THE TORANA STORY
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.
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.
ABOVE Those GTR badges reminded the buyer they had something special.
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.
RIGHT Owner and restorer Sharon Chapman. LEFT Gotta love that purposeful interior.