ICONIC HOLDENS

THE TORANA STORY

Unique Cars - - CONTENTS -

For a car so sim­ply fab­u­lous, it’s some­what re­mark­able that the Holden mar­ket­ing team slipped it onto the mar­ket with so lit­tle fan­fare. Per­haps mem­o­ries of the 1972 su­per­cars cri­sis, fu­elled by a story by Evan Green in the 25 June 1972 edi­tion of the Sun-Her­ald, were re­spon­si­ble. Per­haps, too, the shrewd suits were happy for the forth­com­ing HZ Kingswood/Pre­mier to be widely cred­ited as the first Holden with four-wheel disc brakes.

The A9X, of course, had Mount Panorama as the high­light of its itin­er­ary. Here was a race car with a rego la­bel, while the RTS Kingswoods and Pre­miers were in­tended to change the way Aus­tralians thought about the brand.

Few cars so vis­ually sim­i­lar to a pre­vi­ous model could drive so dif­fer­ently as the LX A9X from the LX SS (or the HZ from the HX!). Nom­i­nally the A9X re­mained an LX but in en­gi­neer­ing terms it was much closer to the forth­com­ing UC.

‘A9X’ it­self meant noth­ing. It was just one of a long list of model codes avail­able ex­clu­sively to GMH, which got A-pre­fixes while Chevro­let got Zs – hence Z28. In Holden Speak this car was equipped with the ‘Per­for­mance Equip­ment Pack­age’ (read: Mount Panorama).

Get­ting GMH’s new Sal­is­bury axle and rear disc brakes un­der a Torana (just weeks be­fore the HZs made their de­but) was a big deal. Es­sen­tially, the A9X used the UC f loor­pan. But the Ra­dial Tuned Sus­pen­sion was per­haps more val­ued by cus­tomers never plan­ning to drive on a track.

Ray Bor­rett was the Holden en­gi­neer who did most of the work de­vel­op­ing RTS for the en­tire Holden range (be­gin­ning with the four-cylin­der Sun­bird). Bor­rett went to the US in

“OF COURSE NONE OF THIS WAS FOR PUB­LIC CON­SUMP­TION”

1977 as a chas­sis en­gi­neer and the last job he did be­fore he left was the A9X. In an in­ter­view he told me:

“I took an L34 and the first A9X pro­to­type – if you like – and did all the ge­om­e­try, bushes, steering rack lo­ca­tion and all that sort of stuff. I got it run­ning, drove it for two days at the prov­ing ground, made a few changes to it, then hopped on the plane and went to the States. But I left the ba­sic spec­i­fi­ca­tion for the car be­hind.” Quite a legacy, as it hap­pens.

Of course, none of this was for pub­lic con­sump­tion. So, no press re­lease, but an in­ter­nal mem­o­ran­dum said:

Dur­ing Septem­ber 1977, Pro­duc­tion Op­tion A9X – Per­for­mance Ve­hi­cle Pack­age – will be in­tro­duced as a run­ning change on the above Models. The ba­sic de­signs are mod­i­fied ver­sions of the cur­rent “SLR”, Four Door Sedan and “SS” Two Door Hatchback Coupe where the 5.0 litre en­gine op­tion is ex­er­cised.

Ma­jor ex­ter­nal ap­pear­ance changes in­clude a fi­bre glass front end panel with in­te­gral bumper bar and air dam with air ducts to the front brakes. Wheel open­ing f lares front and rear are at­tached to ex­ist­ing sheet metal to ac­com­mo­date wider tyres and wider rear track. Fi­bre glass spoil­ers are at­tached to the rear com­part­ment lid of both Models. In­te­rior changes in­clude new trim de­sign and ‘SLR 5000’ in­stru­ments.

The power-train com­prises the 5.0 litre V8 en­gine with 4 speed man­ual trans­mis­sion and a mod­i­fied heavy duty rear axle. Re­vi­sions to the un­der­body have been made to ac­com­mo­date new rear sus­pen­sion con­trol arm piv­ots. The front sus­pen­sion is sim­i­lar to that used in LH Models with Pro­duc­tion Op­tion L34. The

“AS TIME PASSES I IN­CREAS­INGLY THINK OF THE A9X IN HATCHBACK GUISE AS HOLDEN’S PORSCHE 928S”

brak­ing sys­tem con­sists of four wheel, power-as­sisted disc brakes with dual mas­ter cylin­der to pro­vide sep­a­rate hy­draulic sys­tems for front and rear brakes. To re­duce the weight of the ve­hi­cle, cer­tain parts and as­sem­blies, i.e. the con­sole, are deleted as stan­dard equip­ment or mod­i­fied, th­ese deleted items will be avail­able as ac­ces­sories.

Road­go­ing cars had to use the ADR27A-com­pli­ant and less po­tent L31 308 V8 but be­cause the L34 was al­ready ho­molo­gated that’s what Bathurst en­trants chose. A Craig Davis elec­tric fan fur­ther im­proved re­fine­ment.

As time passes, I in­creas­ingly think of the A9X in Hatchback guise as Holden’s ver­sion of a Porsche 928S: an ut­terly fo­cused, rear-wheel drive V8 su­per coupe. The A9X wasn’t per­fect: think foot-op­er­ated park­ing brake, shal­low load area, lack­lus­tre dash­board and av­er­age fin­ish but it de­serves to go down in his­tory as the great­est hot Holden of them all.

LC & LJ XU1

It is now com­ing up to 30 years since I was given the op­por­tu­nity by pub­lisher (the late) Ge­off Par­adise to write a whole mag­a­zine on To­ranas. This was The His­tory of Torana: from Viva

to Vic­tory, and Ge­off per­suaded Peter Brock to write the in­tro­duc­tion. It went like this:

TORANA – the name al­ways sounded good to me. Sort of like ‘Corvette’ to the yanks I sup­pose. And let’s face it, the first ver­sion with any po­ten­tial go was Aussie in­ge­nu­ity at its best. Crank­ing what was then a big six into your ba­sic small econ­omy job was a def­i­nite chance.

My in­tro­duc­tion to Torana was late in 1969. Harry Firth had the mis­sion of mak­ing a win­ner out of the soonto-be-re­leased GTR. The Monaro GTS 350 had just won Bathurst and ‘H’ had dropped a bit of a bomb­shell to the guys in the Dealer Team say­ing next year we would be run­ning a six!

Bomb­shell, in­deed! The Monaro GTS 327 and 350 had both beaten their

Fal­con GT ri­vals and many in­sid­ers were as­ton­ished that Holden would switch from Monaros. But per­haps Harry Firth had a tricky line of think­ing that would not have been im­me­di­ately ev­i­dent even to those in the know. Brock then made a fas­ci­nat­ing ob­ser­va­tion, cor­re­lat­ing the LC GTR XU-1 with his ear­li­est days of mo­tor­ing:

In ret­ro­spect I guess Firth fig­ured that since my lit­tle Holden 179-pow­ered A30 de­vel­oped about 247 bhp that this young bloke named Brock may be of some use af­ter all. The Firth­ery had only just sev­ered links with Ford and un­doubt­edly had some fu­ture prod­uct in­for­ma­tion which he put to good use.

John Bagshaw who had been the go-get­ting Sales and Mar­ket­ing Direc­tor in

that era of bell­bot­tom jeans and Bar­ney’s Shirt (an ac­tual Holden colour named be­cause an en­gi­neer called Bar­ney wore a mauve shirt to work one day) – hal­cyon days of high horse­power, bright colours and nary a hint of what would later be called po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness – told me in an in­ter­view for Heart of the Lion: the 50-year his­tory of

Aus­tralia’s Holden that the idea of stuff­ing a six-cylin­der en­gine into the Torana came out of beers at a week­end bar­be­cue. Re­veal­ingly, LC stood for Light Car!

Bagshaw said rac­ing the Torana in­stead of the Monaro, ‘would cure any prob­lem of over­cap­i­tal­is­ing a prod­uct that was not go­ing to be com­pet­i­tive’: in other words, the 350 GTS was not ex­pected to beat the Fal­con GTs a third time.

“IT SEEMS LIKELY FIRTH TOOK ALL HIS EX­PE­RI­ENCE AND DIALLED IN BROCK’S HOT HOLDEN”

It seems likely that Firth took all his ex­pe­ri­ence from the Cortina GT500 pro­gram and dialled in Brock’s hot Holden six­pack knowhow to mas­ter­mind the LC GTR XU-1. The Holden, like the Cortina GT500, got twin fuel tanks with a to­tal ca­pac­ity of 17 gal­lons (up seven from the GTR). Firth had given the Cortina large air scoops un­der the front bumper to di­rect air onto the brakes and the XU-1 got a spoiler de­signed to do the same.

Brock con­tin­ued:

Chief me­chanic Ian Tate set to work on a GTR Torana (rego KLD-158) by despatch­ing the 161 and in­stalling a 186 which was brought to a mild state of tune. It sported a Speed­shop in­let man­i­fold, a mild camshaft which had the same grind as the one in my EJ tow van. In essence, the pro­to­type XU-1 stated life with a healthy 186 with per­haps a few more horses than the first XU-1.

As for the LJ, which used the 3.3-litre six, the orig­i­nal plan had been to equip it with the 308 V8 and three pro­to­types were built. A V8 XU-1 was be­ing tested by Brock in sports sedan guise. The su­per­car cri­sis of mid-1972 put an end to those shenani­gans!

Con­trary to pop­u­lar myth the XU-1 V8 was never go­ing to be XU-2. Marc McInnes an en­gi­neer on the pro­gram says XU-1 was the of­fi­cial code for the triple-carb Torana six-cylin­der en­gine. As for XU-2 it ‘had been as­signed to the Bed­ford truck di­vi­sion. I res­cued the pa­per­work – which hadn’t gone very far – and had XU-2 re­as­signed to LH.’

The LC started with 160 horse­power, climb­ing to 180 for the 1971 Bathurst spe­cial, while the LJ had 190 packed be­hind its eggcrate grille and 212 for the Bathurst ver­sion with which Peter Brock se­cured his first Bathurst vic­tory.

TOP There’s no mis­tak­ing the pro­file for any­thing else.

TOP RIGHT Big en­gine plus mid-sized car. It’s a sim­ple and ef­fec­tive recipe.

ABOVE Those GTR badges re­minded the buyer they had some­thing spe­cial.

RIGHT Owner and re­storer Sharon Chap­man.

LEFT Gotta love that pur­pose­ful in­te­rior.

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