Giving it a Red hot go
Last issue our ‘Fifties shades of Grey’ article outlined the early days of the Holden six-cylinder engine in racing. This edition, in part two, we review when the General had a red hot go at winning Bathurst and other major tin-top events.
Part two of our Holden six-cylinder motorsport history – the ‘Red’ six.
IIf the original Grey six Holden made for an unlikely racing engine, its replacement was probably always destined to be used in competition.
It wasn’t just that the ‘Red’ straight-six engine unveiled in the EH model in 1963 was of a larger cubic capacity than the Grey. For one thing, it was entirely new, and available in two sizes: 149 cubic-inch (2.4-litre) and excitingly large 179 (2.9-litre) form. It also had a sevenmain-bearing block. The new Holden engine was bigger, stronger, better.
Here for the rst time was a Holden model with genuine performance credentials, 15 years after the rst 48-215s rolled off the line.
Holden even offered a Bathurst special EH, with the S4 version – half hearted, though it was. At a time when head office in Detroit had imposed a company ban on motor racing (for all that, 179-engined EHs featured a stylised chequered ag ‘179’ bootlid badge), the subtle S4 upgrade was probably about as far as the Holden chiefs dared push their luck. In any case, with not much more than hardened gears and sintered metal brake linings to distinguish the S4 from a normal 179 three-speed EH, they were always likely to struggle against the wily Harry Firth and his specially-developed factory Ford Cortinas in the ’63 Bathurst 500. Firth duly won – but an S4 nished a decent second. It was a pretty good start in what was effectively the rst time Holden had turned its attention to the race track.
But it was a false dawn. Remarkably, over the following four years at Bathurst, before the arrival of the Monaro in 1968, the best result for a
Holden was a lowly 19th for the Mike Savva/Herb Taylor HD X2 in 1966.
Likewise in the Australian Touring Car Championship, EHs starred in 1964 until the endof-season switch to Improved Production rules rendered them instantly uncompetitive. Under Appendix J regs, they’d been front runners: Norm Beechey bored his EH out to 3.5-litres, tted Chev pistons and Mercedes conrods, and achieved 232 horsepower from an engine capable of almost 8,000rpm.
Beechey or Brian Muir could have won the single-race ATCC at Lakeside that year in their EH Holdens: tyre wear cruelled Muir’s race just when he seemed to have it won; Beechey only lost the lead, to Ian Geoghegan’s Cortina, a handful of laps from the end. With that, Muir headed overseas; Beechey went on to win the ’65 championship – in a Ford Mustang.
So as it was in Series Production racing from 1965 through to the introduction of the Monaro, these were barren years for Holden in the ATCC.
But not in sedan racing generally. In the lower reaches of the sport, the category that would be known as Sports Sedans was beginning to coalesce, and in addition to the various ‘hybrid’ beasts like Barry Sharp’s Ford V8-powered Austin A40 were the former Appendix J EHs and an army of old humpy Holdens which continued to race long after the bigger-engined EH’s introduction.
For the rest of the decade, and into the early ’70s, cheap, second-hand EH models provided so many drivers with an inexpensive entry to the sport – exactly as the FJ and 48-215 had done the decade before. Some even slotted Red sixes into the older (lighter) Humpy shells. The most famous of these was probably Ron Harrop’s famous FJ drag racer By the end of its development, ‘Harrop’s Howler’ had more than 340 horsepower. In 1971 the old Red six-engined Humpy clocked an astonishing 11.84 seconds down Calder’s quarter mile. We can’t con rm it,
but that time probably remains unbeaten by any naturally aspirated Holden six sedan today, 47 years later!
Like Beechey, many – Dick Johnson and Garry Rogers included – updated from their old Humpies to EHs. Others went for the reengine option, shoehorning a 179 Red six into something small and light, as young Peter Brock did in 1967 with a little old Austin A30.
The arrival of the Monaro GTS 327 in 1968 should have spelled the end for the Red six as a frontline Holden performance option. But things changed after Holden showed Harry Firth the prototype of what would become the LC Torana. The Holden Dealer Team boss convinced the chiefs at GM-H that for racing, a lightweight, Red six-powered Torana was a better option than continuing down the V8 Monaro path – even though Colin Bond and Tony Roberts delivered back-to-back Bathurst wins with the HT GTS 350 in ’69.
It was a brave move opting to take on Ford’s Falcon GT-HO series with a smaller six-cylinder Torana. But it at least was not going to be a difficult job getting the engine package right. It was not as though Firth and his engine whiz Ian Tate were having to reinvent the wheel: there was already a considerable bank of experience with Red sixes modi ed for racing.
One good example was Graham Ryan’s Waggott-tuned EH Improved Production tourer
(below left), which set a new class lap record at Bathurst in 1967 at 2m55s. Compare that with Colin Bond’s fastest LC XU-1 time qualifying at Bathurst in 1970, a 2m54.0s.
Ryan’s EH had triple 45mm Weber carbies and 11.5:1 compression ratio; the stock LC XU-1 used triple 38mm Strombergs and 10.05.1. Similar thinking and similar numbers, for a similar result.
Even though the 186 cubic-inch LC XU-1s would be beaten by the 351 V8 Falcon XW Phase II at Bathurst (and again in ’71, although arguably the only thing capable of beating Allan Moffat’s XY Phase III that year was another Phase III), the XU-1 brought an exciting new dynamic to touring car racing.
It may have been blown away at Bathurst in ’71, but elsewhere the XU-1s, with their superior braking and handling, generally made life a misery for the big, lumbering Fords. They won when the LC XU-1 made its race debut at Warwick Farm in 1970 – prompting a sudden rethink from those who had assumed Holden’s new Torana was merely a smaller capacity class contender.
And the sight of Colin Bond’s XU-1 outbraking both the Moffat and Fred Gibson works Falcon XW GT-HOs in one move at the end of Conrod Straight at Bathurst that year to take the lead remains one of the most electrifying moments in the history of the Great Race.
The Red six was due to be phased out of Holden’s racing effort midway through 1972. But its V8-powered XU-1 replacement would be killed off by that year’s infamous Supercar scare. Instead, the now 202-powered XU-1 would serve in touring car racing for almost another two years.
The Supercar scare robbed us of what would have been a mouth-watering contest between the XA Falcon GT-HO Phase IV and the 5.0-litre V8 XU-1 (and maybe even a V8 Charger). Yet what we got instead was pretty special: a direct contest between Moffat and Brock, Ford’s fearsome XY Phase III versus the LJ XU-1.
Inclement weather, which did not favour the big Ford, and a 28 year-old Brock reaching the peak of his powers, saw the XU-1 ‘David’ slay the GT-HO ‘Goliath’. It took a six-cylinder Holden to defeat the most fearsome V8 Ford of all.
If not for some late-race at tyres and a fuel strategy miscalculation, Harry Firth might have presided over back-to-back Bathurst wins for the HDT and the XU-1 in ’73. And had Firth taken an XU-1 to Bathurst in ’74 as insurance against a potential failure from the new (and fragile) 5.0-litre V8 Torana L34, another victory could well have been there for the taking.
As it was, earlier that year the XU-1 model was largely responsible for Peter Brock scoring what was his rst ATCC title – and the rst for Holden since Norm Beechey’s 1970 crown. Brock drove the new SL/R 5000 to victory in the nal two rounds but that was just the icing on the championship cake – the three wins plus the second and third places Brock had scored with the XU-1 was where he won the title.
The last XU-1 to start at Bathurst was the John Stoopman/Stuart Saker entry in 1975. But the Torana six lived on in Sports Sedans, the XU-1 becoming the ’70s and ’80s cheap racing equivalent of the EHs and Humpies of the previous decade. Just as Peter Brock had got his start in racing with Holden Red six power, so too did fellow Holden touring car hero Mark Skaife nearly 20 years later. Skaife, the man who would replace Brock at the Holden Racing team when Brock retired at the end of 1997, kicked off his career at the wheel of an XU-1 Sports Sedan that probably wasn’t a million miles removed from the XU-1 in which Brock won his rst Great Race, 12 years earlier.
And in an unexpected and triumphant reprise for the Red six in top level competition, in 1979 it would propel the Commodore model to its rst ever motorsport success, when Brock and codrivers Matt Phillip and Noel Richards led home a HDT one-two-three.
Above: The first 149 and 179 cubic-inch ‘Red’ six cylinder engines released in the EH model in 1963 brought new levels of performance and excitment... Right: With a bit better luck, either the Brian Muir or Norm Beechey EH Holden could have won the ‘64 ATCC.
Top: A display of proper drifting from Colin Bond in the debut race for the 186 six-powered LC Torana XU-1. Left, above left: Just as Peter Brock’s first race car was the Red six-engined Austin A30, so too was his first Bathurst win powered by the Holden six. Centre left: Future Ford hero Dick Johnson was once Queensland’s top Holden ace.
Right: Bob Morris and Ron Hodgson show off the 202 six in their Group C XU-1 to Holden’s John Bagshaw. Below: In 1979 the Red six made an unexpected return to top-level competition with a 1-2-3 in the Repco Round Australia trail for HDT’s 202-powered Commodores.