50th Anniversary of Holden GTR-X

By: Mark Higgins, Photography by: Holden

Presented by

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2020 marks 50 years since the gorgeous GTR-X concept car

1970 is remembered by iron lion enthusiasts for the birth of the Torana GTR XU-1.

But that same year should have been cause for more celebration by the General with the introduction of the drop-dead gorgeous GTR-X.

That the two-door fibreglass bodied, ladder-chassis coupe remained nothing more than a concept car was one of the greatest disappointments in the history of the Australian automotive industry.

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There was nothing like the GTR-X before, and nothing like it since

A year after the futuristic V8-powered Holden Hurricane concept car wowed crowds at motorshows, the GTR-X coupe was formulated in the design studio at Fishermans Bend, Victoria, Holden’s head office.

| Read next: Holden Hurricane concept car

From the outset the XU-1 drivetrain-powered GTR-X was destined for production and got within a cat’s whisker of that happening before having the rug pulled out from under it.

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Like the Hurricane before it, the svelte GTR-X coupe was applauded by the public and motoring media when it was shown for the first time in mid 1970.

By the time the GTR-X was unveiled, the local outfit had a proven track record in producing desirable sporty cars like the Monaro and the more niimble LC Torana with the GTR, aimed at younger buyers.

| Read next: Holden Torana XU-1 turns 50

However as good as these models were, Holden still sought an image booster, a halo car, and the GTR-X was to be that. After all, GM in the states had the Corvette and Opel had just launched the GT in Europe so an Aussie coupe seemed like a natural extension of this thinking.

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Holden’s design team had shown their capability for creating such a car with the Hurricane and unlike the later Monaro that was worked on as an after-hours project, the GTR-X was very much a planned program with virtually all the company involved.

Starting with a clean sheet, the only elements locked into the GTR-X were the XU-1 186ci engine, gearbox, diff and suspension layout, along with some interior switch gear and fittings. As the track was wider and wheelbase shorter it had unique springs, shocks and stabiliser bars. A first for Holden was the inclusion of rear wheel disc brakes.

Although there was no direct influence or benchmarking of the GTR-X against other cars, it doesn’t take much to imagine the team at Holden casting an eye over the Corvette from time to time.

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Torrie bits to keep costs down

Building a fibreglass body was foreign to Holden but not GM, which had experience with the Corvette, so the ability to call on in-house knowledge and expertise was available. That said, Holden chose to give the building of the prototype bodies to a company named Reinforced Plastics.

| Read next: 50 years of Holden Torana XU-1

Other firsts for Holden on the GTR-X included the pop-up headlights. The A-pillars were an all-new thin design and the windscreen was heavily raked, so a lot of work was put into these areas. Following on from the GTR-X design, slimline A-pillars became a trademark of the HQ-HZ series. For such a modern design the chrome bumpers looked a mismatch, but inside the machine-turned dash finish also ended up in the HQ Monaro and became the standard GTS dash.

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Some elements made it to other models

Since 1970 speculation has raged the GTR-X was to have a V8 shoehorned into its snout later in life but that was never the plan. From the get-go it was penned to utilise Torana componentry where possible for cost saving and durability. Besides, the Monaro was the V8 sporty model in the Holden lineup at the time.

One place all motorsport fans wanted to see the GTR-X was on the racetrack and, while the XU-1 was doing a stellar job in series production racing and rallying, the sight of one screaming around Mount Panorama would have been quite something.

A program to create a ground breaking innovative production car like the GTR-X would have been a first for a local manufacturer and completely left field to what motorists would have expected from a company like General Motors Holden.

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Concept for the Torana GTR-X 1969

There’s little doubt the GTR-X would have been the image booster that Holden was craving and probably would have been hugely successful sales wise. The spin-off to other models in the range would have also been considerable.

It is such a shame that after coming so tantalisingly close to production, (even having had the brochures produced for distribution), Holden and its parent GM didn’t back themselves and produce it.

Now that Holden’s heritage collection has been dispatched to motor museums, you never know where the Holden GTR-X prototype might pop up.

 

From Unique Cars #447, December 2020

 

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