It used to be said that big, heavy, powerful cars weren’t any good at Bathurst. They might get up the Mountain quickly, but that fast, twisting run across the top and down the Mountain puts so much stress through wheels, axles and suspension components that the bigger cars just can’t handle it. And good luck getting them to stop at the end of Conrod Straight 130 times every three minutes. The conventional wisdom was that something small, light and nimble was the way to go at Bathurst. Something like the Ford Cortina GT500, developed especially for the 1965 race by Harry Firth.
Five years on and Firth was attempting to do more or less the same thing with Holden. But things had changed in the interim. Large, powerful cars still had their problems at Bathurst, but with Holden and Ford now elding highperformance V8s that were almost 20 seconds a lap faster than the old Cortina GT 500, it was going to take a very good smaller-capacity car to win Bathurst in 1970.
The smaller-capacity car in question, the LC model Torana GTR XU-1, certainly looked the goods when it rst arrived on the Series Production racing scene. It was a spectacular entrance indeed for the XU-1 at Warwick Farm on September 6, with Colin Bond winning in his
rst start. Bond came from behind and had the crowd in raptures as the little coupe nipped past the big Monaros of Spencer Martin, Bob Morris and Bob Jane under brakes on consecutive laps to take the victory.
The symbolism of that performance was clear to all: it was a changing-of-the-guard moment for Holden. In just one race, the Monaro had gone from being the General’s logical weapon of choice in Series Production to suddenly being seen as a heavy old lumbering beast that had reached its use-by date – literally last year’s model. In just one race, the mighty Monaro had seemingly been emasculated by its little brother Torana.
And yet… just as the twisty Warwick Farm was ideally suited to the XU-1, it was probably the least Monaro-friendly circuit outside of maybe Winton and Amaroo Park. And though Bond’s XU-1 beat the Monaros that day, it wasn’t as though he left them for dead. In fact, he wasn’t any faster than them; he shared the fastest lap of the race (1m50.6s) with Jane’s 350.
Further attering the XU-1’s seemingly herculean rst-up win was the near-complete absence of GT-HOs. There had only been one decent Falcon there that weekend, Fred Gibson’s Phase I, but it exited the race with fuel pressure problems after just one lap. The real test for the XU-1 lay ahead just seven days later at Sandown, and that’s where the magnitude of the challenge it faced on the Mountain was revealed. Sandown’s two long straights
graphically exposed the XU-1’s comparative lack of straight line speed. If the new Toranas weren’t in the running at Sandown, what hope was there for them at Mount Panorama, where the straights were even longer, and the hills even steeper?
If anyone running a Holden (or anyone at Holden) was having second thoughts about the Torana after Sandown, it was already too late. The die was cast, the Bathurst entry acceptance list already set. Not one of the Monaros that raced at Warwick Farm on September 6 would be at Bathurst four weeks later. In fact, only one HT Monaro GTS 350 would front at Mount Panorama for that year’s big race. The Holden entry consisted of that lone Monaro (for David Sheldon) and 12 XU-1s – with another three Toranas waiting their chance on the reserve list.
If nothing else, Ford was almost guaranteed victory in Class E, as long as at least one Falcon made it home. The entry for that class contained
Below: What might have been... Holden would have had a better chance against Ford in 1970 at Bathurst by fighting V8 fire with some V8 fire of its own. Monaros running first to third at Warwick Farm (above) just one month before Bathurst. But all three are about to be overwhelmed by the little green car chasing them. 14 GT-HOs, the aforementioned Sheldon GTS 350 and, fascinatingly, a Jaguar 4.2 XJ6 automatic for Jack Nougher and David O’Keefe (which never eventuated, the pair instead switching to a BMW 2800 – the rst BMW to start in a Bathurst 500/1000).
When Colin Bond won that September Warwick Farm race, part of the sensation it caused was due to the expectation from some that this new uprated GTR Torana was only intended to be a class contender. This wasn’t necessarily a misconception, either, because even within Holden itself – at least initially – it was no certainty that Firth would be able to deliver an XU-1 package that was an outright contender.
In fact, the XU-1 really was both: a car that was competitive at a majority of circuits – and even dominant on some – but a class car on others.
The XU-1 made life a misery for GT-HO drivers trying to beat it at tracks like Amaroo Park and Warwick Farm. In a classic example of this, in qualifying for the rst round of the 1971 South Paci c Touring Car Series at Warwick Farm, Allan Moffat couldn’t get within a second of Bob Morris’ XU-1 pole lap time. In the 34-lap race, after Morris retired with a sheared wheel, Moffat’s Phase II eventually pathed his way through the XU-1s to be running a distant second to Colin Bond until a wheel broke on the Falcon. XU-1s
nished rst to fourth; fth placed McPhee in the second works Phase II was almost a full lap down. At Warwick Farm that day, the GT-HOs had virtually been reduced to Class E competitors only!
One week later at Sandown for the second round of the South Paci c Series, the situation was reversed. In qualifying Moffat was a full two seconds faster than Bond’s XU-1! (Moffat then promptly crashed heavily, fronting up the following day for the race with a pristine GT-HO Phase II which Racing Car News described as ‘looking distinctly like a new one…’).
The XU-1 was brilliant on some tracks, but at places like Sandown and Bathurst, it just didn’t have the legs. It’s true that it was capable of winning on those tracks – because it did – but the circumstances had to be just right. All things being equal, the XU-1 was a Class C Bathurst contender whose main opponent was the twobarrel Valiant Pacer.
If you were really serious about winning Bathurst in 1970, you needed a V8.
Jane Brock O’Brien Moffat
* Lap time charts are listed
Monaro Aug ‘71 52.8s XU-1 Aug ‘71 52.8s Phase II Aug ‘71 52.8s Phase II Mar ‘71 53.9s rstly in chronological order (separated into years) and then by lap time.
racing rubber the works cars ran.
Likewise in the race itself, the Phase IIs were no faster than the GT-HOs had been 12 months earlier. Perhaps this was because in 1970 the factory Fords were not forced to push to the maximum. Indeed, it was left to one of the privateer Phase IIs to set the fastest lap. That was John Goss, whose best lap was almost a full second slower than the corresponding Phase I fastest lap from the ’69 race.
We know that the HT Monaro GTS 350 was a pretty even match for the Phase I. And on the evidence of the qualifying and race lap times, there’s little doubt that the GTS 350 could have matched the Phase IIs in 1970. The fact is that the GT-HO Phase II was not a demonstrably faster car than the HT Monaro GTS 350. Maybe not even faster at all.
This was not just the case at Bathurst, either.
It was the same at pretty much every other track. At the November Oran Park night-race meeting John Goss set a fastest lap of 54.7 seconds in his Phase II. Nearly three months into his time with the Cleveland-powered XW should surely have been enough for a driver of Goss’ skills to have extracted maximum performance from it. But Goss’ best lap that day was still three-tenths slower than the time Bob Morris had set in his Monaro back in August. In fact, no GT-HO Phase II ever went faster than Morris’ Monaro at the southern Sydney track until Goss shaved the lap record by one-tenth late in February the next year.
At Calder, too, a good HT GTS 350 – namely Bob Jane’s 350 – was always a match for any XW Falcon, no matter which Phase. In fact, as late as March, 1971 – less than two months before the XY Phase III was released! – Jane recorded the last Series Production race win for a Monaro. And it wasn’t as though he had no opposition that day: trailing the big Holden V8 coupe home were no less than Moffat’s works Ford team Phase II and Peter Brock in a HDT Torana XU-1.
In the beginning at the Holden Dealer Team, Colin Bond was the undisputed lead driver. Bond’s versatility meant he could be employed in racing as well as in rallying, and that was how things operated for the rst six months of the HDT. His success rate in HDT Monaros during that period in rallying and racing was phenomenal.
And there’s no reason it couldn’t have continued right through 1970, Bond believes. On reflection, Bond reckons the Monaro was retired before its time had come:
“I think we went too early with the XU-1 at Bathurst. The XU-1 was a great car on just about every other circuit. But at
Bathurst you needed the bloody V8 to get up the hill. In the XU-1 you’d get caught up behind some of the slower Fords, and they could hold you up for a while until their tyres started to go away, and then you could get round them and rack off. In the meantime, Moffat and the others are disappearing down the road.
“Had we run Monaros in 1970s, we would have run on race tyres. I’m sure our car in 1969 was better than Digby Cooke’s car, which was on race tyres and started from the front row that year.
“In the ‘69 race, we were on Michelin XAS road tyres and we were as fast as the Fords – and they had racing tyres. Early on after Moffat stopped on the rst lap with a gear selection problem, we had no problem running with the Geoghegans.
“After the ’69 Bathurst pretty much everyone was switching over to racing tyres. Ford was sort of using Goodyear only by then. I ran Firestones at the Lakeside 1500, and by then there were
some fairly good combinations from tyre manufacturers that you could try.
“I would have thought also that by Bathurst 1970, and having raced the Monaro through that year, we would have had at least a better car than the year before. We would have been on race tyres; we de nitely would have been faster in 1970 at Bathurst with a Monaro.”
Bond also wonders whether or not he played a role in sealing the Monaro’s fate, with his race-winning drive on debut in the XU-1 at Warwick Farm.
“If we hadn’t have gone to Warwick Farm rst time out and passed all the Monaros and won the race, who knows? Because after that race, I
Colin Bond believes a HG Monaro could have beaten the new GT-HO Phase II at Bathurst in 1970, just as the HT GTS 350 had seen off the Phase I in 1969.
think everyone was just thinking, ‘this [the XU-1] is the go.’
“There were really only Monaros ahead of us that day, and in the race we were knocking them off one after another into Creek Corner lap after lap, and then we got Jane on the last lap and won the race.
“Warwick Farm was a at track that suited the XU-1, but for the car to do that straight away sort of signals that it’s the way to go.
“And it had happened before that you could win Bathurst with something smaller and lighter, like the GT500 Cortina, which had also been one of Harry’s cars.”
So, had it been up to Bond, what would a HG Monaro GTS 350 1970 Bathurst contender have looked like?
Brakes were the Monaro’s biggest problem. They were the same brakes as the XU-1. The Monaro handled pretty well, a bit better than the Falcon, off the showroom oor at least.
Brock’s sprint debut
While Peter Brock had shared a HDT GTS 350 to third place with Des West at Bathurst in ’69, into the following season the young Brock’s status within the team was far from concrete.
Immediately after the ‘69 Bathurst there was no full time role for Brock at the HDT. He went back to racing his Austin A30-Holden. Brock’s next start in a HDT Monaro wasn’t until April 12, 1970, at Oran Park In what was the last race appearance for a HDT Monaro, this was Brock’s rst experience of a touring car sprint race in open company. His opposition that day was not inconsequential, and included similar GTS 350s for Bob Morris, Spencer Martin and Nick Petrilli, plus Fred Gibson’s GT-HO and the new works Valiant Pacers of Leo Geoghegan and Des West.
Brock set the fastest lap (55.7s) in the 15-lap Toby Lee Series nal but crashed out after a tangle with Harold Sharman’s lapped GTS 327. Harry Firth was less than impressed with his young protégé’s performance, but in a rare moment off forgiveness from the HDT boss, the young Brock was not given his marching orders. The rest, as they say, is history.
John Goss heads the Series Production charge at Oran Park. The new Phase II GT-HO was not really any faster than the Phase I - which was certainly no faster than the Monaro GTS 350.