Holden LC Torana GTR XU-1
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
The Holden Torana GTR XU-1 was, at the time, arguably the best small performance car then available in Australia. At release it retailed for $3214 – which was excellent value for money. In fact, it was one of the best small performance available anywhere in the world, although many examples had their fair share of irritating rattles throughout the body and trim.
For sheer power and straight-line acceleration, there was nothing in its market segment to touch it - the 3048cc GM-H six-cylinder engine
with triple Strombergs and tricky camshaft saw to that. It built a stellar racing reputation in both Series Production and Improved Production very nearly parallel to that of its bigger and more brutal opponent, the Falcon GT
, showing itself to be slightly down on power but quite a bit better under brakes
and through the corners.
While it was light and easy to drive in comparison to the big Ford, it still felt solid and purposeful when stacked up against other more sophisticated small performance cars - but they, of course, were not able to catch it. Its ready power was claimed by the makers to be in the vicinity of 160bhp at 5200rpm, but it soon became common knowledge that the General had another cam for the motor which injected it with a further 20bhp.
The exact function of that cam was shrouded in mystery, but it was within the framework of the regulations for Series Production racing. For acceleration, it was not as quick as its two main market-place and track opponents, the Falcon GT
and the Valiant Charger R/T
. Over the standing quarter mile it came third, but when you consider factors like tyre
wear, fuel consumption, braking, etc, it came off pretty well. In top speed it also trailed the Big Three - but that was obviously less important in a road car than factors like manoeuvrability, economy, driving ease, handling
and braking, in which departments the XU-1 scored exceptionally well.
Behind the Wheel
Behind the wheel the first thing you would notice was just how large that wheel was. The steering wheel really needed to be smaller in diameter and thicker in the rim, and the seats needed at least some provision for rake adjustment. They were comfortable enough in terms of squab and cushion length and width, but they were not all that thickly padded.
The instrumentation was as near to perfect as it would be possible to get within the price category and structure of the car, but the switchgear could have been improved by the replacement of the floor-mounted dipper switch with a stalk mounted one that was starting to find favour at the time. Lighting, horn and standard of finish left nothing to be desired, but the seat-belts were awkward to use, with the top mounting below the rear side windows - they tended to get tangled under the seats.
On the Road
The ride was hard - very hard - and devoid of the GTR's short wheelbase pitching, but still inclined to make a mountain out of every road surface irregularity. The XU-1 was a delightfully responsive car, although its bullish nature meant that it required more than a subtle hint of what you required from it. In combination, the lack of self-centering on the steering and the wide tyres
could bring on an anxious moment or two when coming out of tight corners - you had to point it, but it was light and responsive in that sphere. The limited slip diff helped in keeping the car aimed straight.
The gearbox was a delight to use, with a first-gear synchromesh that allowed that gear to be selected at some surprisingly high speeds. The shift itself was positive, without being notchy, and required a reasonably firm hand. The power-assisted disc/drum braking set-up was magnificent, and was equally happy to be used for washing off a bit of speed or bringing the car to a quick, sure, straight and sudden stop in panicky moments. But the GTR XU-1 remained an easy car to drive and the tremendous low-down torque and acceleration made it a lot of fun in traffic as well as the open highway.
Of course everyone knew the XU-1 was built for the Bathurst 500 Series Production race - in which it proved its worth and justified the faith of those who fought to bring it into being. And, being basically race-bred, it also stood to reason that the car would be extremely critical to tyre
pressures. Holden recommended of 34 - 32psi for tyre
pressures, but it would actually handle much better at high speeds on 40 - 35psi. The down side was an even firmer ride, but it you let air out of the tyres
the low pressures induced diabolical understeer, wallow and bounce.
The XU-1 was preceded on to the market by the original Torana GTR, with the 2600 motor and "street" suspension
. The XU-1 had revised suspension
, and in this case there was no compromise - it was for racing. Comparing the XU-1 to its predecessor, the GTR (which is probably an unkind thing to do), the 186 Holden engine replaced the 161, there was an air dam under the front and spoiler on the rear, triple Strombergs, GTS 350 Monaro front end with disc brakes
and boosted spring rates, 17 gallon fuel tank and 3.36 diff (3.08 optional).
It was so good that the NSW Police caught on to it. They used XU-1's in ordinary old GTR bodies with a couple of driving lights. Sneaky – but they did create a near perfect pursuit vehicle. And despite that depressing thought, the XU-1 was a great, if bullish, little road car. It remains exceptionally highly collectable and highly prized.
The GTR XU-1 In Motorsport
While it is true that Harry Firth
alone was not responsible for the GTR XU-1, he certainly played a very big part in the vehicles development. At the time GM were supposedly not interested in racing, and the brave souls who wrestled the likes of the S4 EH Holden
and HK GTS 327 Monaro around the racing circuits of Australia did so as privateers. But things were changing in the Australian automotive landscape, and bean counters at all manufacturers were realising that track success had a very direct bearing on showroom sales.
Firth, who had left the role as Ford's Team Manager to lead the newly formed Holden Dealer Team, was given the job of preperaing a car suitable to take the coveted Hardie Ferodo 1000
. The obvious choice was the 350 Chev equipped Monaro, but getting it to handle and brake with enough finesse through the twisty stuff on the Mount was always going to be difficult. Besides, development of the Monaro was certainly not going to be cheap. Instead, the "Silver Fox" turned his attention to the LC Torana GTR
, and given the warmed 161 made the little Torana something quite special, a 186 version looked the goods, at least on paper.
David Bennett of Perfectune had already demonstrated to GMH
what his cylinder head
could do to improve performance, having demonstrated that his "Sprint GT" version of the HR 186S could beat the stock XR Falcon GT
to 100 mph by almost 2 seconds. Many Torana aficionado's believe this is why Firth believed the 186 could be taken to a much higher state of tune. Officially launched in August 1970, the XU-1 blew the socks off much of the motoring press. The XU-1 (and to a lesser extent the GTR) represented a complete depature with traditional Aussie performance car thinking, which always included two things in the formula, a V8 engine and a large car shell to put it in.
GM-H Press Bulletin
At this stage, it is probably best to simply quote the GMH
press bulletin, which read..."GMH Today announced the Torana GTR XU-1, an additional model too the LC Torana range introduced in October last year.
Fitted with a three carburettor 186 cu. in. engine, the XU-1 is in fact a higher performance version of the successful GTR sports sedan. The XU-1 has been developed to meet strong demand for such a vehicle from motoring enthusiasts.
An initial batch of 700 cars will be built to meet immediate demand, to be followed by further production if subsequent demand re-warrants. The increased engine capacity of the XU-1 has resulted in numerous engineering refinements designed to improve overall handling
and performance. Front and rear suspension
modifications, larger disc brakes
with an increased capacity booster, front and rear spoilers and a greater radiator
are the major items. The XU-1 is fitted with a 17 gallon fuel tank to increase the car's touring range. Principal external distinguishing features are the rear spoiler, GTR XU-1 decals and exclusive bold colour range".
After reading the press release there were no doubt many journalists and motoring enthusiasts alike who were left scratching their collective heads wondering why there was no mention of Bathurst. By the time the XU-1 hit the market everyone knew the intent, and no doubt the people over at the blue oval were wondering where the chink was in the XU-1's armour was. They didn't have to look far. As GMH
didn't have their own 4 speed transmission
, they had to stick with the Opel sourced unit, and its dislike for long hard track work was already well known.
But if the gearbox issues could be sorted, then they were in for some pretty stiff competition. The XU-1 could make 36 mph in first, 58 in second and 93 in third, all the way to a maximum of 125 mph (and even then, it remained 400 rpm shy of the red line). The power was due in no small part to the wonderful Zenith triple 1.5 inch sidedraught carbys, which made the 186 good for 160 bhp @ 5200 rpm, and a torque figure of 190 lb. ft @ 3600 rpm. Don Holland proved they were on the right track making the podium at the Bathurst 1970 Hardie-Ferodo
with a first up third and a win in Class
For the 1971 Hardie Ferodo
Harry masterminded some mods for the LC XU-1, which included a heavier duty clutch and thicker front discs. A reworked head, new pistons and trickier bumpstick gave the Bathurst Special an extra 20 horsepower, at the unbelievably high (for a Holden six) 6000 rpm mark. Alan Moffat
was to rain on the parade, taking out the '71 event and the HO's filling all top three positions. Nevertheless the XU-1 was on track to become a legend, along with the person who drove it. The year was 1972
, the driver Peter Brock
, and the vehicle the LJ Torana GTR XU-1