Road­ways A9Xs

They were run­ning mates in the late 1970s, spent nearly two decades apart and now they’ve again found a home with each other, as AMC dis­cov­ers.

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

They were run­ning mates in the late 1970s, spent nearly two decades apart and now they’ve again found a home with each other, as AMC dis­cov­ers.

Holden’s A9X To­rana is one of Aus­tralia’s most iconic race­cars. It helped de­fine a golden era of Aus­tralian tour­ing car rac­ing, win­ning two Bathurst ti­tles and wag­ing war against the last of Ford’s Fal­con hard­tops. Last is­sue AMC marked the 40th an­niver­sary of the mighty A9X and our fea­ture touch­ing on 25 of the sur­viv­ing hatch­back and four-door A9X race­cars gen­er­ated plenty of in­ter­est.

Con­tin­u­ing our cel­e­bra­tion of the A9X’s ma­jor mile­stone, this is­sue we take a closer look at a pair of pri­va­teer cars we haven’t stopped be­fore to closely ex­am­ine; the Road­ways/Gown-Hind­haugh four-door and hatch­back A9Xs that were run­ning mates in 1979, the last year of the A9X in ac­tion.

It’s not just their race his­to­ries that make these cars ex­tra spe­cial, but how af­ter nearly 40 years they’re still to­gether and mak­ing ap­pear­ances on race­tracks across the na­tion thanks to cur­rent owner, Steve Per­rott.

Per­rott is a Mel­bourne-based plumber with a firm con­nec­tion to the A9X, hav­ing grown up cheer­ing them on as a young­ster.

“I still re­mem­ber the early days of the A9Xs, watch­ing Brock and Bob Mor­ris and all those guys hoot­ing around the race­tracks was pretty awe­some! I re­ally loved the shape of them and the noise they made,” he re­calls.

“I ac­tu­ally re­mem­ber my Philips car too. It looked re­ally good, but I prob­a­bly didn’t know much about them so I didn’t re­ally fol­low that car.”

The now 47-year old didn’t re­alise it then as a kid, but his con­nec­tion to Bathurst and the A9X would deepen later in life when, in 1998, the op­por­tu­nity arose to own the Road­ways/ Gown-Hind­haugh A9X To­rana four-door – a car that may just have done the most laps of Bathurst with­out ever start­ing the race.

“I had done a lit­tle bit of kart­ing, but noth­ing se­ri­ous,” Per­rott re­calls. “I did a lot in my late teens and 20s but, be­ing an ap­pren­tice plumber, I didn’t have a lot of money, so I just did some club rac­ing as a bit of so­cial fun.

“I also had a cou­ple of road-go­ing A9Xs and we did a few track days in them at Phillip Is­land, but they were just too nice to run on track. But then I saw an ad­ver­tise­ment in Auto Ac­tion and Steve Har­ring­ton from Road­ways still owned these pair of Philips cars.

“He was left the cars from his late fa­ther, Ian Har­ring­ton, as he was the founder of the Road­ways As­phalt Com­pany based in Tasmania. So I went and had a look at the ads and Steve had the car, but I ac­tu­ally missed out on it be­cause the car was up for ten­der.

“A guy from Be­nalla bought the cars (Willy van Wer­sch), but it was about four months later he was bring­ing a car out from over­seas and needed some cash, so I called him up and asked if he still had the car. He told me to bring a bag of cash and it was mine, so I lit­er­ally did bring him a bag of cash and that’s how I came across that car.

“Since the end of 1979 it didn’t do any­thing on the track. Ian Har­ring­ton was re­ally good for keep­ing cars, so both the four-door and the two-door were ba­si­cally put up on blocks in the big Road­ways ma­chin­ery work­shop in Tassie for years and years.”

Per­rott tells us that his four-door started life as a Harry Firth-sourced GMP&A (Gen­eral Mo­tors Parts and Ac­ces­sories) rac­ing chas­sis and was built by the East-Mel­bourne-based Gown-Hind­haugh team at the back end of 1977 along­side the team’s first hatch­back A9X.

Holden sup­plied up to a dozen LX four-door sedans for com­pe­ti­tion use. But while the 33 GMP&A hatch­backs des­tined for the race­track were pro­duced at GM-H’s ve­hi­cle assem­bly plant at Dan­de­nong, un­der the watch­ful eye of pro­duc­tion con­trol su­per­vi­sor Mike Prowse, the four-door race­cars had their chas­sis mod­i­fi­ca­tions done off-site. This was a re­flec­tion of both team de­mand and that the fac­tory was very much fo­cused on the hatch­back.

Only a hand­ful of teams built new four-door To­ranas as A9Xs, many in­stead opt­ing for the

hatch­back or up­grad­ing the out­go­ing L34 To­rana to A9X spec­i­fi­ca­tion.

The Road­ways four-door had a solid race his­tory (see break­out) in the hands of a range of driv­ers over its ca­reer.

With such lit­tle run­ning since its hey­day, the car has been kept in re­mark­ably orig­i­nal con­di­tion. It re­tains its orig­i­nal run­ning gear and even its orig­i­nal hand-painted Philips liv­ery from the ’79 sea­son. The car has re­ceived some very light restora­tion work to keep it look­ing sharp, but for the most part is as raced in ’79.

“We’ve tried to pre­serve it as much as we can,” says Per­rott.

“We’ve painted the en­gine bay and cleaned up a few ar­eas, but all the paint down the sides, the roof and the bon­net, that’s the orig­i­nal hand-writ­ten sign writ­ing in in­cred­i­bly orig­i­nal con­di­tion. We’ve touched up a few of the bumper bars and re­sprayed the nose cone be­cause they just get rid­dled with stone chips. It’s a lit­tle bit tatty in some spots; if you do a full restora­tion the cars look mag­nif­i­cent, but give it a cou­ple of race meet­ings and they don’t look that good any­more!”

The four-door also re­tains its orig­i­nal dry sump setup, which was first per­mit­ted un­der the rules in 1979 and adapted to the four-door by the Gown-Hind­haugh team for that sea­son.

Per­rott’s other car is the sec­ond A9X hatch­back that the Road­ways/GownHind­haugh team built at the be­gin­ning of 1978. Many be­lieved that the Gown-Hind­haugh team only built one hatch­back, when in fact they built two. This one, de­spite twice com­pet­ing at Bathurst – in ’78 and ’79 – was lightly raced.

The first Road­ways A9X hatch­back, fea­tur­ing a red and white liv­ery, also lives on in the hands of his­toric racer Mick Cameron and his wife Anna. Per­rott re­calls be­ing ap­proached by Cameron at a his­toric meet­ing over a decade ago. “He asked me what the go was with the mock-up,” re­calls Per­rott. “He be­lieved there was only one hatch, so I told him there was two and I gave him some pho­tos

of the three cars sit­ting in the Gown-Hind­haugh work­shop. I showed Mick and he said, ‘Well there you go!’ It’s great that all three of the team’s A9Xs live on.

“The eas­i­est way to tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween the hatch­backs is that Mick’s had a com­pletely dif­fer­ent roll cage to mine.”

Per­rott pur­chased the hatch­back in 2000 af­ter its pre­vi­ous owner went through a di­vorce. The car was lo­cated in Syd­ney and had done a brief amount of rac­ing in Sports Sedans and with the then-emerg­ing Group C As­so­ci­a­tion in the 1990s.

Thank­fully the car es­caped any mod­i­fi­ca­tion and was kept in re­mark­ably orig­i­nal con­di­tion like its four-door si­b­ling, though its sec­ond owner re­painted it.

“Ev­ery­thing has been stamped with ‘GMP&A’ by Gown-Hind­haugh. It’s got stamps on the diff, gear­boxes and even un­der the cross-mem­bers it’s got ‘Gown-Hind­haugh Box Hill’ writ­ten un­der­neath it with mark­ers.

“I had a chat to Norm Gown be­fore he died. When he heard that I had one of the four-doors, he got hold of my num­ber through some­one else and asked what colour it was. When I told him it was the blue and white one he said Harry Firth had got those bodyshells for them.

“So they built them in the GownHind­haugh work­shop, but I be­lieve that some­how Harry had his con­tacts and ac­tu­ally got the bodyshells out of GM-H for Road­ways. That’s what Norm told me. I had a cou­ple of chats with Norm over the years be­fore he passed away. There’s still a lot of the old me­chan­ics still kick­ing around that we have a chat to reg­u­larly as well.”

Per­rott has raced his pair of To­ranas in a num­ber of His­toric meet­ings with the hatch­back be­ing the favoured of the two for his more com­pet­i­tive out­ings in the pop­u­lar Her­itage Tour­ing Cars cat­e­gory for His­toric Group C/A tour­ing cars.

He’s picked up a cham­pi­onship win in the car – the over­all win­ner of the Group C cham­pi­onship in 2011 – and col­lected the Peter Brock Me­mo­rial Tro­phy for his ef­forts. De­spite the soar­ing value of these orig­i­nal cars, Per­rott would rather take them out onto the track than keep them cooped up in the cor­ner of the garage un­der cov­ers.

“I reckon we’ve got a re­spon­si­bil­ity to keep the cars as they ran in the day,” he says. “They were built for rac­ing, so if your abil­ity’s there and you’re re­spon­si­ble I think you’ve got to get the things out there. It’s all about show­ing the next gen­er­a­tion what they used to race in the 1970s and ’80s. I prob­a­bly don’t drive the cars as hard as I used to, but they def­i­nitely should be raced!

“The trou­ble is they’ve started get­ting so ex­pen­sive now that when you take them out you think, ‘Oh no, I bet­ter not do that dive-bomb on that car be­cause his car is worth a lot and my car’s worth a lot’, so you don’t want to smash the things up too much. But we have a bit of a touch here and there.”

Per­rott has an­other his­toric Holden be­ing pre­pared for the race track too – an ex-Larry Perkins Enzed Group A Com­modore VK – that will mean a change from his pair of To­ranas when it fi­nally ap­pears on the Her­itage Tour­ing Cars grid.

“I’m plan­ning on semi-re­tir­ing the To­ranas,” he says. “I’ll bring them out for spe­cial oc­ca­sions but I want to do the Her­itage Tour­ing Car rounds in the VK next year.”

So would he ever part with the pair of Philips Road­ways/Gown-Hind­haugh To­ranas as a re­sult of the Com­modore re-emerg­ing onto the track?

“No, if some­one of­fered me ab­so­lutely crazy money, I might think about sell­ing, but I like look­ing at them too!”

There’s no doubt we also like look­ing at them. The fact this pair of To­ranas has sur­vived and ended up back to­gether again is fan­tas­tic for all, a re­minder of a bril­liant era of rac­ing and Aussie tour­ing car his­tory.

Top: Steven Per­rott’s four-door A9X has raced in the Her­itage Tour­ing Car class in re­cent years. Left: Gown-Hind­haugh’s tent at Bathurst ’79. The four-door prac­ticed, the hatch raced.

Top: The hatch turned laps dur­ing the 2016 Sandown 500 meet­ing, 37 years on from Road­ways’ em­bar­rass­ing mo­ment in the ’79 Hang Ten 400. Above right: Three A9Xs in Gown-Hind­haugh’s work­shop circa ’79. With four A9Xs rac­ing in the pe­riod in this look (at times in two dif­fer­ent colours), trac­ing the race his­tory of Per­rott’s cars has tested the V8 Sleuth. Insets: Oran Park ’78 with Garth Wigston, Norm Gown, Bruce Hind­haugh and Bruce Gowans. Right: The Philips four-door won the A9X’s last cham­pi­onship race, at Surfers Par­adise on Novem­ber 4, 1979.

Top: Per­rott’s pair of A9Xs at Sym­mons Plains in 2007. Left and in­set: At Bathurst in ’79 the team prac­ticed with the four-door and raced with the hatch.

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