Torana LX A9X: Australia's Greatest Muscle Car Series #1

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Holden Torana LX A9X Holden Torana LX A9X Holden Torana LX A9X
Holden Torana LX A9X Holden Torana LX A9X Holden Torana LX A9X
Holden Torana LX A9X Holden Torana LX A9X Holden Torana LX A9X
Holden Torana LX A9X Holden Torana LX A9X Holden Torana LX A9X
Holden Torana LX A9X Holden Torana LX A9X Holden Torana LX A9X
Holden Torana LX A9X Holden Torana LX A9X Holden Torana LX A9X
Holden Torana LX A9X Holden Torana LX A9X Holden Torana LX A9X

The Bathurst legend with the classic styling and genuine rarity value. Where else would the A9X finish?

 

Holden Torana LX A9X

This is a ranking that, once upon a time, would have started pub fights around the country. Even now, there’s no guarantee we haven’t caused a scuffle or two at the odd barbecue.

To pick the A9X over the much-loved Ford Phase III is a big call. For a number of the judges, the decision came down to the combination of looks (a two-door coupe will nearly always win that contest over a four-door family car silhouette) and the fact it was so dominant on the race track. The tragedy is that only 100 real ones were made.

So where did this very special car come from? Its story starts with the folk at Holden looking for a replacement for the highly successful but increasingly out-gunned LJ series – itself effectively a stretched and reworked Vauxhall. That whole LC/LJ series had been a major success in the showrooms and on the track, but the competition was catching up with and overtaking them by the early seventies.

It was to remain a relatively short wheelbase car, but needed to be wider (for more interior room) and capable of hosting anything from a four through to a six and even a V8 powerplant. A couple of international GM compact cars were looked at as potential host platforms, but in the end the decision was made to start with a clean sheet.

March 1974 saw the launch of the LH, followed by the LX – at first with minor updates - in 1976. The hero cars were the SL/R5000s, which for years left something to be desired on the handling front, thanks largely to underpinnings such as suspension, bushes and tyres that were selected on price rather than performance.

It was a weird story on the track, too. In 1974 a well-sorted six-pot LJ XU-1 Torana was quicker than the freshly-released and unsorted LH V8s, something that Peter Brock was happily proving at the time. However sponsors loved the headlines being generated by the new V8 cars and teams, including Brock’s, soon found themselves having to run the bigger and less reliable machines.

Among the problems with the race cars was severe oil surge under high cornering loads, that could literally starve a big-end of oil, rear diffs and axles that weren’t really up to the job, plus a severe overheating problem with the modest brake spec. Many of those dramas were overcome to some extent, but this wasn’t a golden period for Holden fans.

The appearance of the L34 homologation version of the SL/R5000, in August 1974, helped to balance the scales and prepare the car for Sandown’s endurance round and then the all-important Bathurst assault in October. Its 308 engine had received a massive rework by Repco, with altered block, crankshaft, rods and pistons, along with heads, valves, rockers, camshaft, carburetor, fuel pump and ignition! A bit more than your average warm-up job…

Underneath, braking issues were dealt with by the use of 11-inch ventilated discs up front and a set of drums from the HQ sedan – still spectacularly pathetic by modern standards. The driveline had also been beefed up with a heavy-duty version of the M21 transmission and stronger rear axles.

For the innocent bystander, the big visual difference were the bold flared guards, allowing the race teams to fit bigger rubber. Just 263 of them were made.

The formula worked, and the L34 won eight Australian Touring Car Championship races on the trot – all 7 rounds in 1975 and the opener for 1976. It also dominated the second half of the 1976 season, taking the final 5 rounds.

Move in to 1977 and things are far less rosy for GMH. A resurgent Alan Moffat has declared war in a big way, steering his XB Falcon Hardtop to five straight wins.
August again becomes a key month for the series, this time with the relatively quiet announcement of the A9X. In fact it was so quiet you could be forgiven for thinking it was some kind of secret. The LX road cars were current by now, and had introduced Radial Tuned Suspension to the range. However the big visual change was the option of a hatchback coupe. This had taken considerable time to engineer into the car and is said to have come about when GMH boss John Bagshaw saw a similar configuration in a Chevrolet Vega and figured we should try it here.

In engineering terms, there was a bit of a pea and thimble trick going on here. While the A9X in four-door form looked much like its predecessors, it (and the hatchback) was a different car underneath. The whole rear floorpan had been changed into what was to become the basis of the UC Torana platform, allowing the use of disc brakes all round (a first in a production Holden), plus a heavy-duty Salisbury diff. In one go this killed off two nagging worries for race teams.

In fact what you ended up with was two quite different cars on the track and on the road. Tightening emission laws meant showroom customers could no longer get the L34 power pack, with T10 gearbox, instead having to settle for a more standard L31 five-litre V8 driveline. However the new A9X race cars could have the best of both worlds: the much better underpinnings mated to the L34 engine, which was already homologated.

Their success was staggering. Peter Brock managed to get a win in the Sandown 500, while he, Grice and Ian Geoghegan took the last five rounds of the 1977 Touring Car Championship. It was also the year Moffatt and Bond took their famous 1-2 win at Mount Panorama, so the Holden crew didn’t get it all their own way.

It was 1978-79 they really hit form. Fourteen of 16 Touring Car rounds fell to them, with Brock taking the 1978 title and Peter Morris 1979. Brock also won Bathurst twice in a row with co-pilot Jim Richards, the second time by leading from start to finish and setting the fastest lap on the final circuit. Oh, and that was six laps up on the second-placed and light years ahead of the first Ford in a miserable 14th place. It was a staggering record and not equalled since.

The combination of good looks, a spectacular local race pedigree and rarity means an A9X is now worth very serious money. For many, the fact it happens to be a decent drive is a bonus. As a locally-developed muscle car hero, it can’t be beaten…

Cliff Chambers value guide: Road-spec A9X Hatchbacks rank among the most desirable of all Aussie performance cars but sedans are more common and remain more affordable. $105,000-300,000 (Hatch) $45,000-135,000 (Sedan).

Recommended reading: Heart of the Lion by John Wright, Torana Tough by Norm Darwin, A9X club at a9xclub.org.au

 

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