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.

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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.

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