ways at least two of those spare cars sit­ting there ready to go, that were built to the same stan­dard as all other GMP&A cars.

“The words ʻs­pare No.4ʼ sim­ply meant the Se­ton car was the fourth spare rolling shell that we built,” he con­tin­ued. “I canʼt re­call how many we built in to­tal, but I used to al­ways try to keep at least two in stock at any one time. At var­i­ous stages when things were get­ting fairly hec­tic, Iʼd try to bump that up to four but never any more than that, be­cause you could­nʼt take the punt on be­ing able to find buy­ers for them. If Iʼd ended up with two or three spare GMP&A cars that no-one wanted, Col Lewis (plant manager) would have come down on me like a ton of bricks!”

To­day, Greg Hayes’ stun­ning Palais White To­rana sits some­where be­tween the sur­viv­ing rac­ing A9Xs and the 405 fac­tory-spec road cars pro­duced. We pho­tographed it on the shores of Can­berra’s Lake Bur­ley-Grif­fin, but per­haps it would have been more ap­pro­pri­ate to shoot it out­side the nearby Na­tional Mu­seum of Aus­tralia, or, bet­ter still The Trea­sury!

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