27.m. 1972 Holden Torana LJ XU1 202ci Coupe
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2014 Gore Aussie Muscle Mania Car Show (12-4-14)
The Giant Killer GTR XU1 was the work of Harry Firth and the Holden engineers with parts availability and price in mind. The cost to do a home grown six cylinder with after market and factory bits was going to be about half the cost of going the American V8 way. What they achieved was an amazing little car that in 186 cid form with it’s triple stromberg 150CD carbs and the twin branch headers had a claimed output of 160 bhp. The Aussie 4 speed (M21) which was special in it’s design replaced the weaker Opel units, they were also given heavy duty radiators. After proving that it was a competitive race car the 186ci it was replaced by the newly developed 202ci and the carbs were increased in size to the 175CD’s along with larger valves, ported head with combustion chamber modifacations, revised camshaft, roller rockers, lighter flywheel (approx 20 pounds) and larger exhaust system. That was where the XU1 was going to end for the XU2 V8 was well under way until it was terminated which forced Harry Firths team to produce the ultimate six cylinder Holden race car, these cars at Bathurst were putting out in excess of 240 bhp (twin throat webber carbs). Just 150 Bathurst Specials were built with random engine numbers from JP 386598 to JP 404176, the public were never told of these but were given to dealers to pass them on to the right type of person. The unmistakable signs of an original 1973 Bathurst Model are, extra stiffening down the centre tunnel and braces under the front guards, these bodies were intended for the V8 version, the XU-2.
The history of the GTR XU-1 really began with the GTS 350 Monaro. The Monaro, as good as it was, was going to be expensive to build into a good handling, braking and power-to-weight race car. It would also have to source it’s parts from GM in America which would make things even more expensive and against GM company rules about racing so it was decided to build a home-grown light weight car that used easily acquired parts! This way it could be hidden as a sports alternative to the family cars. GM in America was dead against any involvment in racing and frowned on even the suggestion of a team to do this.
The Beginning of a legend:
The first car was built early 1970 and raced in the sports sedan class by Anthony (Tony) Roberts under the guise of the HDT with a 186ci engine it had a small chamber blueprinted 161ci head to increase compression, and had triple Stromberg carburettors. HDT (Holden Dealer Team) was a group of dealerships who banded together to race the cars that they sold in the showrooms. GM-H did not back racing officially but did decide to build a Torana and called it ‘GTR XU-1’ which they released to the public on 19th August 1970 so enough would sell to allow it race under the homolagation rules. The price for these cars was just A48 which made it an easily acquired race car for many privateers.
The XU-1 was not an instant success on the track and a lot work went into the handling and steering of the early cars which had understeer. A balance between tyres, shocks and springs sorted this out without going beyond the rules. Harry Firth who was snapped up by HDT after working for the Ford racing team saw the Torana as a potent racing machine. He also saw a young man in a Monaro GTS 350 that could be moulded into a sensational driver, Peter Brock. Sandown saw the first race of the now named GTR XU-1 in the annual September 250 mile race, Ford also debuted it’s new GT Falcon, so a lot of interest was developed in the meeting of these two brand new cars. The fastest XU-1 which was driven by Colin Bond was four seconds a lap slower than the fastest GT and could only manage 6th position on the grid. The Falcon’s were dominating the race but one by one fell by the wayside with mostly engine failures and when the chequered flag dropped the XU-1 of Colin Bond finished in second place, one lap down from Alan Moffats Falcon and in front of Norm Beechey’s Valiant Pacer with Peter Brock in fourth.
Bathurst 1970 saw 12 Torana XU-1’s, 3 were from the HDT in which Colin Bond had one to himself, Peter Brock and Bob Morris paired in another plus the pairing of Women drivers Christine Cole(later Gibson) and Sandra Bennett. The other makes were represented well with 14 GT Falcons and 6 Valiant Pacers among others. Just before the race CAMS (Confederation
of Australian Motor Sport) allowed some adjustments to the XU-1 to help it become competitve. Some of these adjustments included a revised camshaft profile (specifications bottom of this page), new axle tube baffles, modified clutch & pressure plate, modified rear suspensionbump stops, front suspension alignment settings, baffling in the fuel tank, front guard lips were rolled to allow for wider front tires and wheel spacers.
Practice: The fastest Torana was the HDT car of Colin Bond with a best lap of 2:54s which put him in fourth spot on the grid with Alan Moffat taking pole some 5 seconds quicker. During the practice sessions many of the Falcons suffered engine problems and the Torana’s were running reliably so the feeling was high that the Falcons could breakdown during the running and allow the reliable cars in!
Race day: And they’re off with Bond in hot pursuit of Moffat up the hill, over the top and Bond is sitting on Moffat’s exhaust, then down Conrod Straight where the big Falcon could stretch it’s legs until the end where the big car took some stopping and Bond dived in front under brakes. Going along the front straight the crowd gave a huge cheer of approval to the little Torana, the dice between Bond and Moffat went on for 5 laps until Moffat regained the lead and wasn’t headed. The Torana’s with Bond and Brock were 2nd and 3rd for quite a while but eventually succumbed to mechanical problems and dashed any hope of a HDT Torana being on the Podium but the privateer entry of Don Holland took third outright and a class win. In fact five privately entered XU-1’s were in the top ten, third, sixth, seventh, ninth, and tenth outright plus the HDT all women pairing of Cole/Bennett taking 13th outright, this showed that the six cylinder 186ci Torana was close to the 351ci Falcon’s but needed a bit more work to become a superior package! It turned out that the mechanical problems with HDT cars were a manufacturer fault with the valves, this also affected some private entries as well.
Torana GTR XU-1 1971.
1971 was very successful for the XU-1 with successes in rallies, hill climbs, rally-cross and circuit races, it also became very popular with the privateers due to the competitiveness and the cost of maintaining it compared to the GTHO. This year saw the introduction of a Manufacturers Championship in which the first round was the Easter Bathurst meeting, Peter Brock took third place and Colin Bond fourth. The second round was at Warick Farm and this time Colin Bond won it from Peter Brock coming second.
Sandown 250: The third round saw the debut of the new Bathurst XU-1 at the Sandown 250, also on debut was the new Phase III GTHO Falcon. After the previous years engine failures, Ford had tested the 351 Cleveland extensively and claimed the power to be 300 bhp (224kW) but in race trim was around 380 bhp (284kW). In practice Moffat (pole 1m21.4s) was 1.9 seconds faster than Bond (3rd) and a huge 3.4 seconds faster than Brock. In the race though both Moffat and French had mechanical problems and Bond ran strongly to take the win and finished a tremendous 5 laps in front of second place Murray Carter (GTHO) with Tony Roberts 3rd (XU-1) and Bruce McPhee (XU-1) 4th.
Bathurst: This was not part of the Manufacturers Championship but was the next race and of course all eyes were on the ‘Great Race’. Bathurst saw a new foe in the Valiant E38 harger with it’s triple webbers on the Hemi 265 engine which produced 280 bhp (209kW) and until recently held the title as the fastest Australian production car in a straight line! But as fast as the Valiant was it was limited with only a 3-speed gearbox and unpower assisted brakes so the mountain was not very kind to this car. The Bathurst race wasn’t kind on the HDT and saw Moffat on pole with 2m38.9s and the fastest XU-1 was Brocks car with a 2m46.3. Moffat led from flag to flag with Bond finishing 4th and Brock coming in 6th with some problems.
Phillip Island: The 500 km race at Phillip Island resumed the Manufacturers Championship and was just three weeks after the demoralising Bathurst race. The Big Falcons had big problems here, as they cooked and ripped there tyres up the Torana XU-1’s of Bond and Brock did a 1-2 for the HDT with Doug Chivas well behind in his Valiant Charger. Even a privately entered Torana beat the 5th placed Moffat home!
Surfers Paradise: The Rothmans 250 was the final race to find honours in the Manufacturers Championship and Moffat took the win, with Brock in 3rd and Bond in 4th it was enough to win the title for GM-H.
The next time on the podium was 1972 and it was Peter Brocks turn, he won convincingly in what was a tremendous battle against Alan Moffat who had won the previous two Bathursts. Brocky did the 500 mile race solo which started in the wet and with team mate Colin Bond crashing very early in the race the next hour was spent dicing with Moffat, up the hill the Torana would catch the Falcon and then down Conrod the Falcon would pull away, lap after lap until Moffat aquaplaned almost the same place Bond crashed and although Moffat got going again Brock was never going to be beaten. The Legend of the Bathurst Winning Torana had begun with the biggest legend in Australian motor sport although he was a junior at this stage with a third in a Monaro in 1969 previous. The 1973 Bathurst was the Torana’s but for an error of judgment trying to stretch the fuel, while out in front Doug Chivas was asked to do another lap and while coming over the top of the hill the car started to cough until it ran out of fuel along Conrod Straight. He coasted all the way and when in the pit entry tried a clutch start but all this did was to take any momentum the Torana had away and without the rest of team being allowed to help him until the car actually entered there designated pit area they stood, watched and yelled encouragement while Chivas (not a large person by any means), pushed the wide tyred Torana up the hill in the pits. Brocky put up an almighty fight but it wasn’t enough and the rest is history.