1977 Holden Torana A9X
The Torana A9X turns 40 in 2017. To celebrate, AMC presents 40 reasons to love the ultimate Torana V8.
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!
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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
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.
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
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?
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
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
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.
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and Mike for the Torana day on email@example.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
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
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.