Holden Torana HB SL

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HB Torana SL
Holden Torana

Holden HB SLTorana

1967 - 1969
4 cyl.
56/69/79 bhp
4 spd. man; 3 spd. Auto
Top Speed:
Number Built:
36,561 (all HB models)
2 star
Holden HB SLTorana
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2


Torana aficionados all know the name “Torana” is aboriginal for "flight", but only a handful (until they have read this article, of course) know that GM’s first choice of name was “spear”. As luck would have it, there is no Aboriginal word for spear, so flight it was. And we think this very strange – and can only assume that the tribal hunters would say “quick, hand me the pointy thingy over there, I am going forth to hunt”.

When the Torana was released the image was very much chiffon lace and sex-in-the-sand-hills thanks to its TV advertising and Press handouts. The Torana was marketed strongly as both "Holden" and "new" from every inch of its hippy line panel-work. GM-H made sure of that and for good reason. The Holden Torana was a positive step towards a larger share of the youth market.

Objectively speaking, the "baby" Holden was definitely the most significant gamble GM had made for many years – arguably since it produced the first 48/215. It was a calculated effort to erase the stigma previously attached to the GM small car - a bad-taste-in-the-mouth of GM executives for which the Viva was entirely responsible. GM needed the Torana to be everything the Viva was not; but sadly the company expressed its faith in the car by promising the Federal government it would reach Plan A standards (95 percent Australian content) by 1970, it hadn't spent nearly enough effort re-developing the car for the demanding Australian conditions.

GM knew the mere addition of chrome script declaring the word Holden was enough to give the car a market acceptance and a new resale value the lamented Viva did not enjoy. Then GM-H General Manager Max Wilson admitted as much when he went on record as saying he anticipated the Torana would take as much as 25 percent of the medium-light car market as compared with the Viva's seven percent.

Both the Torana S and the SL carried identical engineering specifications, but varied in trim, equipment and luxury detail. As real sporting machines their performance hardly made them either frightening for the opposition on a strictly sporting comparative basis or eligible for classification under the heading of "true sports sedans" whatever interpretation that carried. But the super model Torana’s were GM's genuine contenders for the sporting youth market and deserved evaluation as such. They were also a significant improvement over the previous token offerings from GM in that field.

On the Road

The HB Torana’s new suspension gave good handling, but some road testers felt that a slightly adjusted spring/damper rates may have made for better all round ride/ handling. Another complaint was that the gearlever was too short and the down-shifting was occasionally crunch-inducing but familiarity bred lightning changes with greater smoothness. Most felt that the upper gear ratios were poorly chosen and the available torque inadequate for most overtaking manoeuvres. But, on the plus side, the flexibility of the engine and good long-range planning of manoeuvres made the car easy to manoeuvre in difficult situations on the open road.

The Viva was never a sports car proposition. Probably its most distinguishing moments in competition were roll-overs in sedan endurance races. Thankfully the Torana was different: it started with a basically sound suspension, and a thoughtfully updated engine. It still had some fairly elemental errors, but basically the goods were there. But many thought this was courtesy of Holden engineers – which was not the car – rather the changes over the Viva came about courtesy of Vauxhall Motors, Luton, England. The Australian Torana was still called a Viva in England, where the Vauxhall name still had a strong following. The car was one of the new breed of small sedans that had sprung up simultaneously from the world's top manufacturers - it was among the ranks of the Hillman Hunter, Toyota Corolla, Datsun 1000 and so on.

The Luton plant tossed the old suspension right out and came back with an all-round coil system to replace the transverse front leaf and the problematical rear torque-tube semi-elliptics. In back, the double-trouble radius arms made the car look as though it was meant for real business, and undoubtedly re-assured the Australian GM staff that the car would need little suspension attention for local conditions. Tucked into a slippier body shape with a little sex appeal the English Viva added up to an attractive packet, and it got immediate favourable reaction from the most dedicated Vauxhall critics.

Superficial Changes for Australia

GM-H fiddled around with the car for only a short time here, after superficial passes through its styling and suspension departments before release. GM told the motoring press at launch that the under-cover differences could be reduced solely to revised spring and damper rates and heavier sheet metal, and the visible changes around the replacement of round headlights where the British rectangular ones were fitted. It was claimed that the Australian designers felt that there was inferior light diffusion from rectangular reflectors which the Japanese reduced to waffle some years ago: then proved the point with the introduction of the Mazda 1000, but the real reason behind the move was for reduced manufacturing costs.

Efficiency aside, to our mind the round headlights didn't spoil the look of the car at all - in fact the frontal treatment was undoubtedly the Torana's most pleasing aspect. If the Team here at Unique Cars and Parts were to pick on one point of the appearance, it would be the use of the 12 in. diameter, 4 in. rim width wheels, but this choice must be viewed even more importantly in terms of practicability. Back then it was generally felt that small wheels were unsuited to Australian conditions – however the Mini provided the perfect exception to this rule. But there were still many types of country in which the small-wheeled BMC products were vulnerable (as witnessed by the booming sales in sump guards during the 1960s and 1970s) and another big problem was tyre wear. The decision to stay 12 in. was surprising at least, and combined with the rim size almost alarming. The S models should definitely have been equipped with minimum 4.5 inch rims as standard equipment, and 5 inch rims would have made good optional extra equipment.

Underwhelming Performance

The performance of the S variant Torana’s was underwhelming. For a unitary two-door sedan it was too heavy for the engine. At nearly 1700 lb kerb it was only 75 lb lighter than the two door Cortina 1500 on a wheelbase 3 in. shorter, a cubic capacity disadvantage of some 300cc, a power shortcoming of 9 hp and a trail in torque of more than 20 ft/lb. It was the low torque output that was the real bugbear of this car's performance to pull away from 25 mph and doesn't really smooth out until you've got 30 mph on the clock. Similarly third was too close to top and could be a little worrying first time out as an overtaking gear. Balanced against this was excellent off-the-mark acceleration (as quick as the Cortina to 30 mph) and an excellent ability to put the power on the ground irrespective of surface.

Despite what you may have read in various motoring journals about Kevin Bartlett's assault on several innocent white guideposts during a rally attempt, the Torana handled superbly on rough surfaces and excelled on dirt, mud and wet bitumen, providing the tyre pressures were right. (Bartlett did finish seventh in his first outing which must have proved something). Most owners found best pressures were equal front and rear. It was practically impossible to get into trouble with the HB Torana, so great were the safety margins built into the handling. At slower speeds you could almost swear the engine was in the rear, because the front end was never excessively heavy.

On the Inside

In SL guise, the HB Torana would match inside with monotone colours, so you needed to pick the colour carefully. If, for example, you went with red upholstery and trim: that meant red everything - seats, carpets, door lining, seat belts, head lining, dash padding, the lot. The walnut facings on the dash were genuine walnut coloured imitation walnut plastic trimmings, which would gain a slight tinge of the colour you chose, thanks probably to the sheer weight of reflected red light around them. Even the Nasco-option Air Chief radio seemed to change colour. These days we love the look, but back then it was a case of love it or hate it. In hindsight, we know the co-ordinated single colour interiors were very popular with the average buyer even though they quickly dated the car and resulted in lower resale values.

The driving position could best be described as unusual. You could get straight armed even if you were tall, but the pedals weren't arranged to let your legs match this attitude. It was almost Italian in ergonomics, and you were forced to sit long-armed, bent-legged if you were tall. In a car of its price at least some rake adjustment to the squabs should have been provided. The seats were not uncomfortable for either passenger or driver but it would have made for greater comfort on the average for different types of drivers. Lateral location almost didn’t exist, but full lap sash belts were fitted in sensible mounting points which enabled a firm seating position.

Despite the Torana's many detail disadvantages it ushered in a new era for the sporting motorist. With a little pressure, GM were soon re-thinking the Torana as a potential competitive product, the first of course being the HB Brabham version – but many more would follow – and it would hold the title of King of the Mountain for many years. While the HB was never all that quick, it did offer good potential for easy modification. It's greatest advantage hinged around its Holden orientation because it had good market acceptance, combined with strong trade-in or resale value. The HB Torana SL was not really a car for the motoring enthusiast, but it was a good beginning.
Torana HB SL

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Also see:

Torana HB Technical Specifications
Torana Car Commercials
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