Holden Torana XU-1 turns 50

By: Unique Cars magazine

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holden torana xu1 holden torana xu1

Holden's switch to a 'little' car was a stroke of genius


Fifty years of Torana XU-1

As muscle-car fever gripped the world, General Motors-Holden’s went in search of ways to bring the small body/big performance ethos to Australian buyers. To capture the growing ‘youth’ market, Holden needed a smaller, cheaper performance package. Enter the LC Torana GTR.

The GTR was released in October 1969 as part of the six-cylinder Torana range. Holden Dealer Team maestro Harry Firth was quick to recognize the six-cylinder Torana’s potential as a race winner and had a competition version under development even before the first GTRs appeared in dealer showrooms.

Code-named XU-1, Holden’s secret weapon had a 3.1-litre ‘186’ engine with triple Stromberg carburettors, which developed 119kW.

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The XU-1’s first circuit appearance was as a Sports Sedan, more than three months before the official launch in August 1970. Six weeks later, a dozen XU-1s were lined up on the Bathurst 500 grid – ostensibly to win Class C.

| Brock Torana XU-1 vs Moffat GT-HO Falcon Phase III

Throughout 1971, Holden constantly enhanced the XU-1 with modifications to make it a more viable competition car. The updated LC XU-1 announced in September 1971 was far more competent than the raw-boned original, but its rivals had also lifted their game. At Bathurst a freight train of GTHO Phase III Falcons finished ahead of Colin Bond’s fourth-placed XU-1, which crossed the line only marginally ahead of Moffat’s GTHO team mate, John John French.

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Out in the forest the story was somewhat different, with Bond making the more nimble Escorts and Datsuns look silly as he took the first of four Australian Rally Championships won by XU-1 Toranas. January 1972 brought the restyled LJ Torana range, including revised versions of the GTR and XU-1. Externally the changes were minimal but a chunky new grille and triple-element tail-lamps lent a ‘mini-Camaro’ look to the compact Holden.

| Bathurst legends: Torana XU-1 GTR

More significant were the improvements made under the bonnet and under the car – a 3.3 litre engine, which in XU-1 specification delivered an extra 22kW, allied to revised spring rates and faster-ratio steering. Inside were improved seats and the steering wheel from the HQ Monaro.

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August 1972 brought a run of 200 ‘updated’ LJ XU-1s that became known as ‘Bathurst Specials’ and gave Peter Brock his first Mt Panorama win. Next year came a further and final upgrade -– the final batch of 150 ‘Bathurst’ XU-1s, with revised cylinder heads and manifolds, a different fan, flywheel and rear axles.

During three years of production, approximately 3300 XU-1 Toranas were built, with quantities split almost evenly between LC and LJ versions.


From Unique Cars #441, June 2020

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