The Torana came at a time when, arguably more than ever, winning at Mount Panorama would have the punters streaming though the showroom doors.
flying lap, using last years car, my XU-1 would be coming out of Murray's about 55 mph in second. Third was good for 100mph and you could stay in third along Pit Straight, then back to second for Hardie-Ferodo, going to about 65 mph"...Colin Bond describes his XU1 in the 1971 Bathurst Race Program
As mentioned elsewhere in the Unique Cars and Parts site, it was Peter Brock who was so impressed by the performance of Spencer Martin driving a Vauxhall Viva to a "Class A" victory in the 1964 Armstrong 500 at Mount Panorama that he persuaded his parents to buy one.
The Martin/Brown car completed 116 laps of the circuit in the time it took the Jane/Reynolds Cortina GT to cover 130 laps or 503.75 miles. Behind Martin and Brown followed a string of Vivas, they filling the first six places in their class. Even more astonishing was the fact that only six had started the race.
At the 1965 Armstrong 500 the Vivas were well and truly outclassed by the Harry Firth inspired Cortina GT500s. 1965 was also the year when the Mudd/Kavanagh Viva inverted itself spectacularly while trying to round Murray's Corner at high speed. The footage did little to promote the cars crash-worthiness.
From 1965 until 1970 the Torana's were, simply put, uncompetitive, and it was up to the Monaro's to represent Holden. In 1967 a new Torana made the starting grid but not the finishing line.
It wasn't until the end of 1969 and the release of the LC Torana six-cylinder models that anyone thought too much about entering a Torana in the Australian Touring Car Championship where, naturally, further modifications were allowed. Few today would know that it was Queensland Ford driver, Dick Johnson, who was one of the first to put himself in the driver's seat of a GTR to mix it with the likes of Stormin' Norm Beechey, Ian ("Pete") Geoghegan and Bob Jane. Even then Dick's racing number was 17, but it was worn by a Torana, not a Falcon or Mustang. In fact, in 1970 Johnson earned one point (at Lakeside) in the Touring Car Championship driving a Torana.
The 1970 Hardie-Ferodo 500 might have been taken by Allan Moffat in a XW Falcon GTHO, but Class C belonged to the new LC GTR XU-1. The Holland/Little car managed third outright and won the class ahead of a swag of similar cars, with a couple of Valiant Pacers, a couple of Twin Cam Escorts and a solitary Cooper S scattered down the list. Impressively, XU-1's filled 11 of the top 14 places in their class in their debut year. Among those cars was Colin Bond's (ninth in Class C) and Peter Brock's (five places further back in the class). The fastest lap in that Bathurst race was Colin Bond's, who managed a 2.54.
Moffat may have notched up a second outright victory, but the XU-1's proved themselves to be very competitive. Although Fords filled the first three positions, three XU-1s (Bond, Brock, Holland/Foley) finished on the same lap. Colin Bond was fourth outright. With the XU-1's now in Class D (in those days the classes were based on price) and the GTHO's in Class E, there was room in C for the plainer, slower GTR Toranas. The class was won by a Mazda RX2 but the two Holdens ran strongly to finish second (Wade/Perry) and third (Brewster/Strong).
While the Bathurst scene hadn't really changed much from 1970 to 1971 (except that the cars were going faster - 20 broke the 1970 lap record in practice and both Peter Brock and Colin Bond both broke the 2.47 barrier), the Touring Car Championship saw more Toranas. Colin Bond, was fifth home at Sandown behind Bob Jane's whopping Camaro and he gained two championship points. Two other Torana drivers picked up a point each - N. Devine and R. Johnson (yes, that's Queensland Dick).
Two things happened in 1972 - and both are important for Torana aficionados. The LJ Torana took over from LC, and Peter Brock took over from Allan Moffat as King of The Mountain at Bathurst. He drove brilliantly on an extremely wet day to finish ahead of John French's GTHO and the Beck/Chivas Charger with the nearest Torana five laps behind.
It was also a big year for the LJ GTR XU-1 in the company of Mustangs, Monaros and Camaros. The pace was hotter in the Touring Car Championship but more Toranas featured in the results than in previous years. Heading the list was Dick Johnson, who took seventh spot outright with a tally of 16 points. Colin Bond picked up a couple of points and some four other Torana drivers made the list. Being reasonably cheap to buy in the first place, nimble to handle and generally much cheaper to campaign than the V8 heavyweights, it was little wonder that the General's series production specials won acceptance among leading drivers.
By 1973 the Moffat versus Brock show was becoming familiar. This time it was Moffat's turn again with Peter Brock filling second outright. For the first time XU-1s were (officially) racing in the same class as Falcon GTs following another change by CAMS to the class structure. For 1973 it was based on engine capacity instead of the price/capacity formula of 1972. In a three litre to six litre class, obviously the 5.8 litre Fords had the odds in their favour.
It was a year of great changes in the rules. Basically, series production became a thing of the past and an improved touring cars formula was adopted. Series Production and Improved Production merged. Thus it was that Allan Moffat was able to take out the Touring Car Championship driving his Falcon GTHO. Aussie musclecars a-la-Mount-Panorama began to muscle out the Chevy Camaros and Ford Mustangs, which generally required extensive down-modding to meet the new rules. The bugbear for Bob Jane and his Camaro, for example, was the new regulation that there must be "25 similar" cars imported.
It was in this changed world of production car racing that the Torana XU-1 began to challenge strongly in the Touring Car Championship as well as in the Manufacturers' Championship (where Bathurst was the most important event). In 1973 Peter Brock picked up 57 points in the Touring Car Championship against Moffat's 80. Bob Morris and Colin Bond were also strong contenders. Of the 48 drivers to win championship points, 15 were Toranas.
Under the new rules, with the distinction vanished between Improved Production and Series Production, the XU-1 was allowed to front the Hardie-Ferodo 1000 (the first time the race was 1000 km rather than 500 miles) with light mag-alloy wheels, adjustable suspension, lightweight brake calipers, ventilated front disc brakes and various other goodies previously reserved for the improved tourers. All modifications had to be homologated through the manufacturers.
Nobody was too surprised, then, that lap times improved markedly with the fastest Toranas cracking 2:35. That year 17 Toranas fronted up on race day, compared with just five Falcons. It could have been another Peter Brock benefit, but co-driver Chivas - who had been instructed to keep driving rather than lose time by stopping for fuel - ran his car dry at the top of Conrod straight. He coasted all the way to Murray's, wheeled around there as rapidly as he could but coasted to an ignominious halt short of the pits. As he pushed the car up the slight incline, he would have recognised some good news and some bad news. The bad news was obvious. The good news was that he was pushing a Torana rather than a Falcon!
In 1974 Toranas dominated the Touring Car Championship for most of the year. The first driver to race one of the new SLR 5000s was Allan Grice. This was in the fifth round, held at Oran Park. In practice Grice was fourth fastest but he was forced into retirement by overheating brakes. Just how much potential lay in the LH was demonstrated by the difference between this car and a four-door Monaro raced by Ron Dickson; the Torana was demonstrably quicker.
Meanwhile the XU-1 wasn't about to fade into the history books. That year at Surfers, Peter Brock qualified both an SL/R 5000 and an XU-1 with only a tenth between them. Some sources quote the figure at more like four-tenths in the V8's favour, but even that gap was narrow enough. Brock went on to win the Surfers race in the debut of his HDT SL/R 5000. He also took out the Australian Touring Car Championship with 80 points. Second was Morris (Torana, 46 points). Moffat placed third. Among the other Torana drivers to gain championship points that year were Bond (6), Johnson (6) and Bob Jane (2).
Alan Grice's Torana L34 looks the worse for wear in 1975...
At Mount Panorama come October, however, the new L34 Toranas couldn't produce the goods. This was the year of John Goss. Brock had picked up pole with a time of 2:30.8, which was four seconds better than his best XU-1 time. He was six laps in front of the pack by lap 118 when he had to retire with a broken piston. Nevertheless the L34s of Forbes/Negus and Richards/Coppins filled the minor placings, so that it wasn't a full-on Falcon benefit. Moffat joined Brock and Bond in retiring early.
In their second year at Mount Panorama the L34s finally proved that they were not merely fast but also durable. Peter Brock, who had departed from the Holden Dealer Team for a couple of years, took on Brian Sampson as co-driver and won the race comfortably from Morris/Gardner also in an L34. The next three cars to cross the line were also L34s, no Falcons finished the race and all Class D (3001 cc to 6000 cc) cars to make their way right through the event were Holden Toranas. There were seven L34s to finish, followed by a pair of XU-1s.
The L34 was equally successful in the ATCC, where Colin Bond took out the honours with 60 championship points. Behind his Holden Dealer Team Torana was veteran Murray Carter's Falcon (44). Grice's Torana drove home third on 39 points. Every race was won by a Torana driver, with Colin Bond taking Symmons Plains, Adelaide and Lakeside. Grice won at Calder and Oran Park. Morris took Amaroo and Surfers Paradise. It was a tribute to Murray Carter's consistency that he placed second in the championship despite not winning any races; he scored points in every event!
For 1976 Moffat returned to the dais with a massive 85 points. But Colin Bond managed 72 points for second place, with victories at Sandown and Lakeside. At Bathurst the Toranas performed better than ever. Morris/Fitzpatrick nursed their smoky car home to victory, followed by another six L34s before the redoubtable Seton/Smith Capri intervened. The winning car had to cover 163 laps and to give you an idea of the Toranas' dominance, here are the laps completed by the following six Toranas:
- Bond/Harvey 163
- Brock/Brock 160
- Negus/O'Brien 160
- Janson/Bartlett 158
- Forbes/McRae 157
- Skelton/Hamilton 157
The Seton/Smith Capri managed 156 laps. The Falcons were dogged with problems and Carter/Winter were first home with merely 148 laps completed.
Season 1977 saw the L34 soldiering on in the Touring Car Championship. While the far superior A9X (RTS, four-wheel discs, Salisbury axle) joined in the action during the run-up to Bathurst. In the sprint races, Moffat, newly joined by Colin Bond, was dominant and he took out the championship with an imposing 108 points. Bond followed on 74 with Brock third on 65. This was the last year when an XU-1 featured in the championship table. Neville Bridges brought his car home sixth in the Lakeside round to pick up the final XU-1 point.
Brabham's 1976 Assault on the Mount in an L34 was very short lived...
The strong performance of the Moffat/Bond team at Mount Panorama remains the highlight of 1977, overwhelming the debut of the A9X. In practice there was almost nothing between the fastest Toranas and Falcons (Brock 2:24.9, Bond 2:25.2, Moffat 2:25.6, Grice 2:25.8), but the Toranas ran into more troubles during the event itself.
The wheel turned again in 1978, or rather many wide wheels turned in much anger to produce a finally opposite result. The Toranas scored in the Australian Touring Car Championship (Brock 55 points, Morris 53 points, with Stevens in an Escort third on 34 and the Falcons next - Moffat 31, Bond 25). And they scored convincingly at Bathurst. Peter Brock, along with brilliant co-driver, Jim Richards, put his name on the race. Grice and Leffler drove some second with Carter and Lawrence third.
That really was the last competitive year for the old XC-based Falcon Hardtops. So 1979 was all Torana. Racing journalist Bill Tuckey summed it all up pretty well when he described the 1979 Hardie-Ferodo 1000 as: "Brock first, daylight second." The final order was Brock/Richards, Janson/Perkins, Radburn/Smith, Grice/Costanzo, Ragers/Stevens, Taylor/Kennedy, Seton/Smith, O'Brien/Wigston.
They were all driving A9X Toranas. In a remarkable display of speed and durability, these cars anihilated the opposition. The fact that Brock and Richards beat the next brand of car - a Celica with Williamson behind the wheel - home by 17 laps shows that the last big year of the A9X was about as big as anyone could have hoped for.
The Australian Touring Car Championship laid the same story. Every race was won by an A9X.
Morris was the eventual winner, followed by Brock, then Harvey. Morris finished with 69 points and he won at Oran Park, Sandown, Lakeside and Adelaide. Brock scored at Calder, Wanneroo and Surfers Paradise, while Harvey triumphed in round one at Symmons Plains. Fourth went to Peter Williamson in a Celica.
As the new decade dawned, Toranas disappeared from the new car price lists and the Commodore was being readied by Peter Brock and others for a racing debut. The days of Torana dominance in the Australian Touring Car Championship and at Mount Panorama had to finish.
Grice campaigned an A9X - using his last Torana Hatchback bodyshell - in 1980. He even managed to win a race, Wanneroo, beating Brock's new Commodore home. But, in effect, it was the end of the Torana era.
Between 1964, when the Vauxhall Viva was introduced onto the Australian market, and 1980 when the Commodore superseded the Torana A9X as the Holden to take racing, the Torana had been in the thick of the action.
It was perhaps ironic that a decade after Peter Brock convinced his parents to buy the Viva, he would be in the first rank of Australian racing drivers and that the car he would be racing would be a descendant of that rather modest incarnation.