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.

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

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.

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