1977 Holden To­rana A9X

The To­rana A9X turns 40 in 2017. To cel­e­brate, AMC presents 40 rea­sons to love the ul­ti­mate To­rana V8.

Australian Muscle Car - - Immortal Muscle -

Last in-house ho­molo­ga­tion spe­cial

The LX To­rana A9X was the last race ho­molo­ga­tion spe­cial de­signed and built in-house by Holden, end­ing an in­cred­i­ble blood­line of gen­uine fac­tory-built race­cars that started with the 1963 EH S4. Ho­molo­ga­tion was ef­fec­tive from 1 Septem­ber, 1977.

Sedan and hatch

The A9X was the only Aussie mus­cle car and only ho­molo­ga­tion spe­cial in both sedan and hatch­back form. Just 100 hatch­backs and 305 sedans were made as road cars. Pro­duc­tion com­menced in Au­gust 1977, with the last cars rolling off the pro­duc­tion line in Jan­uary 1978.

A true mus­cle car

The A9X is the epit­ome of a mus­cle car in the tra­di­tional sense: big en­gine and strong driv­e­line in a light­weight body.

Six lap Bathurst vic­tory

Win­ning Bathurst in 1978 was sweet, but the HDT’s 1979 tri­umph by Peter Brock and Jim Richards was the most crush­ing vic­tory ever seen on the Moun­tain. Start­ing from pole, the car stormed into the lead and held that po­si­tion through­out the race, in­clud­ing dur­ing pit stops. A win­ning mar­gin of six laps with a new lap record be­ing set on the last lap ce­mented the A9X’s leg­endary sta­tus.

Those tough looks

It came re­plete with the bolt-on fl ares and bon­net scoop, plus the A9X-only rear spoiler for the hatch­back (the SL/R 5000 came stan­dard with the rear spoiler, the SS hatch­back didn’t). The front spoiler was the same two-piece plas­tic item as used on the L34 (the LX SL/R 5000 used a smaller one-piece ver­sion), with brake ducts added be­hind the spoiler for ex­tra cool­ing. Many re­gard the A9X hatch­back as the best look­ing race car Holden has pro­duced. It’s hard to ar­gue with that!

Stealth re­lease

Like the To­rana L34 be­fore it, the A9X was qui­etly re­leased onto the mar­ket with­out fan­fare. The fall­out from the Su­per­car Scare was still fresh in the mem­o­ries at GM-H. The ‘A9X’ des­ig­na­tion also didn’t ap­pear on any CAMS ho­molo­ga­tion doc­u­men­ta­tion, sim­ply be­ing re­ferred to as L34 changes.

In­stantly suc­cess­ful

The A9X won on de­but, in the 1977 Hang Ten 400 at Sandown, held on Septem­ber 11, just a mat­ter of days af­ter the first teams re­ceived their new hatches. Peter Brock in his new Bill Pat­ter­son-spon­sored A9X hatch­back was vic­to­ri­ous and that car lives on to­day ( see sep­a­rate story).

First-up Bathurst pole-sit­ter

On to Bathurst 1977 and Brock again qual­i­fied on pole, 1.1 sec­onds ahead of Colin Bond in sec­ond place in the Mof­fat Ford Deal­ers hard­top and 2.7 sec­onds faster than the lead­ing HDT A9X. Find out why the Brock broth­ers chal­lenge faded (and what could have been) in the ac­com­pa­ny­ing fea­ture.

Them’s the brakes

The Sal­is­bury diff fa­cil­i­tated the fi tment of HZ GTS rear discs, pro­vid­ing bet­ter brak­ing per­for­mance on track.

Lots of choice

When

it came to lim­ited run race-bred Hold­ens, the A9X was the last to be of­fered in an ex­ten­sive range of colours – 23. While most came with ‘Slate’ vinyl in­te­ri­ors, they also came with ‘Chamois’ and ‘Tan’ in­te­ri­ors. A small num­ber were also fit­ted with the ‘Fash­ion Pack’ cloth in­serts. Of the 100 hatch­backs, the most com­mon colour was Palais White (29 cars), fol­lowed by Jas­mine Yel­low and Fla­menco Red (15 each). Rarest colours for the hatch were Ab­synth Yel­low, An­te­lope, Aquarius, Mint Julip, Opa­line Blue and Per­sian Sand MkII Me­tal­lic, with only one of each pro­duced. In the sedans, Fla­menco Red was the most pro­lific (81), fol­lowed by Palais White (62), and Jas­mine Yel­low (39). For rar­ity, we have Contessa Gold Me­tal­lic, Pa­paya, and Per­sian Sand MkII me­tal­lic, with only one of each of those colours made.

No more banjo

An­other L34 Achilles Heel was ad­dressed with the adop­tion of the 10-bolt Sal­is­bury diff from the Holden One-Ton­ner. This ne­ces­si­tated changes to the rear floor-pan, with a patch from the forth­com­ing UC model used to pro­vide the ap­pro­pri­ate mount­ing points and ex­tra clear­ance.

Bon­net and bumpers

Un­like the SS hatch which had painted bumpers, the A9X in sedan and hatch­back ver­sions had chrome bumpers with no rub­ber in­sert. Bon­net and ad­join­ing pan­els were painted in a satin black with hatch and sedan dif­fer­ing slightly.

The Pat­ter­son Cheney con­nec­tion

aving

Hav­ing rolled down the pro­duc­tion line, the road­go­ing A9Xs were trans­ported to Pat­ter­son-Cheney Holden for the trim­ming of sheet­metal around the wheel arches and fi tting of flares, front spoiler and bon­net scoop. They then went back to Holden to be dis­trib­uted to the dealer net­work.

Up a gear

The he M21 gear­box had proven to be sus­cep­ti­ble to break­age on track, so the A9X was ho­molo­gated with the op­tion of the T10 gear­box. All A9X road cars were fit­ted with and tagged with the M21 gear­box. Fit­ting of the T10 box was a dealer op­tion, or­dered from Borg Warner. In ad­di­tion to need­ing a dif­fer­ent clutch and tail­shaft, fit­ting the T10 shifter ne­ces­si­tated the cut­ting of the trans­mis­sion tun­nel (or bash­ing it out!) and weld­ing in the GM-H-supplied floor blis­ter plate.

Race relations

The he A9X was to be the last of the Gen­eral’s Group C cars to run iden­ti­cal body­work in road and race trim, with CAMS sub­se­quently al­low­ing free­doms in this area.

Sky­rock­et­ing val­ues

In hatch­back form the A9X is among the most valu­able and sought-af­ter of the Holden mus­cle car sta­ble. An A9X sedan would be ex­pected to sell for around the $150,000 mark, with the rarer hatch­back typ­i­cally adding in the vicin­ity of $100,000. In 1977 you could have bought the sedan for $10,600 or the hatch­back for $10,800.

Pre­cise steer­ing and han­dling

The steer­ing rack hous­ing was unique to A9X and was solidly-mounted rather than rub­ber­mounted to the cross-mem­ber. Steer­ing arms were also A9X spe­cific. It also ben­e­fit­ted from the Gen­eral’s new ap­proach to han­dling with Ra­dial Tuned Sus­pen­sion which was in­tro­duced to the LX To­rana range in late 1976.

Pur­pose­built race­cars

For

the first time, spe­cific race shells, known as ‘the GMP&A shells’ (GMP&A is Gen­eral Mo­tors Parts and Ac­ces­sories. Any spare shell was a GMP&A shell, but race shells are spe­cial), were built on the pro­duc­tion line for race teams. These in­cor­po­rated ad­di­tional spot welds and seam weld­ing, and deleted un­nec­es­sary items in­clud­ing brack­ets, sound dead­en­ing, panel joint sealer and all sealant in the win­dows. Blind nuts were also in­cor­po­rated for items such as rollcage mount­ing. A to­tal of 33 shells were built for race teams. The term ‘shells’ is some­thing of a mis­nomer, as these 33 cars were near-com­plete rolling chas­sis, miss­ing the en­gine, gear­box and a hand­ful of other items. An­other eight bare race shells were also built as spares. Eleven sedans were also built, but these did not re­ceive the same level of prepa­ra­tion on the line. It should be noted that not all of the cars that raced as A9Xs were built from a GMP&A race shell - some­thing which is a ma­jor bone of con­tention to­day amongst own­ers of for­mer race­cars.

The not so colour­ful ones

GMP&

A shells only re­ceived one coat of paint in the in­ter­ests of weight saving. The ex­pec­ta­tion was that race teams would then be paint­ing the cars in their own liv­er­ies. While most of the 33 were white, there was a small num­ber in other colours, such as the first one pro­duced, the blue Bob Forbes/Kevin Bartlett hatch raced at Bathurst in ’77.

Get with the strength

The A9X hatch­back of­fered greater tor­sional rigid­ity than the sedan body of the L34.

Clean run­ning

CAMS

reg­u­la­tions al­lowed the LX to be con­sid­ered as a ‘vari­ant’ of the LH, and this im­por­tantly meant that the L34 en­gine could be used on track in the A9X. This was es­sen­tial, as the more strin­gent ADR 27A had come into ef­fect from 1 July 1976. Thus, the A9X was equipped with the L31 308. De­spite the com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that the A9X 308 was iden­ti­cal to the L31 in the rest of the Holden range, it in fact had a dif­fer­ent crank­shaft and camshaft and didn’t have an en­gine fan. Be­ing ADR 27A com­pli­ant how­ever meant that own­ers could, ahem, sleep easy know­ing their pur­chase was do­ing less dam­age to the air qual­ity than the pre­vi­ous L34!

Wheely tough

While

the model base SL/R 5000 and SS had 13x6” wheels as stan­dard, the A9X went up to the 14x6” rally wheels to ac­com­mo­date the fit­ting of larger front disc brakes. The big flares en­abled wide rub­ber to be fit­ted to the race cars, but most own­ers of pro­duc­tion A9Xs back in the day fit­ted with big­ger wheels to fill the guards. It’s a pop­u­lar mis­con­cep­tion that the stan­dard A9X wheels are just GTS rims, how­ever gen­uine ones can be iden­ti­fied by their dif­fer­ent off­set.

That bon­net scoop

Re­vised

rules al­lowed ad­di­tional free­doms on car­bu­ret­tor set-up. As Holden’s di­rec­tor of styling Leo Pruneau de­scribes, “Harry turns up one day and says he needs a scoop. He wanted to put trum­pets on the car­bu­ret­tors and they were go­ing to stick through the bon­net. He had a piece of oily card­board to show where they’d go. I’d just been to Chevro­let and they were just do­ing scoops fac­ing back­wards as there was a high pres­sure area at the base of the wind­screen. I worked on it all night and showed Harry the next day. I wasn’t sure if Harry would go for it, but he un­der­stood straight away.”

While this was ideal for the race­cars, at speeds be­low 20km/h, air would exit through the back of the scoop and en­ter the cabin. To counter this, all A9X pro­duc­tion cars were supplied with a blank-off plate, com­plete with screws and fit­ting in­struc­tions.

Trim and ter­rific

In or­der to save weight, there was no ra­dio fit­ted. With a V8 un­der the bon­net, who needed a ra­dio any­way?! Un­like the L34, the A9X did come with a con­sole. The sedan’s ho­molo­gated weight was the same 1183kg of the L34, while the hatch tipped the scales just 9kg heav­ier. A far cry from the 1375kg of to­day’s com­pos­ite pan­elled Su­per­cars.

Pri­va­teer prize

The

A9X was the cen­tre of the ar­guably the great­est bat­tle in Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship his­tory, a rare oc­ca­sion when the un­der­dog got up. It was al­ways tough for pri­va­teers to con­sis­tently tri­umph over fac­tory race teams from the same man­u­fac­turer, but in 1979 that oc­curred – the only time in the Group C era. Bob Mor­ris won the ti­tle for Ron Hodg­son Rac­ing, tri­umph­ing over Brock at the peak of his and the HDT’s pow­ers.

It’s re­ally cool

Cool­ing was han­dled by way of a heavy-duty 14-fin per inch ra­di­a­tor and sin­gle Davies Craig thermo fan – the first Holden so equipped. This over­came an­other weak­ness of the L34, which was prone to throw­ing fan­belts and over­heat­ing if over-revved on down changes.

Man with a Le Mans plan

Plans

were in place for some specif­i­cally-de­vel­oped A9X hatches to run at the Le Mans 24 Hour. To­rana racer Bob Forbes was be­hind the project and Ian Tate com­menced de­vel­op­ment work on a twin-turbo 4.2-litre V8. Leo Pruneau started work on an aero­dy­namic body­work pack­age, util­is­ing his Aquarius hatch as the buck. Leo ex­plains that, “It was one in the back room and I couldn’t get enough time to work on the damn thing.” The project got as far as hav­ing two spe­cific ‘A9X Le Mans car’ shells built, but plans went un­ful­filled, as Forbes ex­plained last is­sue.

Leo’s age of Aquarius

Holden’s head of styling had an Aquarius A9X hatch as his per­sonal car. This fea­tured some spe­cial tweaks, in­clud­ing Corvette wheels and wind splits.

Does my bum look big in this?

The

track of the road-go­ing A9X was quoted as the same as the L34. How­ever, with the wider rear flares than the L34, ho­molo­gated track width of the A9X was up to 70mm wider. Holden’s ho­molo­ga­tion pa­per­work il­lus­trated spe­cific ar­eas of the in­ner rear wheel wells that re­quired ‘mod­i­fi­ca­tion’ to en­able big­ger rear rub­ber to be fi tted.

Chang­ing of the guard

For

1978 John Shep­pard took over the run­ning of the HDT from Harry Firth and the A9X be­came the dom­i­nant force on race cir­cuits. The cars were now pre­sented to a high stan­dard be­fit­ting their sta­tus as the fac­tory race team. “The boys said they weren’t al­lowed to pol­ish the cars,” Shep­pard says of the crew he in­her­ited from Firth’s op­er­a­tion. “They’d pick up a rag and Harry would go crook on them.” Peter Brock re­turned from his sab­bat­i­cal as a pri­va­teer and con­sis­tent re­sults be­gan to flow. Brock claimed the ’78 ATCC for the HDT af­ter two years of Mof­fat hold­ing the crown.

Vengeance is sweet

AAfter the hu­mil­i­a­tion of Bathurst 1977, the A9X’s 1978 Great Race win helped soothe the wounds. Hav­ing qual­i­fied on pole, the Brock/Richards HDT A9X ran fault­lessly all day and took vic­tory in a time 13 min­utes 13.9 sec­onds faster than the 1977 race win­ners.

Ev­ery­thing Holden wanted

The Holden manager re­spon­si­ble for mo­tor­sport, Joe Felice, said of the A9X ho­molo­ga­tion: “We got ev­ery­thing we wanted” and “when in race trim they just did ev­ery­thing you wanted them to do.” With 113 dif­fer­ences be­tween it and the stan­dard To­rana, Holden didn’t leave any­thing to chance.

Firsts on track

The

1978 Wan­neroo ATCC round saw the HDT score a 1-2-3 re­sult, with Brock fol­lowed across the line by team­mates John Har­vey and lo­cal Wayne Ne­gus. Never be­fore had a team claimed the en­tire podium. At the Roth­mans 500 at Oran Park in June 1978 John Har­vey in­tro­duced a marathon run­ning el­e­ment to tour­ing car rac­ing when he had to run a kilo­me­tre to the pits and back af­ter run­ning out of fuel. He still claimed vic­tory! While the hatch­back was the main weapon of choice on track, the A9X sedan claimed its first sig­nif­i­cant vic­tory in February 1978 at the Roth­mans In­ter­na­tional Series For­mula 5000 meet­ing with Peter Brock at the wheel.

For­mula To­rana

Not

only did the #05 To­rana dom­i­nate Bathurst in 1979, but the A9X also filled the top eight places. With Ford al­ready hav­ing with­drawn its fac­tory sup­port the pre­vi­ous year, Holden de­cided there was no point spend­ing money to com­pete against pri­va­teers run­ning their cars, so elected to cease fi­nan­cial sup­port of the HDT. The ef­fects of this de­ci­sion were pro­found, with Peter Brock pur­chas­ing the HDT and com­menc­ing his spe­cial ve­hi­cles op­er­a­tion to fund the race team.

Race look for the road

Many A9Xs were made to look even more like their race­track brethren with the fit­ment of big wheels, drop tanks and cold-air boxes. How­ever, none of these items were avail­able as a fac­tory fi t.

To­rana im­mor­tal­ity

The A9X con­tin­ued as Holden’s race­track hero un­til the end of 1979, de­spite the LX range hav­ing been su­per­seded by the de­cid­edly less sexy UC, which was re­leased in early ’78 with the V8 en­gine dropped from the range. Not be­ing usurped by a more de­sir­able suc­ces­sor just added to the LX model’s en­dur­ing ap­peal.

A9X en­thu­si­asts’ 40th bashes

To­rana

trag­ics across the coun­try will mark the A9X’s mile­stone birth­day, in­clud­ing at To­ranafest in the Hunter Val­ley (see story last is­sue). Also gear­ing up to mark the To­rana’s 50th and A9X’s big 4-0 is the Perth To­rana com­mu­nity. Two full days of To­rana cruis­ing and a show-and-shine are planned for the week­end of Oc­to­ber 28-29. We es­pe­cially like the event polo shirt that fea­tures the blue­prints for the bon­net scoop on the rear. Con­tact Craig for the A9X ac­tiv­i­ties on eye­peeler@hot­mail.com and Mike for the To­rana day on ctc­cwa@gmail.com Bob Jane’s light­weight shells BobB Jane had two light­weight hatches built with plans to use them in Sports Sedan rac­ing. When this didn’t hap­pen and the A9X came on stream he had one con­verted for Group C. It com­peted in the Bob Jane sta­ble in 1977 and ’78 be­fore be­ing sold to Garry Rogers, who wrote it off at Ama­roo Park in 1979. The other was never raced and still sur­vives.

A9X pro­to­type sur­vivors

Holden’s

A9X sedan and hatch road car pro­to­types both sur­vive and are at op­po­site ends of the coun­try. The A9X pro­to­type sedan is in Tassie, while the Contessa Gold hatch­back (not to be con­fused with Harry Firth’s black hatch­back that was a rac­ing de­vel­op­ment mule and used for ho­molo­ga­tion pur­poses) is now in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory.

Never raced A9X race­car

The

white hatch­back in our pho­tog­ra­phy is a GMP&A rac­ing chas­sis that never saw track duty, in­stead con­verted into a road car in 1980, as the story over­leaf out­lines. We chose it as our fea­ture car this is­sue as it nicely links the rac­ing A9Xs with the fac­tory-spec road­ies. It pro­vided a point-of-dif­fer­ence to the two mag­nif­i­cent fac­tory-spec A9Xs fea­tured in AMC #35’s 30th an­niver­sary ar­ti­cle – the Fla­menco Red sedan of Michael O’Brien and the Va­len­cia Or­ange hatch­back kindly supplied by Bill Pet­salis. Mind­ful that we pub­lished that ‘nuts and bolts’ ar­ti­cle 10 years ago, plus many other A9X-themed ar­ti­cles over this magazine’s first 16 years, our aim this is­sue was to present some fresh an­gles and pre­vi­ously un­pub­lished ex­am­ples of what Bill called “the pin­na­cle of Hold­ens.”

AMC magazine would like to ac­knowl­edge the as­sis­tance of Leo Pruneau and Joe Felice in the prepa­ra­tion of this ar­ti­cle. More de­tailed in­for­ma­tion on the A9X can be found in is­sue #35 of AMC.

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