Holden LC/LJ Torana Buyers Guide

By: Guy Allen, Cliff Chambers, Photography by: Ben Galli

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For us, the Torana LC GTR is a landmark car. Why? Because it took the humble Australian six and packaged it up in something that screamed ‘sports car’, setting a trend

 

Holden LC/LJ Torana

Sure there had been plenty of local cars before it claiming sporting intention. Holden’s own EH S4 of 1963 instantly springs to mind as an example.

This wasn’t so much about the engine itself – the perfectly capable 92kW 161 (2.6lt) pushrod straight six – but the complete integrated package. It was something special and ground-breaking.

In 1969, Holden pulled together a really well thought-out combination: a six rather than a four-cylinder in the snout of a light two-door coupe that had become very much its own product, despite the Vauxhall roots. It was running an Opel four-speed manual, with disc front brakes, wrapping up a credible mechanical recipe.

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That was wrapped in what was at the time a fairly lairy cosmetic make-over. There were stripes down the flanks, a special grill treatment with bold GTR badging and a pretty flash interior that included a Monaro steering wheel and a wild-looking set of door cards.

For owner Geoff Bower, half the charm of this car when he first clapped eyes on it 18 years ago was that it was pretty stock.

| Related: Holden Torana XU-1 Review

"I was actually looking for an XU-1," he admits. I was wandering through a car show in 2000 and saw this thing in the middle of a paddock with a for sale sign. Took a good look at it, and decided it was as good as anything I’d seen on the day. So I hunted down the owner and we did a deal pretty quickly.

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"It was in pretty good shape – the paint had started to fade. A friend fully restored it for me in 2009. It was repainted, on the rotisserie, everything was taken out of it and that’s what you see here. It was done in a two-car garage at home, so he did a very good job."

This was before the last couple of classic car price booms, so we were curious to hear what he paid. (Look away if you have a sensitive nature!) "I paid $7500. At the time that was around the mark," says Geoff, "and they’ve just gone crazy, like a lot of Australian cars. It’s not for sale and nor is it going to be." That said LC GTRs haven’t reached the dizzying heights of the local models with Bathurst-winning history and are still achievable.

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Something you instantly notice when the owner raises the bonnet is that the car’s assorted caretakers over the years have resisted the impulse to fit triple carburettors, to give it the XU-1 look.

Geoff reckons it should stay as it rolled off the factory floor: "They came out with a little 161 six-cylinder red motor in it, with a two-barrel Stromberg carburettor, header exhausts, chrome rocker cover. It was alright for the time. It ran through a four-speed Opel gearbox and everyone blew them up. The one in this car has been there for 18 years that I’ve known of and never blown up."

One of the few mods to the car is the set of Sprintmaster wheels, which were a period accessory.

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He’s also a fan of the cosmetics. "The instruments had everything: water temperature, oil pressure, amps, tachometer and a great little steering wheel on them. They look fantastic.

"The silver flash on the inside of the trim looked pretty spectacular – the LC GTR was the only one to have it. In my mind they’re pretty special, including the stripe down the side, and the orange insert in the grille.

"You would have been very happy when you drove it off the showroom floor. At the time they were probably a lot of money for a young bloke like me, back in late 1969. I was working at that stage but didn’t have the money to buy one."

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On Geoff’s mind, the fact the GTR wasn’t the ultimate hero car led to many being cut up for other duties. He’s probably right. "They went alright for the time. But once the later ones came out – the LJs with the 202s in them – everyone jumped on to them and the LCs were pushed aside. People put V8s in them and went racing. Thirty odd years later there weren’t many of them around and they’ve become very desirable. I was lucky to have picked that one up."

What’s it like to drive? "It’s rough and ready and hits the bumps pretty hard, but every time I drive it I have a smile on my face, so it must be doing something right. They handle pretty well and stop pretty well and go alright for what they are." He adds that braking is pretty good, with a power-assisted disc/drum set-up on dual circuits.

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"You get blown off at the lights by a little Hyundai these days, but they can have their Hyundai. I’ll have my Torana thank you very much.

"Now I’m so happy that I was walking through that car show that day and decided to go back and have a look at this car. I still know the bloke I bought it from and still talk to him. He’s pretty happy to see that he sold it to someone who still has it 18 years later."

VALUE RANGE: LC GTR TORANA

FAIR: $22,000
GOOD: $38,000
EXCELLENT: $65,000

(Note: exceptional cars will demand more)

TORANA LC-LJ GTR MARKET
- Cliff Chambers

Anyone keen to own a GTR without selling their soul plus most of the furniture might need to be patient. Twice during the past 30 years we have seen values climb faster and higher than a Saturn 5 only to tumble backwards in a shower of disappointment. Now they are at it again.

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These single-carb Toranas are a rare car; probably less common these days than the XU-1. During the 1980s they were more likely to be scavenged for parts to sustain an XU-1 than preserved in their own right.

By 1995 when typical LJ XU-1s were selling at $11,000 a GTR in excellent order cost less than $6000. Ten years later as Aussie performance car values started to move and XU-1s headed for $90,000 the few remaining GTRs languished in the realms of $40,000.

The few cars available currently are following that same pattern of price relativity. With prices for XU-1s at $120-150,000 and some owners asking more, a GTR at $55-65,000 is decent value. Given their extreme scarcity, LC GTRs might manage 60 per cent of an LC XU-1’s value.

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In some places, police were supplied with GTRs as traffic patrol vehicles and those that survive often come with interesting mechanical upgrades and accessories. The downside is that they were painted the drabbest colours on the chart and you won’t find an ex-cop Torana in Dolly Yellow or Strike Me Pink unless it’s had a repaint.

GTRs were identified by the build code 82911 in their serial number so one with a different number will be non-genuine. Cars with their original engine will be harder to find but vendors asking premium money need to supply documents which authenticate the car beyond reasonable doubt.

| Read more: Torana GTR/XU-1 market review

BUYER'S CHECKLIST

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Body & Chassis

GTRs restored in the days when these cars were of little value can be carrying injuries and defects that will cost a new owner plenty to rectify. Areas to check for rust and shoddy previous repairs include the firewall, inner mudguards and sills, sub-frame, suspension mounting points and floors. New panels are virtually impossible to find and anything second hand and in decent condition is a rarity as well. Replacement panels including front mudguards, sills, floor pans and the radiator support panel are available new. So are reproduction bumpers at $400-550 each but check the quality.

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Engine & Transmission

‘Red’ Holden engines were produced for more than 15 years and made literally in their millions. Problems with repairs and parts are minimal unless the block in your GTR is seriously damaged and you want to keep the car completely ‘authentic’. Cast iron can be welded but consult a specialist about viability and cost. Reconditioned Red engines that have been uprated to produce substantially more power cost $3000 upwards. The original ‘Opel’ four-speed gearbox was barely adequate for the power of a stock GTR engine – most broke and were replaced by the later M21 gearbox or even a Japanese five-speed.

Suspension & Brakes

Unless the GTR you’ve found has been neglected for a long while, the suspension should at least be in usable condition. Cracked bushings, steering joints that haven’t seen grease in a long time and leaks from the steering rack aren’t insurmountable problems but allow $1000-1500 for a front-end rebuild including new coil springs. Reconditioned steering racks cost from $500 exchange, with replacement LJ steering wheels an extra $400-475. Check if the rear brakes are warm after a decent test drive as some hardly work at all and put added stress on the discs. New brake boosters are selling for around $400, rebuilds from $250.

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Interior & Electrics

Seat springing is an issue and the vinyl after many years may be brittle. Some cars have cloth or velour inserts which make for greater summer comfort but look a bit tacky. The standard headlights were typical 1960s and many performance Toranas will have acquired halogen inserts or separate driving lights. Make sure the heater and fan work so you get some demisting flow to the windscreen but there isn’t much that is going to cool a Torana cabin in summer. Replacing original seat belts with new inertia-reel units costs a few hundred dollars and is a sensible move in a car with no other passenger protection devices at all.

NUMBER BUILT: 6610 (LC) 3639 (LJ)
BODY: integrated body/chassis two-door sedan
ENGINE: 2640 or 3048cc, in-line six cylinder, ohv, 12v, single dual throat carburettor
POWER & TORQUE: 101kW @ 4400rpm, 262Nm @ 2000rpm (LJ)
PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h:
9.4 seconds, 0-400 metres
16.8 seconds (LJ)
TRANSMISSION: 4-speed manual
SUSPENSION: Independent with wishbones and coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers, anti-roll bar (f); live axle with coil springs, locating links and telescopic shock absorbers (r)
BRAKES: disc (f), drum (r) with power assistance
TYRES: BR70H13 crossply

 

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