A9X 3: Patto hatch
It’s 40 years since this Torana won on debut at Sandown and sat on the Bathurst pole. After 30 years in virtual hibernation, the ‘Patto hatch’ returned to public view and now for the first time AMC details its long overlooked history.
It’s 40 years since this Torana won on debut at Sandown and, a few weeks later, sat on the Bathurst pole. After almost 20 years in virtual hibernation, the Peter Brock ‘Patto hatch’ returned to public view and now, for the first time, AMC details its long overlooked history.
Bathurst 1977 is a day largely erased from the memories of all Holden fans. It was on that day, Sunday October 2, that Ford came home with a crushing 1-2 form finish with the pair of XC Falcons piloted by Allan Moffat and Colin Bond crossing the line side-by-side.
The vision of the two cars running together down Conrod Straight at Bathurst has been played literally thousands and thousands of times over the years – it’s footage Ford fans never get sick of seeing!
Because of this sea of Ford success on that day, anything from the Holden side of the fence relating to Bathurst 1977 has largely been forgotten. And the car that started from pole for that race – the Peter Brock-driven Bill Patterson Racing Torana A9X – has been forgotten by many as well. Until now!
There have been plenty of stories about this car’s status and its apparent demise. However, owner Russell Stenhouse has a very good reason for why it’s been away from public view for some time and such stories have grown legs over the years.
“Some people say there’s an enormous gap in the car’s history,” he says. “That’s because it sat in my shed for 30 years, waiting for me to get inspired to restore it! There were only about 10 people in Canberra that knew where the car was and because I didn’t want to be besieged with bloody phone calls every day about the car I pretty well kept it a secret!”
Now, though, we can tell the story of thisA9X, which started the ball rolling with victory in its debut race: the 1977 Hang Ten 400 at Sandown, 40 years ago this September.
That year was the third season Brock had been away from the Holden Dealer Team, his Melbourne Holden dealer backer Bill Patterson taking naming rights of the team and launching an ambitious bid to knock off Harry Firth’s HDT outfit.
The squad secured one of the GMP&AA9X hatchback chassis produced especially for racing and quickly prepped it to make the Sandown race. So quickly was it prepared that Brock was forced to run with standard rear brakes given the lateness of the competition-spec parts, an issue that afected many of the Torana runners for that weekend.
“I had to start the race using absolutely standard Holden rear brake calipers and the whole rear axle was totally standard,” said Brock some years later. “I knew that was very much a big compromise, so I had to drive with it in mind.”
John Harvey’s HDT hatchback diced for the lead with Grice’s Craven Mild machine in the early laps, with Brock content to bide his time. When Brock increased his pace he clipped the Armco at Peters Corner but continued unscathed. He forged into the lead on lap 39 and could cruise to victory once Harvey retired and Grice clashed with Peter Janson.
“Although I qualified well (third), I was still quite surprised to win,” Brock explained. “The celebration we had in the pits that night was really something.”
The #25 Bill Patterson Racing thus created history, giving Brock his third consecutive Sandown crown (and fourth of an eventual nine) and a first time out win for the A9X Torana, a car that would write its own chapter in the annals of Australian motor racing.
It did help, however, that Moffat’s Falcon started from the rear after suffering engine failure in practice and Bond was never a factor on race day.
Indeed, for the new A9Xs, Sandown had only flattered to deceive. Bathurst, of course, would end up being all about the Moffat Ford Dealers Falcons. For the second year in a row, Brock enlisted brother Phil as co-driver for the trip to Mount Panorama.
That trip north from Melbourne was delayed due to the workload involved in preparing no fewer than three Bill Patterson Racing Toranas for the biggest race of the year. The Brock brothers were aboard the team’s only A9X hatchback (#25), the other two machines being older four-door L34s upgraded to A9X spec for veterans Tony Roberts/Doug Chivas (#24) and internationals, Gerry Marshall/Basil van Rooyen (#26). Then one transporter broke down en route to Bathurst, the other suffering a broken windscreen. Race reports of the time highlight that the Patterson team only arrived after Friday practice had begun!
Despite leaving himself just three laps of the last session to qualify, the then two-time Bathurst winner punched in a pole time that was 1.1-seconds quicker than Bond’s #2 Moffat Ford.
The early stages of the race were positive for the Holden runners, their new A9X Toranas matching it with the Falcons of Moffat and Bond that had been dominant throughout the Australian Touring Car Championship. But then Brock had a spin and the team’s challenge started to unravel.
“Without my knowledge the Bridgestone engineers decided to fit super soft tyres on the left side of the car and hard ones on the right,” Brock told author David Hassall in The Peter Brock Story.
“The handling was really strange and I remember going over Skyline once almost backwards; I couldn’t work it out.
“We fitted a set of Dunlops after that, but we hadn’t run them before and discovered they didn’t have enough clearance from the shock absorbers. I went into The Dipper and the rear end locked up – it was just like pulling on the hand brake.
“Eventually, I got back to the pits, climbed out of the car, told them to fit a set of hard compound Bridgestones and got going again. The car ran really well after that but we should have finished a lot better.”
While all eyes were on the leading Fords, the Brock brothers stormed back up through the field and salvaged fourth place behind the Peter Janson/Larry Perkins A9X and the two dominant
Falcons up front.
The rest of the season was tough for Brock and the Bill Patterson team, with no real results to show from the endurance races at Adelaide International Raceway (threw a fan belt after just a handful of laps), Surfers Paradise (qualified on pole and finished third) and Phillip Island (qualified second but retired with engine problems).
A week after Phillip Island the ‘Patto’ A9X was back in action – at the Australian Hillclimb Championship at Morwell with Brock winning the touring car class comfortably. Could you imagine that sort of thing happening today?!
Brock and our feature car made their final start together in mid-December at the Baskerville ‘Winfield 25s’ event in Tasmania, claiming pole, two of the three race wins and victory overall. It was a fitting way for Brock’s time at Pattersons to end, with a new era dawning for his career. Changes were in the air at Holden and, after the spanking at the hands of Ford at Bathurst, it was decided to bring Brock back into the HDT fold with John Sheppard taking over running the squad from the retiring Firth.
Bill Patterson decided to forge on with his team into 1978, but it didn’t last long. Phil Brock took over driving duties of the team’s A9X hatchback and ran the Rothmans Series touring car support event at Sandown in February (the same event in which Peter drove the HDT’s four-door A9X) before the team was wound up and the hatchback sold off to privateer Joe Moore in Sydney.
Moore engaged Fred Gibson to prepare and run the car for him under the King George Tavern banner and Fred could instantly see that Brock’s efforts in the car had actually been
better than first thought.
“Joe (Moore) wanted to upgrade from his Falcon into something more modern,” Gibson explains, “so we did a deal on the Torana. I picked it up straight from the track at Sandown and took it home with us. When I saw the car it was a very basic A9X. Back in those days shocks were starting to be a popular thing to fiddle with and what amazed me was that the front shocks on that car were just full of bump stop rubbers. I thought ‘wow’, to drive it as good as he did with that sort of old-fashion suspension just showed how good a driver he was.”
The car could have won the 1978 Rothmans 500 endurance race at Oran Park in its first run under its new ownership with Gibson and wife Christine driving. They led for much of the second half of the race – which carried a $25,000 winner’s cheque – before the radiator hose blew. Imagine the attention the first female winner of a major Australian motor race would have received, doubly so given the husband and wife angle. Surely a story that would have knocked the royals off the cover of the ‘The Weekly’!
Sadly, it wasn’t to be, but the ex-Brock A9X took in further racing in ’78 with Fred Gibson at the wheel, including the Better Brakes 10,000 at Amaroo and the Australian Manufacturers’ Championship round at Oran Park, finishing fifth.
Its racing program continued into 1979, with Gibson driving the ATCC round at Oran Park and P-plater Moore competing in the AMSCAR Series at Amaroo Park. The two combined for the car’s second Bathurst 1000 campaign, though it ended with gearbox failure around three-quarter-race distance.
Moore made one more start in the A9X at the end-of-season ManChamp round at Surfers Paradise (finishing fourth) before the eligibility of the car ran out for touring car racing and it was
sold off to Sydneysider Graham Storah.
As with many other similar cars of the period, this particular Torana was intended to be reconfigured as a Sports Sedan. This reconfiguration was partway completed when a warehouse fire at Storah’s business, Rymec Turbos in Marrickville, caused damage to the building and the Torana within it.
That stopped the work on the car in its tracks, though the A9X managed to escape with a scorching. Storah had it blasted and primed and advertised it for sale as a rolling chassis.
And that’s when current owner Russell Stenhouse first came into contact with it.
Stenhouse had looked at the car, but didn’t end up buying it until two years later, in March 1985. He planned to continue the Sports Sedan pathway that Storah had been taking the car down.
The car came with a range of parts including the original Super T10 gearbox and Harrop Salisbury locker diff, front and rear suspension and the basics of a six-litre Chev engine.
“That plan proceeded at a glacial pace!” says Stenhouse today. “I left the car in storage for some five years before setting about completing it as a Sports Sedan, having been happily preoccupied with hillclimbing and circuit racing in the ex-Forbes/Bartlett Group C hatch,” he says of the ‘Martini’-liveried A9X.
“Many years absence from the racing circuits perhaps understandably led to the speculation that the car had ‘ceased to be’ but this wasn’t so, it was just waiting for some TLC!
“The basic paint and panel exercise was straightforward as, apart from ripples in the roof, quarter panels and doors, the car was straight and otherwise undamaged. A subsequent jig check confirmed that to be so. Many hours work from two wizard panel beaters with heat shrinking and planishing hammers had the panels spot on.
“Not long after winning the Sports Sedan trophy feature at Eastern Creek on August 31 1997 – I remember it being the same day Diana, Princess of Wales was killed – I ‘retired’ the car as a Sports Sedan with a view to restoring it to its 1977 Group C spec and livery.
“It could not be described as a ‘rushed’ project! The bare metal rotisserie restoration commenced in earnest in 2000. Fortunately, the Sports Sedan rules required the core vehicle (ie: roof, A, B and C pillars, sills, scuttle/plenum and door frames) to remain unchanged. The virtue of those requirements is that the integrity of the car had not been compromised and the restoration, although conducted at snail’s pace, was a straightforward exercise.
“I already had a few L34 blocks and I just collected various parts required along the way. I’d been building engines for some time and doing engines for other Group C guys, so that side of things wasn’t a worry.”
The restoration was finished in early 2009 and the car hit the track – with Stenhouse at the helm – at the Muscle Car Masters in Heritage Hot Laps. Sadly, the car’s former pilot Brock had been killed three years prior, which brings into focus the time at Oran Park in 1995 when the-then HRT pilot had an up-close look over his former ‘Patto’ car.
“My crew was in the process of wheeling the car out to head for the dummy grid as Brock and Tomas Mezera were strolling through the paddock area,” recalls Stenhouse.
“As Peter was checking out the car, I casually informed him that he was looking at the Patto hatch! That proved to be a bit of a jaw dropper! He said that he had occasionally wondered what had happened to the car. Of course, I felt the need to make my apologies that it was a Sports Sedan. His parting gem was to suggest that it
Our feature car’s shell was also lucky to survive a stint as a Sports Sedan in owner Russell Stenhouse’s hands. It’s been a very big job to return it to Group C touring car spec in recent times. The Paul England Performance Engineering decals were originals sourced from the family-owned company today. should be a Group C!”
Stenhouse’s special machine made its return to Mount Panorama last October and joined a special group of ex-Brock cars on display to mark 10 years since the nine-time Bathurst champion had been killed in a tarmac rally accident in 2006.
The presence of the Bill Patterson A9X hatchback must have been a lucky omen given Will Davison, who wasn’t even born when this particular car tackled Bathurst, was given driving duties in the pre-race parade and later in the day went on to win the 1000-kilometre classic alongside TEKNO Autosports owner/co-driver Jonathon Webb.
This year marks 40 years since this great piece of Aussie racing history first hit the track. Much has been said about it over the years, but hopefully now all the facts are on the table to dispel many of the myths – the Patto hatch lives on!
Top right: On September 11, 1977 Peter Brock gave the ‘Patto hatch’ and the A9X model generally a debut victory in the Hang Ten 400 at Sandown. On ya, Mal. Main: The Brock brothers couldn’t repeat the dose at Bathurst three weeks later.
A change to #05 for Phillip Island and then #6 for Sandown in early ’78 didn’t return the car to victory lane. The car also ran at the Morwell hillclimb (top).
Our feature car was lucky to survive a warehouse fire back in the 1980s that left the 1977 Bathurst polesitting A9X severely scorched. With the car now fully restored, owner Russell Stenhouse retains a wheel that bears the scars of its searing and a skerrick of King George Tavern green paint.